Monday, May 21, 2018

The Return to Elona: Part 10

The Return to Elona: Part 10
----- Alignment of Stars -----

Twinkling reflection upon the still waters of the Bay of Elon showed a myriad of stars lighting the sky.  Their sprinkled presence reassured the Elonian: she was home.  Demitra sighed with a contentment she had not had for a while; her goal of returning a consistent and unrelenting goal.  Now that she was here, she could pause - if only for a few nights - before venturing forth and through the hordes of the Awakened and Joko's minions.  The struggle ahead, however, was in stark contrast to the relaxing display and Demitra purposefully ignored the future, allowing herself to be lost in the stars.

From behind, Ember approached the woman, taking a few moments to admire her.  Demitra's shoulders glistened in the moonlight, her skin a radiant bronze.  Her auburn hair hang midway down her exposed back, touching a small knot which held on her top.  She stared upwards and, while not being able to see such, Ember knew her emerald eyes were sparkling.  The woman was breathtaking!  She laid down, her legs exposed and for the first time, Ember could see a stained pattern of design flowing their length.  Ember involuntarily heated up while staring at down her feature, but upon realizing this, she attempted to interrupt her own discomfort by making her presence known.

A familiar feeling washed over Demitra, her empathic powers picking up the arrival of someone she'd grown to think of as a friend.  A shuffle of her feet and a clearing of Ember's throat confirmed the identity.

Demitra continued staring at the sky, but grinned.  "The stars… they are where they should be."

Ember looked up and blinked.  "Do they… Are they known to move?" she asked, perplexed.

"They did when I was in your homeland.  They looked so very different there."

Ember looked back down to Demitra, still confused.  "You've been to Ebonhawk?"

Demitra brushed her hair back.  Feeling the woman's confusion made her giggle.  "I meant Tyria as a whole, my dear Ember," she explained.  Standing, she dusted off a bit of sand from her dress, finally turning from the view.

Immediately her attention was drawn to Ember's arm, which rested in a sling.  Her clothes were dirty, her hair a bit unkempt.  Demitra's expression was worrisome as she reached out, was about to touch the woman, then recoiled.  She'd noted the woman's aversion to touch, and while all she wanted to do was coddle her friend, she practiced restraint out of respect.

"What… What happened?"

Ember glanced down at her bound arm.  She hadn't considered this news to be alarming.  "That?  Oh, it's nothing.  I find a good campfire, and I'll be fine."

"Relax.  I heal quick." Ember stated, as Demitra approached the her, carefully inspecting but not touching.  Her concern was… unexpected.

The Elonian scrutinized a few more minutes, then looked up at Ember.  It was clear she didn't drop the concern, but attempted a nonchalant shrug.  "Relax?  I… I am relaxed.  I am not… not relaxed.  I am not concerned," she struggled with the lie.

Ember pursed her lips slightly, with a small shake of her head.  "Anyway," she singsonged her disbelief then changed the subject.  "Are you enjoying being home?"

Demitra gestered to the stars overlooking the bay.  "You tell me: Have you seen a more majestic display of beauty?" she asked in awe, her emerald eyes glimmering.

Looking up, Ember made a half smile and considered.  "I used to watch stars in my nest growing up.  It's nice."

Demitra could feel the warmth of Ember's words, then she paused to consider the word.  "Nest?  I am uncertain this word translates well… You mean your house, yes?"

"Oh, I had a house, but I slept with the drakes, in a nest,"  she stated matter-of-factly.  It all seemed perfectly understandable to her.

A laugh suddenly erupted from Demitra, at what she perceived to be a joke.

Ember cast a sidelong glance to the woman.  "What?" she asked with a bit of irritation in her voice.  This was not the reaction she expected.

Demitra paused, raised a scrupulous eyebrow at the woman, then a moment later her face flushed.  She hadn't meant to insult the woman; was immediately ashamed and embarrassed she had laughed.  "I am… I am sorry, Ember.  This… This is no joke?  You were raised… by drakes?"  She treaded lightly, attempting to navigate the subject without being rude.

"I mean, people were there… eventually.  I'm assuming that's weird to you?"  Ember glowed and rubbed the back of her neck, but from a mix of anger and embarrassment, Demitra couldn't tell.

Apologetically, Demitra explained.  "I… I meant no disrespect, Ember.  It was simply unexpected news; if this makes you who I see before me, then it is not weird!  Unusual, to be sure," she smiled warmly, invitingly.  "It makes you even more intriguing to me."

Ember cleared her throat, flushing red.  Her eyes suddenly found the ground interesting.  "My house is famous for drakes.  So I bonded with them easily," she offered softly.

"I suppose such familial drakes would be easier to talk to, indeed."

"They are!" Ember perked up.  "Drakes are pretty easy to read, if you know how. When they'd nest too close to towns, someone like me would go in and help!  They're so much easier to communicate with than people."

Demitra nodded, then raised an eyebrow at a question.  "Curiosity abounds: Why were you raised in the drake nest, rather than with your own kind?  Was this by choice?"

Ember frowned.  "Uh… See, I'm cursed.  So father didn't want anyone in the house to interact with me.  One night, I was locked outside, and Ramoth dragged me to her nest," she laughed.

"I see.  So, in a way, this drake, Ramoth, saved you! (Given what you've said about your father.)"

Ember nodded solemnly, fondly at the thought of the drake.

Demitra glided over to a small pool on the flat-topped roof of the ziggurat, in which they occupied.  A part of Amnoon's water filtration system, the waters would flow up to the pyramid's roof, flowing freely through the pools, which extracted contaminants before exporting the clean water out.  The desert heat assisted in the process to an extent only those attuned to water truly understood, but the result was a thing that many residing in Amnoon knew: the ziggurat was a refreshing place to dip one's feet.

This goal in mind, Demitra removed her shoes, then looked over her shoulder with an alluring smile.  "Join me?" she asked.

Ember looked warily at the water, still standing a few feet back.  "I… uh… I'll watch," she said hesitantly.

Demitra dipped her toes in the water, splashed around a few times.  She turned to regard the woman strangely.  "You do not like exposing your feet?  Or you do not like the company?"  She hoped for the prior.

"I do not mix well with water, but… I… I love the company," she said bashfully.

Demitra smiled thick full lips.  "As do I.  And I must say, I am elated the desert suits you so well, with obvious excepetion."  She gestured to the woman's arm.

"I wasn't expecting Forged to be so close," she uttered shamefully.

Demitra bent down to splash some water on her face, while she felt Ember's anxiety.  "You went looking for them, did you not?" she asked bluntly.

"What?" Ember was taken aback, her cheeks flush with the accusation.  "Of… Of course not!"

The Elonian came to stand beside the woman, her knowledgeable gaze almost penetrating.  Ember blushed, her cheeks as red as her eyes.  Demitra always seemed to know what the she was thinking, and while she'd started to realize it, Ember was never quite ready for the woman's forthrightness.

"Truthfully?" Demitra whispered as she returned her sandals to her feet.

"I… I felt… called.  Then I hurt my arm when Cinder was scared by the Forged," she mumbled the words.


Ember grinned.  "My raptor!"

Demitra giggled.  "A perfect name, indeed for your flamelander!"

"It's a talent," she exclaimed as she watched the woman pull her dress up, wringing the water it had collected.  Embers eyes traveled and her cheeks darkened as a small whisk of smoke found its way from her head.  "It's good to see you happy again though," she murmured, embarrassed at giving the compliment.

"This attraction you felt…" Demitra began as Ember awkwardly shifted.  She paused at the woman's reaction, purposefully let it linger a bit, and smiled flirtatiously at her before correcting herself.  "I mean, the attraction you felt to the Forged," she explained.  "You say you were being called?"

"Oh… Oh!" Ember realized she mistook the statement and grew redder.  "That was… I just felt I needed to go."

Demitra tilted her head to the site, looking over the white-haired woman.  "This was the same attraction you felt, as you did when we fought the Herold?"

Ember scowled.  "That Herald and her god aren't worthy enough to lick my boots!"

"Perhaps not.  But I… felt… the pull you had to the being of fire and metal."

Ember averted her eyes.  "I… I don't know what you mean," she murmured.

A solemn nod came from Demitra.  She knew additional questioning would be met with evasion.  "Apologies for my presumptions; sometimes these abilities aren't completely honed in," she lied.

"He betrayed us, you know," Ember spat.

Demitra took in a breath, looked at the horizon as the sun began to rise.  The blanket of night was being slowly dissolved, retreating for another day.  "I never had such use for gods.  Under the oppression of the Scourge of Vabbi, I rarely had time to think of much else."

Ember followed the woman's gaze to the miraculous horizon.  "He was supposed to save me," she confessed.  "Instead, he made me like this."  Her head plumed smoke.  "So, I am going to use it to kill him."

"While a betrayer to you… and to most people, Balthazar is but a story from a childhood I was denied.  Thus, he means nothing to me."

Ember's red eyes reflected the sunrise, lighting up from her own internal flame and ambitions.  "I'll be a better god than him!  I'll wage war on this Palawa Joke!"

"Joko.  His name is Palawa Jo…" Demitra suddenly burst into laughter.  "Your jokes are, indeed, amusing!" Demitra tried to catch her breath.

"Yes my… jokes," Ember conceded.  She honestly hadn't meant to make the mistake, but so enjoyed the woman's laugh.

Demitra stared at the woman, her complexion illuminated by the rising sun.  She seemed to spring to life as the rays hit her, and her presence truly made her happy.  "I am glad we are companions, Ember Drakenfist," she said, not realizing she'd said the full name.

Ember nodded, smiling genuinely.  "I'm glad I met you, too."

Demitra raised an eyebrow at the woman, beamed a flirtatious smile at her.  "Where are you staying, Ember?  Here in Amnoon?"

"Around.  I was in the town we saved: the raptors needed help, and I sort of have a way with them," she stated, not picking up on the subtext.

Demitra flipped her hair back from her shoulder.  "Well then," she offered, "If you hever find yourself in need of a place… to sleep, do not hesitate to inquire."

Ember tilted her head inquisitively, completely confused by the situation.  "Are you offering me business?"

"No… I…" Demitra softly sighed.  "Nevermind," she said a bit colder than she meant it to sound.  Ember obviously hadn't meant to make a reference to her contemptible error in judgement with the captain.

"I didn't mean to upset you, I… I just don't understand people that well," Ember apologetically mumbled.

Demitra blushed.  "No, given what you've explained, I suppose it would be a bit difficult.  It's alright Ember; I suppose I have been a bit off my game lately as well."

Still attempting to understand the conversation, now being propositioned about game, Ember frowned.  "This is why you need a tail!" she said with the epiphany, "Then I could understand you better!"

Demitra giggled.  "A reef drake, yeah?"

The women exchanged a few more pleasantries, a few more awkward moments, in a budding friendship neither had much experience with.  Ember said goodbye to the Elonian, who promptly sheltered herself under a shade umbrella.  She closed her eyes, leaned back on a pillow, and relaxed in the heated desert air.  She came to wear a smile as she drifted to sleep.

[To Be Continued]


Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Return to Elona: Part 9

The Return to Elona: Part 9
----- Harmonious Opposites -----

The trip to the gates of Amnoon were blissfully uneventful.  On more than one occasion, Demitra nostalgically took in the sights; the pyramids, palms, and desert… home.  The hot arid air flow cooled her glistening skin and she rejoiced in open landscape, heat mirages dancing on the infinite horizon.

A glance to her companions showed they did not reciprocate her feelings.  Prymi and her sister seemed to be much more comfortable adapting to the heat than did the two humans clad in full plate armor, Bella and Ryo.  They rode up ahead, perhaps subconsciously expediting their efforts.  Demitra would almost expect the griffons they rode to take to the sky, but having no direction, they remained grounded.  More than a few times had they leaped to extend their wings, but were subdued by their riders.

Ember was the most comfortable in the heat.  Her hair, blowing in the wind, produced ash which flowed, intermingling with the dust her flamelander kicked up.  She seemed genuinely at home in the desert heat, albeit a bit overdressed in a clunky armored suit.  "Containment suit," she'd called it.  The woman was a bundle of secrets Demitra longed to unravel.  In their short conversations, she found the woman's forthrightness and honesty unwavering, which added more to the intrigue surrounding her.  However, the Elonian would be remiss to dismiss the woman's curiosity and excitement - along with anger - she exhibited during the recent battle.  All these things were like a magnet to Demitra's curiosity.  She offered a blushing smile when Ember caught her looking, who smiled back.  The two were just about to start a dialog, when Orabella interrupted.

"That's it, isn't it?  Amnoon?  The Oasis?"  She pointed just ahead of the party.

The rest of the group caught up to stand on an overlooking dune.  Below them awaited the Free City of Amnoon.  Resting on the Elon River, the city was situated as an area most fleeing from Joko's domain wound up.  While Demitra's efforts were in Vabbi, she'd always considered Amnoon her 'home-away-from-home,' and had come through many times in her travels.  Recently though, its status of a marketplace of great importance was solidified, with the influx of outlander arrivals.  Shops and traders were concentrated around the center plaza, surrounded by pyramid structures and a large perimeter wall.  Amnoon's gates were guarded and while they were mostly in place to halt the occasional Choya stampede, they were at times a bit xenophobic to newcomers and visitors, falling back to the city's original status of a santuary.  While not condoning this mentality, Demitra understood this and took the lead and brought the group to the entrance.  After a few words in Elonian to the guards, the gates were opened to the party, revealing the bustling city inside.

"Welcome all, to the Free City of Amnoon, or Amnoon Oasis, as it were."  Demitra's eyes sparkled.  "Quite the site, eh, 'Mister' Prymi?"

Prymi leaned forward on her springer, peered into the marvelous display ahead.  "Indeed," she said with an awe to her voice.  The city had definitely held a charm and immensity anyone would be humbled by.

After a few moments, Ryo shifted on the griffon.  "And here we are.  Shall we go settle down?" he said as diplomatically as his discomfort would allow.

Orabella smiled understandingly at her husband.  While she knew he hadn't gotten burned, it took a lot to knock the man to the ground, and she worried if he'd suffered any injuries and not reported them.  "I think we should.  I need to calm my nerves a bit."

"There is no shortage of alcohol available here; I would say this place has indeed earned the term, 'Oasis,'" Demitra joked.

"I think a short walk around the market place a bit would help calm me, actually," Bella offered to Ryo, thinking she may use the opportunity to find a healer for him.

Prymi took in a deep breath.  "Well, at least we are out of danger here," she paused considering, "I hope."  She looked behind her at Khirra, who had been straggling slowly behind.  "Khirra, the way is safe.  Let's go get something to munch on."

"Do we have designated areas to stay?" Ember was a ball of excitement, her eyes darting all over the scene.

Demitra considered.  "I would say stay within the boundaries of Amnoon for the time being.  I shall ready my contact for admittance to the safe haven, and I believe we should all stay here overnight to gather strength for the journey there; for Vabbi is still very far away."

Ryo audibly sighed as he and Bella rode off into the square.  Prymi and Khirra hurriedly went to the marketplace, no doubt interested in the exotic offerings.  Ember stayed, came to stand next to Demitra, who was reading from a scroll which found its way to her via raven delivery.

"What's it say?" Ember inquired, noting the look on the Elonian's face.

"Of all the… He…" she took in a breath.  "All our belongings have been transported to the bank here in Amnoon by our 'gracious' captain."

Ember frowned.  "What an ass!"

"Oh, you have no idea!" Demitra fumed.

"You two have a history?"

Demitra scowled.  "Apparently, just business… And apparently even that was not what I was lead to believe."

Ember raised an eyebrow.

The Elonian's focus went back to the white-haired woman.  "Yeah.  It was my fault," she admitted.  "I should have properly discussed the business arrangement before we…" she struggled to find the word, defaulting to an Elonian swear.

A silent understanding nod came from Ember.  Demitra's emerald eyes stared at the woman.  Her hair was haphazardly covering her face, a bit of ash covering her shoulder, but her smile conveyed such unjudging warmth at the her, it made her cheeks flush.

Ember grinned at Demitra.  Even embarrassed, the woman was stunning.

"We… We should retrieve our belongings now, yeah?"

The two made their way toward the bank, Ember reluctantly leaving her flamelander in the care of the city handler.  The sun began to drift, filling the sky with orange and soft yellows, making ready for night.  The marketplace also slowed, settling to a few last minute shoppers and passersby.  Nodding to a few fellow Elonians, Demitra took pride in her people, and exuded confidence, which Ember didn't have to be an empath to pick up on.  They eventually came to a clothing stand before the bank.  Demitra felt the material of some of the latest fashions, an unexplored interest.  Being a freedom fighter against Joko's army didn't lend its time well to fashion wars.

Echoing the woman's thoughts, Ember murmured, "I never understood fashion."

Demitra flashed the woman a smirk.  "Oh, I find your look… highly fashionable."

Ember looked down, brushing away the compliment.  "It's… It's just armor I couldn't melt.  Containment for my…"

"Heat?" Demitra interrupted with a grin.  "Well, you wear it well, Ember Drak… Ember."

"Um, thanks," she said.

Demitra unabashedly grinned at the stoic woman.  She was cute in her own completely awkward and wild way.

"So this is home?" Ember injected.

"Oh no.  I suppose I think of this as a stay-over; a point of interest between missions that has always attracted me.  I enjoy the simple life this place offers.  It reminds me  of when I was a child.  I grew on the outskirts of Vabbi in a village resembling this city.  Not as grandiose, granted, but…" she paused a moment with a sigh.  "We were happy."

"Vabbi, huh?  That a town?"

Demitra absently fingered through dresses and gowns.  "Sort of… I suppose one would say domain?  It lies beyond Joko's wall.  Further still beyond that, is where I called home."

Ember tilted her head to the side, a bit of ash sprinkling her shoulder.  "Called?  You don't live there anymore?"

She returned a shayla she was trying on to turn to Ember looking solemnly, seriously.  "No, Ember.  There is nothing left...  After Joko's minions destroyed the area, there was nothing left.  Now the branded has encroached, and decimated the entire area.  Vabbi sets between an existence of desolation or corrupted crystallization; this is no longer what I call home."

Ember blinked.  "I'm… sorry," she found herself saying.  She was not used to apologizing, not used to feeling such empathy for another's past.  She, herself, had such a tragic past that she'd inadvertently become calloused, often not allowing anyone below the surface.  Demitra seemed to have snuck past her defenses and Ember wasn't sure if this was a good thing…

Demitra smiled at the woman's awkward apology, feeling such internal conflict within Ember; she knew it took a lot for her to say the words.  "I… I appreciate that from you," she said softly.

The woman rubbed the back of her neck, clumsily.  "Um, so our belongings?"  She attempted to divert the conversation from an uncomfortable topic.

"Yes!  Let us go speak to the banker; hopefully they will not require payment to retrieve our items," Demitra said, nodding to the vendor in appreciation.

Ember frowned.  "Why would we have to pay?  They are ours!"

Demitra shrugged a shoulder.  "Things work differently here."

"That's not right!" Ember almost shouted.

"Of this we are in agreement."  Demitra continued their walk, decided a change of topic, an attempt to defuse Ember's temper.  "You say you have not heard of Vabbi, yet earlier I recall you mentioning your mother.  Is she from Elona?  Not Vabbian, obviously, since you have not heard of this place."

Ember shook her head.  "No, I'm not sure where exactly she was from.  Mother died when I was born; father blamed me for that."  Her voice wavered a bit.  "I do know that we look a lot alike, mother and I.  Oh, and that her name was Nora!" she exclaimed, then paused, continuing in a somber tone.  "Father called her that when he was drunk."

Demitra took in a breath.  The woman was an emotional rollercoaster; it seemed she would have to work on subduing her empathic abilities, given her companion's consistently fluctuating emotions.

"Come; let us go haggle for what we already own," Demitra teased the woman with her own words.

Finally arriving at the bank teller, Demitra leaned on the counter, began speaking to the woman in Elonian.

Ember followed suit, also leaning on the counter, her eyes taking on an orange glow.  "I don't speak your language, and I don't know what she said…" Her eyes pierced the bank teller.  "But, I'll be taking my things now."

Demitra eyed the merchant, then Ember.  "I doubt that will get us what we require."

The bank teller looked at Ember, raised an eyebrow, then shrugged.  She turned to Demitra saying a few explicatives about her companion in Elonian.

"Then I melt my way in!" Ember warned, lifting a hand which burst into flame.

Demitra, seeing the condescending teller's now worrisome face, took her cue.  She waved a hand at the flame.  Suddenly four additional flames manifested, parallel to Ember's fist.  Clearly mimics of the original flame, they were no less deadly than that of Ember's fire and conveyed to the teller the two were more than capable of melting the vault if needed.

Ember turned her hand, pointed a finger to the teller.

Demitra shattered the flames, which paused for a moment then softly exploded, enough to make a loud glass-breaking scare, but not enough to injure the woman, who was now sweating and holding her hands up in surrender.

"Our things," Ember demanded.

Mimicking Ember's pose, Demitra leaned on the counter, sternly exclaiming, "Now!"  She then added a counterintuitive, "If you please."

Ember glanced at the Elonian and almost broke character as she stifled a laugh.  Demitra attempted such furiosity, but still dispensed pleasantries, and while the woman seemed to be a masterful diplomat and powerful mesmer, her beauty made her sternness almost comical.

The teller quickly went about retrieving the women's respective trunks, Demitra with the smaller one and Ember with a rather large one, which the banker had difficulties hoisting onto the counter.

Demitra watched Ember gather her things with a look of admiration, impression, and intrigue.  A mystery to unravel, indeed…

Once they turned to leave the bank, Demitra quietly slid a gold piece to the teller with a warm smile.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Return to Elona: Part 8

The Return to Elona: Part 8
----- Turbulence -----

Shouting found its way into her ears and Demitra awoke abruptly from her slumber.  Disoriented only for a moment, she quickly surveyed the cabin.  The dim light offered a still-sleeping Ember, Prymi and her sister.  Bella and Ryo were absent, as were their weapons, which had rested beside their cott.  At once, she sprung from the bed, stripping from her eveningwear, and into her gear.  She was half way up the stairs before she recalled the other occupants, and yelled down for them to wake.  Demitra wouldn't wait to see if her words stirred them; she was in the control room seconds later.

"What is going on?" she asked Xavier.  Issues aside, he was the captain.

"Trouble up ahead.  Not exactly sure what yet, but we won't be able to get enough altitude to avoid the flames."

Demitra squinted off the ship's bow.  "I have seen flames such as these before; the fires that burn there are from the god of war.  Balthazar is attacking!"

She joined Ryo and Bella on the upper deck; they stared at the awaiting chaos on approach.  Ember was the next to arrive, fully in her gear, looking almost excitedly at the flames and prospect of battle.  Demitra could taste the woman's rage and enthusiasm, and accepted the empathy which would help fuel her own modivation.  Whatever her reasons for these feelings, Ember was indeed an able-bodied fighter and it would prove counter-intuitive and foolhardy to attempt to subdue the woman or have her stay behind.  To accept this role was Prymi's sister, who would stay behind to gather the party's belongings. Prymi, herself, came to stand behind the group and Demitra couldn't help but grin at the sight of the little Asura already mounted on a rather large springer.

Even in the face of this chaos, Prymi grinned at the Elonian.  "Butterscotch is her name," she said, petting the large rabbit.

Prymi's demeanor cleared Demitra's head.  She glanced to Ember to see if the effect was mutual.  It was not.  Ember grinned wildly, wickedly at the approaching pyramid of fire.  In another circumstance, Demitra may have inquired, but she knew now wasn't the time for questions… Now was the time for action!

She gathered her strength and came to stand on an overlooking mound as the airship docked, followed by the group.  Her emerald eyes reflected the fire as Demitra spoke.  "I know this excursion was not planned upon, and my apologies for asking this of you, but…"

"Let's do this!"  Ryo shouted leaping from the mound.  Bella followed, as did Prymi and Ember.  Demitra smiled proudly and followed.

Emerging from the flames and heat stepped the forged: Balthazar-influenced beings of fire and armor.  Their metals fused to their person with unknown magical energies from the god, and their hatred spread like the wild fires they ignited.

Over the heat from the flames, Demitra could feel the rage.  It was a surprise to her that the source of this, however, was her not from the monstrosities they faced, but from her companion, Ember.  Again, the Elonian channeled the feelings, unleashing it on the minions of the fallen god.  A quick glance showed Ember did the same.  Demitra could almost see her hair on fire: the woman was a lit match.

Further ahead, Prymi and Butterscotch barreled through a line of enemies, making way for Ryo and Bella.  They fought, both lashing at enemies in a juxtaposed beautiful dance among the devastation.  Orabella let out a roar as she slashed her fiery sword into a group, while Ryo slammed another on the ground.  The two worked in concert, clearing a path and pushing the enemies back into their own fires of the surrounding buildings.

The battle was fierce.  Fire, smoke and ash filled the sky as the assaulters lay vanquished.  The group each glanced around, both for stragglers and to survey each other's status.  To Demitra's relief, everyone held their own.

That is, until the Herald of Balthazar appeared.

While Demitra had heard of this being, information was scarce.  Any that faced the Herald rarely lived to tell of the deed.  The being stood taller than a Norn, made a metallic pound with each footstep.  It approached silhouetted against the fires burning ahead and peered at the group with burning desire for destruction.

"Why have you done this thing?  What does this village possibly done to deserve this?"  Demitra spat her words, drawing upon a past unknown to the others.  Her voice grew angry, booming over the crackling fires.  "Leave here; this place is under our protection!"

A guttural voice echoed through the air.  "And just who are you?  A small insignificant insect compared to the God of Fire and War!  Your life is his; I claim it as another conscript for Balthazar's army.  Join his army… or be crushed by it!"  The Herald's hammer slammed into the ground, instantly creating a labyrinth of lava on the ground.  From the two largest pools, claws emerged.  Two large grotesque animals, surrounded by red and yellow shoulders and filled with hatred, clawed their way forth.  As the smoke from the event dissipated, the Harold had vanished, Forged Warhounds in its place.

"Everyone, hold position here; don't let the hounds make their way to the survivors!" Demitra barely got the words out before one of the hounds leaped onto her.  The magical flames seared her flesh.  At once she blinked backward, leaving a mirror image of herself in place.  The hound bit down into the phantasm, which suddenly exploded in a purple cloud of smoke.

The warhound flew back, meeting Ember.  She grasped onto the warhound, igniting it with her own fires.  "You like heat, huh?" she said wildly.  "Then you'll love me!"  In an instant, an explosion of metal flew from the creature, ashes in the place it had been.

Demitra nodded to the woman, glanced behind her to see Bella plunging her sword into the other beast's back.  It wobbled for a moment, then fell to the ground with a thud.  Now revealed on the other side of the creature, lay Ryo, surrounded by flames.  Demitra hurried to his side, as did Bella.

"Just go," he called out.  "I'll endure until the flames die."

"No!  We're not leaving you!" Bella yelled, seeking a path through the fire.

No sooner than Demitra began desperately looking for water, than did Prymi appear - still on the back of her oversized bunny - carrying several buckets of water.  "We wouldn't need this if we had an elementalist, you know," she lectured, then apologized for being late.  "Butterscotch… She doesn't like fire."

While Demitra and Bella doused the flames around Ryo, the rest went about putting out any fires left from the nearby buildings.  Ryo struggled to stand, either lightly wounded or exhausted from the ordeal.  "Can you make the journey to Amnoon?" Demitra considered the man's demeanor.

"Aye.  I can."  The man's answer was simple, to the point.  An admirable trait to the Elonian.

A distant stampede came the answer to the group's dilemma as Prymi's sister Khirra approached, mounts in tow.  The animals came to an abrupt stop as they came to their riders.  Bella helped Ryo aboard his griffon, while she mounted her own.

Ember found a mid-sized raptor, smoldering embers lining its back.  She mounted the creature, which promptly caught fire.  "This raptor… It's a flamelander!  I've read about these!"  She exclaimed reverently.  Leaning forward, the woman put her arms around the beast's neck, her smiling face buried in the flames.  "I love her!"

Prymi and Khirra both donned springers; they'd been mounted, awaiting the group's decision to go, when Khirra looked to Demitra.  "I… I didn't see one for you… Miss Demitra," Khirra explained meekly.

Demitra simply smiled her full ruby lips, tapping her bracers together.  In an instant, sand swirled around her intermixing with blue mist from the gauntlets.  They coalesced under her as they lifted her from her stance, manifesting between the woman's legs as a crystalline mimic of Ember's raptor.

"Impressive," Prymi said, eyeing the display.

Demitra winked at the Asura, then looked at the line of mounted compatriots.  They exceeded her expectations, and she felt humbled and proud to know them.  "While I know this is not quite what we expected, I would like to say I appreciate everyone's call to action."

Orabella looked at Ryo.  "At least we save the village, right?"

Ryo smiled with a reassuring nod.  "So we did."

"Are we gonna have to face him?" she asked, now distantly worried.

"We might," he exhaled.

Bella stared at the smoke-filled sky.  "You don't know how much I want to kill the bastard," she swore.  "The last time I faced his magics, he almost made me kill Ryo."

Ember continued with her affections to the raptor.  "You are just like drakes, huh?  I wonder if mother liked you.  It's why I'm here," she said after a pause.

Demitra didn't know if she meant Balthazar or her mother, but decided not to dwell on the topic.  She felt the resolve in Ember, could feel Bella's anger and fear.  Prymi's anxiousness and fear of the fire; Khirra's timidness and innocence.  The group was eclectic at best, but for the first time in a long while, she believed they stood a chance against the overwhelming odds.  She turned to address the group.

"We all wish to do things: take down the god, take down the crystal dragon, take down the god-king Joko… What I see here we all have in common is that we wish to do these acts of heroism to protect the world which we all hold dear.  Know that you will not face these trials alone, for we shall be victorious; for we have each other!  Come... let us ride; Amnoon awaits!"


Friday, May 11, 2018

The Return to Elona: Part 7

The Return to Elona: Part 7
----- Homeward Bound -----

An excitement hung in the air.  Demitra's smile beamed.  In these recent months, she couldn't recall the last time she was this happy.  She hurriedly got dressed; a simple beige halter top, wrap-around indigo-colored dress with a split up to the hip.  Despite the circumstances in which she paid for the ball and the airship, this was to be a joyous trip saw no reason to deviate from a fun wardrobe.

Gliding above deck, she felt relief at seeing Captain Xavier busy prepping for launch, although that particular situation wouldn't have phased the woman's delight.  Demitra glowed, not from the sun's reflection on her bronze skin, but from the exuberance she exuded.

In contrast, further down the bow, Ember scowled, obviously irritated at perceived delays in take-off.  Demitra tried her best reassuring smile at the white-haired half-Elonian, who muttered something inaudible, then returned her attention to the clouds.  Demitra shrugged.  Nothing could disenchant her today!

As if on que, the first of DragonsBane arrived as two small Asura stepped onto the ship.  Demitra immediately recognized one: her name was Prymi, a rather plump little Asura with a heart of gold.  She had been the first to pull Demitra into shelter during her first few disparaging nights in Divinity's Reach.  It was through her Demitra had found the guild's hospitality and genuineness, and for that Prymi would always have a warm spot in the Elonian's heart.  Beside Prymi stood another smaller Asura, timidly looking about.

Without hesitation, Demitra rushed out to give Prymi a hug.  "How are you, 'Mister Prymi'?" she asked.  Unaccustomed to Asura - there was only a scarce amount of them in Vabbi - Demitra had mistakenly taken Prymi as a male when they first met.  This embarrassing encounter led to their charmingly awkward friendship and Demitra had leaned heavily on Prymi in the saddest moments of the recent ball.

The Asura scratched her head.  "Ah, I'm not a mister," then paused with a sheepish expression considering, "unless something happened last night…"  She continued in her deepest voice, "I'm fine, and ready to kick some bottoms!"

Demitra stood, her hand patting gently on the Asura's golden locks.  "And who's your friend?"

"This one is my sissy, Khirra!"  Prymi wrapped her arms around the smaller Asura.

"H… Hi," Khirra whispered quietly.

Giggling, Demitra properly bowed and introduced herself.  Standing upright, she was surprised by two additional guest arrivals but immediately recognized them: Orabella and Ryoichi Heiwa.  They were a married couple, and while Demitra enjoyed their company, she hadn't had much time spent with either.  Still, she was excited to greet them.

"I thought Prymi was female," Bella was saying to Ryo.

"Might be a joke; not sure," Ryo whispered back.

Bella nodded, surveying the area.  "Perhaps," she said, somewhat skeptically as she squeezed Ryo's hand.  Her feelings of apprehension were instantly felt by Demitra as she exchanged pleasantries with the couple.

Bella looked over the Elonian, shining with excitement asking the obvious question in politeness, "How are you?"

"Truthfully, ecstatic!"  Demitra practically cheered.

Ryo nodded.  "Excited to go home, I take it?"

"Indeed!" she exclaimed.  "And how, may I ask, are you?"  This question was directed toward Bella.

"As ready as I can be, especially after what transpired the last time we were there."  Bella's tone was worrisome, but determined.

Demitra looked over the couple's attire.  Both were clad in heavy plate armor, armaments affixed, of which she had noticed Ember's stare at Bella's magical firey sword.  She offered a quiet smile to the high-spirited woman.  This attraction to fire would have to be explored at a later time.  Returning her attention to their dress, Demitra felt the need to inject her thoughts.  "I know there are dangers, but I expect this trip to Amnoon will be without incident!"

Bella shook her head, "Better to be safe than sorry."

Decidedly not pressing any further, Demitra turned to the entirety of their party.  "Thank you all for heeding the call.  Whatever reason we all go to Elona, we do so together.  I am so happy to have met you all and I am elated we travel together!  There is a cabin below where we can stay, sleep, relax, and more importantly store our belongings safely.  The,"  she paused in mid-sentence, the next word distastefully uttered, "captain, assures me it shall remain safe there.  Feel free to change below, if you so choose, for I do expect this trip to be as pleasant as we make it!"

"Anyone else coming, or can we finally go?"  Ember facetiously frowned, obviously anxious to get underway. 

Prymi glanced around.  "This might be everyone."

Demitra slightly giggled at Ember's irritable demeanor.  Something about the woman's candor was oddly reassuring.  "Let me speak to the captain about taking off," she said, not meaning to emphasize the word.  "I shall return shortly.  Feel free to explore, although I would not speak to the crew hands, as they are a bit… unpleasant to deal with."

Orabella responded, "I can deal with unpleasant: they just need a good punch and they settle down."

Ryo squeezed Bella's hand.  "Let's head inside," he said quietly.

"Let's goooo already!"  Ember saw no point in staying above, decidedly following behind Bella and Ryo as they all made their way below deck.  Prymi lingered back as she instructed her sister where to go.

The captain was busy tying rope when the Elonian approached. She didn't know how to look the man in the eye - their night spent with him prevalent in her mind. She padded heavily on the deck to make her presence known, but upon approach, the man kept going about his business. She cleared her throat to garner his attention.  "We… We are all aboard and ready to disembark," she stated, masking her nerves with the statement.

The man nonchalantly turned to face her. “Excellent,” murmured. “I imagine our previous arrangement is still intact then?”

Demitra flustered, clearly not expecting the arrow to hit the target directly. "Our... previous arrangement?" she stammered. "Was this not concluded?"  She was confused; thought the transaction had been conducted, finalized in a rather pleasant ending.

Xavier shook his head. “In order to pay the crew’s wages and the cost of the ship, I’ll need some goods and obviously coin from your camp; I am running a business here after all.” He spoke matter-of-factly, as if it made perfect sense. “Last night was wonderful and I do hope you do not take offense.  The crew would think little of me if I did not think of them,” he explained as he worked another rope.

Words were lost on the woman.  She grew angry at the man's presumptuousness and casual attitude, then realized she had only herself to blame: She hadn't thought it was any more than the one night, neglected to put writing to what she thought was a transaction.  Fuming, she turned on her heal.  "Just get us there; you'll get your gold," she said storming off.

With a sigh and a shrug, he finished his work on the deck and made his way to the helm as Demitra headed the opposite direction.  "Do secure yourselves below deck soon; we shove off shortly," he called out to her.

Demitra fumed, then took a few moments to inhale sharply and exhale deeply, a breathing technique she found centered her.  After a moment, and to her surprise, she found she wasn't alone: Prymi sidled up beside the woman.  Standing no more than a few feet from the ground, Prymi stood at the woman's thigh, Prymi was a charming little Asura, light grey skin with a bit of tint to her cheeks.  She wore her hair in three golden braids which hand down the middle back of her neck, and on the sides of her face, respectively.  In all the moments in which they had spoken, Demitra always seemed to be at her most vulnerable, thus she took comfort in the heartwarming little friend's presence.

"I think we're both looking forward to this trip, eh?" Prymi began, still looking at the distant city.

The Elonian nodded slowly, her cheek shined in the sun from a wiped tear.  Prymi saw this and immediately wrapped her arms around Demitra's leg, who smiled, placed her hand on the Asura's head and sighed again.

"It seems as though I run into you when I am in pain, doesn't it?" she considered.

Prymi smiled up at her.  "We should fix that; maybe we can run into each other when we're happy instead?" she asked with insightfulness that made Demitra giggle.

"You are indeed wise, my small friend.  Such a thing would be a wonderful change, yeah?"

"Completely!  I shall be up for adventure as soon as my toes touch that burning sand!" Prymi joked.

Demitra squeezed the Asura.  "Oh, the sand is lovely; you shush!  Just wait until you see our accommodations.  The haven is a place to behold, indeed!"

Prymi nodded.  "I can't wait to see it… Me and Sissy.  I hope we get the answers we're after."

"As much as obligations dictate, I shall assist you in your endeavors, Prymi.  I know familial matters are important."  She broke away from Prymi's embrace, once more to the rippling waters and the skyline of Lion's Arch.  "I often wish my destiny would allow me such luxuries: having a family, falling in love, settling down.  You ever wish for such a simple thing?"

Placing a hand on the back of her leg, Prymi approached the railing, barely able to see over it.  "I understand.  With all that is going on in my family, I haven't had much time to think of the future, but… Yeah, I would like to live a simpler life, sure."

Demitra kneeled down to her friend, again embracing her.  "Such is the life of those that heed the calling, yeah?"

"The Eternal Alchemy, fait… It can just be… well, it can just be mean!"

The two stood on the bow a bit longer.  Demitra took in the view, the copious amount of water, and the impressive sea-themed city.  She ignored another call from the captain to return below deck, but decidedly did so when the vessels engines and magical energies began to hum.  She walked past the man, saying nothing, her face as cold and expressionless as she could purposely make it.  Upon reaching the cabin, she explained they were about to take off, then noticed Ember's glowing eyes in the corner.

She approached the woman, softly inquired.  "Ember, is everything alright?"

"I'm fine!" Ember scowled, spitting out a puff of smoke.

Realizing the explanation would be all she would receive, Demitra ventured over to the opposite corner - noting the parties seemingly purposeful separation.

Bella was speaking to Ryo, "Maybe I should have stayed home."

"We can always leave if you wish," Ryo offered.

"We told the others we were going to meet them.  So I'm going." she huffed.

Demitra approached the couple.  While attempting to keep their conversation private, they had inadvertently raised their voices over the hum of the ship.  The Elonian heard their words, worried issues already presented themselves before they'd even left Tyria.  "Is everything alright you two?" she asked sincerely.

Orabella looked up at Demitra, her brow furrowed.  "Just fine!"

Her empathic abilities kicked in and she felt a wave of anger from Orabella.  Demitra raised an eyebrow.  She had felt such anxiousness and anger from Ember, but never from Bella.  She attempted to speak without infusing it with the emotion.  "Yes, well, the captain says we must remain below deck while we disembark."

"Alright," Bella nodded.  She took in a deep breath, her fist still clinched.

Demitra noticed, but said nothing more.  She was uncertain what transpired while away, but thought it best not to dwell on it.  A glance back washed away some of the apprehension, seeing Prymi and Ember converse.  Perhaps this trip wasn't doomed, after all!

At least… not yet.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Return to Elona: Part 6

The Return to Elona: Part 6
----- A Past Sacrifice -----

Four years ago...

The crystalline structure of the beast's arms penetrated me.  I flew backward from the assault, slamming into the dune behind.  Warm blood poured forth from my wound, ensuring it would be a fatal gash.  I prepared for the inevitable end; the solace of my clones finishing the beast brought satisfaction and I smiled a bloody grin.  I had decimated Kralkatoric's advancing army of branded minions, thereby stopping them from invading the small village, and perhaps stopping a child from loosing her family.  As I closed my eyes, I heard my mother's voice tell me a story.

"Once, long before you were born, there was a village in Vabbi.  This village lived under the guise of protection from the god-king, Palawa Joko.  The god-king promised their afterlife would be claimed and sentenced to servitude of his agenda.  The people of the village knew that to be truly free in life, and death, they must rise up against their oppressor.  Thus, did they form a guild of heroes to fight... But the heroes perished, becoming undead servants of Joko.  As penance, Joko went to each settlement and claimed those who would be defiant to an early sentence of undead slavery.  The last village Joko came upon had a plan, however: As the god-king approached, he was presented with a beautiful young girl; the most alluring woman he had seen in some time.  Joko accepted the gift, claiming the girl as one of his brides - and in so doing - spared the town.  Much later, there are tributes that are still given to the god-king as concubines which spare the town's inhabitants..."

My mother's voice merged with the storyteller's as I fought the warm familiarity of nostalgia.  I opened my eyes to see a stunning young woman dressing my wound.  Clad in blue matching her sapphire eyes, behind small glasses, the sky echoed her charm.  Her hair was mildly disheveled in a haphazardly beautiful way.  She smiled brilliantly, spoke in soft melody, and had the most gentile touch.  Her alluring eye winked as she saw my stare; I, in turned, blushed.  I'd never felt my heart beat so fast as it did when she told me her name, 'Valandra'.

We spoke much over the course of my rehabilitation.  Her village was a comparatively poor community on the outskirts of Vabbi and healers were hard-pressed to find.  There were traveling caravans which brought medical supplies to the region, but my unexpected arrival came at a time coinciding with  Kralkatoric's branded minions cutting off supply.  Thus, it took a great while for my wounds to finally heal.  Valandra was my motivation for recovery: I'd grown fond of the woman, and she of me.  Each morning I would awake to her fragrance and each night I peacefully rested as her songs lured me to slumber.  I found, for the first time in my life, my quest didn't dominate my thoughts, instead preoccupied with Valandra.  Eventually casual flirtation gave way to a much deeper relationship, and we gave into our love for one another.

It was only after my wound was almost completely healed, and many nights in her arms, that she shared her future fate; one I had assumed was a afflicted dream... She was to be sacrificed for her people.  My heart - so alive for the first time in my life - stopped.  Shock and distress gave way to anger thinking the tyrant Joko again threatened to destroy my peace, my life, my heart.  I vowed not to let it happen again!

Over the course of the next few months, I formulated a plan; one which I believed my dear love would be most happy to execute, for it meant she would not have to sacrifice herself.  Using my powers of illusion, I would allow Joko's men to retrieve a replica of Valandra.  I could maintain this illusion while she spirited away, and when the clone reached a sizable distance, it would subtly disappear.  The awakened abductors would report to Joko that the maiden escaped and Joko would be unaware the village hadn't properly complied.  Valandra would be the sacrifice without actually becoming part of the madman's harem.

One night as we lay together, I explained the plan to my lover.  What followed was unexpected: she refused to playing her part in the subterfuge.  She explained she had been raised to understand her lot in life; was consigned to it.  While her feelings for me allowed for something she hadn't known before, she would not let it detract from her sworn duty to her people.  Needless-to-say, we argued (at length!)  Tears were shed, voices raised, professions of love surfaced... But, it was all for nothing.  Her mind was solidified; she would not put her village in jeopardy for her own freedom.

But I would... and did.

The morning of usurpation had come.  She awoke with a resoluteness that I would have been proud of, had the situation been different.  Our tears had already been shed, last passions exchanged.  Valandra thought all that was left to do was to await her captors.  Her abductor, however, was me.  I wrapped my arms around her, whispering an incantation of sweet confusion.  Whisking her away from the village, I left behind a clone which I could control from some distance.  It would appear to the awakened that she was stoic and detached, as one would be in the situation.  My plan would have worked perfectly... if only Joko had sent a detachment and not personally arrived to claim his prize.

The village's screams froze me and snapped Valandra from the spell, awakened to the sounds of her village burning and being slaughtered.  A horrified shriek of pain, anger, disgust and heartbreak came from the woman I love, and in that moment, I was a small child again: reliving the pain of my own village's death.  What had I done?

My attempt to hold her back from the chaos of the scene was pointless.  I honestly don't know if I tried or if I gave into the guilt I felt for my selfish, arrogant act.  Valandra fought me, both physically and with expletives that cut deeper than a blade ever could.  She felled me with a blow to my tender bruised flesh, and I sorrowfully, embarrassingly, shamefully sobbed as she ran back into the destruction..

I discovered later that she had ventured back into the village and successfully brokered a deal with the monster, exchanging her body, soul, and afterlife for a cease on the village's desecration.  I know not of her current whereabouts, other than the inner sanctum of the bone palace, where she's undoubtedly desecrated, herself.  My heart breaks to think of the torment she's forced to endure.  I often find myself longing to rescue her from the fate she sealed, but in so doing, would it again lead to the countless deaths she's sacrificed herself to protect?  Would I even be welcomed by my dear heart?  This pondering keeps me from accepting the moon's sleep magic, and I'm forced to return my thoughts to taking down the monster which wrought destitution on so many, feasting on the heartbreak of Elona.

I know not if my future brings me to be a hero which rises up against the Scourge of Vabbi, self-proclaimed god-king, Palawa Joko.  But for all those I have lost... For all the pain he's left in his wake: I shall try.

Thus, my return to Elona.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Return to Elona: Part 5

The Return to Elona: Part 5
----- Services Rendered -----

Demitra awoke in a bed very different than the one she'd been occupying.  Instinctively, she reached next to her, expecting to feel the man with whom she'd shared the night of passion.  Her hands landed on an empty space, and a quick glance told her what she had already surmised: she was abandoned.  She dropped her head back onto the pillow with a sigh.  This was the way of things for her, and had been since that time in the desert with Valandra; love was now a fleeting passion-filled exchange of lustfulness that would dissipate as quickly and suddenly as the sandstorm had formed.  She knew no rendezvous in Tyria would be permanent and had gone into this particular encounter with the forethought; yet, lying in the bed - so empty and meaningless - Demitra couldn't lie to herself.  Matters of the heart shouldn't be a fleeting thing and it's something she secretly longed for.

The Elonian made her appearance after getting dressed, still in her dress from the previous night.  So lost in thought was she, that Demitra neglected to notice the emerald jewel from her naval piercing lie on the cabin floor.  She made her way to the upper deck, eyes vigilant for Xavier.  She had no idea what would be said if she did run into him.  Was their night simply a business transaction or was it more?  Fortunately, the encounter didn't happen and Demitra was relieved as she exited the interior of the ship.

The sun shone brightly over the waters of Lion's Arch.  Demitra leaned over the railing, taking it all in.  The lovely water rippled, seagulls overhead chirped and bathed on the small beachfront below, and a large lighthouse slumbered off the ship's bow, so quiet compared to the previous night.

A few crewmen within earshot could be heard.  Their snickers and jests most gossip about the woman's stay-over and the captain's latest conquest.  Demitra tried her best to ignore them, yet there demeaning feelings were palpable, and she grew angry at their lambasting.  She spun on her heel, ready to unleash on the unscrupulous vermin, but in so doing, she noticed a newcomer aboard.

The woman's hair was like the caps of mountains from the highlands: completely snow, with a bit of ash.  Her skin was a shade of bronze, a bit darker than Demitra's own amber skin.  She wore a simple bodice and skirt, as though she was dressed for comfort; yet, she kept her armaments fastened and at the ready.  She was a pleasantly attractive, well-endowed woman and Demitra smiled, both at the woman's features and at the distraction she offered.

Demitra approached the woman, still trying to remember if she had seen her before: she seemed familiar somehow.  She thought it best not to lead with this and decided on a direct approach.  The woman had a large chest in tow, to which Demitra gestured with a smile from her ruby red lips.  "Would you like assistance with that?"

The white-haired woman was looking past Demitra at the snickering men.  She seemed to be irritated at their demeanor, perhaps assuming the insults were directed at her.  The woman's head literally seeped out a small amount of smoke.  She shook her head at Demitra, not yet looking directly at her.  "I got it," she said irritably.  "Do you know where I am going?"

The Elonian tilted her head to one side.  She attempted not to look at the fumes, instead focusing on the woman's question, to which she struggled to understand.  "Do you not know where you are going?" she asked and paused for a moment adding, "This vessel is Elona-bound."  As she uttered the words, she recognized the woman from the Elona-bound ball she'd held only a few nights prior.  "Oh! You are with DragonsBane, yes?"

The woman glowered a bit.  "I meant with the box; but yeah... I'm with DragonsBane," she paused a moment considering.  "Sorta."

Demitra raised an eyebrow at the woman.  Harsh tone notwithstanding, the woman intrigued her.  "There is a cabin where your belongings can rest.  Please allow me to show you the way."  She began walking, then paused.  "Are you certain you do not wish for assistance?"

The woman hoisted the chest on her shoulder and huffed.  "I got it!" she exclaimed, adding in a purposefully lighter tone, "But thanks..."  The woman was not used to attempting this level of pleasantries and clearly struggled doing so.

"Understood," Demitra smiled warmly.  While not understanding the white-haired woman's reluctance, she simply thought it was some type of custom unfamiliar to her.  Perhaps others in Tyria do not ask for help?  "This way then," she said as she continued toward the entrance to the lower decks.

As they entered the control room, Demitra inadvertently slowed her progression as she passed Xavier.  They spoke no words, but the tension in the air could be felt by everyone present.

Arriving at the cabin, Demitra opened the hatch, gesturing inside.  "It may not look like much, granted, but it is large enough, I believe, to contain us all and be rather comfortable on the voyage."

The white-haired woman stepped into the room, dropping her chest with a loud thud.  She only briefly glanced around at the accommodations before nonchalantly shrugging.  "As long as we get there, aye?"

Demitra couldn't help but smile at the woman's forthrightness and candor.  "I suppose that is one way to assess the situation, sure." She nodded.

The woman rubbed the back of her neck.  "So... uh, where in Elona are we going?" she attempted small-talk.

"We shall arrive at Amnoon; from there, I shall lead - whomever wishes to venture there - to an outpost thought of as a staging ground to which all are welcomed to stay."

"And who are you?"

Demitra chose to take this as an opportunity for greetings, and not as an insult it may have intended to be.  "I must apologize: I recognized you from the ball, but I can not seem to place your face with a name."

"I'm Ember..." she paused, obviously having difficulty, but continued awkwardly nodding, "Drakenfist."

After a formal bow, Demitra also introduced herself, this time using her full name, somewhat pleased someone in this foreign land used the entirety of their name.  In the time she'd been here, she had conformed to this culture, but had difficulty in doing so.  When Vabbians greeted each other, they did so with their entire names, often settling on referring to each other by their surnames.  Here, in this land, everyone, it seemed to Demitra, was on a first-name basis.

Ember gave an awkward half-bow, mimicking the Elonian's, in an attempt to be cordial.  "I... Yeah, I remember."

"Apologies, there was much to do that eve; I felt as though I was being judged on my speech and the venue.  I really had difficulty remembering all the details from the new people I met there, and there was quite a bit of drink by the end of the night," Demitra said sheepishly.

Ember flushed a bit.  "I... Yeah, I totally understand."

The two women stood a few minutes, awkwardly looking each other over.  Demitra found her eyes wandering at the woman's ashes and slight hue change, but quickly caught herself and corrected it, while Ember blinked a few times, her red eyes hurriedly glancing at the Elonian a few times.

Demitra fell back on logic and facts to progress through the silence.  "We shall be traveling to Elona.  There are forces at work there which subjugate those unable to protect themselves."

"You mean Balthazar or the Dragon?" Ember considered.

"Some go to Elona after the god himself; others for the winged crystal beast.  These are all worthy goals, to be sure.  I believe my destiny in this belongs to the path leading to the self-proclaimed god-king Palawa Joko."  Demitra's face grew stern as she continued.  "Joko is a tyrant, a lich believing himself to be that of godhood.  He enslaves my people as his awakened army... And while some have been brainwashed to believe it is there puprose to evenutally serve the scourge of the desert, some of us oppose him and all he stands for."

Ember blinked a few times, then shrugged as a bit of ash fell from her chalk hair.  "Oh, undead?  Easy.  I'll make a stop on the way to Balthazar!"  she said matter-of-factly.

Demitra's fists clenched and she drew in a deep breath.  This was not the moment for speeches and this woman who nonchalantly shrugged off the entirety of Joko's army did not know that which she spoke, she reminded herself.  After a few moments, Demitra let out a breath.

Seeing the woman's reaction made Ember surprisingly take a role she'd not been used to taking: cheering someone up.  She awkwardly smiled.  "Hey, I know this is tough for you.  We will get ya through it though!  I don't know about the others, but things like undead?  Not new.  Plus, if these beings are why mother fled, I owe it to her, ya know?"  Ember smiled, this time less awkwardly and genuine.  She then rose a hand, which promptly caught fire.  "Scourge or not, everything burns."

Demitra stared at the flame for a moment, before registering the woman's comment.  "Your mother... is from Elona?" she asked.

Ember only offered a small nod.

No stranger to difficulties speaking about one's past, Demitra compassionately smiled.  "Let us get some air, yeah?"

Once above deck, the two women found a spot away from the hustle of the crew.  Again the waters below the ship attracted Demitra, followed by the distant buildings of Lion's Arch and she took in a deep breath.  "This city is quiet lovely.  Albeit, a bit on the cheche with the nautical sea theme; lovely nonetheless."

Ember frowned as she skeptically inspected the buildings.  "Never been a fan of it."

"The water does take a bit of getting used to, I suppose.  At least for one not exactly attuned to water," she prophetically said with a slight giggle.

Ember simply nodded, said nothing about the woman's insightful jest.  She decided to change the subject: four times since she started noting it, Demitra had glanced around the ship, inspecting crew, obviously searching.  "Expecting someone?" she asked, leaning against the rails, watching the woman.  Her red eyes almost seemed to glow in the darkness.

"Um... No."

Ember humphed, then said casually, "You know, people and drakes aren't that different."

Demitra raised an eyebrow, her own eyes reflecting Ember's.  "How is that?"

"You see, I know them much better than people.  If you had a tail, it would be near motionless, I suspect."

The Elonian giggled at the prospect of a tail.  "Which would mean?"

Ember tilted her head, came to stand closely to Demitra.  "You are nervous.  Perhaps, you are concentrating on if certain people are around?  Scarra would do that when drakes she fancied were around."


"She's my partner: a salamander drake!" she exclaimed with an excitement not yet witnessed by Demitra.

Demitra stared at the woman for a few moments, then let out a sigh, rubbing the bridge of her nose.  "And in this, I am a motionless tailed drake?"

Ember nodded.  "I'd like to think you are a... reef drake!"

"A... reef drake?"  Demitra tasted the comparison.  Satisfied, she nodded, then looked to the shore below.  "Yes, well, I suppose if a reef drake seemingly always stands alone, then maybe this would be fitting."

"You are solitary?  Drakes are normally familial-based."

Demitra sighed.  "Then the comparison is flawed."

Ember probed further.  "But you've seemed very social since I met you."

"Social, yes.  Destined, it would seem, despite being social, to be alone."  Demitra faded off for a long moment, finally exhaling a deep breath.  "Such transitory things, it seems: relationships," she said somberly.

Ember injected, "Were you dumped?"

"Dumped?  I was dumped here via an invasion force's portal," she stated, failing to see the relevance.

"It's... It's a slang term, I guess," Ember offered.  "It means when a mate leaves you."

Demitra suddenly burst into laughter.  "When a mate leaves..." she tried to catch her breath.  "Yes.  Of this I know much of.  I am dumped!"

Satisfied, Ember nodded sagely.  "I know it!  See?  Humans aren't as complicated as the others implied!"

As if to answer their conversation, Captain Xavier surfaced from the control room.  He began speaking to some of the crew and continued making preparations.  Demitra attempted to avert her eyes, but they lingered a moment longer than she wanted - to which Ember immediately picked up on.

"If you want, no one will find him." she whispered.

Demitra looked for a moment appallingly at Ember, then decided it was a joke to laugh off.  "I knew such a thing was only temporary: payment for services rendered."

Ember pouted.  "Yeah, nobody ever lets me burn anything."

Demitra focused back to Ember.  "Oh, Ember Drakenfist, you shall.  Of that, you shall!"  Minions in Elona do burn, indeed.  The question is: how hot can you burn?"

"Is that an actual question, or metaphorical?" Ember grinned.

The grin was reflected back.  "Metaphorical now; practical once we arive at our destination.  You shall definitely enjoy the perils of the desert for the foes are many, and in the scarcity of the dunes, there are less innocent to worry about when vanquishing foes.  You can burn as hot and brightly as you wish."

"Innocence is a lie," Ember retorted.

Demitra regarded the woman, her rage and anger almost engulfing.  "Perhaps, in your... experience?  This conclusion was forced upon you.  I believe there are those that are innocent.  My hope is for you to see the innocence yourself, and rise to become a protector for those who cannot protect themselves."

Ember stared at the woman, her passion and exuberance almost intoxicating.  "What makes you so sure?" she asked skeptically.

"I must believe this..."  Demitra could say no more, a lump in her throat forming as her thoughts drifted to Valandra, and that fateful night...