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Berlin strode over, his steps casual, slow, and a bit wandering; he had things to think about today. He arched a brow at the gathered 'crowd' beside the cannon and looked between them. He thought that Hana seemed to come out of her shell a bit, if he wasn't mistaken. That was good. That woman needed to relax a bit every now and then. Uban, as always, was in good spirits but even more so now that he'd been practicing his ability. Berlin could see not just his golden eyes but the kind of intensified energy that he exuded. That and the sweat on his brow. Rohaan seemed to be off and he allowed himself a very soft, very quiet sigh. If it was Hana that was bothering him, he would need to speak with him and set him straight. After all, she was a member of the crew now and he needed to understand that. There was little he could do about her and Wheel and the tension there, but Rohaan was his responsibility and often needed some prodding in the right direction.

"Why are we electrifying my cannons?" His tone was more curious than upset, in fact he was very interested to see what would come of this. He'd heard the bang and seen the smoke from the previous test and he had a guess as to what was coming next, but he wasn't sure exactly how it would happen or what it would do.
Uban beamed at him. "Scholarly research, Cap'n."
"Aye, I'm sure. Well go on..." Berlin crossed his arms and shifted his weight casually onto one foot, watching.

Uban grinned over at Pieter. "I'm fine, mate!" He looked down at his hands and realized they were shaking slightly. He blinked and then added, "someone feed me after this eh?" Preparing for the cannon fire, Uban shook out his hands as if trying to loosen up a cramp; blue trails of lightning lagged behind his hands as they moved and sparked around them. "Alright, let's do this..."

Uban watched Pieter light the fuse and as it sparkled, he reached out with this extra sense of his and felt for the cannon ball. It was there. He fired the pistol just a moment before the cannon blast sounded, bluish lighting streaking after it like a comet. The large ball arced out over the sea and when it had reached a sufficient distance, Uban flicked one wrist and the lightning around the little bullet abandoned its host and found the cannon ball instead.

Rohaan, ready for the explosion this time, found himself on his toes, peering over the top of the gunnel. Normally he'd have no problem sitting on top of the railing, but for once he actually liked the shield the rail provided since he was still a little nervous about the thing. Nervous, yet undeniably curious. The thing went off with a spectacular bang that the boy felt resonating in his chest. Something about the grand scale of it ignited his love for wanton destruction and he found himself grinning, eyes wide with wonder. He even laughed a little. That was pretty cool, after all. He turned, the scent of sulfurous gunpowder in his nostrils, and looked at Hana. "Um...how did you make it do that? Do um...do all cannon balls explode...?" If they did, then they had clearly been using theirs wrong all this time. And then another thought came to him. "What else can you make explode?" He might have been leery of her magic, but he couldn't deny the siren call of starting fires or smashing things.

Berlin clasped Hana's arm with a wily grin on his face. "Damn, that's good. Your idea?"
Ridahne gave a small laugh and nodded. She sort of agreed with her statement about animals, as she found that animals rarely ever disappointed her. Animals would not have thrown her out of her home, even after what she'd done. They were practical creatures and would have understood why she did it. They were much simpler to understand, too. Meet their needs, know their personality, and that was all it took. There was no binding law of honor or duty to bind them either.

"You'll get used to it soon enough. You're about to spend your life on horseback for an unknown period of time. Could be years, could be three weeks, I don't know. But before you know it, you won't have saddlesores, you'll find the smell of horse to be your own personal perfume, and you'll wonder how you ever struggled keeping on his back. And animals are simpler than people. Much simpler. They are bound by less and want for little."

A breath of wind swept past, giving life to her dark curls that hung about her shoulders. Ridahne sniffed, wondering if rain was coming. Usually she liked rain, as it was a rare occurrence in Azurei except up in the mountains or far off the coast. She liked to stand in it, let it tap on her skin in warm drops. Except up this way rain was rarely warm. It was often quite cold, in fact, and it was made all the worse by the fact that when it struck, she was usually somewhere on the road and didn't have any proper shelter and was forced to sleep under a barely waterproofed waxed-canvas sheet, though she always seemed to wake up soaking wet anyway. By the tree, she hoped it didn't rain.

"Mitaja?" Ridahne shrugged and shook her head. "Not sure...around somewhere. We have used her kind for hunting for centuries, as long as our people lived in the sands. They are native to that region and are excellent at finding game, so we tamed them and brought them into our homes. But we do not keep them captive like dogs here, no collar or leashes for them. We let them roam," she said with a lax wave of a slim hand. "They go where they will, but they answer our calls and heed our commands. But they do it because we are partners, not because they have to. I've had Mitaja for twenty years and she has been good to me. Here, I will call her..."

Ridahne tilted back her head and let forth a long, two noted whistle. The sound was loud and sharp and echoed a little even amongst the trees, and after a few breaths of silence, the sound of padding feet crunching through underbrush began to get louder and nearer until the cat appeared by Ridahne's side, brushing her face against Tsura's foreleg. The horse was used to her and didn't shy away, though he seemed a little irritated by having something so underfoot. The cat looked at her handler with big yellow eyes and, not receiving a command, flicked her tail lazily and padded off to say hello to Darin. Her head was easily the size of the human's, though wider, and her paws were the size of Darin's palm. Yet unlike a tiger, she was not thickly built but tall, leggy, and slender. Her coat was fine and close, and where it was not dulled by road dust it was glossy. The cat sniffed at Darin's hand and purred, pushing her head under it to demand pets like any little housecat would. Her purr was deep and rumbling, resonant from her deep chest.

"She likes you...a lot," Ridahne remarked. "She's amiable to strangers usually, though not so outgoing about it. Usually she's a bit more aloof than that. You can thank her for leading me to you on the road. I think she knows. I think she's always known," Ridahne said with a slow nod of understanding. "Do you...have abilities now that you're...?" She didn't say it out loud, it was best not to. "Or have you always had a way with animals? Do you have the same with people, too?"
More or less, yeah. Pronounced almost oh-juh, they are actually part of the Azurian religion and a large part of her culture. Their purpose is not ultra common knowledge in the human/siren lands, though it's not really a secret either. Most Azurei, when asked, are not forthcoming about them and will usually divert the subject. They serve both a religious purpose and a social one--ojih can be read by those who know the marks (almost exclusively Azurei, as they don't really teach the marks to others). This is important because Ridahne bears a mark that more or less explains what she's done and so now everyone from her country knows just by looking at her.

Ridahne did point out that mark to Darin and explained at one point that it marked her as an exile, so Darin would possibly have some guess as to what the tats are for.
Ridahne sat back and watched her new traveling companion experiment with guiding and controlling her horse. That beast was magnificent, she thought, and Ridahne knew a good horse when she saw one. And did Darin say something about the horse...speaking? Communicating, rather, Ridahne thought. She couldn't even imagine what kind of voice an animal like that would have if it spoke the tongues of men, but though she'd never actually seen the like, she had no trouble believing that this horse could communicate complex thoughts or ideas. She'd heard many stories of the Isfali line of horses and no longer had any doubts that Talbot was a distant relative.

Ridahne did not offer much in the way of pointers, partly because Darin needed to figure out Talbot's ways since neither of them really knew, and also because experience was the best teacher. Darin needed to feel like she could try new things with her newfound steed and together they would grow and bond. She did, however, sent Tsura into a gallop after them when Talbot decided to have a run. The buckskin gelding leaped forward, jealous of his companion for being able to run so freely. Talbot had great speed and a strong gait but Tsura was bred for bursts of speed and caught up with him easily. For once, Ridahne did not hamper him, though she did check him to a walk once Talbot launched Darin off his back. Ridahne and Tsura circled them once, her spirited horse tossing his head excitedly, and the elf chuckled.

"Talbot has more attitude than I would have guessed, despite what the farmer said. Cheeky thing. You'll have to learn how to control him, Darin. I'm...not sure how since he doesn't wear a bit or anything but..." Ridahne shrugged. "Seems like you're getting the hang of him already. Do you...like horses...?" Ridahne asked, face scrunching up in a curious expression, making her tricolored tattoos crinkle and warp with her skin. Her facial tattoos seemed to be the one part about her that she really cared how they looked. She kept her hair free of tangles and her clothes reasonably clean for someone who lived on the road, but not much else. Her ojih, though, she made sure was clean at all times and when her hair was down, she often brushed it aside so the tattoos would show clearly.
Berlin said nothing. With Wheel he found it was usually best not to, and he usually just left him to it when he got like that. Uban was usually quite forthcoming, especially if the two of them were alone and they had a moment of privacy. Heck, even without privacy Uban was still fairly easy to get things out of about himself. Rohaan, Berlin knew, took gentle coaxing and occasionally bribing in a calm environment. Wheel, however, was a closed book in comparison. A lockbox, more like it. And Berlin also knew that unless he planned to force the information out of him as a command or by some other means, it was better not to pry. Besides, Berlin knew enough by now that he didn't need to.

Still, he didn't like the way Wheel talked bout that ship. What exactly was going on there, and were there magical traps of some kind? Ordinary mechanical ones? He did wish he knew, but he also trusted his master-at-arms, particularly in this matter. He knew now not to sneak onto the ship and to deal with the other smaller ones first. The rest he would just find out later.

---

"Huh." Uban blinked up at the ball just as the lighting reached it. He didn't know what he expected exactly, but he had expected...well...something. "So wha--" Bang! He didn't even finish the question before the little ball burst in a cloud of smoke. The look on Uban's face was like a child receiving presents on his birthday; wide eyed, mouth open, and absolutely awestruck.

Rohaan, however, did not feel the same. He had been sitting on the barrel, thumping his bare heels against its side in a steady rhythm as he watched. But as soon as the thing went off, he leapt to his feet and with blinding speed changed to a sable wolf--his second favorite form--that was snarling with his head down low and his tail tucked behind Pieter's legs. He was only that way for a moment before he realized fully what had happened and that whatever it was, it was finished. He reverted forms back to his own and became a boy sitting on the deck behind Pieter, looking shaken but obviously trying to brush it off. He was pretty used to cannon fire at this point, and though he had absolutely no love for guns, the sound of them didn't make him panic. So why did this? Partly, he realized, he wasn't ready for it and it simply surprised him, and partly because though Uban set it off, it had come from Hana and he was still very very wary of her yet unquantified magic. He was generally jumpy, too, though he wasn't quite aware of that, or at least not consciously.

Their upcoming battle weighed on him, though he wouldn't admit it. After all, he had fought many times before. He was Rohaan Ja'aisen and he was not afraid of humans and their stupid guns. But he hadn't fought them before. And never had he been forced to wait for a battle and deal with the resulting buildup. They usually just happened across a target and struck as soon as they could catch them, and that was that.

Still, he thought as he picked up the end of a coiled rope and began to practice his knots for the sake of something to do with his hands, what Uban did with that thing was pretty cool. And he did admit to himself that he was maybe a little excited to see what else Hana had up her sleeve.

Uban was beaming. "You mean you have more!?" he laughed, almost manic with joy. "What else do you--" realization dawned on him. "Are you going to put one of those into the cannon?!"
Ridahne could feel the weight of the Sota-Sol's eyes on her like boulders, crushing her where she knelt. The woman was ancient by even elf standards and she had lost none of her razor sharp intensity and wit. Nor had she lost her wrath, which Ridahne was now feeling in earnest. Kneeling there on the marble floor, Ridahne began to doubt what she had seen; maybe it hadn't been a true vision but a dream born of all her fears and the last surges of anxiety before she passed from this world and finally met the Keeper. Maybe it was guilt? No, she thought with hard resolve. No, she did not feel guilty for what she'd done. It needed to be done. She was only sorry she had to be the one to do it. A new wave of determination flooded her and she looked boldly into her Stoa-Sol's dark amber eyes.

"I have no reason to lie to you, Sol. Not about this."
"Actually you have many reasons to lie, Torzinei," the ancient woman snapped, venom in her tone. "Such are the empty words of a soul condemned to die. And weightless from the likes of you, traitorous snake. Go now and await your death. It's all you deserve."
Ridahne cringed but steeled herself against the crashing wave that was her ruler, her leader. "I won't deny that. But I know what I saw. You of all people should know important the Great Tree is to all of Astra and it's currently worse than you ever imagined, Sol."
The woman's voice was a cold snarl of anger. "You presume too much, eija. You do not know your station and it is the reason you are here now. Do not speak to your Sol that way again."
Ridahne kept her head bowed and her voice cool and even, but even she trembled at the nerve of her next words. "My Sol has disowned me, I have none to command me nor stay my tongue."

Ridahne heard the crack of a hand against her cheek before she felt its sting, and though it galled her and went against everything she knew, she stayed still. "War will come to your door, Sol, should she fail. And all of Azurei will burn and suffer if I don't go. Astra will fall into chaos and ruin. This isn't about me, it's about her. About this...seed bearer. Will you leave her to struggle alone, whoever she is?" When the Sota-Sol was silent, she continued, "Send me, Sol, and I will not return unless I fulfilled my purpose. If I never find her, I will remain in exile. If I return before fulfilling my purpose, kill me."

The woman seemed to have lost some of her ire, though she did not regard the young elf kneeling on the floor of her palace kindly. For all her treachery, she had a point. The Tree mattered above all else.


Darin's words brought Ridahne out of an almost haunted reverie and she offered a ghost of a smile at Talbot's antics. "Really he's doing most of the work for you...he's a fine horse. But first and foremost you need to relax and move with him. Loosen your hips and let them sway with his body as he steps. Keep your back straight, like this," she demonstrated proper posture, making sure to point out just how much her torso pivoted on her hips, allowing her upper body to remain somewhat still instead of swaying from one side to the other.

"And erm...typically with horses, you squeeze with your legs to go a little faster. The harder you squeeze, the faster they go. And usually to stop them you pull back on the reins but...Talbot is going to be a little different. Unless he is trained otherwise, the legs are still a good signal to speed up, but to be honest I don't know how to tell him to slow down without reins, not without knowing how he was trained or how he is. Same goes for giving him directions I...." she shrugged. "Tsura requires a lot of control but Talbot is different, you'll just have to experiment. Besides, I'm sure he responds differently to you than anyone else." Ridahne gave a little smile. "I'm not sure he would suffer me. As for posturing, I can help you there. You need to be comfortable on horseback. We'll be spending lots of time like that but also if you're ever pursued, you don't want to be thinking about how to ride. You want to just...do it. So you should practice galloping, cantering, trotting--everything. Daily." This last part was said firmly, like an instructor speaking to a student.
She knows it’s wrong. She’s not proud of it but doesn’t regret it. I think she’s honest with herself about how bad it is. Though I think she goes through moments of “I should have done it sooner” and “omg I’m the worst person ever”.
It’s ambiguous. She did a bad thing but did it for good reasons and to benefit more than just herself. Maximum is 5, maybe like a 3 more realistically. More good than evil for sure. She’s a good person at her core but is absolutely not a paragon. She’s gonna struggle a bit at the tree just because she’s not a pure innocent person.
For a while, Ridahne was thinking she would have to come up with a suggestion just to get them moving. There was no way of knowing for sure where to go and so for all Ridahne knew, she could just proclaim a heading and go that way and it would be as good as any other. She tried to think of where she'd go if it came to it. North, she supposed. She'd never really been truly north in Siren lands, though she had met a few in her lifetime. That seemed like ages ago. They weren't found in Azurei often, if ever, since there was very little water that went through the barren desert. If they were seen at all, it was along the coastline where Ridahne grew up. Maybe they'd go east? But she was thankful that Darin finally decided, as she didn't have any real conviction about where to go.

Her amber eyes scanned the thin leather's surface to the place that Darin was pointing and she swore she felt her blood run a little colder. The Tree. Darin was right, it did seem like a sound decision. It would make sense for the Gardener to see the Tree, and maybe they could gain some clues about what kind of place the Seed should be planted in. Ridahne did not voice it, but she felt a distinct hesitation. Not for Darin's sake, but for her own. It was said amongst her people that the Great Tree had strange powers, the most notable of which was to make it difficult for evil to gain a foothold in the world. But up close, she'd heard other stories. Stories of the soul or spirit of the tree peering into one's heart and bringing to the open everything that person kept hidden or forgot. Powers of introspection, of discernment. Ridahne did not know the truth of these rumors and stories, but still she was afraid of what she would see in herself when they arrived. Would she be satisfied with what was dredged from the past? Would she be satisfied with who she was?

For the first time since Darin had met her, Ridahne looked visibly shaken. It was subtle, but enough of a change that it was noticeable. The elf woman was solemn as she nodded. "Yes..." she said slowly. "Yes, we should do that. Come then, let's go." She guided Tsura southeasterly and the two began their journey onward. The people of Greyrock had nothing against Darin, but they were spooked by Ridahne and wary of her, if not outright mad at her. Among them walked a killer, and she was not welcome there. Seeing her and her young apprentice ride away brought a bit of relief to them all.

Ridahne was silent for some time, riding just a bit ahead of Darin with her head down. Her hands were wrapped tightly around her reins, fingernails idly scratching at the worn leather. Finally after a long stretch of silence she checked Tsura's pace a bit so she was more even with Talbot and Darin and said, "I've seen it." The admission was soft, simple, but it held weight like a ship's anchor. Something about her tone seemed tight, restrained, and guarded in a practiced sort of way, but in its very coldness it betrayed how deeply the thought made her feel. "The tree. I...In my vision. I saw it and Ajoran told me I had screamed...I believe it. It's not..." she swallowed. "It's not good, Darin," she said softly.

If there was any ambiguity about Ridahne's commitment to the mission, any question of her true intentions, that moment blew them all away. Despite Ridahne's practiced impassivity, the true, deep heartbreak at what she had seen in her vision was painfully evident. A traitor, an exile, and a killer she might be, but when all was said and done she wanted the Tree of Astra to be alive and whole, whatever that took. To see it otherwise broke her somewhere deep in the soul of her being.

They left Greyrock behind. Back into the forested lands around it they went, picking their way through dense underbrush and trees with branches that intermingled with its neighbors'. Mitaja would disappear for a while and then reappear, and that seemed to simply be her way. Azurian hunting cats were given free range at all times, no cage or tether would do. Only the young kits were penned inside the house to teach them to trust their handlers and learn manners of the home. Mitaja enjoyed her freedom and made good use of it; once she came back with wet red stains in the fur of her face from her kill, the one she would have for herself and not surrender to her master to receive a portion of later. These kills were often small things, rabbits and the like.
Rohaan really was thinking about curling up in Pieter's lap and taking a little nap. The petting and scratches was so nice, so relaxing, that all he really wanted was to go back to sleep. It was something he doubted most humans would understand. People did not pet other people like they pet dogs or cats, and the sensation was quite nice. Humans would never quite know that joy, but then they would never know the joy of being many things and one, to have no part of the world barred from them, not valley, not peak, nor ocean depths or sky. Rohaan had all these things in his grasp; he could not fathom being only one thing, bound to the ground and to the surface of the sea. He had heard stories about enchanted steel that was capable of binding a vokurian to his one humanoid form, though he had never experienced it himself. By all accounts, it was painful, excruciating, and terrifying. Did humans not feel trapped in their single forms only because they had known nothing else? Or were they miserable too, being locked into a single shape...?

His thoughts of naps were ruined as Pieter rose to assist with the canon; he actually meowed indignantly and sat with his black tail twitching for a moment before releasing the form and returning to his natural state, staying perched on the barrel Pieter had vacated. Oh, he was tired. But he was interested to see where this exchange was going, partly because he wanted to see what Uban could do and partly because he found himself looking at a very different Hana than the one he thought he knew. The boy, young but perceptive, had the inkling that she had been putting on a front, or at least was very guarded. People wore masks all the time and he had no time for them. They were all used to hurt and manipulate and he wanted no part of it. But this, this was something a little more real. He felt like he was seeing her unguarded for once, and he was curious to see just what kind of person she was. Berlin had faith in her and Uban liked her, Pieter didn't seem to mind her either. That counted for something. But Rohaan stubbornly held his doubts, for that was the only way to survive.

--

Uban took the metal rod and inspected it, studying the markings on the surface of the ball as if he could decipher any of it. He couldn't. Not a lick of it, but he did marvel at how precise it was. Cast iron was not an entirely smooth surface to work with, nor a forgiving material. It was hard and brittle and he wondered how exactly she'd carved it. She must have been up all night... He wondered also if she had proper tools or was managing with something made for another purpose, and thought idly that the next time they went into port, he would see if Rohaan would steal some to give to her. He wasn't exactly sure how, but that lad was impossibly good at pickpocketing and theft. He would disappear into a crowded square and return at the end of the day with a variety of impossible objects ranging from coin, clothing, interesting food items, or keys.

"Hold it away from everyone eh? What's uh...what's it gonna do?" He asked without expecting or wanting an answer; he would find out soon enough. But he had a kind of giddy nervousness about him as he leaned over the gunnel and held the rod out over the water. His gold eyes looked at the surprisingly excited Hana for a moment; it was good to see her loosening up and Uban realized he had a solemn duty to get that woman drunk until she finally relaxed. They'd make a pirate of yer, yet. Uban grinned and brought forth a tangle of buzzing lightning that swarmed his hand a bit before transferring obediently to the rod and then the ball at its end. Holding a conductive object was easy to connect with, he could feel it as an open space to send the energy like an open dock in a harbor.

--

Berlin's brows knit together a little. Not the big ship. That was easy enough, he could do that and would make sure everyone else knew the same. But it was the why that unsettled him. Berlin heard rumors of Barizians and their dark magic, blood magic he thought it'd been called, but he hadn't actually seen or known it firsthand. What was waiting for them on that ship?

His tone was measured, though his gray eyes betrayed his inner concern. "Something else I should know, Wheel?" he asked, arching one brow.
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