((This post hasn't been entirely reviewed by cthulu and may thus be subject to some changes.))
Aemoten & Thaler
Thaler had slept, her dreams were not comfortable, they were drenched in blood that felt more like acid, she was burning and drowning, she was tormented for her failure, her betrayal, her uncertainty. Then all was peaceful, all was simply black and this allowed her what she needed. Her body warmed in the foreigners arms, for all the damage the pair had taken the sharing of warmth and rest was helping them both.
Thaler didn’t stir until the gates echoed open, her mind telling her that something had happened and she should rally and her body fighting the idea. Her heart, too tired and too scared to pick a side allowed her to slumber a moment more. It was as the dekkun began to move once more that finally the daywalker began to stir. First to come to her were the smells, she could smell herself, drenched in gore and ripe with drying blood. Aemoten, the dekkun and then...the city? Sounds soon followed, filling in the blanks, bird song and general chatter that behove a city. She groaned quietly, rolling her head into Aemoten’s chest and trying to drag herself back to the waking world. She was warm but still a shiver ran down her spine and she could hear the weather around her. “Aemoten?” She whispered, her voice hoarse and her mind, body and heart still rebelling her choices.
Seated seven and a half feet up, Aemoten overlooked the street with ease, towering over even most carriages, let alone other riders of common beasts. There was uncertainty in the people surrounding him; most gave Etakar a wide berth, rendering no obstructions to his stalking, quiet, catlike gait (with an almost imperceptible limp owing to his left forelimb). The dekkun was used to cities as such; beings of his kind were a common sight in Sekalynic settlements, not uncommonly seen lounging on roofs or prowling on the streets on their own. Beatrice had dug her talons into the dekkun's mane, and was overlooking the street with a dare in her gaze, feathers ruffled and her single good eye gleaming.
Aemoten himself ... "remained troubled" was perhaps the most adequate way of putting it words could cover. The Withering, the Devilgod, Angora, the soulless who was once Immanuel, the mental and physical states of himself and his companions... One thing at a time he had insisted to himself, yet during apparent downtime, he couldn't help but keep pondering. Find an inn. That was the next item down the list, something he could do, here and now. Anything that offered good proper beds, baths and hot tea. The man's eyes scanned the nearby signs, attempting to assess the establishments they advertised. Not his first time in Zerul City - but he was hardly a common visitor. It had been years, hadn't it?
He felt motion against his chest - something, perhaps the stop and conversation at the gate, or the general bustle of the City, had caused Thaler to stir. Well, they were almost there... And ... they made it this far, in spite of everything. Together. Things still felt fragile, somehow, but yet there was reason to - and place for - hope.
"Aemoten?" inquired but a hoarse whisper, one he wasn't entirely sure whether was a question, or just a confirmation that she was really awake and he was really there. Regrettably, there was little he could do against dreams - just hope the were better than the ones she'd have had if she were sleeping somewhere cold, alone.
"Yes," he affirmed, lightly squeezing her shoulder.
She stretched, ever so slightly in his arms, feeling lightly around until she found Beatrice and gave an audible sigh of relief. She had been so worried she’d dropped her. As her senses became more aware of her surroundings she sat up slightly, brushing her fingers through the coarse fur of the dekkun below her, good they were still on Etakar, so she likely hadn’t been asleep too long. Although judging by the sounds she could hear they were in the city, wait, the dekkun was in the city? Something must have transpired for the beast to be allowed in, she imagined a lot of people would be quite uncomfortable with seeing such a creature.
More importantly they were –in- the city, Zerul was old stomping grounds so there was some call to keep a low profile, if only so people didn’t remember her from her childhood. Though by now most of the old inhabitants of their quarter had moved on, in one sense or the other, it didn’t hurt to be too cautious. “Where are we headed?” She asked at length, what was it they had decided? Inn, tea, bath, sleep? Something likely that anyway. She had to confess, both bath and tea sounded good and while her stomach lightly rumbled it was silenced as the stench of dried blood and gore still competed for her attention.
Although the scents of fresh breads, pastries, cooking stews and flowers were enough to make her dizzy enough without the smell of their last fight still lingering on her flesh. It was the memory of this fight that reminded her of one of the key reasons she herself had wanted to be here. The temple of Reina, regardless her ‘will’ in the matter (for how can it be freely given when one is threatened with losing everything and one they hold dear if they do not relinquish? Or that they themselves would be struck down, if not by her companions by others seeking her power or to destroy her. When coercion had been used was anything –really- freely given up?), she had betrayed Rilon. Sleep had not made her feel any better for it, for one reason or another the god had spoken to her, he’d almost seemed to...care, well as much as a god could for any fleeting mortal life. He’d changed his own artefact to suit her and then under the pressure of her group it had been given away to some other power.
She had little chance to get it back; though should the ability arise to do so she would likely jump on it, so the only atonement she could muster is to carry out the mission she was tasked with. If not only to appease her own guilt but to make sure that the blood god did not hound them with repeated misfortunes, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll make it right.’ She thought, to no one in particular though some vain part of her hoped the god could hear the honesty in her thoughts. She also made a pledge to herself, regardless what scare tactics or threats were used against her from then on out, she would not cave to the pressure’s and walk her own path, no matter how hard that would be or how alone that would make her feel.
First though, bath, tea, mayhaps a healer, perhaps at the temple. It would give her a chance to scout things out a little after all. “Which part of the city are we in?” She asked quietly.
The daywalker straightened up, her hands carefully exploring the surfaces around her, brushing against the dekkun's long mane and Beatrice's warm, scaly feet ("Korr," said the raven from the bottom of her throat, her feathers puffing up as she moved her weight from one foot to another), eventually settling on running over the noble beast's fur in stroking motion.
“Where are we headed?” Where, indeed?
"I'm looking for an inn for us," the Sekalyn explained, simply. "Someplace with good proper beds, baths, tea... The sort. Regrettably, it doesn't appear they tend to detail the extent of their amenities with such a precision on their signs." He supposed hoping for one that also sold clothes on the spot would be a bit too much, so the best he could do was give Thaler a new shirt, and somehow wash the rest and hope the garments would dry by the morning if he hang them in front of the fireplace... Would inn rooms with fireplaces be considered exorbitant luxury here? He did not seem to recall seeing many in city-inns in Rodoria. But then again... "It ... is your home city, isn't it?" Did it mean she also had an apartment somewhere over here? Probably. She never had been quite as specific in her description of her life here. "Any word of mouth you recall? I fear I'm but a tourist."
“Which part of the city are we in?” She asked quietly.
"Not far from the main western gate yet ... still can see the gate behind my back." He winced. "I reckon it was my chat with the guards that woke you up."
It was a bustling city, filled with an assortment of establishments, some more posh and flamboyant than others. The cheaper end used what could mostly be described as pictograms. A red rooster. A cauldron (although Aemoten wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't some shop dedicated to conning money out of less knowledgeable visitors. From what he knew, magic was more about inner powers, crystals and runes than boiling pots. Sometimes random enchanted items, but it was rarer; usually not sold for a coin or trinket by the hundreds. Nicer houses, light-colored stone instead of wood. Fewer refugees; he suspected only those who had been lucky (and rich) enough to have horses to ride in on had made it here by now, and even they had largely made it without most of their possessions. In half a day, day, two, the City would be flooded, and not a single cheaper inn would admit anyone.
He picked one with a black horse that actually had "Inn" written under the rearing animal. Not the richest place, but affluent enough for baths to not be considered an unreasonable request. He was by no means a wealthy individual, but he had enough after he liquidated his old household any anything reasonably valuable within, and he reckoned they were both sufficiently tired and deserving to afford it. Thaler especially deserved a break. He will arrange that break.
Etakar lowered himself to ground and watched with languid boredom as Aemoten brought a leg over the noble beast's spine, remaining half-crouched as he supported Thaler enough to let her stand, and only then strightned himself - with considerable effort.
"You!" he insisted, startling a passerby who nevertheless halted. His voice was still hoarse when he tried to speak, and while his clothes were generally of reasonable quality, he had run out of spares outside of a couple shirts, so there probably still were blood stains on his pants (which was probably preferable to other pair he had left, which had a foot-long gash his hip and thigh), his coat both dusty and likewise stained in dried blood. Incidentally, blood showed decently well on black, once it had dried and begun to flake off. At best, people who had gotten a closer look might assume he was a foreign or mixed-blood refugee. People had probably picked up on them, now.
The young guy in patched clothes halted, staring at him. Then at Etakar. Then at him again, unsure whether to comply or to just pretend he didn't actually hear the shoutout and continue his failed attempt to slink past the odd set via the opposite side of the street.
"Could you send him to the gates? Or, if you'd like, show him the City first." Another stare at Etakar. "He's not dangerous to anyone without harmful intent; he's about as smart as a human, and I dare say more persistent and capable than most of them. A good friend of mine taught him to write - sadly, not in anything a Rodorian would fathom, unless you can read magical runes - and insisted he'd make a decent earth elementalist. I don't think it would be wise of me to request he attempted to fit within my room, and merely figure he'd alarm people less if he had a companion. I'll give you a rodlin now, and another if you meet me tomorrow, with him, and we have not been disturbed by the time the sun rises high. He'll meet you where you part from him."
It was not his typical way of dealing with things, the incorporating random strangers thing, but it usually worked if you singled them out and there was enough motivation to comply. Especially since few would voluntarily decide to cross Etakar. The guy continued to stare at Etakar, and then at the noble beast's "hand". The dekkun himself looked at the guy like a bored cat looks at a sparrow.
Of coure, Aemoten could
be paranoid now, he could
assume the stranger to be a thief and a backstabber, someone to try and pass off Etakar as a threat and try and relieve him of whatever riches he obviously had, but the planes be damned if their luck continued to be as dreadful as it had been up until now. That, and he figured he still would have some basic knowledge of people. And they wouldn't be alone in a space with openings.
"Uh, I guess?" the stranger responded after a noticeable delay. It was unclear whether it was the way to easily earn actual rodlin or merely some automatic unwillingness to decline. The Sekalyn offered select few words to the dekkun - in his native tongue - and the beast responded in an affirmative growl and a series of seven symbols, sharp tap, four more drawn on a cobble.
"Here," Aemoten switched back to Rodorian, producing a lone silver coin, which the guy inched closer to accept, eyes flitting between the noble beast's hand and his head. "How do I..."
"Just stick to his side. Could also try sitting on his back, but I doubt he'd be overly amused by it. He's generally quite capable of getting his point across even when he doesn't get your language."
"Right... Okay... Thanks." The stranger only briefly looked at the outlander, and then back onto the dekkun. "Uh, come? Please?"
The dekkun scoffed in reply, and responded with a much more universal hand-gesture - something akin to sideways beckon - as he slunk forward.
The exterior of the inn had mostly been white stone blocks; the interior, aside the walls, was mostly wood. Cheap floor planks, darker - and older, more worn - chairs and tables. The innkeeper regarded their appearance with mild suspicion, but didn't ask any questions, and did not seem overly surprised. Chances were he lumped them with the first wave of refugees, around half a dozen of which could be seen lingering in the main hall. Probably turning to alcohol to forget the sights, first occasion of proper rest since the incident, and morosely contemplating whether to bother fellow survivors for any news of people they had known back at their now razed homes.
One could only assume the owner of the establishment was torn between the extra customers and their respective appearance and the promise of further rabble. But as long as they paid like anyone else and didn't bother the other inhabitants... Aemoten's insistence that someone else bring the water up was met with minor grumbling, but for some extra pay and the notion that he himself isn't exactly fit to do it himself, the barman acquiesced and offered to send a hand. It was good that it'd only be for this evening, or he'd run out of funds in a couple of weeks, and miscellaneous trinkets in another two.
Thankfully, they were, for once, left undisturbed in their room, save for the inn-hand making multiple trips to bring water, and later leaving tea by the door outside.
Much like he had done by the pond, he let Thaler do her thing with the bathing while he, out of respect, took a seat by the small second-floor window and observed the commotion down below. There was tension in the silence, but he had no desire to talk about the morning, either. Now that there was no imminent threat to themselves, goddesses, or the world at large, there was no need to. Instead, he opted to tell her about a more peaceful segment of his life before he arrived in Rodoria. Something akin to a travel story. About Ardjan. About Ramiyletara. About the - to Rodorians - indeed quite bizarre culture. He had thought about going there again - going south. With Thaler.
It felt nice washing the dirt off and wearing a clean shirt again. Not too much he could do about the pants besides getting the worst stains off, but that had to wait until tomorrow. Even if they miraculously found a vendor who was still displaying their wares at this hour, they both were too worn to deal with it. A healer might be useful, too, perhaps. There were no open wounds on either of them any longer, but there was no denying they were quite bruised and beaten.
Hot tea was just as welcome. Perhaps more so due to Thaler having been ill recently and he having torn his throat raw earlier that day.
Come evening, he wasn't sure whether to stay with Thaler or give her more space. How would one even protect a person from dreams? In the end, he simply fell asleep in the armchair.
He woke abruptly at daybreak. Usually it would have been habit, but now it was mostly due to a faint rustle and a set of eight talons digging into his scalp as a wicked beak gleamed above a single hostile eye but an inch from his nose. "Korr."
He started, his right hand involuntarily twitching before his mind caught up with what was going on. "Reckon you're hungry?" he rasped. Perhaps attempting to talk right after waking was not the best idea.
"Korr," insisted Beatrice, still perched atop of his head and leaning down to stare at his face, her head upside down.
"Don't do that..." he muttered, carefully prying the raven's hot toes from his head and urging her to relocate to the chair's backrest. (Why were birds' feet so warm?) "Wait here," he sighed, getting up, stiffly, but less painfully than last evening.
Beatrice ... snickered? Chuckled? It was an oddly human sound, sinister and mirthful. The human stared at the bird.
"Didn't know you did that. I'd rather you didn't."
"Korr," replied Beatrice in her usual manner.
Fetching a tray of food and more tea was, thankfully, quite uneventful, even though it earned him a look from the gal manning the counter. (Curiously, it appeared the night watch was a young woman. A thin, serious one. One could easily imagine her older self telling that you either ate what was given to you - or not at all.) The breakfast appeared decent, though. The bread was even warm.
He tossed beatrice several slices of cheese, himself sitting down to shave - and think. Thaler could sleep a little bit more, though he should probably wake her while the food was still fresh. Should hopefully have an appetite now that they were rested and the traumatic events of yesterday were a bit further removed. Just ... no repeats of yesterday morning. The devilgod had no business here.
"Thaler?" he inquired, half-kneeling next to her bed as he lightly touched her shoulder.