Trajen squinted, as the morning sun broke the horizon. The dog had left at the first sign of light. He looked down at the girl still asleep in her bedroll. Had he ever been that young? Her cat like ears twitched in the cool morning breeze. He set the karafe to brew on the coals.
“Come on scout, the sun is already chasing the moon.”
“uuhhuhu. I hate mornings,” The girl sat up and yawned, “is the karafe ready?”
“Will be in a minute,” Trajen smiled to himself, at least he had got her off what seemed to be a doomed planet. “Be ready to break camp in ten minutes. We still have a good hour or two walk ahead of s before we reach Talisair.”
They crested the hill about an hour later. Katara’s breath caught in her throat. The endless blue to the left of the city first captivated her eye. It was unlike anything she had ever seen. It was ever moving, yet seemed as still as stone. Then she regained her breath her eyes began to crawl across the port city of Talisair. It was not as endless as the sea, but was larger than most any city she had ever seen. Trajen assured her that the black lines crawling in and out from the walls were people, not ants.
The city walls seemed to loom over them forever before they were close enough to see the gates. Katara stopped. There at the gates were constructs like the ones who had attacked her country. As her hands tightened on the hilts of her kukri, Trajen’s voice was in her ear.
“Look closely Scout. They aren’t the same. Close. But not the same.”
She looked closer and began to relax. They were different. Their color was a bright sliver, where the invaders were a bluish purple. In the center of their chests was scribed a coat of arms, not the sickeningly green stone that pulsed in the invaders chest.
Katara let out a slow ragged breath.
“Come on Scout, let’s get you a drink.” Trajen encouraged as they made their way into the city. Crossing into the walled city was almost as disorienting to he young shifter girl as the jump between worlds had been. The air reeked of salt and people. Smells of searing animal flesh, and fruits never dreamed of danced through her senses. Katara shook her head and gathered herself together before following Trajen.
“Where are we going?” She called after him.
“An inn called the Bitter End”, Trajen shot back over his shoulder, “and we have to meet Seraphim there.”
“Who?” She called but there was no answer, as the overwhelming mass of people seemed to swallow the very sound from the air.
After many small alleys and crowded thoroughfares, they arrived outside a building in the back of cul-de-sac of a back alley. The sign showed a sailor dangling from a mast, a rope tied around his neck and the other end spiraling out to spell the name of the Inn.
Inside it was dark, the patrons spaced out around their tables talking to the people they sat with and eyeing all others suspiciously. Trajen led them to a table at the back of the building. He always sat with his back to a wall. Trajen stayed quiet for the next half an hour, watching the strings of people come and go. Finally a golden skinned elf strode in and headed towards them. He taps the table and gestures to the chair.
“No, its not taken Seraphim. Sit down and join us.” Trajen told the golden stranger.
The elf’s hands flew in a series of gestures and configurations, sometimes faster than Katara’s eyes could follow. Trajen just nodded and smiled.
“Yes she’s young, but how young was Nyneve? Besides she bares the mark same as me. Lets head up to your room to finish this talk.” The trio headed upstairs to the room Seraphim already paid for. Once Katara was inside, Seraphim closed the door, produced a small, smooth tone and quickly scratched something onto it. He then tossed the stone at the base of the door and with a “pop”, all the noise of the bar below seemed to fade away to nothingness.
“Ohhh, can I have one?” Katara asked like a child looking at toys.
Seraphim smiled and handed her a stone. He then turned to Trajen and began the mad movements of his hands and fingers again.
“A message from Casiuss? Hold on let’s do this right.” Trajen turned from the elf to face Katara.
“I need to know if you’re with us, not just me, but with the White Crow.”
“Of course I’m with you. I’m always with you Trajen.” Katara replied.
“You have to understand the depth of what you’re agreeing to,” as Trajen continued Seraphim reached under his cloak and produced a decorative crystal goblet like no other Katara had ever seen. Its cup was deep and clear, a ring of small crystal women held aloft the cup. The women had been intricately made and their detail precise, standing arms upraised on a seemingly plane crystal base.
“The White Crow stands against a creature trapped outside of time. You will not always understand the things you will be asked to do. Some things will seem criminal, others down right evil, but all to achieve an end. All is done to stop the creature Markell Rhetoric. Do you still stand with us?”
“I do.” Katara answered firmly. Seraphim pored the contents of a small flask into the goblet. The liquid was clear and smelled of a fresh rain. He then produced a small brass handled knife and cut his palm open. His blood mixed with the clear liquid and began to swirl and race like a cloud in a thunderstorm. He rubbed the palm of his hand with the handle of the dagger and the wound seemed to close. Seraphim handed these to Trajen. As Trajen placed the blade to his palm he looked at her.
“Last chance Scout.”
Trajen cut open his palm and his blood poured into the mixture and she could smell the air after lightning, alive and on edge. Trajen rubbed his palm with the handle then passed them to her. “Then mix your blood with our and let your fate tie to ours.”
Katara quickly cut her palm before she lost her nerve and watched the blood flow down into the glass, dancing, mixing, and flowing. She rubbed her palm with the knife handle. Seraphim took the goblet back and made quick, bird like signs with his hand, then drank from the glass. Trajen took the goblet from Seraphim and then held it before himself.
“As your blood is mixed with ours so shall your destiny.” He drank as he finished the words. He handed the glass to Katara.
She paused for a moment. Did she have to say something? Oh well. She drank the remnants of the glass’ contents and blackness overtook her.
A vision of a young elven man dark of skin and hard of heart, whip marks scar his back and chest, but his eyes burn with a cold fury.
Another face and another time, yet Katara can tell this is the same young man. The room is cold and dark and she can hear screams of women, children and men in the background. He sets the brain he is holding in a glass dish, wipes his hands on his apron and writes in the journal before him on the desk.
Another place, but no sense of time. A city made entirely of brass. It’s people walk past each other, never noticing, never touching another soul. In a tower in the darkest part of the city she can feel the Elvin man, now ancient and seething.
Katara awakens to the sight of a blue glow lighting the room. As her eyes adjust the glow is coming from the image of a man standing in the center of the room, he floats just above the floor where a blue gem lies. She has seen him before, in the city of brass. He was the only one she had seen that was smiling. He stood here now, talking to Trajen, still smiling.
“Seriously what are we doing in this back woods planet?” Trajen asked the blue apparition.
“You need to ensure that Markell’s hounds aren’t able to gain control of the Forge that is here. The House Cayther owns it. They alone have the only forge on this planet. Markell’s forces are interceding. If it can not be protected, it has to be destroyed.”
“Why doesn’t noisy here do it?” Trajen questioned as he gestured to Seraphim, “He was already in town.”
Seraphim’s hands flew like birds into their startled twisting patterns again, but this time she understood what he meant. ‘Leave me out of this shit.’
Katara laughed and all of the men looked to her. “Sorry.”
Again the blue man smiled, he turned his attention back to Trajen, and “He has his own tasks to see to this one is yours.”
With that the light faded from the gem and Seraphim picked it up. He signed quickly. ‘The room is paid for another week here is the key.’
Seraphim nodded to her and signed. ‘It was a pleasure to meet you, but I must leave.’ He hooked a thumb in the direction of Trajen, ‘Keep him out of trouble.’
Katara smiled. “I will.”
The gold skinned elf was out the door and gone.
“Alright I need to poke around the city and find out what I can about House Cayther. I’ll be back before too late.”