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LadyAnnaLee Nine Sided Awesomeness. Nine Sided Glory

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Darin looked Ridahne in the eyes as she forced herself to breath the way her companion asked her to do. It wasn’t easy and honestly the human wasn’t sure that it was helping. How could Ridahne not know? Did anyone know? Darin was doing this whole thing blindly and it was making her nervous and stressed out. She felt woefully underqualified. How could the warrior look at her with such faith and determination? It seemed like Ridahne was seeing more in her than was really there. She wasn’t the only one. Ravi and the other Workers at The Farm had done the same thing. Darin wondered if she was inadvertently lying to them. That was the last thing she wanted to do.

Darin gently but firmly dislodged the hand from her shoulder, “How can you say that? I’m basically uneducated. I know enough reading and writing and sums to avoid getting cheated, but that’s it. I know nothing about Astra or its cultural or its history or its heritage. I don’t understand people. I understand animals better than I understand people and I barely understand them. I understand dirt. That’s it; dirt. I might could tell you when it’s about to rain but that’s it.”

These weren’t new feelings. They had been there since The Gardener had given her The Seed. The strength of the feeling of inadequacy ebbed and flowed like a tide or storm. Right now, they were strong and even though Darin was doing her best to take deep breathes as Ridahne had instructed she still felt like she was teetering on the edge of a very high cliff. One wrong move and she would go tumbling off the edge and towards unseen bottom that was madness. Darin didn’t want to fail. She wanted do do her very best. It just seemed like her very best was destined to fail.

Darin began a pacing a short distance as she gnawed and her thumbnail, “You seem so sure that I’m the best person for the job. Ravi is so sure that I’m the right choice. And I get why it has to be a farmer, I really do. Only a farmer couldn’t understand the full gravity of the situation. Only a farmer could understand why what has to be done has to be done. But there have to be farmers that our better educated, that know Astra and its people better than I do, that can fight and defend themselves and others, that can be more confident.” Her paceing suddenly stopped as she looked at Ridahne with a look of wild desperation on her face, “So how can you say that, you who barely know me, how can you be so sure? How can Ravi, only only knew be for a few days say that? How can Elder Nicoli, who has known me all my life, who has been frustrated with me all my life, say that?” Her laugh was not a good sound, “He practically hated me you know. Then, right as I was leaving, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, ‘Darin, I can think of no one better to accomplish this task. I can think of no one better to carry this burden. Darin, I know we have constantly been at odds, but I have the utmost faith in your ability to do this incredible job magnificently.” She resumed her pacing, “How can three very different people, with whom I have had three very different relationships, all say the same thing? How can they all have the same faith in me when I have no faith in myself.” She stopped pacing only to stare up at the canopy. As her hand reached out towards the sky she barely whispered, “This is such a large job; such a high honor. And I’m just me; a small person with no real sense of how big this job is except to know that it is probably a bigger role than I can ever hope to fill.” Her hand closed as her arm slowly lowered, “So how can you say that and be so sure?”
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Ridahne frowned. "Okay, two things. First of all, how many farmers do you personally know that are also scholars? Cultural ambassadors? Master of multiple languages? How many farmers do you know that have blade training? Any kind of real weapon training, or even grappling training beyond scaring off wolves and foxes? Do you think the Gardener was some mystical being who never got lost, or failed miserably at trying to make something, or never accidentally committed some cultural sin in an unfamiliar land? Do you think he descended from the skies, or sprouted from the earth, and came forth as an all-knowing, wise, powerful being? I understand the feeling that people of legend are somehow inherently better than us regular folk, that they are who they are because of some otherworldly virtue that we could never hope to achieve. I used to think that all the time. I used to be a dirt poor street rat who was convinced that the only option left to me in the world was to risk my life to go hunting in the Dust Sea so that we could all have enough to eat. I wanted to be something more, but I was told that I was nobody, I was told my parents did a poor job of keeping me in line and that no man would want me, and that I would amount to nothing more than a burden on society. And for a while, I believed them. But at some point I realized that all those people who I admired, they had to come from somewhere. They did not descend from the stars to take their posts, they rose up from the dust and earned their positions. And if they could, so could I. I went from being a poor fisherman's daughter to being in the Court of Sols--two steps from royalty--and for better or worse, I am the most infamous person in all of Azurei." Ridahne gave a wild laugh. "If you'd have asked me months ago if I was suited for the job of Guardian, I would have laughed! You remember that night you made me Seed Chained, I could have sworn up and down that I was not worthy, and that you were right to cast me away. But look at me, I'm here! And learning how to do this alongside you. But I had to start somewhere, Darin. Everyone does."

Ridahne took a breath, but she was unrelenting in her passion. "And my dear Darin, hearing you say all those things makes me believe even more that you are the best person for this job." The volume of her voice softened a little. "You say you're a small person, and that you never asked for this great honor. It is a great honor, and there is great power in it. More than I think either of us fully understand yet. You in your humility do not see a truth that I have learned the hard way, so painfully. I understand now that people who desire power should never have it, for the benefit of all. Not to say there aren't noble, natural born leaders out there, but think for a moment, what would this be like if you were not the Seed Bearer, but Khaltira had it instead? She was powerful, incredibly smart, highly educated, well-trained, she had many connections and much understanding of the world and the people in it. People admired her, they wanted to follow her and to be like her. People trusted and believed in her. I would know," she said softly. "That would, theoretically, make her a good choice, no? Except you and I both know she has a black heart. She was a wicked, evil, corrupt person that would just as soon have eaten the seed to spite the world as plant it. She, desiring power, would have leveraged it to make herself a Sol of not just Azurei, but of Astra, and Astra would burn for it. Astra would burn, and she would warm her hands in the flames. That is not what Astra needs. Astra needs a wisdom earned through bumps and bruises. Astra needs a justice ruled by compassion and understanding. Astra needs a shepherd, not a Sol."

Ridahne was out of breath by now. She, in her fervor, had spoken quickly. There was no hesitation, not even a moment to consider her words or think them through. No, Ridahne meant what she said and spoke from her soul. After a moment she continued, "Besides, there's more to you than you think. For one thing, you're way better at making friends than I am. You say you're not good at it, but," Ridahne laughed, "You're a whole lot better at it than me. I actively scare people without really trying. You say, too, that you can't defend others, but I know that to be a lie. You just don't do it with a sword like I do. Do you remember the bandits who tried to steal our horses? Think for a moment about how that played out. You wanted to figure out why they were doing it, giving them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they were just trying to feed their families. And even when it came out they were gambling idiots, you did decide to punish them, but you also decided not to hurt them. Do you know what I would have done, Darin? What they do in Azurei to horse thieves? I would have asked no questions and swiftly removed their right hands. Done. Because that's how I know how to deal with those things. But is that really the right way? Because you decided to spare them, those men still have both hands, and maybe someday can get off their asses and get themselves a trade. What about the people of the little village we stayed in when I was injured? You might not have defended their person, but you risked yourself to defend their livelihoods. That's not 'nothing', Darin. That's everything. You might not be ready to be The Gardener right now, and that's okay. You do have much to do and to see and to learn. Nobody expects you to be perfect right away, that's not how life works. But you are not alone. There may be areas where you need help, or skills that you lack, and for those moments, you have me. I am here to guide you, and to serve this quest and by extension, you, for as long as I am needed. That doesn't mean it won't be hard. That doesn't mean we both won't miss home, and the people we love. That doesn't mean we won't fail. But we'll do this together, one day at a time." She held out her hand. "Right?"
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Darin looked at the hand that Ridahne held out in offering. The warrior was right. The very thought of someone like Khaltira, who was so evil that The Tree reached out to anyone who would listen just to get rid of her, having The Seed made her very ill. The thought of someone like Mark or this Red Hand having The Seed made Darin want to cling to The Seed all the tighter. She found herself fighting an urge to lean down and rub her hand against the band on her thigh just to make sure it was still there. She could feel it and shouldn’t check in such a public place.

To be honest she shouldn’t be having this conversation in such a public place either. Yes, it was secluded but anyone could walk by at any time. She didn’t need to draw attention to herself unless she could help it. Darin had let her panic get the better of her and that had been a foolish mistake. She almost wanted to brush the whole thing off and let Ridahne lead her back to the inn. She wasn’t sure that was wise. She didn’t want to get in another fight. They hadn’t been in a fight since The Farm. She didn’t want to break the streak in way shape or form.

Still she did not reach out for the hand. Instead her arms wrapped around herself in a semblance of a hug, “I’m scared.”

Her voice was quiet and betrayed her fear. It wasn’t something she had really discussed with anyone. Ridahne was right. Everyone started at the beginning including her. Darin knew enough to know that at the beginning of his journey The Gardener had felt similar feelings of inadequacy. He had also had the same fears. The Tree had told her that. That didn’t mean those feelings weren’t valid. If Darin failed there would be no redo. There would be no fixing any mistakes. IF Darin failed all of Astra, all of the Children of Astra would be doomed. The Gardener had barely succeeded. That was not something that the world could afford to have happen again. Darin couldn’t just barely succeed. She had to gloriously triumph. That wasn’t something she could tell anybody. The truth about Astra’s origins was a lot more complicated than people thought. It was one piece of a cycle that was practically endless. Darin had a responsibility to keep the cycle going and she was scared. She did not be one the one break it or cause a delay. No one had really failed in over a hundred changes.

Her shoulders hunched over as she fought tears, “When you messed up being a fisherman’s daughter you became an Eija. Then when you messed that up you saved lives.” Darin was doing her level best to make herself seem as small as possible, “If I mess up all of Astra is doomed. I don’t know if what I’m doing is right. I don’t know if I have enough time to do what I am doing.” She looked at her coming in desperation, “You’re right, maybe, most likely. But I’m still.” A pause as she cast her gaze back too the ground, “Scared.”
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Ridahne gave a dry chuckle. "That's a nice way of putting what happened. I killed many people before I ever started saving them. I'll never know how many deserved it and how many didn't. But...I understand. There's a lot of weight on your young shoulders, and that's a lot to handle for anyone. If it makes you feel any more...normal, I'd be pretty overwhelmed too, if I were in your position. I spent most of my life learning how to defend myself and others, how to fight, how to survive in harsh environments, how to navigate the courts of royalty...and even I'm scared, doing this. I'd probably be more concerned if you weren't scared, to some degree. I think that just sort of comes with the position, really..." She offered a wry smile that was full of both sympathy and understanding.

"It's a right mess we're in, but somehow I've got this feeling that you'd know if things weren't going well. You have...senses. An instinct or something that guides you to do things, like you did today to meet that councilman and his aide. And it tells you when things are wrong, like when Mark," she spat to the side, her face wrinkling in hatred and disgust, "first showed up. You might not know ahead of time how things will play out, but I think when the important moments come, you'll know what to do. It will guide you as it already has. If you were running out of time and failing miserably, I think you'd know."

An uloia drifted onto Ridahne's forehead and she blew it away with an awkwardly aimed puff of air. As if mildly offended, the creature took flight again and floated just above her head instead. "Tomorrow we can go the the Archives if you like, and you might be able to find something useful. Either history of past Gardners, or potentially, if we dig deep enough, there may be more recent records of visions people have had concerning you. They are very good about recording them here, we almost never do in Azurei unless it's something obviously significant." Ridahne wondered then, for the first time, if her own vision had been recorded. Certainly it counted as significant, but there was also a chance that it was sort of swept under the rug a bit in case she'd been lying to cheat death. She doubted they'd do that, but...she couldn't put it past them, either. "Anyway, maybe you can find some piece of useful information, or maybe just get to know some things about your newly adopted ancestors."
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Darin looked up at Ridahne through the fringe of her bangs that desperately needed a trim. The warrior was right. She did know things, or rather, The Seed told her things. Well, The Seed told her important things like with Mark and Ravi. It would alert her to present dangers and things that could be trusted. It was entirely possible that The Seed would know when The Tree had reached It’s truly final days. Even if The Seed didn’t know The Tree and Ravi would both know, and Darin felt almost positive that they would find some way of letting her know. She wouldn’t be left in the dark. Darin supposed that meant all she could continue to do was the best that she could which right now was to continue to protect The Seed and to make as many friends as possible.

Darin smiled weakly, “I suppose that all make sense.” She straightened out slowly, “Yeah. Let’s go to the Archives tomorrow. Who knows what they’ll have recorded there?”

It was probably the best plan that had for the moment. She certainly couldn’t think of a better one. Darin wasn’t sure what information that she would find, but she didn’t think there was be much about the past Gardeners. The Gardener was the only Gardener that Astra had every known. He would be the only Gardener that Astra would ever know. That was a depressing thought. Hopefully, it was the only hope that The Seed-Bearer really had, he would not be the only Gardener that the Children of Astra would know. Hopefully they would know Darin as she became the Gardener. She didn’t know. She could only live life and hope that she found out.

Darin pointed out, “I would like to get an early start tomorrow. If I’m understanding what you had said about the Archives, they are huge. I imagine that it will take more than a couple of days to even begin to understand a percentage of what is recorded there, and we can’t spend forever here in Lihaelen. And we can’t spend all of our time here in the Archives.” She held up her boot as an example, “I need to find a way to afford to repair these. We keep walking and riding the way we are my soles will pop clean off and I haven’t got the coin to repair them.”

Thought she supposed she could play her fiddle to get some coin. There was a performer that came to Lively with the rest of the traders that didn’t actually sell anything. He would just play his lute with the case open at his feet. People from Lively would occasionally throw some coins into the case, but no one from her little village ever did. There just wasn’t money enough to waste on music that they could make just as well on their own. It was a well know secret of the people of Darin’s tiny home that no one really thought he was very good anyways. In fact, the halfhearted whisper of, “Even Todd is better,” was a common description. That was saying something. Todd had no sense of tone or pitch whatsoever. Darin knew she much better than him, so she might get a few coins. She just wasn’t sure she wanted to play her fiddle to get it.
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Ridahne smiled and nodded. "We'll do that. Yes, it's...vast. Bigger than anything I've ever seen as far as records and libraries and archives go. Azurei has one, but it's small in comparison, and holds much more specific knowledge. The Eluri Archives are unique among Astran houses-of-record. Not only does it contain pieces of the past, but it contains fragments of the future. Among the Children of Astra, elves are the only ones who receive visions, and even then, it's only Eluri and sometimes the Azurei. The Orosi do not, unless they happen to have mixed blood."

Ridahne looked down at Darin's shoes, which had seen better days. "Oh, you should have said something! I'd have had them repaired when we were at market today. Don't worry about affording them. I...I don't talk about it much, because it's still a very foreign thing to me. But I am in no way lacking money. You have to remember I was a part of the Court of Sols, and having lived such a simple life for so long, there was nothing I could really spend my money on besides horses and blades. I always sent a portion to Hadian, back when I was still actively earning money." She looked uncomfortable, like she didn't like discussing her own wealth. It always felt wrong to her, dirty somehow, like she hadn't earned it or had more than she ought to. "I'm not saying buy everyone in the tavern a round of drinks--traveling has its expenses. But when we do have need of something, I wouldn't worry about how much it costs. And it would please me to put it to good use."

She led them back to the inn they were staying at. Upon entering, several of the river workers were still there, and they cheered and lifted their mugs at her. They tried to convince her to stay up with the company for a while, but Ridahne declined. "I have business to attend to early tomorrow. Unlike you slackers," she teased with a ghost of a smile. Ridahne went upstairs to their little room and collapsed into the bed with relish like she'd never had one before in her life. "It doesn't smell like road dust..." she said with a contented sigh. "And doesn't have roots and rocks sticking into your back..."
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Darin followed Ridahne back to the inn and had to admit that the warrior was right. If the ex-Eija had the money there would be no point in not using it. Darin silently made a promise to themselves to not over do in any regard. There was no point in wasting all of the money on useless things. That didn’t change the fact that if Darin could avoid playing the fiddle to afford fixing her boots she would leap at the chance. The human would o her level best to not look to purchase things that were not needed. It wouldn’t do to take advantage of her companion’s kindness after all.

Darin couldn’t think much more in the way of organized thought. She had followed Ridahne to bed quickly and she was exhausted from being on the road for so long. The Elf was right. The bed was incredibly. It wasn’t quite as nice as her bed at home, but that wasn’t because of a difference in comfort. Both were overstuffed feather beds. Rather it was a difference of experience. This bed smelled clean and like the forest that surround the entire city. Her bed at home smelt like, well, it smelt like home. Though Darin didn’t have much time to be home sick yet again. She was comfortable and sleep soon overtook her.

Seed-Bearer. Seed-Bearer. Seed-Bearer!

Darin sat straight up in bed. There was a voice calling to her. No, that wasn’t right. It sounded like thousands upon thousands of voices calling to her. They didn’t sound … normal. She clung to her head with her eyes clenched shut as she tried desperately to think. The voices just got louder and louder as Darin struggled to know what was going on and who was calling her. She looked around desperately to see if she could spot something or someone speaking. She spotted Ridahne still asleep in her bed and the voices seemed to come from every direction. The volume increased. How had the warrior not heard the voices?

Another voice called out in desperation, “The trees! Something’s wrong with the trees!”

That voice was … Different. Darin didn’t know how. She just practically jumped out of bed to run to that voice’s source. It led her outside to where multiple inn guests and citizens of Litaelen were gathered. They were all looking up in practical horror while some pointed. One woman had dropped to the ground and was clutching a child close to her chest. Darin looked around the crowd in confusion for a moment before letting her gaze follow the pointed fingers. Slowly her head raised to see that the trees were bent in the oddest way. They bent in a circular pattern, leaning away from a central point. The result was that the night sky and its millions of stars were plainly visible from the ground. That wasn’t right.

See! SeeSeeSeeSee! See! For you! For you! For you! To feel like home! Home. Home. Home! Seed-Bearer. For you!

The voices that were coming from all around, that hadn’t stopped once, that only she could hear, that didn’t sound like people. Slowly Darin dropped her gaze from the sky to look around her as realization dawned on her. It was the trees of the forest of Lihaelen. They were speaking to her. They knew that she was The Seed-Bearer. With that knowledge it didn’t take Darin to realize that the inn that she had been sleeping in was the central point. They hadn’t moved at all. With wide eyes Darin reached up to tug at her hair. Why were they doing this for her? To make what feel like home? Did they not realize the undue stress they were causing their people? If the trees were truly trying to welcome her it was a nice gesture, but they were going about it all wrong. Darin wasn’t sure what to do. Acting mainly on instinct she stumbled over to the trees with her inn in it. She placed a hand on the trunk and closed her eyes to focus on the voices of the forest rather then the growing alarm of the crowd behind her.

Remember what little manners she knew Darin did her best to speak back in an almost inaudible whisper, “Thank you. Thank you so much. Truly this is a gift. But you can stop now. It has to hurt, and you are worrying your people. You can stop.”

Welcome? Stay? Honored guest! Seed-Bearer! Stay!

Darin lips did curl upward slightly at their enthusiasm, “For a little while. I think I like it here the way it’s meant to be.”

Not forever! Guest! Seed-Bearer.

Darin agreed, “There are other places to visit. But for now, I would like to see Lihaelen the way it is meant to be. And I need to be able to think.”

Slowly the voices grew quieter as the trees unbent themselves to obscure the sky again. Darin opened her eyes as sighs of relief were heard across the forest. People were still tense and continued to remain tense until the trees were back to where they were supposed to be. Even them relaxing seemed to take a long time. Darin slowly dropped her hand back to her side. She didn’t think she had been seen. Everyone was too distracted by the trees to notice her. Ridahne might had though, but that was only because Ridahne might have some idea what was going on. The young human was wrong. Oliva Blackoak, aide to Councilperson Maylin Jerkins, had seen what had happened. Without hesitating she hurried to her employer’s residence. The councilperson would want to know about this in great detail.

Then the forest spoke to everyone in Lihaelen using a magic Darin didn’t know or understand. “WELCOME! WELCOME TO DARIN! THE SEED-BEARER OF ASTRA!”

Darin quickly stumbled away form the tree she had been standing by as she scanned the crowd for Ridahne. That was not good at all. She was willing to bet that trees had no ideas whatsoever about lying or subterfuge. The only hope Darin had was that she and Ridahne had not been the only ones to enter the city yesterday. That would be the conclusion that most everyone would come to; that The Seed-Bearer had come to the city yesterday and that the trees’ strange actions tonight were a way to welcome them. IF Darin and Ridhane were to only one to come to the city yesterday all suspicion would be on them. Who knew if anyone with the Red Hand or Mark’s crew, if they were two different groups, were here? Who know if there was anyone else here that wanted nothing but bad wished upon The Seed-Bearer or The Seed? Darin needed to find Ridahne. Her companion would know what to do.
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Ridahne's dreams strayed somewhere over cool waters and splashing in the waves with her brother as children. She slept harder and more peacefully than she had in a long time, though that did not abate her natural watchfulness. Tsara, her mentor, taught her to have awareness while she slept, and would sneak into her room and, if Ridahne did not catch her, would slap her awake until she learned. Ridahne did learn. And though she was peacefully and soundly asleep when Darin awoke, all it took was the sound of the door opening to rouse her. She couldn't help a small cry as she jolted upright, whipping one of her knives out from behind her back where it sat in its sheath.

The room was empty besides herself, but she thought she caught what she assumed to be Darin leaving the room and rushing down the hall. Ridahne could feel something, like an electric tingle in the air she did not understand but was keenly aware of. Something was happening, something profound and related to the Seed, like when she'd had a dream about what Darin did in the fields in the rain. Ridahne pulled out her other knife and followed out into the hall after her. Outside, she looked up and saw the trees strangely warped, and though she could not sense what Darin was clearly sensing, Ridahne knew enough to know something was happening. People were terrified, such a thing had never been seen before and could possibly be seen as some kind of ill omen. She did not sheathe her blades.

The trees relented, straightening to their usual shape with a gentle hiss and swish of branches and leaves as if they'd been stirred by a powerful but fading wind. The murmuring immediately began. The residents of Lihaelen were trying to sort out what ad happened when an omnipresent voice echoed from the surrounding forest, announcing with unbridled glee the presence of the Seed Bearer, like an excited dog barking and baying at the sight of his loving master. Ridahne's heart skipped a beat. There was some chance that this would all be fine, that no harm would come of it. But Ridahne was not trained to expect that kind of optimism. People started looking around. Their eyes fell on the bewildered human and the panicked Azurei with her knives in hand. They all stared. Ridahne was at Darin's side instantly, and she gave a loud, sharp whistle. Moments later, Mitaja appeared from the nearby stables. She'd been sleeping, but she knew her master's call when she heard it. Ridahne spoke to her hurriedly in Azurian, instructing her to "take the rear". Mitaja was well trained, and whenever Ridahne moved, Mitaja mirrored her. Together, the two stood on either side of Darin like two orbiting sentinels. Anyone wanting to speak to Darin would have to get through her first. That said, she was aware that not everyone would want to hurt Darin. Most people would be overjoyed and honored, though they in their eagerness might crowd Darin, and neither of them needed that.

"Darin," Ridahne hissed, trying to keep her voice down. "What just happened? Do you...know?" Ridahne realized Darin didn't always understand what happened around her. But clearly the elf had missed something.
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Darin found herself pressing close to Ridahne with wide eyes. People were looking at them with stunned expressions. They knew that they didn’t belong. She and Ridahne were outsiders, and Ridahne wasn’t helping with her defensive position and her knifes out ready for an attack. They were drawing more attention to themselves then Darin wanted to. A burly looking man narrowed his eyes shrewdly as he took half a step towards them. Darin instinctively pressed closer to the warrior. She wasn’t sure what she should do. Maybe they could play this off. Maybe there was a way to hold on to the lie. Should she even try to hold on to the lie. There might not be any point.

Darin’s whisper was tense as she spoke in an obscure dialect of Azurei that she could only hope Ridahne knew, “The trees. They know who I am the same way the animals do. They were trying to make me feel at home. I got them to stop. I think they are excited that I’m here. I don’t think they understand subterfuge. Even if they did, they are just glad I’m here to visit.” Her accent was terrible, “Please put the knifes away. I don’t think they are helping.”

The burly man called out in Eluri, “I saw you yesterday human, learning the bows, and being polite. Who are you?”

Darin swallowed as she shakily replied, “Martin. Martin Lively.”

The burly man advanced as Darin let out a squeak and hid between Ridahne and Mitaja, “You know it’s rude to lie don’t you human? Why are you here in Lihaelen?”

Darin was terrified and didn’t know why. Everyone in this strange city had been perfectly polite. They had given no indication that they would treat her badly if they found out she was The Seed-Bearer. That might even honor her the way the Workers at The Farm had. She just wasn’t sure it would be worth losing her anonymity. One person could keep a secret. Two might could keep a secret. When more people knew the secret there were more chances for it to come out. Darin wasn’t sure all of Astra needed to know who she was just yet. She had just started her journey after all. She was hoping to get to Azurei before her identity became widely known.

^_^

The emergency council meeting was the fastest the Council of the Seven Winds had gathered. Most were still in their night clothes. All were in disarray. Not a single one of them had been aware that the trees of the forest were aware enough to know what was going on, much less speak to the people of Lihaelen like they had just done. There were so many questions that this event alone raised. Almost none of these questions had answers. Why had the trees done this? What would The Seed-Bearer think of this? Would it be possible to keep The Seed-Bearer’s identity under wraps? Should they seek The Seed-Bearer to honor her? Had The Seed-Bearer caused this? What had even happened? What was the best course of action for the Elves of Eluri? Was damage control possible? What even was damage control at this point?

President Lilain asked, “As anyone meet her yet? Or even seen her?”

Goran was quick to answer, “I have.”

Hosh quickly asked, “What was she like?”

Goran shrugged, “She looked like farmboy in over her head. She had no knowledge of our customs because she clumsily matched my bow of noble to farmer.”

Mayling jumped in, “Are you sure she didn’t know?”

Goran pointed to Isaac, “Mr. Armin reported that she was eager to learn the bows and was a passable student. She’s going by the name Martin Lively.”

Juliana commented, “So she’s not looking to be known.”

Goran shook his head, “I don’t think so. I think she wants to learn and know; not be honored and praised. She’s young, even for a human.”

There was silence for a moment before the president spoke again, “Mr. Armin. Go see if you can fetch her. Other aides will go fetch any other visitors to Lihaelen that arrived yesterday. Let’s see what we can discover.”
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If it was any other time, Ridahne might have laughed in surprise at the use of the ancient Azurian dialect. She knew it, and some remote clans still used it regularly. But it wasn't the time for that, and she did not spare it any more thought before switching to it herself. "Trees can...do that?" She was stunned, though she supposed she shouldn't be, considering both of them were tightly wound in the fate of a highly powerful, magical, sentient tree. But that was the tree, not just any tree....right? Ridahne's two khukri blades softly reflected the glow of nearby uloia, and in that soft light they did not look so sinister as when they reflected moonlight in the hands of their ghostly owner in the dark. They seemed things of beauty, like poetry in metal form, and yet they still had a dangerous air. Ridahne was not keen to lower them.

"I'll put them down when this brick takes a step back..." she hissed. The warrior was bristling like a challenged wolf. Her training had a lot to do with it, but so did their run in with the Red Hand. That experience had changed her, even if just a little. She stared down the burly man who'd come forward and a memory unbidden came of hands around her neck. She took a breath. This was Lihaelen, not the road, and the man did not appear armed. Ridahne shook off the feeling, or tried to. She seemed to have a change of heart about her blades, though, and slowly, hesitantly, brought them behind her back to skillfully slip them into their quiet leather sheathes under her shirt. It was like she never had them. Her hands, though, stayed down. Down, and very close to the hidden handles of her knives. "If we need a diversion, and to give them all something else to talk about, I can always tell them that I am Ridahne Sol-Slayer, Oathbreaker. That will give them all something to chew on for a long time, and encourage them all to leave us alone out of fear. Besides, they might assume that the Seed-Bearer wouldn't associate with someone so heinous and rule you out. Say the word and I'll do it." Ridahne left the option in Darin's hands.

Ridahne took a step forward towards the stranger; though he was large, she was just barely taller, albeit a great deal slimmer. "It's not wise to harass an Azurei's apprentice. Forgive my unfriendliness," she said with a bit of an edge, "But we've had a hard road, and my trust in strangers is thin. My apprentice and I are passing through Lihaelen. We did not come to cause trouble with its residents...but all the same, I advise that you keep your distance. There's no reason for either of us to do anything rash, after all." It was an attempt at a cover as to why she'd reacted as she did, and it was true enough. Even if these people were not agents of the Red Hand, Ridahne saw no reason why they couldn't cause mischief of their own. She just wanted to get herself and Darin back inside, but turning and bolting wouldn't help their case either.
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Darin wasn’t sure what to tell Ridahne. It wouldn’t be fair to her to expect her to reveal her secret when Darin was averse to revealing hers. Besides what good would it really do? Even though it meant people would avoid them attention would still be on them. Besides who knew? They might be asked to leave Lihaelen. That would not be good. Darin didn’t want to even think about what the trees would do if she left before staying for at least a little bit. She didn’t think that they would be happy with that. They might not let her leave. She didn’t want that to happen. She couldn’t let that happen.

She whispered back hoarsely, “They are alive Ridahne. They think, not like us, not like animals, but they do feel. They have lives. Astra is their home too.”

Darin had not been surprised that the trees had spoken to her. Then again, she had always known that plants were living things. She had known that long before she had taking over the work at her farm. As small children all of her peers had been taking out into the fields to sit and watch and listen at various times of the year. They had been taught to respect all things that grew in Astra. She was willing to bet that Ridahne and the people of Lihaelen had similar understandings even if they were slightly different. All the living things in Astra, people, animals, plants, lived in a sort of balance. Good people knew that. She wasn’t sure bad people did.

Before she could answer Ridahne in regard to telling the Azurei’s story to the people another voice rang out, “Warrior Torenzi,” Darin’s head flipped around to see Mr. Armin, “If you wouldn’t mind the Council of the Seven Winds has asked that every outsider that has entered Lihaelen in the last day or so attend to them immediately. So, if you and your apprentice would come with me.” He eyed the blades warily, “I’m sure that this could be settled peaceably.”

Darin wasn’t so sure about that, but the man that had been advancing stopped dead in his tracks as the aide appeared. There were no bows. It was clear that this Council had reacted pretty much instantly to either the trees moving or the message that was carried on the wind. Darin looked around the room and realized that the instant reaction provided some level of calm. People weren’t so wary. They relaxed as they realized that their government had things under control. Going with Mr. Armin might prove that they were willing to cooperate if people were advancing with scowls on their faces. Darin knew they couldn’t stay her without a fight. They couldn’t get back inside without a fight. The only way to get out of this without a fight was to go with Mr. Armin. She just wasn’t sure what Ridahne would think of that.

Darin hissed lightly, “Ridahne. We should go.” She switched to Eluri, “We don’t want trouble, do we?”
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Somehow, even in a moment like this when she was bristling and on edge, the first thing she thought about when Darin said the trees were alive were the red palms that grew outside Nailih's home. Nailih, who had first put the seed of doubt in her mind that her Sol was crooked and corrupt. What did those palms think of her deeds that night? Would they forgive her now, if she ever returned? What about the juniper bushes that secluded her while she killed Takhun? Ridahne visibly shivered, some of her ire melting away into a numb horror. Some, but not all. She'd always known plants and trees were alive, and like all elves, she was taught the importance of balance in nature, of the sanctity of life. But she'd never guessed they had thoughts of their own.

A man called out her name and Ridahne turned so sharply that the two fabric-bound strands of hair tipped with bone pendants whirled and slapped her face. She stared down Mr. Armin with her fiery golden eyes, though those two little embers cooled a little as she recognized him. A breath she didn't know she'd been holding slipped past her lips. Ridahne took another slow, deep breath and made an effort to compose herself a little. She was of the same mind as Darin, and just wanted to get out of here. Ridahne gave Mitaja a quick pet and a soft word of thanks before releasing her to trot back to the stables. "Quite peaceably," she said with a small nod, making a show of her empty hands. "We wish no harm and no trouble."

They followed Mr. Armin, but Ridahne hung back slightly so she could have a few quiet words with Darin. "Remind me to thank them for that. I trust them far more than anyone else out there. It's not that I think anyone would want to do you harm, those are ordinary folk with ordinary cares. But individuals can be unpredictable, and that lot was frightened. Royalty--elected or otherwise--have reputations to uphold, and broad implications for each and every little action. Even if they wanted to harm you, I doubt they would, or they'd have a riot on their hands. The council is reasonably safe, I believe. But they may have their own motives for sweet words and kind deeds. Stay on your guard. What's more...I don't have the same senses about people that you do, but I've seen a thing or two and I've got a feeling that they already know who we are. They're a smart, well informed bunch and they were very quick to find us just now. I'll bet my left hand they know, but are being polite, or secretive for their own reasons. Do with that information what you will," she advised.
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Well that was not information that Darin particularly wanted to know. She supposed that it was good that she now knew. Though she had to wonder if that meant that Councilman Malane’s friendless was because he already knew who she was or if he was friendly to everyone that was new to Lihaelin. She wasn’t sure there was a way to be sure. She had to wonder the same thing about Mr. Armin. Was there another reason why he taught her all the bows? She wasn’t sure that she wanted to wonder. She wanted to have faith in the goodness of people’s nature. That seemed a bit naive, but it seemed better than being automatically suspicious of everybody.

Speaking of Mr. Armin, he led them to a building and through to an open room with a glass ceiling. There were seven people sitting in chairs on an elevated dais. They were in various states of dress that implied that they had rushed here straight from their beds. Darin recognized Councilman Malane and it wasn’t hard to figure out they were the other Council members. Other people were joining them being led by people Darin figured were aides like Mr. Armin. There was a good mix of humans, Elves, and Sirens. There weren’t a small number of them, but there were enough to fill the room.

A tall woman stood up from the center chair, “I am President Lilain Silen. We have reasons to believe that one of you is The Seed-Bearer of Astra. We would like to know which one of you it is. Seed-Bearer Darin, please step forward.”

Darin forced herself to remain still. She didn’t know what to say. If they really knew who she was they weren’t acting like it. She supposed that meant the next move was hers. She wasn’t sure she knew what the next move should be. There were so many options and unless someone else stepped forward to claim the title suspicion would always be on the people in the room, save the Council of the Seven Winds and their aides. Though it would not be good if someone else tried to claim the title. Darin wasn’t sure she knew what Astra would do to someone that claimed to be The Seed-Bearer. There were too many choices and possibilities.

Before Darin could decide what to do a male Siren stepped forward with fire in his eyes, “This is ridiculous! The Seed-Bearer is here, there is no doubt of that. That does not mean he wants to be known. There are a multitude of reasons for him to come to Lihaelin, your hospitality to outsiders, the busy market, the archives. I do sincerely doubt that he wants to be known. If he did all of Astra would know this Darin by now.”

A raven-haired human snapped at the Siren, “We don’t even know that they are male! They could be a she. No in Astra knows anything about them except perhaps the Workers at The Farm. Now we know that their name is Darin, but other than that everything about them is still a mystery.”

An Azurei Elf stepped joined the discussion, “Do we have a right to know? Doesn’t all of Astra have a right to know? The Seed-Bearer is important to all of Astra. Secrets will do us no good. We should us this opportunity to discover more about them.”

Darin found herself stepping forward to speak, “Does it matter if the Children of Astra want to know? The Seed-Bearer has chosen to remain anonymous. We should respect that.”

A different Siren from the first one scoffed. “The Azurei is right. We have a right to know.”

Another Elf that Darin thought might be an Orosi scoffed, “And what would we do with said knowledge? Welcome them into our cities? Provide them with traveling trains? We don’t even know what The Seed-Bearer’s plans are planting The Seed. Can we guarantee that we won’t get in the way?”

Things were about to get out of hand, but President Silen raised her voice, “Enough! There will order in the Council room.” She eyed the visitors with hard eyes, “Does anyone have any thing to add in a peaceable manner?”
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Ridahne remained silent through the rest of the hurried walk there, and while everyone was chaotically trying to sort out what to do. She needed a moment to read these people. She'd had dealings with the Council of Seven Winds once before, briefly. She'd been called in to track down a known and dangerous murderer that had somehow escaped from imprisonment and was attempting to flee. Ridahne found him, of course, and the Council had briefly thanked her, paid her, and sent her with a tribute to her Sol for allowing the use of her eija. She did not have extended dealings with any of them, not like she had with the Court of Sols. Ridahne knew the manners and moods of all five Sols to some degree or another, but she did not know these people, their temperament, or their priorities. She needed a moment to sort them out.

It seemed to her like they just wanted answers, wanted to know what had just happened in their own city. That was fair enough, and they had a right to understand what happened as best as anyone could. But Ridahne wasn't entirely certain they had a right to know who Darin was. Clearly, they had not heard enough information about her, or they would have called off all pretense and gone right to business. Or maybe that was the Azurei way. Maybe the Eluri were less direct in these things. At any rate, they did not give away that they knew, though they seemed to at minimum have a strong guess that either she or Darin knew something or were involved in some way. But Ridahne wanted them to come out and say it. She was about to stamp her foot on the floor and shout for silence, but the president quieted them all first and called order.

Ridahne didn't miss a beat. "What do you want? It's the middle of the night, we'd both much rather be in bed, so what do you want with us? You can debate the identity of the Seed-Bearer all you like after we've gone, but you have us here for some reason or another, so out with it." Her tone wasn't hostile, but it was agitated and had a hard edge to it. She wasn't in the mood to play games and would much prefer if they'd just be more direct. Still, she wasn't about to play their hand too soon, and spoke in a way that could feign ignorance without outright lying.

It was like they hadn't even noticed Ridahne beyond being a second body standing next to the young human. Their eyes had mostly been on Darin, and since Ridahne had been quiet, she melted into the background until the moment she spoke. They looked at her, and of the group, two of their faces suddenly changed. One with a sense of shock and hesitant awe, the other with a cold horror. The second was the Azurei, a middle-aged man. Both he and the other could read ojih, and they read hers. Ridahne's eyes locked on the Azurei in defiance.

"We stand in the midst of a traitor to Azurei and her people," the man said icily, but with a fair measure of control. "There stands the Sol-Slayer." Murmuring broke out, but Ridahne groaned and rolled her eyes, clearly tired of this but resigned that it would keep happening.
"Fine, yes, I am she. The full tale is one I don't have the time or patience to tell you all now, though perhaps if I did, you wouldn't be staring at me like that. And forget apprehending me the moment this little soiree is over, kinsman. Do you think the Sota-Sol doesn't know where I am? I was banished, I did not escape. Even were you to tie me up and present me to her, she would not accept your gift. She knows my fate and is content. Let that be enough for you." Ridahne's words were so strong, and her will was so unwavering in this that the Azurei man fell silent, even though his mouth worked soundlessly for a while as he tried to think of something to say. She addressed the council as a whole now. "I didn't come here to assassinate anyone, in case you're wondering," she said sardonically, "We're just passing through and don't want any trouble. So again I ask, what do you want from us?"
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How dare he! How dare he! How dare he think that! How dare he think that Ridahne was, was, was a threat or something! How dare he evaluate her character based solely on the markings in her ojih! Who did he think he was? Darin felt her temper rising. She clenched her fist tightly in order to refrain from doing something she might regret. She was slightly surprised at herself. She wanted to hurt this man judging her Seed-Chained. That would draw attention to themselves that they didn't need. Besides it wasn't exactly fair of her to make such judgments. Just like this man didn't know Ridahne Darin did not know him. She needed to try to be fair.

It did not matter though. Outside of the building they were in the trees sensed The Seed-Bearer's anger. They didn't understand why she was angry; they just knew that she was. They began to sway ominously and sent the building was built right into the trees the building quaked as well. At first it was a soft shaking, but it wasn't surprising that soon everyone in the room noticed the movement. Sounds of shock and question escaped people as they moved closer today without thinking. There were people looking around, so Darin's hurried glances around did not seem out of place.

A Siren barely breathed, "What's going on?"

A Councilperson answered, "The trees are angry. I think. This has never happened before. That's part of why we are so concerned. It is possible that if things like this continue that Lihaelin could be destroyed. We are hoping that The Seed-Bearer would be able to tell us what is happening and why."

Okay, that was a fair point. It wasn't like any one was truly equipped to deal with an entire forest worth of trees suddenly moving. Darin forced herself to take several deep breathes in an effort to calm down. She was fairly certain that the trees were responding to what she was feeling. She couldn't let her emotions get the better of her. The Councilperson had pointed out that people didn't know what was going. It wouldn't do to cause them unnecessary worry. Soon, after several deep breathes, Darin managed to calm down. As she got her emotions under control the trees calmed down as well, and the shaking ceased.

A human male breathed a sigh of relief, "It's over. Thank The Tree."

A quiet fell over the group only to be broken by a small voice speaking in heavily accented common, "Papa, I'm tired."

Practically every head in the room whipped around to see a small Siren child rubbing their eyes. It was clear that the little girl was truly exhausted. It was also apparent that the child's guardian, who was holding the child no older than eight, had instructed her to speak in common in a voice loud enough to be heard. Darin felt her anger rising again. This time it was directed towards the Council of the Seven Winds. They had pulled a child from their sleep to hold this meeting. How dare they! Darin forced herself to breathe deeply. She didn't need to upset the trees again.

The guardian told his charge, "I know Marinia. Give me just a moment." He looked at the Council with fire in his eyes, "If you have no more need of us, we will be going back to bed."

President Silen shook her head, "No. We have plenty to discuss. You are dismissed."

The Siren scoffed as he turned on his heel. After he had left another discussion filled the air. This one became heated as people started to say that they wanted to leave. Some did not wait for permission. Some just left. It almost seemed like there would be a riot. Guards looked confused. Aides looked lost. Darin thought that might be a good thing. They might get to leave with the rest of the crowd. Darin bit her tongue to keep from speaking up. She didn't need to draw any more attention to the two of them tonight. She really wasn't looking for trouble.

President Silen clapped her hands once and silence fell, "You may all leave!" Then her eyes landed on Ridahne, "Save you and your companion Azurei criminal. You say you are not here to assassinate anyone. Let us see why you here." Then, once every was out of the room save the Council, their aides, and a few guards the president fell back into her chair with a tired sigh, "Enough games." She rubbed the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger, "Please stop exciting the trees Darin Seed-Bearer."

Darin couldn't stop the small noise of alarm that escaped her. Without even thinking about it she ducked behind Ridahne. They did know! Why didn't they say something earlier? Could she deny it? Would there be any point in denying it? Did she want to deny it? She wasn't sure what to say. They weren't like farmers. She had no idea how to talk to people with power. It wasn't like she had anything in common with them. Hadn't Ridahne once been a part of the Azurei court? Was it wrong of her to want to leave this to Ridahne to solve? She wasn't sure. Currently all Darin could think to do was make herself as small as possible behind the warrior.
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Ridahne didn't get an answer at first, but she knew her partner's moods a bit better by now, and she could see Darin was upset. Ridahne was about to soothe Darin and call her off. Ridahne had come to terms long ago with this kind of treatment, and it didn't rile her as much as it used to anyway. Someday Astra would know the real story. Even though Astra was not ready for that yet, Ridahne was not ashamed. At any rate, none of it was a lie, and that was enough for her. A half truth, but not a lie. But then the trees began to rustle and creak with their sudden movement, and the room shook and tilted. Ridahne dropped into a more balanced stance, ready to run or brace or whatever she needed to do. And though she had no idea exactly what was happening, the little tingle of something in the back of her mind made her sure that it had to do with Darin. Ridahne locked eyes with Darin, giving her an urgent look. What are you doing?

To her relief, the shifting and lurching stopped, and the room fell into a relieved silence. This was insane. This was absolutely insane, and she had no idea what this young human girl was really capable of. A cold thrill ran down her spine, tempered by the fact that she knew Darin's nature and knew that she would not use this power for dark deeds. Still, it was awe inspiring to see how much power Darin had, and yet her full power was not yet counted. For a moment, she thought they might be dismissed, and for one fleeting second she thought she might be wrong about her assessment that the council knew. But then they were singled out, and Ridahne knew it was all over.

Darin slid behind her, and Ridahne reached a cool hand back to grip her arm gently and in solidarity. I've got this. This she knew how to navigate, and if doing so would offer her companion some peace, she'd be glad to serve. She spoke quietly, but with a hard, dangerous edge. "If you knew half the story of who I am, and how I came to be Sol-Slayer, you would not think it wise to play games with me and mine. I will be the pawn of no Sol, no Councilor, no King. I have suffered abuse at the hands of people who play with the lives of their dedicated servants like a cat bats about a mouse before finally striking and consuming it. I will not suffer it again." Her voice was steadily rising into almost a shout. "If you want words with me, or with Darin, you will speak plainly, you will speak directly, and you will not manipulate us into giving out information we don't want to reveal. I am Ridahne Torzinei and I have spoken!" With that, she pounded her fist against her chest with a hollow thump, and stamped her foot in a forward motion--an Azurei warrior's gesture of challenge.

Ridahne let the slap of her bare foot against the floor ring out for a moment in the silence that followed before taking a breath and adding in a slightly cooler tone, "We've had a very difficult road," she explained. It was not an apology for her outburst--she'd stand her ground on that one. But they deserved to understand her, at least. "Astra is under attack. No, I do not speak of war. There is a disease in her midst that seeks to destroy its host. If you'd like to know what they're capable of, ask yourself what kind of person can bring an Azurei eija-alihn two steps from death. Beware the Red Hand. They nearly killed me to get to Darin, but it is my fate to see to it that she is protected at all costs. From murderers, and from people who would seek to manipulate her for their own causes and gains. If you want my trust, and hers, you'll have to earn it. We had hoped to remain anonymous, and you all must swear to both of us, swear upon the Tree, that anything discussed in this room tonight does not leave it without the express permission of the Seed-Bearer. Have I made myself clear?" She was firm, but her wrath had cooled a little.
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President Silen sighed as she waved her hand at Ridahne, “Yes, yes, yes. As you say. Everyone in this room will swear whatever oath The Seed-Bearer asks us to swear. I’ll start. By The Tree, I swear”

Darin suddenly exclaimed, “No!” She stumbled out from behind Ridahne, “No. The Tree is dying and does not have the strength to hold such an oath maker accountable.” She stood up straight with her shoulders square, “And I am The Seed-Bearer.”

Suddenly a wind picked up to blow around the room. It ruffled Darin’s nondescript brown hair. A shriek was heard as Darin instinctively lifted her arm. From somewhere Taja flew into land before letting out another shriek. The wind picked up as all the lanterns in the room went dark. The uloia that had suddenly swarmed around Darin kept the room from going entirely dark. They lit her up with a type of eerie glow that reflected in her eyes. Cats slinked in. Trees rustled. Other animals followed as thunder could be heard to crack across the sky. The Seed-Bearer was speaking, and Astra was listening.

The Seed-Bearer finished her statement as The Seed burned almost red hot against her skin, “Swear by The Seed or not at all. Everyone in this room will swear that nothing said here tonight will be spoken of with someone not present. This will remain secret until such time as I choose to reveal it.”

They stared at Darin in shock, alarm and silence. Then one of the two guards fell into a bow that Darin didn’t quite recognize, “I am Mrixze Janeel, and I swear to you Darin Seed-Bearer on both my honor and on The Seed that nothing discussed here will escape my lips or my hand. I take these secrets to the grave. May the trees and the stars bare witness of this oath and know of my sincerity. May you bear witness to this oath and know of my sincerity. Please accept this promise and know that I mean no harm.”

The bow was deep. The guard was bowing at his waist in an almost perfect right angle. His left fist was placed on his forehead. His right palm was over his heart. He maintained eye contact with Darin the entire time he spoke. It was clear that everyone in the room was waiting for something from Darin. She figured it was an acceptance of the oath, and she was willing to give it. She just wanted to do it right and she wasn’t 100 percent sure how to do that. She didn’t know what this bow meant, and she wasn’t she what the correct response bow was.

So, she found herself asking, “What is the meaning this bow?” The president started to speak only to be cut off with a swift look from Darin, “Mr. Armin?”

Mr. Armin took the request in stride, “It serves only one purpose Seed-Bearer. It is the bow that the Eluri use to show honor and respect to The Gardener. It is fitting that the honor is extended to his heir as well. The words are a modified version of the second highest oath an Eluri can give. Only swearing on The Tree is higher.”

Darin couldn’t help letting out the short cutting laugh that escaped her as she side-eyes Ridahne, “It would have been nice if Ravi had taught us useful things instead of causing fights.” She then turned her attention back to Guard Janeel, “Tell me Mr. Armin, what are the correct words and bow to accept such an oath.”

Mr. Armin shook his head, “There is no bow to give in response. But the words would be, ‘The stars and the trees bear witness. I bear witness. I will hold you to your word and honor. I accept this oath.”

Darin found herself modifying the words, “The Seed bears witness of this oath. I bear witness of this oath. Hold yourself to your word. Choose right over honor. I thank you Mrixze Janeel, for your oath, for your courage, for your heart. I accept this oath.”

When Darin was done the guard rose from his bow and other followed suit. The words the Eluri said only changed when they gave their name. Darin’s words held the same modifications. President Silen was second to make her oath, and she seemed slightly upset that the guard had beaten her to saying it first. No one was reluctant to make such heavy promises. The Seed and Darin could feel the goodness of the people in this room. They weren’t pure and Darin had a feeling that they had made some less than ideal choices in the past. Still their hearts were good, and Darin found herself willing to accept that.

Soon Darin had accepted the last oath and The Seed-Bearer turned to her Seed-Chained with a soft smile on her face, “Ridahne, my beautiful Seed-Chained.” She found herself reaching out to run a quick and gentle finger over the Azurei’s cheekbone before dropping her hand, “We cannot ask for what we will not give. I have asked for so much from you my marvelous warrior and I will ask for more yet that I will not ask from others. Now I ask for oath of silence as I have asked of them. Will you give it for me?”

The room was still only lit by uloia. The wind still blew though as all the trees of Lihaelin swayed lightly. Mitaja had come from somewhere and pressed against Darin’s legs with an arched back and a deep purr. The arm holding Taja was just about to start going numb as she hadn’t dropped once. That changed as the hawk hopped from Darin’s arm to Ridahne’s shoulder to run his beak though Ridahne’s hair. Darin wasn’t sure what message she was trying to convey. She thought she might be trying to tell the people here that she wouldn’t ask for what she couldn’t give. She thought she might be trying to say that no matter what The Seed-Chained had done in the past that The Seed-Bearer loved her and would defend her. Maybe it was both. Maybe it was neither. Darin still felt a peace like she had never known before. So did The Seed. Whatever she was doing it was right.
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Blackfridayrule One Who Plays With Fire

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Ridahne supposed she should be used to strange happenings by now, traveling so far with Darin, but when she declared who she was, there was a shift in the air of the room that left her in awe. It was an electric feeling, a chill that was not unpleasant. Mitaja had somehow made her way into the room, and Ridahne absently reached a hand out to pet her as she paced between them affectionately. Ridahne was aware of a sensation, something she couldn't identify exactly, tugging at a corner of her mind. She had felt it much more strongly when Darin had made her Seed-Chained, though at the time she was too emotional to pay any attention to it. She'd felt it again when it had rained in that little village, and even in her sleep, Ridahne could sense something powerful happening. The moment she became Seed-Chained, she had a fraction of a connection to whatever was happening with Darin's power and the Seed. It wasn't much, a mere breeze in a storm of magic and power. But it was there.

A voice spoke with a tone Ridahne knew down to her core. They did not know if it was their place to speak, and it probably wasn't, but they had something to say anyway. Ridahne knew that feeling. It was one of the guards, and he was so overcome with love and conviction that the oath just seemed to burst out of him. Ridahne felt a connection with him, and she swore that if she got the opportunity, she'd buy that man a drink. She made eye contact with him when he'd finished his oath and finally looked away from Darin, and she nodded to him slightly in deep approval. He seemed to regard that as a high complement, and Ridahne could see how much he beamed after that. She had noted Darin's reply, and the modifications made to the traditional one. Right over Honor. Ridahne guessed that she and her story had influenced some of that thought, and it made her proud, though she might have argued that there was no higher honor than doing what was right. Not now though. It was a mere philosophical point that had no bearing on the oath itself, and would undoubtedly ruin the moment.

One by one, the members of the meeting took their oaths, all with honest sincerity. When Darin asked Ridahne to do the same, she felt no resistance in her own heart. The elf smiled. "I asked for their silence, and you're right, it's a bad example to ask for things you yourself will not give. I will give my oath." Ridahne straightened with an air of ritual and pulled out both of her blades from behind her back, dropped to one knee with her head bowed, and presented the blades to Darin. The point was not that she would take them, not physically, but they were presented to her hilt-first as a sign of submission and good will. She spoke loudly and clearly for all to hear.

"I, Ridahne Torzinei, daughter of the Night Sky, eija-alihn, Sol-Slayer, Oathbreaker, Guardian and Seed-Chained of Astra, do hereby swear a vow of silence regarding words spoken here tonight, unless express permission be given to me by the Seed-Bearer herself. I swear by my honor, by the stars, by my ancestors, by my steel, and by the Seed of Astra. May the Moon bear witness to this oath."

She rose, bowed in the Azurei fashion, and sheathed her blades. Some of her air of ceremony dropped for a moment as she reached out one slim hand to give a gentle squeeze on Darin's arm--a gesture of nothing but love for her friend. "I'm here," she said softly to only Darin. She wanted to give Darin the opportunity to speak, but also to remind her that if Darin no longer wanted to, or was unsure of how to deal with such high people, Ridahne would be there to back her up in an instant.
Hidden 15 days ago Post by LadyAnnaLee
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LadyAnnaLee Nine Sided Awesomeness. Nine Sided Glory

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Darin let out a bright laugh that almost betrayed the solemnity of the moment as Ridahne made her oath. Oh, how it differed from the oath that the Eluri had given. Oh, how Darin cherished it. The Seed-Bearer had no doubt of her Seed-Chained’s loyalty. She had no doubt that if she had reached for the blades they would have been given willingly. Darin felt like she could sing, and that Astra would sing with her. Ridahne stood by her, guided her, bent to her whims. There was no doubting the warrior’s loyalty and, dare Darin say it, love. Those Sols had no idea whatsoever what they had given up. No matter, The Seed-Bearer was more than happy to reap the rewards of their folly.

Darin smiled at her friend one last time before turning back to the Council, “Now that that is settled, how did you know who I was?”

President Silen sighed as she flapped a hand at the human, “Visions child. The Eluri are graced with visions. They are unpredictable. Legally it is required to report visions. That is not always the case. It is possible that others know of you.”

Not just possible and being called “child” cause Darin’s nose to wrinkle. She wasn’t sure why. When she had first meet Ridahne she had insisted that she needed no fancy titles, that she was just a farm girl. Well, farm girls didn’t mind being called “child” by people that were certainly their betters the way President Silen was not only in age but authority as well. Months ago, it wouldn’t have bothered her. Darin would have simply raised an eyebrow and moved forward. Of course, the person Darin was months a go wouldn’t have any dreams to meet the President of the Eluri. Things and changed, and while she knew it was connected to being The Seed-Bearer she wasn’t completely sure how or what it meant for her.

President Silen was not privy to the young human’s thoughts, “That’s why we would appreciate you not exciting the trees of the forest. We don’t want any unsavory characters being able to find you.”

Well that was a thought that was long overdue. Unsavory people had looked for and found her already. They also tried to kill her. Ridahne had said to look for the Red Hand. Darin was starting to wonder if the president was listening or just heard what she wanted to hear. If she only wanted to hear what she wanted to hear that would make telling the truth that much harder. Darin was not looking forward to harder. Harder was not what her tired mind needed right now. Absently she lifted a hand towards the uloia. One landed on her extended finger. Darin hadn’t asked for that. It simply wanted to be closer to her. With wide unblinking eyes focused on the flashing insect Darin slowly moved her hand towards Ridahne’s face. Slowly her hand reached out towards her complanion and the uloia took flight again to land on the Azurei’s nose. Darin giggled at the sight. Other uloia took heart at the noise and moved to land in the warrior’s hair and face. Darin watched for a moment, a craftly but gleeful smile on her face, before turning back towards the Council.

Her truth was simple, “I’m not. I’m not exciting the trees or the creatures that live in the forest. They know I am here and grew excited on their own. I do not control their actions now nor will I in the future. Occansionally I ask them for something, and they oblige me, but in the end the choice is theirs. That is the greatest gift that any citizen, whether human, Elf, Siren, tree, animal, Sea, Stone, or Sky have; the gift of Choice. The Children of Sea and Stone and Sky have to make choices with consequences that are more complex than the choices that plants or animals have to make. Yet they still have the right to their choices; just the same as you and I. The Tree and The Gardener refused to take their choice just as They refused to take ours. I do not have visions so I do not know what the future I am trying to create will be like, but I do known that is one choice I am happy to make; the choice to let others make their own choices.” She gestured out with empty hands, “So the trees are excited I am come. The rains are eager to please me. The ground trips me as to drag me close. That is their choice. I choose to respect it.” She paused as her hands dropped and she grew more serious, “I have asked them not to bend as to show the stars again, and they have agreed. I will ask them behave, but I do not know what they will say.”

Darin decided that if President Silen was going to call her a child she might as well act like one. She was tired and tired children pouted. Without thinking too much about it Darin wrapped her arms around Ridahne’s neck and slumped her head on to the warrior’s shoulder. She upset the uloia that were landing on the Azurei and they took flight quickly to avoid getting rattled further. Darin paid them no mind as she pressed her face into her friend’s shoulder. Taja had still been running his beak though Ridahne’s hair and let out a screech to protest. Darin didn’t pay him much mind either. The bird pouted as he fluttered to regain his balance. He started to run his beak though Darin’s hair since she was now available.

Darin spoke in quiet Azurei, “Ridahne. Will you tell them about the Red Hand so we can go? I’m tired. It’s been a long night. And we have things to discuss. Just the two of us.”
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Blackfridayrule One Who Plays With Fire

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The softly pulsing and glowing uloia drifted lazily from Darin's hand onto Ridahne's nose and settled there as though it meant to have a nap. Ridahne's face was priceless. She was still a warrior, and still could be a terror when she got serious or angry, and though she'd been holding herself with the proud dignity of a daughter of Azurei, the uloia was just big enough to tickle horribly. Her face contorted into a squinting, frowning mess of ink, and it was clear she was trying not to laugh. That was, until the rest of the little flying insects settled in her hair, and behind her ears, and all over her face. Her whole face screwed up then, and she gently blew a few puffs of air to try and shoo enough of them away that she could see properly--the glow was starting to glare against the gentle dim lighting of the room.

Muttering in Azurian, she breathed, "leave me alone, or Taja will eat you!" He clearly had no intention of doing so, and was more occupied with grooming Ridahne's wavy hair. It probably did need a good brushing. "Ai!" She waved a hand across her face, gently ushering the creatures away, though they still lingered about the pair in the air around them.

The elf grew serious again as she nodded to Darin. "You speak as if you believe we have not been found by evil people, but we have. Not tonight, maybe--we can hope--but we have. A few weeks ago, when wen entered into the borderlands, we were ambushed. A group calling themselves the Red Hand knew we were coming, because their leader and a few among them were Eluri, and they had Seen me and knew that I was with the Seed Bearer. There was another group we met some time ago who were human, and I believe they are also part of the Red Hand. They were thugs, and they were not prepared to deal with me. But this second group, they were. They knew exactly who they were dealing with. Not one of them made it out of that encounter alive, but I nearly was counted among the dead. If Darin had not acted quickly and gotten me to help, I would not have survived." Ridahne lifted her shirt, revealing not only the hidden blade harness she always wore, but the ugly red scar where the hurled sword had bitten in deep. "I've got more than just that to show for it, but I don't think I need to."

The implication that there were people out there who both had ill will towards the Seed Bearer, and were capable enough in combat to nearly kill an Azurei eija-alihn, was not lost on the council. A soft murmur rose among them. One man spoke up quietly. "But you said they were all dead, yes? Does that not solve the problem, then?"
Ridahne shook her head. "No. This is bigger than any one band of rogues, however capable they might be. There's more of them out there, in all the nations of Astra. That includes Eluri, and that includes Azurei. Though," she added with a dark chuckle, "they'd be fools to show themselves there. We all know how much Azurei detests traitors." There was a lot of venom in that word, though whether it referred to her own experience as a perceived traitor, or to the sins of the Red Hand was unclear. "They'd been harassing a small village up north, knowing we'd pass through there. The elders enlisted two eija and their apprentice to sort out the problem, but they had no luck tracking them down until we came. They are intercepting messages, and since they have Azurei and Eluri in their ranks, they also receive visions. I urge you to be on your guard, and to act quickly on any reports of roving bands of thugs or missing messages. And..." she added as an afterthought, "It would be helpful to sow disinformation on our plans and whereabouts, when you can. If we leave here and go south, say we went southwest. Any way you can help keep us concealed would be a great help to us."

Ridahne sighed, suddenly feeling very worn out. "Is there any part of this discussion that can't be continued tomorrow? You've had your theatrics, and now you know what you need to know. We are guests in your home," she said with a respectful bow, "but we are guests and not servants. We are not here to answer your call, Council. I respectfully ask your leave to go back to bed, but I assure you, my asking is merely a polite gesture..." There was a warning tone there. If they did not release them, and if Ridahne did not feel there was anything important left to discuss, then she would march right out of there with Darin in tow, whether she was released or not. "Besides, you might find me less testy after a night of sleep and a bit of breakfast as a peace offering for keeping us up..."
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