A/N: Small note concerning this chapter: Xe and Xir are gender neutral pronouns and will be used to describe the character of Tirai. Enjoy!
The Language of Comrades
If this boy does not shut up in the next five minutes, gods help me...
Zykar gritted his teeth, doing his best to ignore the stream of chatter from the lad Salyan had unceremoniously hoisted on him.
Yules had opened his mouth when the two had stepped out of The Raving Prince and hadn't closed it since. He had ignored all of Zykar's not so subtle verbal hints that he'd like to end the conversation and had proceeded to disregard Zykar's fingers tightening around his daggers. They still had about a mile to go until they reached Zykar's current camp and he was coming dangerously close to knocking the boy out and locking him in a cupboard forever.
However, he knew Salyan probably wouldn't appreciate it if he ditched his companion this early. So Zykar resigned himself to knowing far more than he ever wanted to about Yules' pet glowfish, that had mysteriously disappeared from his bowl when Yules was eight years old and that Yules was still looking for at the age of nineteen.
Lost in his thoughts, Zykar didn't realize that Yules had paused. He glanced up to meet the boy's lifted eyebrows, and realized that Yules must've asked him a question.
Yules repeated, "How do you know Salyan?"
A hint of an ironic smile twisted Zykar's lips. The boy couldn't have asked a more complicated question. Zykar settled for telling him part of the answer.
"We met at the coronation of the grand duke of Chisson-"
"Why were you there?"
"To assas- Doesn't matter. Anyway, he was intrigued by my skills, and offered me a job. I accepted. That is how we became acquainted. In simplest terms, we are business partners."
There was far more to the story than that, but Zykar let the holes linger.
"But he said something about you trying to kill one of his guardsmen?" Yules asked doggedly.
Zykar grimaced. That little job, it appeared, was going to cost him far more than it had been worth.
Yules waited for more, but Zykar offered nothing else, clearly feeling that he had done more than his share of participation in the conversation. The youth shrugged, sensing that he would have to ask again another time, and reverted back to peppering Zykar with enthusiastic banter.
The thought of a locked cupboard floated again through Zykar's mind. To distract himself from that thought, he shifted through the dossiers Salyan had given him. Tuning out Yules, he read through them with mild indifference until his eyes landed upon the last one.
A grin spread across his face as he held the parchment up. This job might be worth something after all.
"Change of plans," he interrupted Yules abruptly, folding up the parchment and sticking it into his pocket. "We're going to recruit someone."
"Oh wow! Another team member already? I can't wait to meet them! Did you know that on my first mission to Avali, we had to persuade this Meruvian guy to join us, and wow, was he beautiful. I mean, really, are all Meruvian guys like that, because if they are I'm moving to Meruvia! I think he got creeped out when I kept staring at him, but I mean you wouldn'tve been able to look away either when he took his shirt off! I think he was my first real crush, but there was also this guy I met when Salyan took me to Duyil, who I thought seemed really into me, but I wasn't sure if I wanted that kind of commitment yet, you know?"
By the time they had reached their destination, Zykar had decided that he was never working with under twenty year olds again.
They came to a stop in front of an unassuming cottage, just off the main road. Close enough to the town of Jiene, and yet, just far enough.
Zykar rapped the door lightly with his knuckles, Yules for once, standing quietly with his mouth shut.
The door swung open and they were greeted by the sight of a tall, dark-skinned person, with short black hair shaved close to their head and eyes the color of chocolate staring curiously down at them.
There was a short pause and then,
The other person let out a hearty laugh and embraced Zykar happily. A small smile crossed Zykar's face as he hugged them back with surprising fervor.
Tirai released Zykar, still beaming widely and said, "Come in, come in! The little one has been hoping to see you."
"Well, mustn't keep her waiting, then!" Zykar replied, stepping in through the door and motioning for Yules to follow him.
The lad did so, gazing around interestedly. As Zykar stepped into the hallway, a little girl, black hair flowing behind her, skidded around the corner and came to a halt in front of him.
Zykar raised an eyebrow and bent down to meet her stare eye-to-eye.
"Why hello there, Liuella. Tell me, why does such an elegant lady look so cross?" he asked, as she folded her arms across her chest and frowned.
"You said you would visit last month, but you never came," Liuella, better known by her nickname, Liue, pouted sullenly.
"I'm afraid I was awfully busy, little lady. Is there any way I could possibly make it up to you?" Zykar apologized.
Liue considered that for a moment, small nose crinkling seriously. "Did you bring Nuli?"
A muscle leapt in Zykar's cheek. "No. Nuli had to go, alina."
Liue stuck out her upper lip out petulantly.
"But," Zykar continued, reaching behind him into his pocket. "I did bring you some fresh tila berries."
A small smile poked at Liue's cheek at the berries though she tried to maintain her stubborn façade. Zykar dangled the berries in front of him, and lifted one eyebrow, hiding his own smile. He and Yules had seen a wild tila berry patch on the road and Zykar had insisted on stopping to pick some, knowing how Liue loved them.
However much Liue wished to display her displeasure with Zykar, she clearly wished for the berries more. Unbalanced as he was, he almost toppled over when she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. Zykar returned her hug warmly but cut it short, detangling himself so he could stand up.
"Mustn't let them get bitter now," he said, passing her the bag of tila berries.
Tirai, who had watched the exchange with amusement, smiled down at xir daughter. "Run along now, alina."
"Yes, salna," Liue responded, grinning, as she dug into her treasure and raced back down the hallway.
Tirai's smile faded as xe turned to Zykar, eyes alert and uneasy. "What is this about, Zykar?"
"Perhaps we should go inside," Zykar avoided the question, stepping past Tirai and into the modest living space.
Yules and Tirai followed him in, Yules drifting off to stand near the door, Tirai striding across the room to join Zykar.
Two people were already seated at the worn table, a woman with skin the color of cocoa and long hair braided neatly behind her, and a man with sun bleached blond hair and blue eyes that widened in recognition at Zykar.
The woman smiled warmly and stood to embrace Zykar.
"Zykar! How lovely to see you," she said, wrapping her arms around him.
"You as well, Viyrna, Ajasen," Zykar replied, giving her a quick hug before releasing her to nod to Ajasen, who dipped his head cordially in response.
Both of Tirai's partners sent xir nearly invisible looks of bemusement. Tirai shrugged.
"Well, please, sit down," Ajasen said, as he moved to clear the table and Viyrna pulled out four chairs, eyes flicking towards Yules, who was standing unobtrusively near the door.
Zykar sat with some relief after the long walk.
"Now, Zykar, you've forgotten your manners. Would you introduce us to your companion?" Tirai prompted.
"Certainly. Yules, this is Tirai Raoulita, and their partners, Viyrna Gulas and Ajasen Euthon. Tirai, Viyrna, Ajasen this is Yules." The three seated nodded to Yules.
"Actually, its Yules Biare Parocketh the Third, but you can call me Yules," the youth said, beaming. "Wow, are you really the Tirai Raoulita, greatest swordsman in all of Teril?!"
Tirai chuckled. "Close, but I'm not a man and I'm sure if Zykar here switched over to a greatsword instead of those two jasars he would be far better than I ever was."
Yules fumbled for a moment, but quickly regained his footing.
"Oh, uh, swordswoman, then, my apologies."
"Not quite a woman, either. I am both he and she. You can refer to me with xe or xir. Or swordsperson, which is my preferred title. Has a certain quality to it, don't you think?" Tirai asked the youth, eyes twinkling in amusement.
"Oh! Yes of course, I think- Yes, it has an excellent quality- I think it's-" Yules floundered, trying to recover from his mistake.
"Yes, anyway!" Zykar interrupted, shooting Yules a look as the boy faded back to the door.
"Not that I don't appreciate your visits, but..." Tirai said, the glimmer vanishing from xir eyes as they leaned forward in xir chair.
Zykar locked his gaze onto his oldest friend's.
"You know I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. Especially now that you lead a different life."
Tirai gave an almost imperceptible nod and Zykar saw in xir eyes that xe knew what was coming.
"But," Zykar hesitated, then repeated the words Salyan had said to him. "I need your aid."
Tirai remained silent as Zykar explained the search to find Miralia Allayana and restore her to the throne. Xe did not speak when he finished, simply clasped xir hands and took a long breath.
"Miralia Allayana? I thought she had been proclaimed dead after she had been missing for so long," Viyrna ventured cautiously.
"The man who came to me with this proposition believes that she is still alive, and simply has to be found. He was certainly in a position to know if she died and though we are not the closest of allies, I do trust him," Zykar said, switching his gaze to Viyrna.
Ajasen leaned forward, brows knit with concern.
"Even if she is alive, finding her will be no easy task. And then restoring her to the throne? That would be..." He trailed off, shaking his head.
Zykar sighed, hints of remorse hidden in his voice. He turned to face Tirai.
"Will you join me?" The question fell from Zykar's lips unadorned.
Tirai met Zykar's steady gaze with eyes full of conflicted emotion. The silence stretched on, eyes locked onto each other, the unspoken language of comrades passing between them.
Tirai exhaled slowly. "Viyrna, Ajasen," xe said softly. "Give us a moment, please."
Tirai's partners nodded, identical looks of worry on their faces as they stood, walking out of the living room and down the hallway.
"Tirai-" Zykar began.
"Zykar," Tirai cut him off. "Had you asked a year ago, I would've gladly gone with you. However, things have... changed. I have a family now. Those days have ended for me."
"Tirai," Zykar said determinedly. "I understand your situation. But this? This is about our future. Liue's future. Making a better path, for all of us."
A small smile crossed Tirai's face. "Since when did Zykar Fiernon make better paths?"
"Since I met an old warrior who talked ceaselessly about giving to the poor and only killing the wicked," Zykar shot back.
Tirai chuckled, xir laughter fading away as xe focused on Zykar, expression turning serious.
"Zykar... I can't leave them. If something were to happen-"
"Nothing will happen." Viyrna stood in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest, Ajasen beside her.
"I suppose it has been a moment," Tirai said dryly.
"Tirai," Ajasen said warningly, raising an eyebrow.
Zykar stood and offered his chair to Viyrna as she and Ajasen sat next to Tirai.
"Tirai," Viyrna said softly. "You have to go."
Tirai glanced at Ajasen, who nodded, eyes grim but emphatic.
"If something were to happen..." Tirai repeated quietly.
"If this war continues, something will happen," Ajasen stated firmly. "We have survived this far, but we can't go on like this. Go with Zykar. Find Miralia Allayana. Settle this war. Then come home."
"Such a simple task," Tirai joked.
Viyrna snorted. "With you, nothing is simple," she teased.
Tirai laughed quietly, then reached out to take xir partners' hands.
Yules stirred for the first time since they had stepped into the room, reminding Zykar that the boy was still there.
Zykar crossed the room to stand silently next to Yules, torn between wishing to give Tirai every last moment with xir family and also wishing to set up camp before nightfall.
Tirai sensed his hesitation and released xir partner's hands.
"If I am to head off on this quest, then I should be going," xe murmured quietly, regret coloring xir tone.
"I'll grab your things," Ajasen said, his voice shaking, but his face steady as he rose and vanished down the hallway.
"I'll find Liue." Viyrna said softly before following Ajasen out the hallway.
It took only a moment for Tirai to pack what xe needed into a worn leather bag and strap xir greatsword to xir back carefully. Ajasen smiled tightly, eyes betraying his anxiety. Tirai tilted Ajasen's chin up and whispered something for their ears only. The tension in the man's face eased upon hearing it whenceforth Tirai leaned down to give him a tender kiss.
Viyrna appeared at the end of the corridor, carrying Liue in her arms. The little girl's eyes were half-closed sleepily, but Zykar noticed with amusement that the tips of her fingers were stained a purple-blue from the tila berries.
Viyrna set Liue down as she approached Tirai, Liue yawning tiredly. Viyrna murmured something into Tirai's ear. Tirai nodded in response then smiled as Viyrna reached up for a gentle kiss. They broke apart as Liue tugged at Tirai's leg.
"Salna," she said, eyes wide, staring up at xir. "Mila says you're going away."
"I am, alina." Tirai said as xe knelt beside her.
"When will you be back?" Liue asked.
"I don't know, alina. But I'll need you to take care of your Mila and Fala until I return. Can you do that for me?" Tirai replied seriously.
"Yes, salna," Liue responded, wrapping her arms around xir. Tirai embraced xir daughter, unshed tears glimmering in xir eyes.
"Goodbye, alina." Xe whispered quietly, then straightened.
Pressing xir fingers to xir mouth lightly, Tirai glanced at xir partners. Viyrna and Ajasen mirrored the movement, dropping their fingers after a moment. Tirai turned to Zykar, pain etched into every line of xir face.
"Let us go," xe said, shouldering xir pack and stepping out the door. Yules followed xir, but Zykar remained, trying to express his wordless thanks to Viyrna and Ajasen.
"Be safe," Viyrna said, eyes imploring. "Please.
"I will do my best." Zykar promised. Liue darted forward and Zykar bent down to lift her into his arms.
"Goodbye, Liue." He said, releasing her after a moment and bestowing her with a rare smile. Then he turned away from this place of warmth and comfort and stepped outside to gather his team.
A/N: If you have thoughts or concrit, please please do leave me a review!