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Kareet of Arcaeda

However long the silence had been going on, Kareet did not have time to discern its nature before the situation changed. Kareet had stood up and was pacing down the middle of the barge, her eyes darting around across the surrounding forest looking for anything out of the ordinary. However, it was not the forest which changed.

The shift was sudden and drastic. All around the barge, the water seemed to shift into a substance as black as tar, and about as viscous. For the Humans, if they were capable of recognizing such things, they would see the same looks of startled surprise on most of the soldiers, and even Kareet herself. Across all of her education and experience, this was like nothing she had ever seen or heard of before.

There was not much time to stand around in awe. The barge had come almost to a halt as the paddlewheel struggled to push through. More alarming, though, was when a hole formed in the bottom of the boat. This liquid, whatever it was, corroded a hole straight through the wooden hull just under a Tekeri soldier near Kareet. The substance enveloped the foot of the soldier, who fell onto his back as soon as he tried to back away. Despite having practically dissolved a hole in the hull, the substance did not actually cause any visible harm to the Tekeri. Rather, half of his leg was entirely paralyzed.

This was something wholly, completely new and unexpected to Kareet, but it was no time for wonder and curiosity. In emergencies, survival was favored for those who could be decisive. Kareet pushed both hands downwards, open-palmed, extended them outwards, then clenched them into fists. Body and mind focused as hard as she ever had before, she let out a scream as her hands lifted up slowly, as if fighting against some unseen force. The magnetic field she had generated enveloped the whole of the barge, though of course, it could not touch the vessel’s wooden hull. However, every nail, rivet, steel reinforcement, and the paddlewheel mechanism itself was perfectly vulnerable to its influence. Not to mention, as she had not focused her magic to any specific object, every single magnetic object on the barge would be pulled upwards and float in the air around them unless held down by something.

The barge’s hull quickly began to crack and splinter from the uneven application of force that was starting to lift it out of the water. Raising it by influencing a scattered mass of metal objects was far from ideal, and Kareet was already struggling, but they needed to get the barge to the riverbank. “LIFT!” Kareet shouted desperately.
Kareet tilted her head as she looked over at Zey. “Like…heights?” She questioned. She had heard the laughs from the Humans, and by this point and could guess that there had been a joke, even if she did not understand it. “Sorry, I don’t think the question, or…expression translated well.”

Now that they were on the river, there were only a few days ahead of them on their journey. It would not take long after leaving Ertiseda for Kareet’s comments about the river to be seen in practice, as it was a busy waterway, all things considered. This river in particular connected the Ascendency to Lake Núr, which could connect to over half of the nations on the continent. It was the less popular of the two rivers which connected to the Lake, but it did provide a shorter path to Kerak Núr and most of the major cities in Avko. Riverboats carrying goods, or soldiers on patrol, were a common sight, though it did not truly start feeling crowded until they reached Lenkik. The city sat at the convergence of two rivers, and three major trade routes. Not to mention, commoners of Lenkik who made their living on the water added to the traffic on the river. Especially considering the small fishing boats, there could have been hundreds of boats on the water at once. No doubt, the Humans in plain view on their boat caught the eyes of many as they passed by, but it still felt like they were almost lost in the crowd as they moved past the city. The last leg of their journey, between Lenkik and Arcaeda, was on an even busier stretch of the river than the first. While not so densely packed as the area immediately surrounding Lenkik, it was rare for there not to be another vessel in view.

Kareet sat back on one of the seats near the rear of the barge, looking up at the bright blue sky above. It was close to midday, when she would normally be fast asleep. The Humans seemed to prefer to be active during the day, so ever since making contact with them, she had adjusted her schedule to match. Tekeri in some professions and places had adapted to sleeping almost entirely at night, but she still felt strange being surrounded constantly by such bright light. It was unnatural, and a bit unsettling. Nellara and her soldiers did not seem to be as visibly bothered as Kareet had been. They were professionals who were accustomed to rough conditions, she supposed. Granted, she was no stranger to such conditions, but she also tended to have control over her own schedule.

After a while, Kareet was snapped out of her thoughts when she noticed some of the soldiers were starting to become uncomfortable for entirely different reasons. It took a while for her to figure out what was unsettling them, as no matter where she looked, she could see nothing that stood out around them. Eventually, she realized it was the “nothing” that was the problem. There was not another boat in sight, and for this stretch of river, that was rare. Not impossible, of course, especially for just a short time, but she had not been paying attention to how long this had been going on. Not to mention it was…quiet. The usual constant chirping of birds from the forests around the river during the day was conspicuously absent. For that, she had no explanation.
Kareet of Arcaeda

There seemed to be a few moments, after Vigdis mentioned it, where Kareet was genuinely considering whether or not steel ships would actually solve the problems they faced. Regardless, the very fact that Vigdis was asking the questions she was implied a world quite different from Kanth-Aremek. A planet all to themselves without creatures that could truly challenge them: it seemed like it would make for an easier existence, but she wondered if the lack of challenges would end up holding them back. Or perhaps, in absence of other substantial threats, the Humans had become that threat for one another, like the S’tor.

“As I mentioned, the other side of the continent has been explored, and mapped to an extent, but those are individuals or relatively small teams. Establishing a connection to that land, at scale, is impractical. Just as many expeditions have failed to return as have succeeded. If not more.” Kareet explained. Some of Vigdis’ word choice had caught her attention. She said that Humans had once “believed in” sea monsters, and even magic. Did she believe that the creatures Kareet described were merely myth? Obviously, she did not believe magic to be a myth, considering she had seen in performed right in front of her.

“I can say for sure that people have sailed into the deep seas before, intentionally or unintentionally, but very few return. Most large vessels fall prey to leviathans.” The word, as she spoke it, had a direct translation from S’toric, as it seemed, but the way she spoke appeared to be about a specific type of creature. “They are fiercely territorial creatures, and they seem to act as if ships are their prey or, more likely, competition. I have wondered before what might be beyond the seas. Experiments have calculated how large our world must be. It is hard to imagine that there is only a vast expanse of ocean out there. Perhaps we will find a way to explore it one day. Perhaps you will help us?” She suggested. “One of my colleagues theorized that we might use Thought magic to repel leviathans from an expedition. It is a difficult theory to test, though, considering it requires both getting approval for the assistance of a Thought mage, and finding a leviathan to test it on. And if it fails, they die.”
Kareet of Arcaeda

Some might have had a hard time accepting that simple water craft could possibly remain relevant when flying craft were available, but Kareet actually seemed to understand the explanation Vigdis gave. It was a matter of economics. What caught her interest in the answer was the fact that Vigdis mentioned traversing oceans with their ships. If anything, she would have expected that would be what flying craft were mostly used for.

“You remember the map I showed you before, yes?” Kareet questioned. “That is the land about which we know the most. There is more to the continent, to the north and east, but it lies on the other side of harsh and nearly impassable mountains and deserts, and the oversea route to bypass them crosses too much deep water to pass safely. It has been passed before, of course, by some explorers, and mapped to an extent. It is just too difficult to reach for there to be much of a connection between here and that part of the world.”

Kareet grabbed her notebook and made a few notes on what Vigdis had said while she continued. “As for what is beyond this continent, we know there is something. Islands, at least, from the tales of lost sailors that managed to make their way back home. Some tales speak of whole other continents, but it is hard to say for sure what lies beyond the deep seas. If only we had the sorts of ships you must have to sail the oceans, as you say. How have you managed to protect them from the creatures of the deep?”
Kareet of Arcaeda

There was something of an exaggeration in what Nellara said. Or at least, it was only true from a certain point of view. The Ascendancy’s cities, and the passages connecting them, were indeed well-patrolled and safe. For the most part, the Ascendancy relied on the rivers for transport, and so there were frequent patrols to keep them secure. Beyond that, farther from civilization, the Ascendancy, much like the rest of Kanth-Aremek, was still a dangerous place. Though, it could be said that all of the parts of the Ascendancy that really mattered were safe, and for the purposes of their current journey, that distinction was irrelevant.

Kareet tilted her head towards Zey, nodding in agreement with Nellara. “The rivers are the lifeblood of the Ascendancy. It is certainly in our interest to keep them patrolled.”

Kareet found a corner to tuck her pack into, then found a place to sit. Naturally, for the Humans, it all seemed built for creatures larger than themselves, though that was far better than the reverse in this case. It would still be crowded, but they would have some space to move about on the barge during the trip. Still, for Kareet, the thought occurred to her that she would have plenty of time for more interviews, if she was so inclined. It was not as if the Humans could go anywhere else.

“Do your people still make use of boats and rivers, or have flying craft like your Jotunheim replaced all of those?” Kareet asked.
The pair stood at the top of the stairs just outside the city gates. The elevated position provided a good view of the expanse of Blackreach: obviously a familiar sight by this point, but one that Ahnasha still cherished after the battle they had been through. There had not been assurances that any of them would see it again. “No matter where in the world they’re from, there’s some things a warrior can’t deny, especially when they see them with their own eyes. Someone with true, genuine strength can recognize the same when they see it. Even if he wanted to try to lie to himself about it, he knows who I am, what I can do. I am a true master of Conjuration, and I don’t think he’ll be able to deny me that respect.”

Ahnasha tilted her head, laughing as she glanced over to Fendros. “And you, well, you killed a god with your own hands. If he can’t respect that, he can’t respect anything.”
Despite being a much shorter distance overall, almost half of the time they were going to be spending on this journey was in the mountains on the way to Ertiseda. It was difficult terrain on land, and once they got to the river, their pace would improve exponentially. Still, Kareets estimates of how much time they would require did end up being inaccurate. Based on their size, weight, and body structure, Kareet did not expect that they would be particularly adept at mountaineering. Certainly, they could not keep up with a Tekeri’s pace, but what she had not planned on was exactly how much endurance they seemed to have. Even those who did not have too much physical conditioning were able to keep marching on for much longer than Kareet would have thought. They were able to get by with fewer breaks than they had planned on.

Upon reaching Ertiseda, Kareet and J’eon would find it seemingly a much different place from when they had last seen it. The small, peaceful village was now host to a sizable force of soldiers from Lenkik. Their camp was outside the bounds of the village, but the number of tents they had collected there was almost enough to match the size of the village itself. In any case, none of them would be staying in the village for long. In fact, they made a point to take a wide path around the village. The arrival of the Humans would be announced in time, but until then, Kvarr had requested that they try to avoid letting rumors spread unabated.

The barge the group was guided to was one of the many that had been used to ferry the soldiers from Lenkik. It was a simple vessel that emphasized having ample space for cargo and passengers. It was largely wooden with some metal reinforcements.There was a canvas canopy that could be raised over it in case of inclement weather, but otherwise it was open to the elements. It had more than enough space for all of its passengers and all of the supplies they would need, but it was hard to say that it was going to be “comfortable” for any of them to spend the next few days confined to a riverboat. Hopefully, no one on board was uncomfortable with crowded spaces.

The barge had plenty of oars and seats along the sides for rowing, but those were meant as a backup to the primary means of propulsion. At the stern was a sizable paddlewheel powered by a mechanism operated by a pair of Lightning mages. There were a set of gears that translated motion from a single, large spiral spring at its center, connected to a large gear. A Lightning mage could easily apply tension to the spring, which would steadily release its energy into the mechanism.
Kareet of Arcaeda

Once gathered, the group Nellara was leading to Arcaeda was quick to depart. Provided there were no major delays, they could expect to arrive in the capital in just a handful of days. For the sake of speed, they would be taking a smaller barge that could handle just over a dozen passengers, so six of Nellara’s soldiers accompanied them as an escort. They carried with them ample supplies for a journey over double the length of what they were expecting. Once they could reach Ertiseda, near which most of Kvarr’s forces were still stationed, they would be able to take the river the rest of the way. Until then, though, they would be hiking through the mountains to the town.

Kareet was no stranger to the road, as was often the life of a Seeker. Their role often had them traveling the world in search of answers, or at the very least, interesting questions. Indeed, some of the more interesting individuals she had met so far were joining in on this journey. Both Vigdis and the Humans’ leader, Zey, were excellent subjects to interview, as long as they were willing to answer her questions. Particularly once they were on the boat, it would be difficult for them to avoid her questions. When they were not available, Kolvar could perhaps be persuaded to answer questions about his people. J’eon had accepted her offer to come to Arcaeda, though part of her wished Shirik had as well. She did not know why they had even wanted to go to Mythadia, but perhaps their continued association with the Humans would lead them to meet again in the future.

They had only just started out on the trek to Ertiseda, having crossed to the other side of the mountain on which the Jotunheim rested. Even high up in the mountains, the air would be energizing to any Human who breathed it, which could be helpful to those not accustomed to long hikes. The Tekeri in particular traversed even rocky, uneven terrain with hardly any effort. It was painfully obvious that the Tekeri were moving at what was, to them, a painfully slow pace just to allow the others to keep up. Kareet, though, seemed more occupied with simply observing the Humans, the gear they chose to bring with them, and especially the weapons they carried.
There was silence from Kaleeth for a time. She took a deep breath, her hand gently grasping his. After what seemed like an eternity, there was, for a brief moment, a grin. “I guess we’ll just have to swim on, then. Come on, we…don’t want to be late.”

The pack’s outing was being held not too far outside the Silent City, along one of the rivers. It was a quiet spot nestled between two groves of glowing mushroom trees, out of the way of where most of the city’s residents tended to gather, especially now. Fendros’ pack, as well as some of their friends and family would be joining them. All three of the children would of course be with them, and Sabine’s sister, Ariel, had not yet left for home, so she was able to join them.

Ahnasha and Fendros were in the city square, just about to leave to join the others. They would likely be the last to arrive, as Fendros had just finished up with a short meeting with the council that he had no option to get out of. Fortunately, there was nothing to keep them for the rest of the day. “So…” Ahnasha started, glancing away with slight hesitation. “Did you want to ask your father to come along? He’ll probably be heading back home soon enough.”
General Kvarr

Unlike in the mountains proper, the early morning air was not nearly as chilly as it would have been deeper in the Ascendancy. The insulating feathers of the Tekeri were perfectly suited to their homeland to the point that they could be comfortable even on the coldest of nights. If anything, the warm, humid air near to the swamps was a minor nuisance to the small group of Tekeri soldiers gathered before General Kvarr. Castigator Nellara was at the lead of the group, as he had requested her presence personally.

“I have sent word to my forces in Ertiseda to have a barge prepared for you to return to Arcaeda. They should be ready for you by the time you arrive. I will also take care of contacting Lenkik to have another take temporary charge of your responsibilities as Castigator there. This business is likely going to take quite some time, and I think we can both agree that it is far more important than your day-to-day keeping the peace. You should try to get moving as soon as you can. I’ve been seeing no shortage of activity from the Humans outside their ship. I would suggest you go let them know that you are ready to leave when they are. The Seeker will also be accompanying you as well, so be sure to collect her and any of the..others she has decided to bring with her.”

The General gestured for the Castigator to step aside with him so they could speak more privately. “You will be bringing them to the Archmagister herself. Depending on the time of day you arrive, it may be more appropriate for you to take a night’s rest before meeting with her, but that meeting should be your first order of business, besides. I have sent a message ahead, so they should be ready for you when you arrive. With it, I have also given my own recommendations for your role in all of this, Castigator. Should she agree with me, which, if I know her, she shall, then she will also have words for you, personally.”
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