AN: Well then, here is the last chapter so far that I've written

AN: Well then, here is the last chapter so far that I've written. I'm working on Chapter 12 now, but please be patient! School is keeping me busy, so that's no help. *grumbles* Anyway, please enjoy this chapter, and review! ^^ Ja ne!

Chapter XI: From the Outside In

The morning had come and gone and afternoon passed quickly by as the wizard sat by trying to console his sister. Trenton sat aggravated at the piece of wood in his hands, taking the form of an unrecognizable creature. Xander merely laughed at his superior's lack of skill in whittling, and continued on his piece, which took shape quickly. Cira decided that she wanted to take a look around the dead city before she returned with the wizard. Li had agreed.

As dusk began to fall on the sloppy campsite, Decymber quieted herself to the point where her raspy breath was not even audible. A small fire sat amidst the circle of travelers, embers flying every which way and that. Li expected Cira to be returning shortly, she had said she would be back by sundown. For reasons unknown, she did not seemed shaken by the fact that there could have been wolves roaming about.

When Li returned from his thoughts, he found Cira standing just on the outsides of the circle, the fire shadowing the sharp features of her face in an odd fashion. She almost looked evil, standing there in the dying horizon. But there was something about her that made Li wonder…

"Come here, Cira. We are starting to make some tea. Here, have a seat." Li beckoned for the young girl to come forward into the light, but Cira just stood against the shadows.

Trenton looked up from his "whittling" to see the girl take her seat, but he was not met with such a scene-- instead, he saw just the opposite. Cira took a step back when she saw his face, and drew a hand to her mouth when she saw Xander. Trenton couldn't help but wonder why…

And suddenly, it came as if a bolt of common sense had struck him. We hadoh spirits, Xander and I had… He could only stare up at Cira with a sincere sympathy, forcing her to take another step backwards. Xander seemed to have felt the shock of the lightning as well, for his face was masked with another look of empathy for the girl.

"Who are they?" Her voice was resolute and crystal as she stood in the darkness.

"Cira, they are friends-- soldiers of Erole. Come, sit! Your tea will be cold if you do not drink it now."

"Soldiers… Oh, yes." Quickly, Cira moved towards the fire pit, and Trenton noticed a flush rise in her cheeks. She had forgotten! Is that possible?

Decymber noticed the slight tinge in Cira's cheeks and stared at Trenton, whose face also bore the mask of embarrassment, perhaps even pity. She looked down into her tea, held poorly by a wooden bowl made from the knot of a dying oak tree. Steam rose up from the imitation cup, and Decymber brought her lips up to the liquid with thirst crying to be quenched.

Xander fed more peels of wood into the fire as a raven formed from the maple's wood. Trenton watched in awe as a blemish in the timber became the crooked beak of the bird and saw knots become black eyes in seconds. When the soldier had completed his raven, Trenton stared pathetically at his own creation, too misshapen to recognize. Before Xander could look up, the lieutenant tossed his sculpture into the fire, a roar insulting his hideous work.

Holding up his masterpiece, Xander laughed jubilantly and held it out to Cira, "You see? Not all birds close their eyes once the sun falls."

Cira stared blankly at the wooden bird, then reluctantly reached out to hold the smooth creation. She held it in her hands, appearing to see it more through touch than eyes. When a small smile crossed her lips, Xander laughed once more and handed the girl some tea.

"So this is a bird?"

The soldier was taken aback for a moment before he quickly regained his charm, "Yes, this type of bird is called a raven. Its feathers are blacker than night, and it's said to be an omen."

Trenton mumbled while shaving off a few scraps of wood off of a twig, "It's also said to be the messenger of the Unholy."

Li snapped to attention and gave the lieutenant a ferocious glare. Decymber shied a chuckle behind her teacup.

Xander didn't miss a beat of his conversation, and grabbed the bird from Cira's hands, holding it above her head, "It flies like this, you see? A very courageous bird, the raven is. Very courageous indeed."

"Are all birds courageous?"

"Child, all creatures of Ribatus are courageous. Anything under the sun that has a life of its own deserves to be granted with some noble virtue, don't you think?"

Cira looked at Li, and nodded slightly. She turned away, but quickly turned back to the wizard.

"Anything under the sun?"

"Anything, child. Everything and anything."

The girl hesitated. Even me?

"Wizard Li," Trenton motioned towards the fire, tossing the tortured twig into its hungry flames, "I believe I will retire for the night. This hasn't been the most pleasant of days, as I believe you know. Peaceful nights." And with that, the lieutenant disappeared into the cloak of darkness.

***

A cricket chirped loudly in the campsite, and Cira jumped with a shriek.

Li chuckled, then grasped the girl's hand tightly, a comforting gesture, "Calm yourself, Cira. It's just a cricket, nothing to be afraid of! You see," Li lowered his hand as the green insect gingerly walked up onto his finger, "It is nothing but one of the spirits' creations. It will not harm you."

Cira reached out to touch the insect, but it jumped away with a chirp before she could. She pulled back slightly as it hopped away into the night, staring in the direction of which it fled, hoping it might come back. For her, though, nothing ever did.

"Wizard Li, who are all of these people around us?"

The question gave a start to the wizard, and at first he was boggled at the mere asking of such a question. It then occurred to Li that Cira had been unconscious of everything for the past few days.

"Well, the two soldiers, they are Lieutenant Mars and Officer Bail. No need to fear them child, they're harmless."

"Which is which, wizard?"

"Well," Li gave a mysterious tone, one of someone who was seeking mischief, "I believe that Xander, that's Officer Bail, I believe he is the one with the longing look in his eyes for you." The wizard attempted a wink, but only ended up looking a fool. When Cira only stared, Li gave a strangled chuckle, hoping she would get the idea. She gave a slight laugh as well.

"The other one with us, the woman, is my sister, Decymber. She'll be quite friendly with you, I imagine. She's… a sorceress."

Cira's eyes brightened, "Like the Mistresses?"

Hesitantly, Li nodded his head and began rushing his words, "Yes… she's somewhat like a Mistress you could say… But, Cira, she wasn't in the Pala--"

"Oh, it is so wonderful to have one from Varulami with me! I'm sure she can continue with my training."

Li gave a reluctant sigh, "Cira, she isn't from Varulami. She's from here, Aryne. I'm sure though, that she will be able to teach you like Mistress… like your Mistresses did."

The girl looked down sadly, but continued to ask questions about the world, "Wizard Li, now that I know who is going, may I ask where we are going? I don't even remember starting this journey, let alone remember how on earth we got here."

"Well, we were originally traveling here, you see. But… under the current circumstances, we'll have to make our way to the Capital. It's located far to the north, in Ri'ol, quite a while's way from here. I'm assuming that the soldiers will want to join us, so we'll most likely head out tomorrow, now that we… now that we know of our situation."

"But Wizard Li, what is our situa--"

The wizard stifled a yawn and motioned to his bedroll, "Ah, it's getting late child, let us get some sleep. I will finish this conversation in the morning, yes? Come, let's get to bed, we've had a long day."

***

Decymber finished swathing the infected wound on Trenton's chest before she stood up and gently shook the wizard awake. Li awoke with a start, throwing his bedroll clearly across the dimly lit campsite, hitting Xander in the midst of his carving. The gray morning was cluttered in thick clouds that lazily lied about the landscape, full to the brim with fresh rain. Although a quiet storm had arrived just the day before, the land looked as if a small drink would be sacred to its dry skin. After last night's conversations, Li felt the same.

His groggy voice carried no sound through the parched valley, "What are you doing to Lieutenant Mars, Decymber?"

Decymber moved away from the injured man to reveal a freshly wrapped bandage and a sore Trenton, "I was merely wrapping his wound, Li. No need for a wizard here," A crooked smile crossed the aged woman's face, making her skin appear more like a wrinkled parchment from the past.

"Ah, I see then, well, is the lad all right? We can't have any infections creeping up on us while we make our way towards the Capital. We have neither the time nor the resources, as I'm sure you know. What is the injury from?"

"Probably just some wild animal in the night, a wolf most likely. Puncture wounds like this are either from teeth or tusks, and I don't believe any boars are in this area."

Xander gave a confused look, and continued whittling on his next project.

"Yes, a strange thing to find boars in this area. So, it was a wound from a wolf you say? I would have thought you would have been awaken, Mars, had a wolf trampled onto the camping grounds."

Decymber turned to from her steaming tea and looked up at the wizard, "The wound's at least a few days old, he might have gotten it from the fighting and not have known. The wound's not clear enough to know if a tooth or a sword made it. I'm sure a healer could decipher its origin, but I was not trained in such specific matters. I only know that wounds need to be tended-- that would be the extent of my knowledge."

Li flicked his hand impatiently, picking a cup of his own tea, "Yes, yes, Decymber. We don't need to go into an account of your schooling now do we? I just wanted to know how he got the wound, and you could have just provided a simple 'I don't know' for all of that talking you did. After this tea, are we ready to travel?"

Cira slowly nodded her head in accordance with Xander, whom was dutifully working now. The young girl watched over the soldier's shoulder as the rhythmic sound of the blade scraping the wood kept her at attention. Trenton placed his dusty shirt over his head and carefully pulled it down over his bandages. He abandoned the heavy chain mail he had previously been walking with, and decided that he would leave his helmet in remembrance for those who died in the city. He kept his sword though.

A rolling thunder echoed in the background as Cira began appreciating the shape Xander so carefully carved out, "Officer Bail, do you… do you always carve with such beauty in mind?"

Xander looked up quizzically, then quickly chuckled, "Oh, you can just call me Xander, Cira. No need for the… formalities. After all, I'm no longer a part of the Aryne army if there's no Aryne," His joke would have been humorous had the ruins of the city not lay around them, "But, you cannot carve without physical beauty. You have to work from the outside in when making anything. Humans, animals, trees, even sculptures. Everything must be made from the outside in, or else, the inside becomes too powerful to be contained."

"What rubbish, soldier. Did your," He shot a glare in Trenton's direction, for no specific reason, "Lieutenant teach that to you?" He said the position as if it were a sinful name.

"Why, no Wizard Li. I was taught it when I was just a babe, and my mother had never abandoned that logic even when on her deathbed. No, Wizard Li. Such words of wisdom can only be from a woman's gentle mouth."

Trenton snorted. Cira swooned and drank the words up like a man drinks in the desert. Thirstily.

"Bah! What rubbish, soldier. From the outside in? No, it is from the inside out-- that is how beings are made."

Decymber chimed in, her cryptic voice carrying the chill of a freshly opened tomb, "From the inside to the outside, soldier. From the inside out, because the soul is what really matters beyond this world. The soul and the heart will survive beyond anything you can see. Always."

***

Disclaimer & Copyrights: All the characters in this story are created and depicted by myself. Any similarities between this story and any other is purely coincidental and not by the sole purpose of the author. The use of any of these characters in any original story is strictly prohibited if depicted in the same manner. Oh, and have a jolly day! ^^