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Kire inhaled sharply as she looked at Ruli. Back to Ziad. She hadn’t gone back there since they had killed the Kartaian scouts sent to capture her. “Are you sure?” she asked him. She almost said he didn’t have to, that she could investigate the temple by herself, though she could also guess what he would say to that. “We can talk to the Ziadi and Envy first. Investigate the temple in the morning.”

“Well, dragons kinda make sense when these two are concerned, right?” Myka said, pointing her thumb at Kire and Daryll. “Dragons are the closest thing to gods, and the Emperor is the god’s avatar on earth before the crown and the church parted ways at some point.”
Daryll opened his mouth, then nodded. “Didn’t expect the pirate to say that, if I’m being honest,” he said.
Myka snorted at that. “I was a mercenary hired by lords, and then I became a pirate, remember? You pick up a lot of stuff along the way in my many job descriptions.”

“Valid point.” Daryll took the statuette, observing it. “How did this come here? Through Off-worlders, most likely?” He wondered aloud. “We share a language, and now there’s traces of this goddess here. Could be that our two worlds have been interacting with one another for ages.” He paused, thinking it over. “Wonder if any of the people who had the visions have Off-worlder blood in them? Might be a way to look at their lineages. Or descended from notable Amrian families with ties to old magic, like ours or the Gemini. I could look into that while you look into this goddess business back in Ziad.”
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Talk to everyone else first. That would be easier than returning to Ziad and to the temple within. He didn't want to go back, not when the Kartaians were sure to be waiting and come as soon as they entered.
Unless he could find a way to break the wards around the city that were alerting them. Ruli's mind wandered briefly for a moment before he blinked and returned, listening as Myka explained about the importance of the dragons and their connection to the gods.

"We don't have dragons on Persis." he pointed out. "Not even in our ancient histories, as far as we know."
"Nor emper-iors." Ysaryn struggled.

Ruli nodded, sighing. "That poison got here. Wouldn't surprise me if a few religious artefacts made it through as well. On top of the language."
Ysaryn leaned to the side, propping her hand against her temple. "Does Maika have royal blood?" She wondered. "You are seeing only desert? No women? No dragons?"
"Ysaryn and I aren't even Amrian, so why would we see something? She didn't even see the desert. Just Amrians and Persians."
Again, Ysaryn's gaze flicked to Kire for a moment, then back at Ruli, then she inhaled with a shake of her head, dismissing whatever was on her mind. "So, what, we are to inquire every one to see if blood is same?"
"Do you have some manifest of royal families tucked away somewhere?"
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It was plain enough on Ruli’s face that he didn’t want to go back. Kire didn’t blame him. She frowned when Ruli and Ysaryn pointed out the differences between their worlds, though as Ruli himself also said, if the poison and their language made it to Amria, there would be other things that might have slipped through.

Myka shook her head. “If I had seen anything else, I have forgotten it. Which doesn’t surprise me; already it’s starting to feel too vague. I was holding a sword while trudging through the sand, but that’s the only other detail.”

“Could be just that you already manifest magic. If this place is a—a hotspot of some sort for magic, stands to reason that those who already use it or have ties with it would be susceptible.”
“I don’t,” Myka said, frowning. “The few others from the town who have seen the desert seem ordinary.”
“For now,” Kire murmured, fingers steepled as she frowned in thought at the question of manifests. “There should be several. We lost some of our books and documents during the siege, but there should be copies of most of them. Others would be kept in the capital of each province; every major house should have records of those who consider them liege-lords. We can check our own archives and those of this territories’ major families.” If only this research was as entertaining as the one she and Ruli had done in bed, but Kire knew there was no such luck with that. “Gods, this heat is going to melt me.”

“We should probably take a quick rest, then divide and conquer. I assume you will handle the investigation into the goddess?” Daryll asked, meaning Kire, Ruli, and Ysaryn. “I can get started on the manifests. What will you be doing?” he asked Myka, who wrinkled her nose at the idea of poring over records of royal bloodlines.
“Think I’ll stay here in camp and interrogate the townsfolk some more. And send word back to the Wenches to keep an eye out for more of these ‘hotspots’. What do you think?”
Kire nodded. “Sounds good.”
Daryll nodded, before excusing himself to find someone who could either provide them or point them to a meal. Myka, too, left to hunt down her messenger. Kire turned to the other two. “Still keen on giving a hand?” she asked.
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Ysaryn nodded silently, looking at her fingernails. Ruli grunted. "Can't shake us that easy. Besides, if our worlds religions are involved, so will we." He sighed, rising to his feet. "After we eat, I'll take us to the Tower, then we'll go to Úvano and ask around."

Ruli strolled out after Daryll, and Ysaryn rose quickly to her feet. "Kirai." She said, glancing at Ruli's back as he walked away. "I saw something that is a concern." She said quietly as they were left alone and out of earshot. "A chief. Er, empressor." She narrowed her eyes, aware that word wasn't right but not too worried about correcting herself.
"Not a good choice, in my opinion. But not mine to have. But it will hurt him." Ysaryn glanced toward where Ruli had wandered again. "I do not keep many friends. I do not know if he is to be one, but I know you are his."
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Kire knew neither of them would have backed down. She nodded, watching Ruli walk away, though she remained seated, looking at the worn stone idol. A goddess, he said. Kire frowned. Why do gods find amusement in toying with us? But she was pulled from her thoughts by Yaaryn. She looked up, curious, growing more so as she saw the elf see if Ruli was out of earshot.

An emperor? Kire sat up straighter. "Hurt him how?" Kire frowned at her. "Who is this Chief you saw? What else did your vision show you?"
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Ysaryn raised her chin slightly. "We met him. In the talk of war. One of many sons, of the husband to be Jan. The blond who look at us all like we are meat. Same look as the men in Cordon."
She inhaled, squaring her shoulders. "He cross into my world. Among my people. Made ... demands. Of my women. It was a different home. But I know my people and their faces."

Lips pursed, Ysaryn frowned at Kire. "This will hurt many, Kirai. You choice. But know limits. Mine and of Rulitus."
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Kire's hand closed into a fist as Ysaryn spoke. Even before she gave more details, the moment Ysaryn mentioned Ulrich's sons, Kire knew. "Hans," she murmured, lip curling. Though they couldn't be sure what their visions mean at this point, somehow Kire didn't doubt this revelation. "I knew there was a good reason I kept him out of the council."

She was quiet for a few moments. This would potentially complicate matters with Jan's marriage. It would mean more contracts, more negotiations. Would I need to postpone my abdication? Already, Kire felt weary from the thought. Gods, she hoped not.

"He will not be emperor," Kire said after a while. "I will make sure of it."
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Having no awareness of Kire's plans to abdicate, Ysaryn merely arched an eyebrow. "Just do not marry him." She suggested. "You are worth more as a mate."

The thought of a mate sobered her, the elf thinking about the argument with her father over Ed. One she knew would have to be had, but not one she had been prepared for, regardless.

Sighing, she went back to the topic. "I do not know what these things are to mean. The visions. But none as of yet have been good."
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Kire almost laughed when Ysaryn told her not to marry Hans. "Oh, we have no problems there. If I'm marrying anybody, he would not be the one on my list of possibilities at all," she said, smirking for a moment. "I don't know what they mean either, but I'm inclined to agree. None of them are comforting at all." She pursed her lips. "Can't I get a nice, cheerful prophecy, for once?"

As she sank back into contemplative silence, she glanced at Ysaryn, wondering if she should pry about her and Ed. "I hope you don't mind my asking but...Ed told me what happened. Will your father put up more resistance, or openly challenge him?"

Not long later, Daryll returned, followed by someone bringing along plates of beef stew. "Myka's gone ahead. I think she just wants to avoid doing the archival work," he said, amused as he started on his own meal.
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Ysaryn raised her lip in a snarl as she settled into her chair. "I do not know." She answered truthfully. "I do not know much at all. If Father will challenge. If Ed will challenge. Or, now, if I want him to." Her finger traced a small line in the table made by some firm pressure of a pen or flat edged item. "My people do not welcome others easily. Other tribes, yes. Not ... men. Or Amria." She sighed.

"He lost, Kirai." Ysaryn blurted after some silence. "Worst part is, I do not think he lost honestly. Which is insulting to me." Ysaryn rubbed the space of skin between her eyebrows. "Not a word to him, either, Kirai. He can not be pushed."

She went quiet when Daryll returned, turning her back to him to stew in her thoughts while he sat down and ate. Ruli returned a few minutes later, still looking lost in thought. "Kire? The dragon you saw. It was for sure a dragon?" He wondered. "I saw something flying. Gold and red, only it turned out to be ... well," He gestured to the idol. "At least I think."
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Kire snorted when Ysaryn pointed out that she was insulted by Ed throwing their match. This really was a case of how different their two worlds were. Both were operating on their own sense of rightness from the situation. Ed would have to get over his idea of what was ‘proper’, in this case. She nodded at Ysaryn’s demand that she keep this conversation from Ed. She assumed as much. She would have to trust that her older cousin would know what he’s doing.

When Ruli joined them later and then asked the question, Kire paused, trying to hold the image in her mind as best she could. “I saw it. Gold and green. But it was so fleeting…there was a sandstorm, and there was no trace of it when I saw the temple. I saw no goddess at the temple itself but…somehow, I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.” She frowned. “Although, dragons were also associated with the sun. I don’t know if that means anything here.” She started eating along with Daryll, who kept quiet, looking like he was still mulling his vision over.

After they’d eaten, Ruli brought them back to the Tower to drop Daryll off before heading to Úvano. Kire was glad to be away from the heat, though the sudden shifts of temperature made her shiver. Gavin was the first to greet them, though he looked rather worn when he did. “Alright, who do I blame for the rough sparring match I got today?” he said, before his eyes went to Ysaryn, and his shoulders sagged. “Ah. Yeah. Don’t answer that, I think I know. You lot back for business or whatever the hells it is you two have been doing,” he asked, looking at Kire and Ruli.

"You've gotten quite a lip on you lately, haven't you?" Kire commented, though more amused than annoyed. "Business, though, to answer your question."
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Kire said she hadn't wanted to go anywhere near the temple, and Ruli grunted. It was just about how he always felt about the temple. But he had different views on the goddess than the Ziadi did.
He sat down to eat, all of them falling into thoughtful silence until their plates were cleared and Ruli delivered them back to the Tower.

Once back in Úvano, Ysaryn raised her hand in an indifferent wave and wandered off, muttering something to Gavin under her breath that, from what little Ruli caught, sounded like a reminder that he should be glad he hadn't faced her.
"Really, you should have seen Ed after he had a go at her." Ruli agreed, though narrowing his eyes when Gavin asked about what they were up to.

"Having g useful abilities has that effect. Or haven't you noticed?" Ruli smirked, gesturing for them to walk. "Gavin, we're being officially hired to create protection wards, like these, around Kire's palace. With the illumination effect. Do you think you can start work on supply lists? I'll take you over soon to get a look at the perimeter, but it should be about the same as before."
Ruli ducked into the sunlight, glancing upward toward the sun before he directed them down along the stairs toward the beach. "Tell Envy what we're up to," he said, gently dismissing Gavin. "Maybe he'll join us. Bribe him with Narda."

As they wandered down the steps, Ruli glanced to Kire. "Most of the elders live near the beach for access to the docks. I figured they're the best place to start."
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Kire rolled her eyes at Ruli’s quip, while Gavin snickered in response. When Ruli gave his instructions, Gavin nodded as he walked alongside the two of them. “Hired? You mean, we get paid for this? How much?” he asked.
“We’ll draw up a contract later,” Kire said, grinning at the look on Gavin’s face.
“Alright. Supply list, tell Envy, bribe the old man with a lady,” the lad said, nodding again before he went off to tell the Kartaian,

Kire nodded when Ruli explained where they were going. “Has Ziad always worshipped the goddess? Do they know about that story you told me, the one about the Moon God and his children?” She paused, remembering how they had met, how he had reacted to her damaging the temple. “Did you ever worship at the temple?”
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"They do, yes. And that is why they hate elves, with exception to the obvious part about the Kartaians slaughtering us for fun." Ruli said as they descended. "They worshipped her because Ziad sprung up where she touched down. Allegedly. From her sprang the springs that helped the city thrive in the middle of the desert. Allegedly."

Ruli stopped short, turning to face her, the corners of his mouth pulled down in a frown. "Kire ... the tribe of elves she blessed with the ability to stay in the sun? The ones who sold out their family for the goddess to slaughter?" He inhaled. "They're mine. Or were mine." He'd never admitted those words before, even if Envy had correctly guessed. He wondered if Ysaryn would also guess. "They're dangerous. They're cruel. If they have ways into your world,"
He shook his head and continued down the stairs. "so, no. I haven't ever worshipped at the temple."
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Kire listened as he explained how the Ziadi have come to worship this goddess. "Makes sense, I suppose, given the desert." It still boggled her mind how Ruli could have seen an actual goddess. "Hopefully this goddess's religion doesn't require human sacrifice if Amrians differently pick up on it," Kire said, even as she knew their luck wouldn't give them a better alternative, anyway. Which brought her to another tricky question: what should she do with a new religion cropping up in Amria, if that indeed came to pass?

Lost in thought, she was startled out of it when Ruli called her name. She paused, looking at him as he explained which of the Moon God's descendants had turned traitor and switched allegiances. "...shit." Kire pursed her lips as they continued down stairs. No wonder he never worshipped the goddess. "The poison..." she murmured, frowning. "Let's hope that's the only thing of theirs that had made it to Amria then." She glanced at him. "Do you think you being--having their blood has anything to do with your seeing the goddess in the vision?" she asked as they made their way towards the elders' homes.

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"I don't know." He admitted truthfully. "I can remember her speaking, but I c-can't recall anything she said. I know I wanted to get away, but I have that instinct often."
It frustrated him that he couldn't remember her words. Why? Why could he vaguely recall the things he saw, but not much to do with the goddess?
"I wonder if ... if its that she is the goddess, I mean, that I saw her, maybe that's why I can't recall. Maybe she's covering her tracks. Theres this feeling that won't go away that I'm forgetting something important."

As she asked about his blood, he glanced at her again, thinking it over. "I don't know." He admitted. "Could be. Hang here for a moment." He requested, shuffling up into a small courtyard to knock on a door. There was a younger woman, perhaps in her thirties, with short cropped black hair who answered. Ruli murmured quietly to her for a moment, and her expression lit up before she gestured behind the house. Ruli bent in thanks and went back to Kire as the woman shut the door.
"Found someone we can speak to." He said, leading Kire along.

Around toward the back of the house, down a small set of steps that ran along the side, was a weathered elder woman sitting in a rocking chair, watching the sea. Ruli cleared his throat. "Sireen?"
She turned her grey head, her dark brown eyes covered with heavy, wrinkled lids. She grinned warmly, her face so well worn by age and sun that she could have easily been years younger than she appeared. "Yes?" Carefully, she moved in her woven chair to face them.
Ruli crouched near her chair so she wouldn't have to look up so much to meet his gaze. "We were wondering if you could tell us what you know about Solaralai?" He said bluntly. "The temple still stands in Ziad, and we would like to understand more about the goddess."

Sireen smiled, revealing that she was missing several teeth, and her gums were blackened. "The Goddess!" She sighed fondly. She straightened slightly in her chair, though she was physically incapable of straightening entirely. "What would you like to know?"
Ruli opened his mouth, then glanced at Kire, having no idea what to ask.
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Kire listened to Ruli as she followed him down, glancing at him as she tried to remember what she could from the temple in Ziad. It looked like any other place of worship, save for the carnage the Kartaians and Ikegai had left behind. Why did it have to be the murderous goddess? Though, if the Ziadi worshipped her because of the life she had given to the city, perhaps she wasn’t entirely malevolent? And what would she want with Ruli, that she should appear to him? And why wouldn’t the goddess allow him to remember what she had said to him? Why did anything that had to do with Seers and gods make no sense?

She stopped when he asked her to, waiting politely as he spoke to the owners of the house, thinking over what they would ask them should they be allowed to do so. She followed them in, down to the back of the house where the woman named Sireen was watching the sea. When Ruli turned to her, she crouched down as he did. “Hello Sireen. Thank you for speaking with us.” She smiled. “We were wondering what stories you tell of her, what she’s like, and what kind of worship is required from her devotees. Does she ask anything of the people who follow or pray to her?”
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Sireen smiled anew at Kire, the amount of wrinkles in her cheeks tripling. "Such pretty eyes." She complimented before she considered the questions.
"I never have been blessed with seeing her, but my sister once swore she did in a dream." Sireen began. "She stood in a forest that burned, but was unafraid. The Goddess appeared, she said, wrapped in a cloak of golden fire. A smile was shared, and when the Goddess left, so did the fires." Sireen shook her head. "My sister could never recall if she was spoken to, but she felt safe. After her dream, she became a priestess of the temple."

Sireen's face fell, clearly recalling what had become of the temple. Ruli cleared his throat again. "What is asked of a priestess as far as tasks? How did people worship?" He repeated Kire's questions.
Sireen's expression shifted as her thoughts did. "A priest or priestess must take no spouse or create any children. They need only the Goddess, who needed no husband, and bore no children." She clicked her tongue and shook her head. "I remember that, on nights of the full moon, every candle was to be lit in the temple to disallow the slimy creature of the moon to outshine the Goddess and her space as she slept. The temple was a beacon of golden light that the moon could never compete with."

Ruli glanced sidelong at Kire at the mention of the moon god, and the attitude toward him.
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