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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

This is Some Rescue... (Daughter of the Nine Moons Main Plotline RP)


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"Calder Berrick is in the Panarch's palace."

 

Jehryn's simple report caused a ruckus among the gathered representatives of the Band's incursion teams. They had gathered in the inn of one of the Band's agents in the city, which had somehow survived the Seanchan invasion and subsequent squelching of outbound intelligence. The survival of this safe haven was one of the only bright spots for the Band in the city. Questions immediately flew through the air, each trying to ascertain the accuracy of the scarred man's findings. Mehrin remained silent. Though he and Jehryn had had a falling-out during the march to Tanchico, he knew enough to know that he was trustworthy. "If Jehryn says that he is there, then he is there."

 

"But how can you be sure?"

 

A sound like gravel being shaken in a tankard cut through the questioning. Jehryn replied, "If you will kindly silence yourselves, I will respond to your queries." Jehryn's voice was a dry rasp, caused by inhaling the sweltering heat of a forge fire. The flames were also the reason for Jehryn's garb. Jehryn wore bandages wrapped around his head, hiding a horribly scarred face. The horrendous injuries had caused a heavy toll on Jehryn's physical abilities, but his mind was sharp, and he was one of the best medics in the Band. However, the injuries meant that Jehryn could pass as a downtrodden beggar, and that opened new routes of exploration and information gathering.

 

"The kitchen staff at the palace are kind to the beggars, and I have often gotten a few crusts of bread, as well as some more choice leftovers, from them. They often talk about palace gossip, and Berrick's name comes up quite often." Jehryn chuckled for a moment, then continued. "It seems that he is rumored to be quite close with the Panarch herself, but I mostly attribute that to scandal hunters. However," Jehryn added, his voice becoming serious again, "it seems that he has drawn the interest of one of the Seanchan upper-class. Nobody mentioned a name, though; I think that the staff are afraid of being punished for even mentioning it."

 

"He's drawing attention to himself, then. That's not good. We need to get him out of there as soon as we possibly can," one of the Banders said.

 

"Based on who he is," Mehrin replied, "it is no surprise that he is drawing attention."

 

Some of the veterans in the room nodded, remembering the stories told by the various soldiers who had been present at the defense of Cairhien. Many had mentioned seeing Calder fight, and that story would have spread far beyond the Topless Towers.

 

The man in charge of the mission was not as impressed. "Mehrin, please try to be helpful."

 

"Sorry."

 

"Anyway," Jehryn rasped loudly, cutting into the quiet conversations that had arisen through the room, "I have a suggestion. The servants' uniforms are sent out once a week for laundering. I suggest we steal a load and fit some of us into the outfits. I have observed how the servants act around the Tanchican aristocracy, and more key, how they interact with the Seanchan themselves. Whoever we slip into the palace will have to have multiple traits. They will have to be able to learn the floor plan well enough to stage an escape in an incredibly narrow time frame, and they will have to be willing to swallow their pride."

 

Several of the soldiers shifted uncomfortably. Pride was one of the driving forces in the average soldier, and it was even more true for the Band. Jehryn's idea would be a tough one for some to swallow. At least they won't choose me, Mehrin thought with relief. I'm too old and scarred to get away with it. Out loud, he added, "I don't think that it is necessary to send in the whole team. Three or four men should be enough to get the layout."

 

"We need to think of extraction, too," one of the Banders said, causing a quiet rumble of agreement.

 

"Should be simple enough," Jehryn replied. "Just wait outside. The three or four men that Mehrin suggested should be able to get Master Berrick out of the palace simply enough."

 

The leader appeared to be deep in thought. When he surfaced, he said, "And what if there are complications? We need to get every advantage we can inside that palace." With a sigh, he continued, "I really hate to do this, but Mehrin?"

 

Mehrin blinked. Oh, you're not serious, are you? "Yes?"

 

"They may need you inside. Do you have any ideas?"

 

Mehrin suddenly found himself in an unenviable position: he did know a way to get himself inside. "I came into the city as a bounty hunter, and the description of the man I was looking for was based on the description that I was given of Berrick. I can try to gain entrance to the palace on the claim that there is a man there that matches the description I gave." Damn, damn, damn... "The problem will be weapons. I doubt they'll let me into the palace with my claymore, my whip, or my knives. I have a couple tricks that I can probably sneak in, though."

 

The man nodded. "Good. I am putting you in a really poor position, but that's what mercenaries are for." What did I do to irritate this man? "Now that I have that settled, does anybody have any other ideas to suggest? If not, I think we have a plan: insert men dressed as servants, send the merc in as muscle, make a night extraction, rendezvous with the rest of the Band in the city, flee."

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Arinth sat with, what to others must appear, a huge stupid grin. He had made it into the city, without getting arrested no less. He had even managed to follow the other members of the band without attracting attention to everyone. It had been a close call. There had a point when he had lost sight of them for a moment and when he caught sight of them off in the distance his first instinct was to shout for them to wait. That wouldn’t make much sense though since he wasn’t suppose to know them in the first place. His jaw still ached from how hard he had snapped it shut when he realized what he was about to do.

Everything was ok now though. He looked down at the mug of ale in his hand. “Everything is ok now. Daddy is here. I wouldn’t abandon you. I promise.” He whispered before taking a giant gulp. He leaned back with a sigh. He resisted the urge to call for more. He had already had three and they were about to have an intelligence meeting of some kind to plan out the next steps. Being able to focus would probably be expected.

 

“Calder Berrick is in the Panarch’s palace.” a voice announced. Silence fell around the room.

 

“Alright.” Arinth said and pumped his fist. Things were getting better and better.

 

“Shut up you idiot.” Somebody muttered, “that means things are going to be about ten times harder now.”

 

“Really?” Arinth asked in surprise. “Well I’ll be.”

 

“Listen.” Was the only response. It was a short one that seemed unnecessarily rude. Arinth didn’t appreciate it. He leaned towards the man with his fists balled up when the first man continued talking and Arinth realized this was not the place to start a fight. He sat back in his chair. The man did deserve to get a square punch right in his face though. Talk to the infantry like that.

 

Arinth turned his attention back to the man speaking with a dramatically raspy voice.

 

“I have often gotten a few crusts of bread, as well as some more choice leftovers,”

 

Is he a food critic? I’d rather judge ale myself. Wait am I even in the right place? He was about to leap to his feet when he remembered that Calder Berrick had been mentioned. He settled back down and tried to figure out what in the good name of the Creator crusts of bread had to do with Calder. Where they going to be feeding ducks at some point in the plan? Where ducks dangerous? He frowned. He didn’t know. It was best to steer clear of them until he had a chance to find out. But wait, maybe this was his chance to find out. He focused again on the man speaking and without thinking called to have his mug refilled.

 

"I have a suggestion. The servants' uniforms are sent out once a week for laundering.”

 

Ah, finally we reach the plan. Arinth leaned forward eagerly, fully intent on listening to what the man had to say when a beautiful bosom filled his vision. His stupid grin returned as he stared. Disappointment filled his heart when the girl moved until he realized she had filled his mug again. He pulled the mug close and held it in both hands as he watched her move around the room. He wouldn’t mind getting her to sit on his knee.

“Make a night extraction, rendezvous with the rest of the Band in the city, flee." The man was busy saying.

 

The others all looked pleased with themselves nodding and grinning.

 

Arinth stood up. “I’ll volunteer sir. If its night extraction you need. I am your man.” He saluted , he imagined, very smartly.

 

“You?” Somebody laughed. “We need someone to blend in with them without getting noticed.” Another added.

 

“I can blend in. I’m a damn sight more handsome than either of you.” He looked around the room. “Its not the first time I’ve been the best looking man in the room.” He saw everyone looking at him and scratched his beard. He looked down at his hand since he couldn’t really see his beard and looked back up. “Ah damn this means I’ll have to shave doesn’t it?

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  • 1 month later...

Ruan Andradem Shoa Paendrag sat in front of her mirror while her so'jhin took the razor over her head in sure, steady moves. The Daughter of the Nine Moons looked at herself while contemplating the events and interpreting the omens she had seen. Thread with care but surety. When her head was as smooth and baren as a baby's bottom, her so'jhin powdered it after cleaning it off with a soft, warm towel. The woman didn't show any sign on her face as she reached for the veil to cover Ruan's head and face, but Ruan knew it bothered her. The veil didn't hide her face, of course. Nore did it impeed on her vision. It was made of the softest and most delicate silk in all the Empire. No, the veil was there for symbolism only. For she was Under the Veil and thus she was the High Lady Ruan, not the Daughter of the Nine Moons.

 

"Go see to it that the sul'dam has sufficiently consoled the damane." She said to her So'jhin. It was an unusual order, to say the least. Normally the woman would not leave Ruan's side for anything, but when her mistress spoke, the so'jhin obeyed. Ruan wanted some time alone to think. How could they have faltered so before? Surely there must be some reason behind it. She had examined the evidence, refused the requests for suicide from those in charge and instead had sent them to Seanchan to appologise to the Empress herself, may She live forever. Some said it was a harsher thing to do than allow suicide and so it was. But there could be no room for errors in this mission. Too much was at stake! The faith of the entire world rested upon their shoulders and not just that of Seanchan. Her mother, the Empress, had sent her to bring these lands back under the command of their rightfull ruler. But now so much more was going on. The Dragon Reborn had risen and the Last Battle was surely on its way. He must be made to kneel before the Crystal Throne so the Empress can use him to defeat the Dark One. Or all would be lost. Ruan's mission had become a thousand times more important than when she set out from Seandar.

 

Suddenly restless she left her rooms, ordering her servants to remain and await her return. It was unlike her to go anywhere without her Shadow, but Ruan wasn't exactly helpless either. She had been drilled in combat since her cradle and she was lethal with almost every weapon as well as with her hands. The palace was secure in Seanchan hands, though that didn't mean her safety was secure as well. Quite the opposit. As Heir to the Seanchan Throne, Ruan has been a target for assassins from birth. Both from her own siblings as well as from other, ambitious sources. She had to learn to outmanouver them quick and skillfully for the members of the Imperial Blood did not live long without those skills. It was, of course, the best way to ensure that only the most worthy would be named Heir to the Crystal Throne. How else was one to know if someone had the skills, the wisdom and all other assets required to lead the Empire?

 

Servants fell to their faces at her approach and she ignored them. It would take time for these locals to learn the proper ways but they learned the basics quickly enough. A few examples had ensured that right from the start. Ruan was not cruel and believed in proper behavior in regard to one's station. Order was of the utmost importance to insure the security of her realm. Her mother had pounded that in from the beginning. The Empress must be a source of order and stability. How Ruan was to serve the Empress, may She live forever, in these chaotic times she was as yet unsure. But serve she would.

 

If only there was a clear way of bringing these lands under Seanchan rule, secure the Dragon for her mother's use and stand against the evil that was spreading from the Dark. She turned the corner of another corridor while still pondering her options.

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Arkin gave a small smile as he walked through the Panarch's palace. He was walking at a relatively fast pace, with the air of a man who knew where he was going and was hurrying to get there. That feigned sense of purpose kept others from trying to give him something to do, somethign that Arkin had learnt much earlier in life. The uniform that brushed against his skin and the way that he held himself, his shoulders slightly hunched and his eyes downcast threw the new Bander into the perfect role of meek servant.

 

Those downcast eyes were really walking up the walls, memorising every inch of the place and every trait and cultural characterisitc that he saw. The further Arkin walked, the more like a servant of the Seanchan he became. This was something Arkin could do, something that he could do very well. Through his travelling youth, he had learnt how to observe others and make their traits his own, how to blend in. Years of new cities and towns every month had taught him to learn his surroundings and learn them quickly.

 

This was fun for Arkin-a chance to put his thespian skills to good use, and practice skills that had been put out of use.

 

His mind skittered back to the inn where the job had been brought up. Arkin had been up for it from the first mention of infiltration, and then dressing up was thrown into the mix.

He had been sat with his drinking buddy Arinth, nursing a mug of ale. When those character traits were listed...well. Arkin and escaping were two words that fit together rather perfectly. Floor plan was pretty well-matched as well, and as for swallowing his pride...Arkin didn't have any pride to begin with. The hardest thing about this mission for him was to abandon his various collected items and pull things out of his hair.

 

Arkin's ears pricked at the presence of someone behind him as he turned the corner into a fairly populated corridor.

He was ever so slightly shocked when everyone else in the room crashed to the floor, flattening themselves against the floor, but it took him absolutely no time to copy, pressing his nose into the ground.

 

The footsteps of the only person moving passed by him and Arkin lifted his head slightly just in time to see a woman turn the next corner, before he joined the other servants in picking themselves up and dusting off.

 

Arkin paused and glanced to either side. He wanted to follow the woman, but he didn't fancy following her on his stomach, so he turned and trotted back the way he had come.

After a while of wandering whilst looking like he had a purpose, a lot of chatting to maids and other servants and actually being sent on a few errands, Arkin came to halt at a corridor crossways. That was it. He knew where each of those paths led.

 

His mental floorplan was complete.

 

Giving a grin, Arkin wandered down to the kitchens to find something to eat.

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Yriel had been quietly standing off to the corner as everyone spoke, not entirely sure why he was there, he was very new to the band and far from the best fighter, though not the worst. However as soon as the word servant was said he sighed. He doubted many from the band had been servants in their time before joining the band and it was a harder job than some imagined. If you were visiting another lords manor and took the wrong corridor which resulted in the meal being late or the tea cold, you could be docked a weeks wages, which you the servant would feel was just, even lenient. Resisting the urge to spit on the floor in disgust, Yriel pushed himself off of the wall and signalled to the barmaid, currently filling Arinth's mug while the man brazenly stared at he woman's bosom, to bring him an ale, if he was going to have to even pretend at being a servant he would definitely need a good stiff drink.

 

Listening as Arinth declared himself going, Yriel shook his head, the man may be a good fighter but he'd eat his sword belt, no, he'd eat his sword if the man could pass as a servant undetected no matter how much these Seanchan appeared to look down on their servants. He'd join these soldiers just to make so he could make sure none of them died out of shear brazen stupidity like pretending to wax something but doing it in the wrong direction something a lifelong servant would pick up in an instant and lead to very awkward questioning. As to the issue of finding his way around the palace Yriel trusted his skill with a map especially thanks to his year spent wandering only getting the occasional glance at a map in a tavern. Let alone when he had once been given a map for a half a day and then been sent on errands through the Stone of Tear.

 

"I think I'll be joining you in the palace as well" Yriel announced to the others. A large portion turned at stared at him, possibly because they had forgotten he was there, possibly because he was a private with the gall to announce that he was going to do something rather then being ordered to it. He had only realised the second point as he had begun speaking so he had kept going, he wasn't used to this whole being around people thing again yet. As the other band members recovered from their brief surprise and before any could reject him out of hand he added quickly.

 

"Lets face it you need at least one man who actually knows how to be a servant" And with that he calmly took the mug the maid offered him and took a rather large glug straight down his neck.

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Calder Berrick was not doing well. Daily, he paced the corridors of the palace, looking into corners, eying guards, and glaring at Seanchan nobility. Thus far, it was only the 'attentions' of the Panarch that kept him from being a decorative head in some bloody noble's chambers, he was sure. Add to that the constant hissing in the back of his head and Calder became an incredibly unpleasant person. If only whatever the bloody hissing is about would happen! The hissing, a sound that Calder remembered with absolute clarity from the fuses he had lit in order to blast his way into the Stone of Tear, always came before something momentous. Last time, it had signaled the arrival of the Seanchan in Tanchico. Well, that and a building falling on top of him. Whatever it was, Calder wanted it to be over and done with.

 

It did not help that he was, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner in the palace. For a time, he had had the run of the city, but that was taken from him after he had tried to leave. For some reason, the Seanchan did not want anybody from the palace to leave the city. After that, his movements were curtailed to the palace. It was an opulent place, with quite a few wonderful artifacts, and the museum attached to the palace had proven to be fascinating for a time. However, a prison was a prison, and nothing could change that.

 

At the thought of prisons, several memories jumped to Calder's mind. He could remember being imprisoned several times, often for life. Nowhere in all of his memories did he have the pleasure of being imprisoned in such a luxurious cell. The worst cell, in fact, was one where he had died alone and ragged, an emaciated man dressed in tatters and lying on his side, coughing up blood and pieces of lung until he suffocated. Violently, Calder shook his head to drive away the memories. Those flaming fox people had done this to him, filling gaps in his mind with the memories of men long dead. They had given him other things, too. The spear in his room- an ashandarei from a long-forgotten time- and a medallion, which hung around his neck. They had also given him a scar like no other, a deep rope burn from a noose. For some reason, it seemed to itch every time he came near one of the Seanchan nobles, though that was probably just the unconscious worry of another hanging.

 

As he strode down the halls of the palace, Calder's eyes were constantly being drawn to the servants. There was nothing new about seeing servants, but some of these ones seemed a little odd. He could have sworn that one was counting footsteps as he walked through the halls of the palace. Another had been a bit slow to react to the approach of one of the Seanchan High Blood, though he had found the floor fast enough to avoid trouble. It was a strangeness to the usual order of life in the palace, and Calder did not like strangeness.

 

Walking across the main hallway, Calder noticed yet another oddity: a tall man dressed in heavy black leather and wearing a leather hat with a brim wider than his own. The man was slightly taller than Calder, but he was more muscular than a blacksmith. Immediately, Calder began to examine the man. He bore no obvious weapons besides his belt knife, though there was an empty loop on his belt that said that another weapon was missing. He was wearing open-fingered leather gloves, which was an oddity in and of itself, but the proportions on the gloves were not quite right, either. The knuckles seemed to be a bit thicker than they should have been. The man himself had several scars on his face, including a rather vicious one that cut through his left eyebrow, across his eye, and down to his chin. Even more unsettling was the way that the man looked around the hallway. It was obvious that he was categorizing and memorizing everything he saw, as if he expected trouble. His gaze passed over Calder, then suddenly snapped back to him. After a brief moment, of mutual examination, the large man winked at Calder, then continued down the hall.

 

What was that all about, Calder wondered as he continued his walk towards the museum. He rounded a corner and came face-to-face with another of the Seanchan Blood. This one was different from the rest, however. She walked with a veil at all times, and she was shaved completely bald. More importantly, it seemed that she was somewhere nearby every time that Calder turned around. Be respectful, don't say a bloody word, and keep walking, he thought. Unfortunately, his mouth never received the message. "Good day, High Lady. What a beautiful job your hair stylist did today."

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The Palace of the Panarch was a maze, a cruel joke on servants. You had to wander around for hours to get anything done. Arinth still felt awkward in his servants uniform. He was suppose to try to slump to seem shorter while still standing straight. At first he had walked bent at the knees. He hadn’t realized how ridiculous he looked until he passed a mirror. At first he had thought it was another servant and was about to laugh at him until he realized that was his own close shaven face. He still wasn’t used to that either.

 

The truth was that he was a terrible servant. He wasn’t sure why anyone had agreed to let him go in unless it was because there would be at least some need for a fighting man inside in case things got ugly. Lukcily Arkin and Yriel had both given him some advice. Do this, don’t do that, always do this and never ever do that. He was pretty sure that he had most of it right still.

He’d seen Arkin, Yriel, and even Mehrin he thought at different places in the palace. He had almost greeted Arkin until the little scout had frown and gave a short shake of his head to warn him from doing anything stupid.

 

To make matters worse it seemed there were people walking around expecting everyone to bow and scrap as they passed by. Arinth was not used to that and had come dangerously close to being too slow. He reminded himself he was suppose to avoid notice. It might be difficult with his smile but that was something one of them had told him not to do. Don’t smile, don’t scowl, don’t speak. Being a servant was a completely different experience.

 

At one point the got lost and hid in a dark corner avoiding anyone that walked past. Finally Arkin wandered by. Arinth grabbed him quickly and pulled him aside. The man’s eyes had widened when Arinth had appeared but he recovered quickly.

 

“You know your way around the palace yet?” He asked. Arkin nodded. Arinth made the mistake of asking for Arkin to tell him. Arkin started to tell him the layout of the Palace but after a few seconds Arinth realized he was just as lost in Arkin’s descriptions. He held up his hand.

 

“How about I just follow you. If anyone asks I’m moving a trunk for you.” Arkin didn’t look exactly convinced. “Well you are the story teller, if you’ve got a problem with that make up a better story. Now lets get moving.”

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  • 1 month later...

Arkin snuck a piece of bread into his mouth as he continued to wander the palace. He was now periodically scouring the floors in a random order so as not to be noticed, taking it all in once more, this time noticing every small thing and learning the nature of the people. A few times, he passed Yriel, or Arinth or Mehrin, but it was easy enough to ignore them.

He was shocked by a hand on his collar as he was pulled into a corner, coming face to face with Arinth. Arkin's heart slowed down fast enough, but he tipped his drinking buddy a glare anyway as the man explained his confusion. Arkin grinned at Arinth's lack of direction and servantly behaviour. He was one of those entered to dress up and play guard later on, unlike Arkin and Yriel who were really there to figure out an escape path.

Arkin rolled his eyes at Arinth's terrible cover story. "The main flaw in your plan there Arinth, is that you have no trunk.” he grinned, before pulling a flask out, half-emptying it and handing it over to Arinth quickly, keeping an eye out for any senior servants. Arkin had already come across a few and quickly figured out who they were. Best to keep out of trouble when he was undercover. Arkin was actually quite impressed with how little trouble he’d found himself in.

Taking an empty flask back from Arinth, Arkin quickly vanished it and stepped out into the corridor. With Arinth trailing behind him, Arkin made his way randomly down corridors, laughing at and correcting-or attempting to correct-Arinth’s terrible bad posture. He was too much of a soldier to be a servant.

Some voices caught Arkin’s ear as he made to round a corner. He slowly came to a halt, grabbing Arinth’s collar as the man made to continue on into the next corridor and pulling him back with some deal of effort considering the difference in their sizes.

Arkin put a finger to his lips and cupped a hand around his ear, gesturing around the corner, where he had heard the voice of the Seanchan highest, the woman that brought everyone to the floor with her mere presence. A lower voice, a man’s voice, was opposite hers, a voice Arkin had never heard, but could guess the owner of.

 

Arinth’s infantryman’s ears picked up on the voices much more slowly than Arkin, and so the scout ducked his head around the corner. The seanchan’s back was to him, and he could easily see the face of the mystery man over her back. He cocked his head to the side and pointed to a strip of red on his servant’s uniform once he had checked to see that there was no-one to see his suspicious behaviour but for the man.

The man didn’t look at Arkin at all, he didn’t even acknowledge that he knew he was there. There was a moment of tense waiting from Arkin, as he polished a piece of silverware and strained to keep the man in his vision. After Arkin’s eyes had started to hurt from watching the man in his peripherals, finally, the mystery man brought his hand up and itched his hair, gently brushing his red lapel on the way down.

 

Certain that their exchange had gone completely unnoticed, Arkin hung around for another moment so as not to draw suspicion to any particular movement made by either him or the man before moving back down the corridor with Arinth trotting next to him.

 

As soon as they had rounded another corner, Arkin grinned at his drinking buddy, restraining himself from more exuberant actions. “We know where Calder Berrick is. Now we just can’t lose him.”

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  • 3 weeks later...

"He's through this door, though why you're being allowed to see him is beyond me," the guard who was escorting Mehrin through the palace growled. "As a guest of the Panarch, he should be above any and all reproach, especially from a ragged beggar of a thief-taker like you." The contempt was measurable. Mehrin did not rise to his instinctual reaction, which involved a fist and broken bones. It would not do. Too many witnesses at this time of the day. He made sure to memorize the man's face, though. If the chance arose later, then there would be blood. None of it would be Mehrin's. In front of him, the guard knocked twice and waited.

 

From beyond the door, Mehrin heard somebody shout, "What do you want?"

 

"Man here to see you. Please send him away so I can 'escort' him out," the guard replied.

 

"All the more reason to see him," the voice responded.

 

The guard cursed, then opened the door. "Watch yourself. Anything funny, and I'll see you dead." Mehrin gave the guard his friendliest smile- not a very friendly sight at all- and stepped past him and into the room.

 

The room was well-furnished, Mehrin had to admit. There were far worse prison cells imaginable. A part of Mehrin wondered whether this was even a prison. Four overstuffed leather chairs set around a table next to a large fireplace drew Mehrin's gaze. One chair, the one facing away from the door, was occupied. Mehrin could see the man's arm. "I saw you in the hall today," the man in the chair said. Mehrin's eyes flickered. On the wall was a mirror, and Mehrin could see the other man's face reflected in it. Calder Berrick, exactly how he had been described to Mehrin. Their eyes met in the mirror, two shades of brown staring each other down.

 

Mehrin blinked first.

 

Turning the blink into a shift, Mehrin walked around to the chair opposite the one in which Calder sat and made himself comfortable. "I didn't say you could sit," Calder said, distrust evident on his face.

 

"No, you didn't," Mehrin responded, leveling another stare at Calder. This stare lasted a bit longer before both men blinked. With a sigh, Mehrin said, "Master Berrick, can we please forget about our egos for a moment? I don't think either of us will die if we let pride go for awhile."

 

Calder shook his head. "No, I suppose not. Why are you here? More importantly, why are you here looking for me?"

 

"Simple, really. We were sent."

 

Calder leaned forward. "When you say 'we,' I assume you mean you and that new bunch of confused-looking servants I've been seeing in the halls for the past day or two?"

 

Mehrin chuckled appreciatively. "Those very ones. I had heard that you knew what you were about, but I didn't believe it."

 

"Why? Because I'm young?" The glare that Calder leveled at Mehrin was surprising. There was something strange about the man, something that spoke of knowledge that belied the man's age.

 

"Actually, yes," Mehrin replied, feigning unconcern. "That's not important, though. What's important is that we're here to get you out of Tanchico."

 

Calder snorted a derisive laugh. "Why? In case you had failed to notice, I have one of the most comfortable apartments in the palace. I have servants who wait on my every whim. I have access to an amazing selection of wine. Why would I want to go?"

 

"Not my call to make. I'm here as part of an incursion with the Band of the Red Hand, and we have our orders from the Dragon him-"

 

"Wait," Calder interrupted. "You're here on behalf of Jarron? Blood and bloody ashes, I thought I was away from this whole flaming mess now!"

 

"I met him before. I have the feeling that, if he means you to be a part of a scheme, then you are a part of the scheme. What you want doesn't really matter."

 

Calder's eyes narrowed. "You actually met him?"

 

"Yes," Mehrin replied. "I was the commander of the Band who swore the Band to the Dragon's service."

 

"Oh, that was you? I remember seeing you. 'Bloody great drunk,' I remember saying to one of my friends."

 

Mehrin grimaced. "Sounds like me," he growled. "Anyway, I have a letter that I am supposed to give you."

 

Reaching into his vest, Mehrin took out a slightly worse-for-wear letter, seal intact, and handed it across to the other man. Calder broke the seal without a second glance and quickly read the letter. Quietly, at first, then louder, he started to chuckle. "Bloody... I knew that he was mad, but is he really this far gone? Blood and bloody ashes, but we're in trouble..."

 

"What's the matter?"

 

In response, Calder threw the letter back at Mehrin. "Read it yourself. It's all too much a bloody joke to be true." Standing abruptly, Calder turned away, his hands on his head. Mehrin heard something about hissing noises, then he turned his eyes to the letter.

 

It was nonsense, plain and simple. It looked like the Old Tongue, which meant nothing to Mehrin, but apparently the other man was fluent. Another oddity. "Calder, we're ready to move tonight. If you would be so kind as to explain to the guard outside that his services are not required, then it would be much appreciated."

 

Calder spared Mehrin another glance, then dismissed the guard. Returning to the chair, Calder leaned against it, a strange glint in his eye. Mehrin could see a certain glee behind those eyes, like a trickster about to reveal his latest prank. I think I could grow to like this man, he thought. "So," Calder said. "What's the plan?"

 

***********

 

At dark, Mehrin hung a red scarf from the door handle outside Calder's room. The first Bander to see it would relay the message. Within two hours, the small group of Banders would be making their way out of the palace and, eventually, out of Tanchico. What could possibly go wrong?

 

OOC: Have a blast, get to the courtyard, no noisy fights just yet. There'll be plenty of that shortly.

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Yriel maintained the downcast eyes he had copied off of the real servants as he passed through the great gilded halls and even through the servants passages. He had only occasionally noticed any of the other infiltrators through glances, mainly he spent most of his energy on not grimacing a being a light-cursed servant again, and too top it off all to save what he assumed to be a noble considering he was presently residing in a palace. Try as he might he couldn't remember why he had volunteered for this mission, only when he had glanced at Arinth one day, bumbling along did he remember, one of the party ought to know how to behave properly in case something went wrong. Yriel sighed as he walked around carrying servants uniforms, rather frustratingly one of the jobs dropped on him by the head servants had been to acquire new uniforms after some had mysteriously disappeared on the way to the washers. He strode into a main hallway taking a short cut and hoping not to be seen by a lord or lady he noticed a red scarf on a door handle out of the corner of his eye and almost shouted in joy, instead he let out a gentle breath he had been holding for the last several days.

 

As the night came Yriel strode quickly through the halls, nodding to the odd servant polishing a side board, dancing round those washing floors but constantly moving with a purpose, dissuading anyone trying to rope him into their work, the scowl on his face helped to accentuate this, he could not pull it off as well as Arinth let alone Mehrin. Light, that man's scowl would probably scare a myrddraal into leaving him alone. Following the map in his mind Yriel found his way to the torch lit courtyard. He checked his sides finding his weapons securely fastened, it had felt strange to him not having them during his brief return to his old lifestyle, which in itself had seemed weird to him. He took out a crossbow bolt from a hidden pouch and flicked it around his fingers awaiting the others appearance. As a way of telling others he had pinned up a strip of red fabric near the entrance to several servants quarters, seeing as he seemed to manage to miss all those among the infiltators who he knew especially when he could do with a hand. He hoped they would notice a spread the word further.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"This is never going to work, Mehrin. Nothing ever works right around me," Calder muttered as the two men made their way along the hall. Calder's eyes darted from side to side every time the two passed an intersection in the hall, searching for the guards that he knew would be present. The big man grunted in response. "No, really! I know these things. It happens to me all the time. Things seem to be going well, then a major complication comes out of nowhere and leaves us up to our necks in trouble."

 

"If you would stop complaining for a moment and look," Mehrin growled, "you would see that things are working."

 

Calder opened his mouth to disagree, but closed it again as Mehrin took a turn without consulting him. "Excuse me, but I know my way around the palace better than you, so why are you not asking directions?"

 

In response, Mehrin pointed at the corner that the two had just passed. There was a small piece of red fabric tied to a vase. "The men in here are mostly new and unscarred, but they seem to know their business," Mehrin muttered to the other man. As the two passed a deep alcove, Mehrin pointed again. Calder peered into the shadows to see two Seanchan guards, both unconscious.

 

"So they do," Calder replied.

 

The walk to the gathering point, just near one of the side entrances to the palace, proved to be uneventful. Any guards that may have raised the alarm were unconscious and out of the way. Calder suspected that part of the infiltrators' purpose had been to identify the shift changes for the guards. It seemed likely that there would be plenty of time to escape. This may go off without a hitch, Calder thought, a small ray of hope shining in his mind.

 

If only he could forget the hissing of fuses in his mind.

 

"I see we have our man," the lead infiltrator whispered as Calder and Mehrin joined the group of four, all of whom were peering into the shadows.

 

"'Our man' has a name, you know," Calder muttered, swinging his ashandarei over his shoulders. The four other men instantly looked at the weapon in confusion. A long blade mounted atop a black staff seemed to hold no end of interest from the men. It was probably why they never heard or saw the approaching man and woman.

 

"What is this?" the woman said, quietly. Calder immediately recognized the woman, one of the Seanchan High Ladies. Many of the Seanchan showed some sort of deference to her. She was also unique in having a bard constantly in attendance to her. The man had a strange habit of cocking his head to the side whenever he was listening to somebody. Even now, in the middle of the night, he was carrying a small harp. Still as bizarre as anything, Calder thought.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Calder saw Mehrin shake his head. "Take them," he said, and the four men closed on the pair, seizing the bard first, who offered no resistance. The High Lady, on the other hand, fought back. One of the men was driven to his knees by a kick to the chest, and another was sent sprawling by a hip throw. The third and final man fell to the ground, clutching his groin. Shaking his head, Mehrin approached and, moving with a speed that Calder found astonishing for the man's size, seized the woman by the throat with one hand and lifted. Calder was shocked to see the woman come off the ground, but was even more shocked to see her throw a few more blows at the man. When the blows failed to elicit a response, she stopped struggling and glared at Mehrin, her hands around his wrist to take some of the weight off her throat. "You two," the man growled, pointing at the two men quickest to stand, "tie her hands and gag her." Turning his attention back to the woman that he still held, Mehrin said, "As for you, girl, if you fight back, I'll have them tie your feet, and I'll drag you out of the palace."

 

The big man's casual response to the treatment of the woman was irritating Calder. Such behavior would have been punished severely in a different circumstance, but right now was not the time. Instead, he gave the man a cold glare that promised that there would be words once they were out of the city. Mehrin returned the gaze with cool detachment, as if he did not care what Calder had to say. I finally meet a man who does not call me 'lord', and it turns out he is the one that I wish would. "Let's get out of here," Mehrin said to the men, turning on his heel to go.

 

The walk through the door and out of the palace was a bit of a struggle. There were no guards, but the High Lady continually struggled the entire way. Her muffled cries were not loud enough to draw attention, but it was nerve-wracking nonetheless. The four infiltrators were obviously nervous. Calder did not feel any better.

 

When they were finally out of the palace, Calder had had enough. "You, bard!" he said to the man, who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. "Tell.... ummm... tell... what's her name?"

 

The bard tilted his head and looked at Calder with a strange look on his face. Amusement, maybe? Then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say, he replied, "She's Ruan Andradem Shoa Paendrag, the Daughter of the Nine Moons."

 

Mehrin looked shocked, but not as shocked as Calder, who suddenly felt his stomach drop. The hissing in his mind had stopped. "Put her down," he said, quietly. "She's my wife."

 

"Wait, what? You only just met the woman, man! What are you talking about?" The Bander who asked the question was apparently beginning to feel as if he had joined a select group of madmen.

 

"You heard me, you bloody goat of a man! She's my wife!"

 

Mehrin looked at the man askance. "Calder, are you sure you didn't hit your head or something?"

 

"No. I'm telling you, the bloody Daughter of the bloody Nine Moons is my wife!"

 

It was strange, but the words seemed to cause the woman to stop struggling. Instead she looked... she looked shocked and smug. A strange combination, certainly. Still they were standing in the middle of a town square with a tied-up woman. It was a wonder the guards weren't descending upon them as they spoke. "Okay, we'll deal with who is whose wife when we're far away from here. Now, how do we get the girl out of the city?" Mehrin asked.

 

In response, one of the infiltrators pointed at a barrel-laden wagon. Calder shook his head. First they treated her with violence, then they tied and gagged her, now they wanted to shove her in a barrel? He knew that he should say something. This was his wife, after all. It won't matter if we can't get out of the city, he thought sullenly, so he held his peace. Mehrin, on the other hand, spoke up: "Perfect. We can get her out of here in that."

 

The Daughter of the Nine Moons did not approve of the idea. The moment that she realized what was about to happen, she started struggling again, this time in the open where somebody could see what was happening. Calder searched his mind for something to make her stop struggling. The bloody bard was smirking as if this was one of the funniest things that he had ever seen. Mehrin was watching with a-

 

In two strides, Mehrin covered the distance between himself and the woman and, with a calculating look on his face, he punched the woman. She immediately went limp in the two infiltrators' hands. Without realizing what he was doing, Calder was up against the large man, a knife held against his throat. Rage burned in him hotter than he had ever felt it before. "She was doing nothing, you flaming coward. I should gut you right here, but there's no time to make a proper job of it. I don't want to see you again. If I do, you will die. Is that understood?"

 

A look of unbridled fury briefly crossed Mehrin's face, then, and Calder was certain that he was about to square off against the man. However, all the man said was, "Perfectly," then turned away, ignoring the knife at his throat. As the men made their way to the wagon, Mehrin strode off, away from the group. Before he reached the corner of the palace, though, he stopped and turned back. "You get out of here. I'll make sure that the bloody Seanchan are distracted long enough that you won't be too sharply questioned."

 

Calder glared at the man for a moment, then nodded, and he was gone.

 

**************

 

Stopping at the barrel where he had stowed his things, Mehrin didn't even bother sheathing the claymore when he donned the back scabbard. Instead, setting his feet on a thoroughfare that ran straight to a gate, Mehrin set to work with a fury that he'd never felt before. A group of ten Seanchan guards on patrol were cut down before any of them realized that they should be afraid. That sent the twenty from the gate charging at Mehrin, swords drawn and alarm cries raised. Unfortunately, they were not smart enough to attack him as a group.

 

Rage fueled Mehrin through that walk. As the first guard approached, he set the claymore to spinning, and the guard suddenly found himself without a head. The next two fared no better. One upward angled cut left the man on Mehrin's right legless, and the man on Mehrin's left fell to the ground in two bloody pieces. The next tried to block the following downward chop, but only managed to get his head cut in half. The man directly behind him ended with the claymore in his face. The next two were apparently smarter than the preceding five, trying to flank Mehrin. The man to Mehrin's right, unfortunately for him, had a poorly-made sword, and the swing that he tried to deflect snapped the blade in two, and separated his arm from his body. The man to Mehrin's left came at his back, but ended on the ground gurgling, his throat crushed by the pommel of Mehrin's claymore. Thirteen left. And the fools were still coming in ones, twos, and threes! The next three came shoulder-to-shoulder. One horizontal slash opened all three of their throats. Mehrin kicked the center man out of his way as he strode over the men. The next one managed three blows against him. The high blow rang off Mehrin's upheld sword. The side swing passed harmlessly between the two, and the angled slash slid harmlessly along the edge of the claymore. The flat of the blade introduced itself to the man's face, breaking his nose and knocking him on his back. Mehrin stomped once on his way past. Numbers twelve and thirteen had spears. Spears were easy. The two men thrust at the same time, a well-practiced move that would have served them well on a battlefield. Not so against one man. Mehrin sidestepped and slid between the two spears, drawing his knife with his right hand. Two quick swipes, and it was done. The last seven men looked at the blood-drenched horror walking towards them and abandoned their post. Pity, Mehrin thought.

 

There was a small door in the gate. The gate was barred and locked. The door was barred from the inside, impassible from the outside.

 

Mehrin was inside.

 

Outside, it was no problem to steal one of the gate guards' stabled and saddled horses, though it didn't seem to like the smell of blood all that much. It was thus that Mehrin was galloping uncomfortably into the night when the gate opened, and about fifty guards poured out, with a pair of women leading them. Mehrin saw one of the women point at him before he turned his head away to watch the upcoming forest.

 

Then his sword shattered.

 

If felt as if somebody had hit Mehrin in the back with a hammer the size of a tree. The blow knocked the breath out of him. Beneath him, the horse screamed in pain, and Mehrin suddenly felt as if his back had been pierced by hundreds of tiny knives. Moving his arm to feel for what was in his back, Mehrin dislodged the hilt of his claymore. Reflex set in fast enough for him to catch it before it was lost, but the rapid movement made his back feel as if it was on fire. Mehrin screamed, but he had made the cover of the trees.

 

*****************************

 

Jehryn watched the exchange from one of the alleys, and a part of him screamed that, despite their differences, he should go after Mehrin. He had to admit that part of his desire was not simply hero-worship, but he would not abandon the Band. As the man turned the corner, he looked back. Hesitantly, Jehryn raised his hand and waved. After a moment, Mehrin did the same, then he was gone. In his heart, Jehryn knew that it was the last time that he would ever see the man.

 

Calder and the Band worked quickly. Three other men emerged from the alleys and began to make the wagon ready. Two more jogged past Jehryn, probably to find a couple horses to pull the wagon.

 

As the minutes stretched, Jehryn could feel himself growing tense. Things were progressing too slowly. Any minute now, somebody would spot what was going on, and there would be trouble. Hesitantly, Jehryn put his hand to the gauze that hid his face. He could not see or hear properly while wearing it, and he would be no help if he could not see or hear trouble coming. With a shake of his head, Jehrin began to pull at the bandages, quickly revealing the burnt flesh beneath.

 

The first thing he heard was the sound of men moving in armor. Out of a nearby alley came a squad of Seanchan, whose attention immediately settled upon the scrambling men.

 

Panic filled Jehryn with energy, and he sought around for whatever he could find to slow the men down. His eyes fell upon a large bucket and a barrel of rainwater, and his stomach gave a little flip. Reaching into his tattered clothing, he felt around until he found a vial with a specific set of touch markers, then withdrew it. A powder was contained inside, completely inert until it was added to water. His heart racing, Jehryn filled the bucket, then poured the powder into the water. Giving it a few quick stirs with his blowgun, Jehryn took a deep breath. As soon as the squad was even with his alley, Jehryn hurled the bucket of water over the entire group.

 

He smiled for a moment, then his stomach sank as he became aware of a dampness against his hands. Oh, Light...

 

Two men came and dragged him out of the alley. "What are you doing?" the squad leader screamed into Jehryn's face. Jehryn's proximity to the man allowed him a good look when the man's face went slack. With a twist of his shoulders, Jehryn stepped away from the two men holding him, breaking their grip as if he was restrained by cobwebs. Moving away from the group, Jehryn stood where they could all see him, then began to speak. "That numbness you are feeling right now? It is the result of a little powder I discovered a couple years ago. It shuts down the body's ability to feel, then it puts the body to sleep, then it kills. It is tasteless, colorless, odorless, and currently soaking into your skin. Those of you who were hit in the face will be falling down in a couple seconds, so say your goodbyes."

 

The squad leader growled, "You're bluffing! There's a-" Trailing off halfway through his sentence, the squad commander fell, landing on his face without a twitch. Other men began collapsing, some falling to the ground, some resting on their knees. One by one, though, they all drifted away to sleep. Behind him, Jehryn could hear rapid footsteps approaching. Turning his head, he saw some of the Banders approaching. His body beginning to feel like a series of lead weights, Jehryn turned sluggishly and threw his hands up. "Stay away! Don't touch me! Just get out of here!"

 

It was then that his knees gave out, and Jehryn tumbled to the ground. He could see another squad approaching. "More coming," he managed to say, hopefully giving the rest of the Banders time to prepare. It was the least he could do. In fact, it was the most he could do. He reassured himself that, if they chose to check the other Seanchan bodies, anybody who touched water would die, too.

 

At least this is painless, Jehryn thought as he rolled onto his back to look at the stars. It was strange, but he had never looked at the stars again since joining the Band. He used to love going out of the city in order to see them more clearly. There were worse things that one could spend their last moments admiring. Jehryn's mind drifted back to the Band, to one of the infantrymen. They had shared a few drinks and a few meals, he and Allyn, and they had become close in the past couple months. He had been the first person in the Band to see Jehryn's face. I never told him... Jehryn thought before an overwhelming sense of peace overcame him. The sounds of a battle nearby faded away, and Jehryn felt sleep overcoming him.

 

His eyes never left the stars as the darkness slowly enveloped him.

Edited by Quibby
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"Aye, light but I understand your pain. This fellow of yours sounds like my light-cursed brother." Arkin was saying, shaking his head with a grim turn to his mouth.

He didn't have a brother.

Arkin was sitting atop the stable wall, chatting amiably to the man who leant against his shovel as though it were a scepter. He'd been waiting here for a while, with a few horses picked out, ready and waiting. He'd dragged another of the Band with him to make ready some horses for their imminent escape, and whilst readying them for dragging around a wagon, they'd been interrupted by this king of the stables. A strong arm and a hissed order had sent the other Bander out of the stables to wait and send him a signal when the horses would be needed, leaving Arkin to turn his irresistible grin on the frowning intruder.

 

Of course, it had only been a matter of time before the man had started ranting to Arkin about his son and his wife, and his aching foot and all sorts of other petty ailments that worked fantastically to deter him from the horses waiting to be stolen.

 

The signal came quickly to Arkin's scouting senses, resulting in a swift blow to the head and a thump as the stablemaster hit the hay.

 

Arkin grabbed the two horses by the reins and led them quietly through the allies and streets to the town square where he knew he'd find the rest of his party and the wagon the horses were to be attached to. His signaller and horse-thief companion rejoined him and Arkin handed him the reins of one of the horses, a stout, deep-chested bay horse that seemed like it could take a lot of weight, but still go at a considerable speed.

 

Upon turning the corner into an alley approaching the square, Arkin's ears pricked up. There were soldiers nearby. There were lots of soldiers. Not near Arkin, but away, across the square.

 

He rounded the head of the alley just in time to see Jehryn cast a bucket of water on the squadron of Seanchan quickly approaching the square. For a moment, Arkin was confused as he took everything in.

In the square were three figures surrounded by milling Banders who were just noticing the action. Three figures, and none of them were Mehrin. Arkin recognised Calder Berrick, and he thought that the woman was a lady from Palace. The man, he'd not seen before, but he had a harp slung over his shoulder. Arkin immediately liked him.

 

Now as to Jehryn. It had taken Arkin a while to recognise him as his bandages were no longer in their secure lodgings around his head, but it was indeed Jehryn, and he'd thrown water on the seanchan...Arkin didn't understand until he saw the squadron begin to fall, one by one. They didn't get up again.

 

Jehryn managed to stay standing until the last one had fallen, before he too collapsed.

 

Seeing the medic fall snapped Arkin into action. He threw his reins to his companion and quickly looked him in the eye. "Get these flaming horses attached to that wagon. Nothing else, just get it done."

He hissed the last statement as he ran over to Jehryn.

 

At the medic's order not to touch him, Arkin took a cautious step back, and after that it didn't take him long to figure out that the 'water' was dangerous and it had spilled onto Jehryn. A frown took over Arkin's features, something rare on his face. Medics shouldn't be lost in battles. Especially not medics like Jehryn.

 

More soldiers were coming, plenty more. Jehryn was dying, dead or as good as. Mehrin was nowhere to be seen.

 

There were a group of Banders around Arkin and others that had started over as the crowd grew. Spotting Arinth at the back of the crowd, Arkin saw the same understanding dawn on him. They knew each other's styles, and they knew each other's actions. Arkin knew that Arinth would take charge of the frontal assault, and so he merely nodded at the man and spun around, grabbing the few Banders nearest him, who were still whispering.

 

"There's no point in being quiet any more, my friends. There are more of this lot coming," he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder towards the dead Seanchan. "We have to stop them from getting to that wagon." Throwing a serious look around the group, he saw the intent of his statement sink in through his never-seen serious expression. The escape had not worked. They were going to have to fight their way out. Somehow the sight of Arkin being frowning snapped everyone into focus and they listened intently to his next words.

 

"Jehryn didn't get killed by the Seanchan, he threw something on them that we have to assume is poisonous. He told us not to touch him-that means that the Seanchan are still contaminated as well.There are a few squadrons coming-if we can force them into coming through here, we only need one or two of them to touch any of these corpses, and the poison will spread like wildfire." He had spoken very quickly, as was his habit, and now he pointed at three of the men who he knew to be very quick and also very annoying. "You three-split up and see if you can lure a squadron in here." Pointing out another Bander at random, Arkin sighed. "Merwill, go and tell Arinth that I want people to come through this alleyway, warn him that no Bander is to enter it, but to get as many Seanchan as we an in here."

He gestured at the remaining Banders. "Ah...that's all I've got. I was going to fight my way through to climb onto a roof. There's still a bit of poison left in that bucket, and it's going over the top of that alley as soon as it's full of Seanchan." he informed them with a grim frown. "Any of you lot got better aim with a bow than I have?"

 

After a moment of confusion, a briefer moment than he'd been expecting, Arkin found himself with a sloshing bucket of poison and a heap of archers, staring out at the square, wondering how it had all gone wrong and waiting for his moment to dash across and fight his way onto a roof.

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Yriel wiped a mix of sweat and grime from his forehead. He had been quietly waiting in the courtyard for the rest of the squad when two had run in, one with a wounded arm, it seemed someone had missed a a set of guards and that these two had run the risk of carrying their weapons openly. Luckily before he was forced to take charge the sergeant in charge of the squad arrived late and also bloodied. It appeared that the poor man had been forced to clear up his other subordinates mess. He noted that the men that the other men who had been supposed to appear with the older man weren't there, casualties already.

 

"Change of plan." The scarred man barked out more loudly than Yriel felt comfortable with considering this was meant to be a stealth mission at this stage. "You, you're going use that milksop crossbow of yours and draw any guards into an ambush." Yriel held in a pained sigh. The man had probably mistaken him for a scout, since despite his slight bulking up as a result of training and enjoyably regular meals, he was still rangier than most of the other infantrymen, Arinth, for example. But Yriel did not dispute the order. Drawing and loading his crossbow he took the lead as the small squad moved through the place. Twice he had turned a corner heard a shout and shot the person from whom the noise originated before running back to the rest of the squad behind him. Both times he was glad of all the training he had done with Arinth and Mehrin. The blade felt right in his hand now he had just about parried the blows quick enough and had taken one of the Seanchan down with a brutal stab through the face of the helmet after the injured man had blocked a heavy blow.

 

Finally out of their area they moved quicker now through the area's of squads, that had been given better luck by the creator, seeing the knocked out and dead guards as they passed. Eventually, they found their way to the edge of the palace. Leaving through the side door Yriel sprinted across the open street around the palace and ducked into an alleyway. He signalled the others to run out. Arrows with odd fletchings struck the three as they crossed street. The blood bubbled from the throat of the sergeant as he fell to the ground. Yriel shrunk into the shadow, just on the cusp of escaping they had been caught. Now he was all that was left, he watched when he knew he should have been running but he couldn't do anything other than sit and watch as his comrades slowly bleed out on the muddy ground. He sat there watching from behind a crate as the Seanchan appeared to search the bodies. One had a plume of feathers in his helmet. Feeling oddly cold inside he placed a bolt into into his crossbow and slowly stood, still wreathed in shadow. None of the soldiers noticed him, he aimed gently shifting, acting like he was hunting again, not a single sudden movement until he squeezed the trigger. The officer's plumes fell to the ground before he slowly slumped and fell over the end of the bolt protruding only slightly from the helmet where the plumes had been connected.

 

Dropping low behind the crate before the other soldiers turned to look, Yriel slowly drew his sword in one hand and picked a bolt of his quiver with the other. He heard the soldier's scared voices, that couldn't work out where the shot came from. He heard them go in separate directions, only one towards him. He was glad it was one person he had a chance, two he'd be dead, and he'd be able to to get some small revenge. He hadn't known the others in his squad well. However they were still part of the band and should not die in vain. He could at least tie up some troops searching for him. He made himself as small as possible waiting. Yriel had some small luck, the soldier walked straight passed bow drawn focused on the windows above rather than ground. He supposed anyone with have a brain would have run as soon as they saw the others go down, unless they were someone like Mehrin. Yriel ran up behind the Seanchan and shoved the bolt through a gap at the back of his armour, the man screamed as he turned and Yriel shouted in pain as he felt an arrow stab through his side. As the Seanchan dropped to the floor he looked down at his side, the arrow had gone straight through, he saw the barbed end protruding. He limped forward away from the scene toward the path the escape wagon should take hoping he wouldn't miss it.

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  • 1 month later...

The night had gone in a blur. His head was spinning. They had escaped the palace itself and then there had been the confrontation between Mehrin and Calder. Calder had decided on marrying and kidnapping one of the seanchans…or was it kidnapping and then marrying. He wasn’t sure but it seemed like the worst idea anyone had ever had in a long time. They had had some kind of argument. Maybe Mehrin wanted to marry her too. If so he had a strange way of showing his emotions. Most women didn’t warm up to a man by getting punched senseless in the face.

 

From there things had gotten out of control. The band had been split up. Different groups were patrolling the area as discretely as possible. Most were not back at the Cart when Mehrin and Calder arrived.

 

Arinth found himself as the leader of a small group of infantry guarding the cart when things got good and crazy. Mehrin drew off a group of the first wave of Seanchan by himself but more and more started appearing. It seemed they didn’t want Calder to marry this woman.

 

The medic with the scars threw water on the next group and within seconds they had toppled to the ground dead. He didn’t know how the man had done it but the thought that such a thing could be done sent an icy shiver down his spine. Men deserved to die fighting. There was nothing to be done for it now though.

 

Arkin had taken a group to ambush the next Seanchans that came from the back and Yriel had been called off to draw the other Seanchan away. Arinth found himself alone with the cart and his small group of infantry.

 

“Let’s get this cart moving men. The others will fall in soon enough.” There were two men up in the cart with the driver and Arinth had four more on the ground with him. “Do not get separated from the cart.”

 

Just as the cart started moving another small group of Seanchan appeared. “Take them men. There are only three.” Arinth ordered and charged with his sword raised. He felt the others running besides him and then they were amongst the Seanchan who had barely had time to realize they were being attacked. The first one fell with his sword half way drawn. The next two managed to deflect a strike or two before falling to the men around Arinth.

 

“Keep moving.” He snapped and hurried to clear the bodies out of the way of the cart. It seemed as if the cart had not moved at all. On the other side of the courtyard he could see Arkin engage with the Seanchan. He wished his friend well. That was all the time he had to think about him though.

 

Another group of Seanchan appeared. This one was prepared to engage and of the same size group as Arinth’s men. Men fell on both sides. Fire shot down Arinth’s side as a blade parted his skin. He backed away warily. There were still three Seanchan and Arinth realized he was standing alone against them. “Keep the cart moving.” He ordered as he faced the men. They were good, not Aiel but still good and this was as good a place to die as any other.

 

They attacked as one and Arinth lifted his sword to defend their strikes. Suddenly in the blink of an eye two had fallen. Arinth finished the third before he had a chance to recover from his moment of shock. Arinth turned and saw Calder standing next to him. He had never known anyone could move as quickly as Mehrin. Calder gave him a short nod and climbed back into the cart.

 

Arinth heard footsteps and turned to see Arkin approaching with what remained of his men. He pulled the scout aside. “How much further till we make it to the edge of the city.” Arkin made some quick calculations and Arinth nodded. It wasn’t the worst news but it could have been better.

 

“Where is Yriel?” He asked next. When Arkin didn’t know he knew he had to go back for the young man. “Get this cart out of here Arkin. I’ve got to go back for him.”

 

He clenched his jaw as his side cried out in pain with every stride. There were more important things to deal with. He had to find Yriel and get back to the cart.

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Arkin ran to the wagon, adrenaline surging through his system. A few men trailed after him, what was left of his little band of Banders. Some, but not too many, had been killed, some had run off, made their own way back to the cart. The wagon was where the mission was, and the immediate danger having passed, Arkin had trotted over, sheathing his knives loosely as he went.

 

Taking a moment to catch his breath leaning on the cart, Arkin held a hurried conversation with Arinth and figured out the distance to the edge of the city, and the potential location of Yriel.

 

At Arinth's pained stump across the courtyard and order to get the cart out of the city, Arkin wavered for only a moment, looking from the wagon to his friend and the conflict-strewn city. There were others at the cart capable of getting it out of the city, better and more experienced fighters than Arkin.

And no way was Arkin going to let Arinth go back in on his own, especially when Yriel was in danger.

 

With a murmur at another Bander to tell them where he was headed, Arkin sprinted after his drinking buddy.

 

He had only just begun to slow his pace when a rustle and a clink preceded a Seanchan soldier stepping around the corner almost directly into Arinth, sword halfway out of its sheath.

Arkin's knife thudded into the man's unprotected neck before Arinth had even had time to blink, squirting Seanchan blood over his face from a dreadfully close distance.

 

Stepping forward and collecting his knife, Arkin cleaned it on the dead Seanchan and gave Arinth a look. The man seemed far too surprised to see him standing there. "Honestly, you infantrymen can't handle yourselves for five seconds without getting run-through." he grinned.

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  • 1 month later...

Yriel slumped against the wall of yet another alley. Distracting a group of Seanchan soldiers, he had gotten himself slightly lost in the labyrinth like streets of Ebou Dar. He winced as the arrow shaft through his side moved, while he shifted his weight. Luckily, he hadn't lost too much blood yet and he was still alive. But that was about all the good luck he had received this night. He had cuts on his arms and damaged armour from running, well hobbling, into the enemy soldiers. He liked to think his distractions had saved a few lives, and that was the important thing. Pulling a bandage from a pouch wrapped around his arm, tightening it he let out a grunt. He may have to let someone put maggots in that one and his side. Unfortunately he didn't have enough time to bind that one. Sighing he pulled himself up off the wall and started in what he assumed was the right direction.

 

After wandering round for another full hour, Yriel was about ready to scream in frustration. He hadn't run into any more Seanchan, or for that matter any of the Band. He had no idea where he was at all anymore. After hearing shuffling off to his right, he ducked behind a stall front. Drawing his sword through a rag to muffle the sound he waited before slowly ducking his head around the shadowed side to look across the street. It was yet another Seanchan patrol, he let out a hissed curse that would make a fisherman baulk. His crossbow hung useless at his side, one of the lathes had snapped in half, he kept it in the hope of repairing it and the fact that if his sword broke, it would make a half decent club. Yriel watched as the Seanchan drew closer to him, they were going to find him any second. Sucking in a deep breath, he ran quietly up to the closest who had turned away at the perfect moment. Ramming his sword up under the back of the soldiers breast plate he quickly withdrew it again and took a step back to a solid guard position, trying to stay calm as the man's 3 companions saw their comrade fall to the ground revealing Yriel behind.

 

The three began to rush at him but as he did so the other two fell to the ground, one with a knife in the back of the neck, the other in front of a pissed off looking Arinth. Yriel felt hope returning to him. I mean even if they were lost as well the three of them still had a better chance of surviving as a trio. Yriel was brought out of his thoughts as his opponents blade hit his breast plate bruising his collar and winding him from the force. Yriel managed to parry set of blows and strike the man's hip before elbowing him in the face.

 

Hobbling over to his friends Yriel smirked. “I assume that I've been causing such havoc among the enemy lines, you two came to congratulate me.” He leaned on his sword pushing the tip into the ground taking weight off of his hip. His cocky response was all bluff, surely those two hadn't got as lost as he had so why were they here?

 

OOC: Sorry for the huge delay uni deadlines have been kicking my ass

Edited by Yriel
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  • 1 month later...

As the squad of Seanchan collapsed, Calder prepared himself to fight. Stepping away from the wagon, he gave the ashanderei a twirl, creating an intricate pattern in the air.  The entire squad falling to a bucket of water was worrying; apparently the beggar who had soaked them was some kind of poisoner, which made Calder wonder just what kind of trouble he was getting himself into this time.  There was no time to think, however, as a second squad appeared in the square.  The men and women around Calder set to work on the men, some with skill that declared them veterans, and others with gusto that far outreached their skill.  These un-blooded soldiers were the ones to fall in the battle.  Calder growled and set off towards the fighting; fresh recruits needed to be protected, and nobody seemed to-

 

A man stepped out of a nearby alley and, without any preamble, crushed the skull of an inattentive Seanchan soldier.  He managed to break another man's arm before he was noticed.  As attention turned towards him, another man on the opposite side of the square began pouring arrows into the vulnerable backs of the soldiers.  In the midst of the chaos, Seanchan soldiers fell quickly, leaving the square quiet again, the silence broken only by the gasping breaths of the surviving Banders. The two men who had come into the fight disappeared just as quickly. “With such a small group, we only needed a couple of people standing by,” said the man who had taken charge of the infiltration group.


Calder nodded, then said, “We're exposed here. Let's go.” With a minimum of fuss, the wagon was loaded down with members of the Band. The Daughter of the Nine Moons was dumped unceremoniously into one of the empty barrels, which drew only a small smile from the bard, who sat calmly on the wagon. Part of his calm was probably the result of the soldier sitting at his back with a knife against his ribs, but Calder felt that there would be no trouble from the man. Curious.


As they approached the gate, Calder tensed, expecting a confrontation. However, their approach was cut off by a running troupe of Seanchan soldiers who appeared to be rushing to another gate. Calder could hear horns in the distance sounding an alarm. “Seems that Mehrin grabbed their attention, like he said he would,” the lead Bander said, a slight tone of reproach in his voice.


“Indeed.  The man may be a goat-kissing bastard, but he knows how to draw attention to himself,” Calder replied slowly as the wagon began moving towards the gate.


“Of course he does,” the soldier said. “That man is something of a legend among the veterans of the Band.”


“Strange idols you men have,” Calder muttered.


Glancing up, Calder realized that they had reached the gate, where a single Seanchan soldier was standing. “There is no departure from the city after dark,” the man said in that strange, slurred accent as he approached the side of the cart near to the soldier.


“Sir, I recommend you not say that too loudly. There are countless men still alive because of him, and-” with a fierce swing, the soldier brought a mace down onto the head of the Seanchan soldier, who fell with a satisfying clatter- “they would not take it kindly to hear a harsh word against him,” said the soldier, who had not missed a breath in the sentence.


Calder nodded in approval, glancing behind the wagon into the city.


There were shadows rising into the air.


“Flaming ashes!” he growled. “They have those damned raken and to'raken!”


The soldier looked confused. “What?”


“Those flying lizard things,” Calder said.


The soldier nodded, replying, “Then we have problems. They'll be curious about a wagon leaving the city after curfew.”


The two men looked at each other, leaving the obvious unsaid: something needed to be done. Calder's mind raced. The fliers would stay too high for the archers to reach; none of them had Two Rivers bows, and it was unlikely that those would have reached them, either. Slings were likewise out of the question. That left... Calder felt a mischievous smile come over his face. It was time to be creative.  “Turn right here,” Calder said.


A look of confusion came over the face of the soldier. “That only goes to the Illuminators' Guild. Why would we... go... there...” A look of realization came over the soldier's face, which was then replaced with a look of disbelief. “You're absolutely mad. You know that, right?”


Calder's grin became wider. “Tell me I'm wrong.”


“Problem is,” the soldier said ruefully, “I can't.”


One of the fliers was circling over the wagon as the wagon and the Banders reached the gate. Calder looked up for a moment before pounding on the gate. It took quite some time before a small door in the gate opened, revealing a tired-looking man in Illuminator garb.  “What do you want? Do you realize what time it is?” he said, irritated.


“Perfectly,” Calder replied as he kicked the door wide open. “You men!” he called, pointing to several Banders, “have this gentleman show you where they keep the nightflowers. We need every single one that we can carry out of here. See if you can't find some Illuminators who want a more exciting life, too.”


As Banders scrambled to find and carry as much as they could, the Illuminator shouted, “You're mad! You will be hunted down for this!”


Calder laughed and responded, “You and which army? You're welcome to try.”

 

It turned out that a few of the Illuminators were taken with the idea of joining forces with the legendary Band of the Red Hand. Calder smiled at that. Ever since the Stone of Tear, he had always thought about what he had done to get himself into the place, and after Rhuidean there had been ideas. More ideas now seemed to crystallize in his mind, and Calder began to whistle.


As the Band and Calder left the Guild house, more silhouettes filled the air behind them. Instead of the fear that he had felt when he first spotted the fliers, Calder now felt a giddiness that he associated with a prank about to be pulled off. The raken and to'raken had no idea what was about to happen to them.


As the first approached to fly over the retreating men on horseback and on the wagon, Calder said to the Illuminator watching over the tube for the nightflowers, “Give them something to think about.”


A thumping sound came out of the rear of the wagon, and it shook with an impact. Shortly after, the night was brightened by a red light. Illuminated by the light was a leathery bird-like creature, crumpled and falling from the air. Calder smiled. His luck was finally working for him.


Their retreat from Tanchico was going to be legendary.


OOC: This is the last post from Calder. Feel free to have some small engagements of Seanchan patrols. As you can see, there are going to be some major changes coming to the Band in the future.

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The sky looked like it was on fire. Arinth stared with his mouth hanging open as the big, flying, flaming (literally), falling lizard bird tumbled to the ground in a blaze that failed to include any glory. A second big, flying, flaming, falling lizard bird crashed to the ground a moment later. The third tucked its tail and flew away as quickly as it could. They might not be used to being challenged up in the sky but its rider was smart enough to know it was on the losing end of this fight. Arinth still was not sure what happened. How in the light had Calder had the idea to blast them out of their air with illuminators tricks?

 

He turned his attention back to the situation at hand. They were still trying to mount a fighting escape. He glanced over at Calder. The man looked like he was having way too much fun playing with illuminators boomsticks. He was talking excitedly to two illuminators. One did not look pleased with the situation but the other seemed only too eager to share with Calder. Arinth took a step forward and ground his teeth in pain. The gash across his ribs made each breath a painful endeavor and the cut across his thigh he had earned trying to save Yriel was even worse. The man was worth the effort though and he had returned the favor at least twice as they had fought their way back to the wagon. He was a good infantry man.


Arkin though looked like he hadn't even been in a fight, well if you ignored all the blood and guts that were splattered on his clothes. He kept scanning the area and analyzing the situation. Arinth didn't mind keeping him around just for that. He had other things to focus on like killing Seanchan soldiers.


He lost count of how many skirmishes they had found themselves in. Each time he seemed to walk away with another gash or cut with blood pouring from it. Yriel was struggling as well. If the man was trying to outdo Arinth with injuries he was doing a good job. The man had gone and got himself shot with an arrow. Arinth would pat him in the back if it wouldn't have caused the man to start coughing blood.

 

Finally Calder announced they were ready to move on. The carts had been loaded with explosives. Several illuminators rode by them with a mixture of fear, excitement and nervousness on their faces. Arinth found a crossbow on the ground that one of his fallen brothers had dropped. He picked it up and tossed it to Yriel. “Get up there on the cart and cover us.” He had the feeling that they had just kicked a beehive. He could hear the Seanchan buzzzing in anger in their little insect helmets as they swarmed towards the carts in a frenzy. They probably didn't like having their big lizard birds set on fire like that.

 

He glanced over at Arkin. Things were about to get interesting. He tightened his grip on his sword.

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  • 2 weeks later...

BANG!

 

Arkin jerked in shock and his knife sailed wide, clanking off the side of the building and falling to the ground. Giving out a yell, Arkin threw himself backwards to dodge the sword that swung in to take off his head. He dropped to the ground, neatly hamstringing the soldier above him and hoping that Arinth could cleave his head off for him because there were another three soldiers closing on Arkin and Yriel was occupied. Rolling across the floor, Arkin drew them away from his pals and did some dodging of blades, which he called ground acrobatics before leaping to his feet and ducking a blade, forcing one soldier's blade into another's chest. Ducking once more, Arkin allowed a soldier to drive him backwards until he could grab the knife he had mis-thrown earlier and stab him in the chest with it. Another soldier swung for Arkin's head, but Arinth's sword took off his arm before it could reach him.

 

Their trio took the brief pause as an opportunity to rejoin the escape at the cart and catch their breath.

 

Arkin didn't gape. Well, barely. Illuminator's shows were things he had seen often enough for them to be barely surprising, but hearing them on a battlefield...that had shocked him. The bangs they made were enough to shake the city walls and just one had caught him by surprise enough to nearly get him killed. He glanced around to see that he wasn't the only one shocked, but before he could get confused by the apparent random use of flashbangs he followed Arinth's gape up to the sky where a flaming lizard was falling to the ground in a spectacular display of firepower.

 

A grin stole over Arkin's face where a gape had been growing.

 

Brilliant. Their leader was flaming brilliant!

 

Arkin stole a glance at the Bard on the cart on the way down from the flaming sky before his surroundings caught his attention again. He glanced at Arinth. Protect the cart. That was just about the only thing they could do here, and those fireballs had certainly made sure they had something to protect it from...Loosening some of his throwing knives, Arkin cleaned a knife on a fallen Seanchan's uniform and said, "They don't seem to be in any kind of order. Those illuminator flashbangs must have really shaken them up." he straightened up and gave Yriel a hand up to the cart. "But there's still more of them about to flood this cart than drunks at a festival."

Arinth's expression was grim. He never doubted Arkin's word for a minute.

 

Hearing Yriel behind him, Arkin readied himself and moved out a few steps from the cart, putting his back to Arinth's just in time to meet the onslaught of Seanchan head on. His two knives flashed as Arkin caught a blade between them and spun it out of his opponent's grip, clubbing him over the head with the handle of his knife as another rent a gash in a scaly uniform and the skin underneath. Three quick stabs took out two eyes and a heart and a flurry of swinging blades quickly rid a man of his thumb. Knife fighting was quick, Arkin thought, remembering Mehrin's words in training. A knife fighter disarmed or killed his opponent quickly or he died himself. A pommel met someone's groin and Arkin had to move to defence. He had lasted longer attacking than he thought he would, he mused as he fended off swipes. The strokes came faster and stronger and Arkin grimaced. He was being focussed on and that was when he had to leave...trapping his opponent's blade, Arkin flipped it enough to distract him for a moment while he roared for Arinth to duck. Their respective opponent's dealt with each other and they rose again, Arkin taking care of the soldiers that Arinth didn't quite manage to behead.

 

There was a continuous blur of blades, or ducking and weaving, aiming and releasing, trapping and flipping and tricking before Arkin found himself holding one opponent's blade above him with his left hand while his right snaked around his body to catch a blade on his left, jerking away from a blow that should have sliced open his stomach, bu leaving his left side completely open for the next attack from his third opponent. He was slippery enough to get away from multiple soldiers, but this was an instance where he needed someone dead and he wasn't going to manage it on time. Arinth's blade came to halt an inch away from Arkin's ribs as it was thrust through the man on Arkin's left hand and Arkin spun, but he knew he wasn't going to make it in time to avoid the next attack. A crossbow bolt from Yriel took the soldier to ready to run him through in the eye and he fell stone dead. A flick of the wrist dealt with the remaining soldier and Arkin began bellowing curses as far as his lungs could project. Thank the light he had such good soldiers watching his back. The amount of close scrapes they had only survived because of each other in today's battle alone was enough to merit some kind of award.

 

The battle moved too quickly for them to keep score of how many times they saved each other's skins, but Arkin still had to let out a few extra curses in this skirmish when his blood to leak out of gashes and nicks he gained as he grew more tired and slow to react. One soldier made it through all of their watches, and Arkin made to intercept him when he aimed a blow at Arinth. It was terribly timed, Arkin's mind too slowed by weariness to have thought it through properly, but his messy lunge disrupted the soldier's path enough to keep Arinth alive and get the man's attention. Arinth engaged him with a roar and Arkin began to spin to throw a knife at his next opponent. Too slow. His lunge had left him open to an attack and one found him in the form of a desperate Seanchan aiming a deadly shot for his neck.

 

Arkin's twist meant that it hit his shoulder-blade instead and rent a path down from shoulder virtually to his hipbone, some of it superfiicial, some of it quite deep. Cursing loudly, Arkin fell back onto the cart and twisted his wrist, gutting the soldier that had given him that gash.

 

Loud bangs still shuddered through the air at regular intervals accompanied by screams and the smell of smoke and the crackle of fire, but none of the illuminator's masterpieces could help here where both sides were at such close quarters. Scrabbling up onto the cart for a better view, Arkin ignored the pain in his side and ran up the side of a building, flying across the rooves.

He needed to find them a reasonably safe path through the city. And by safe of course, he meant the least Seanchan infested.

 

The cut down his back stung, but he ran anyway, surveying the whole area, seeing the couple of pockets of Seanchan that were still slightly organised rallying in back streets and relaying what he saw back to Calder.

 

(OoC: Do we want this over and done with or do we want to drag it on for a bit? AKA, should Arkin just report back the safer paths or should he collect Arinth and Yriel and go and get some of the pockets ready to attack them?)

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Arinth gulped in another breath of air. Somehow no matter how much he swallowed it didn't seem to be enough. His lungs burned, his legs burned, his arms burned, his eyes burned and his countless cuts and gashes burned as well.


Killing Seanchan was hard work. Their heads and arms didn't just fall off on their own. It had taken hard work. He looked over at Yriel in the cart and almost felt envious. The cart was beginning to look like a comfortable bed. Of course the shaft of the arrow in Yriel's side wasn't as appealing. It would be pretty difficult to get comfortable when simply rolling over could get you killed if the arrow went the wrong way.


He saw movement and looked to see Arkin trying to get a better view. He hoped the man had good news. He was still amazed at how man was able to move so lightly despite his injuries. He had seen the man take several in their escape. He had in fact almost injured the man himself with all the flailing around and hacking he had been doing with his sword. Luckily a Seanchan had gotten in the way. Arkin had actually nodded at him like he had saved him. If had known the truth he probably wouldn't have tried to stay so close to Arinth.

 

Arinth liked having him close though. His knives were a blur in his hands. He fought quickly and decisively and most importantly without fear. If anyone had seen the two of them fighting with Yriel covering up their mistakes they might have thought they looked like a properly trained military unit. Maybe they were right. All Arinth knew was that it was past time he had a drink.


He glanced over at Calder as he waited to hear from Arkin. Each second felt like an eternity with the Seanchan in the city still looking for them. It didn't help that Calder felt like painting big signs in the sky to tell the Seanchan where they were. Well, that wasn't completely fair but a man didn't have to make sense when he was frustrated.


Calder was still talking with the Illuminators who seemed to be shaking their heads. He was glad he didn't have to hear that conversation. From the look in Calder's eyes it looked he wanted to try something crazy. The Illuminators weren't convinced though, at least not yet.


What was taking Arkin so long? He glanced up at the man. His words were drowned out by shouting in the streets. Had he said something about the way ahead being clear? He looked ahead. He'd have to be blind if he couldn't see the swarming Seanchan up there. He glanced back at Arkin who was waving frantically to another side street. Ahh now that made more sense.


Arinth bellowed orders and the carts began moving and turning towards the side streets. The city might be crawling with Seanchan but if there was a clear way out Arkin would find it. He had faith in the man. He was smart.


“I hope you've still got plenty of bolts for that cross bow Yriel. I've got a feeling we may need it.”

Edited by Arinth
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  • 4 months later...

Identifying the clearest path from the rooftops was hardly the most difficult task for a scout. Arkin's shirt felt sticky at the back where he must have been bleeding severely from that cut of his. He knew it wasn't severe, or else he wouldn't still be standing, but he was far too full of adrenaline to trust his judgement any further. It could be a gaping wound or a mere graze, for all he knew. He could simply feel the blood drying into his shirt and the tingle of adrenaline and primal instinct in his veins, pulsing in his fingertips, making his eyes wild and fast as he looked out over the rooftops. His eyes sought out the best path to escape and he surveyed the streets through a filter, reminding his acrobatic mind that he had to get far more than just himself out of this city alive. Perhaps, by himself, he could have gotten away easily, bolting over a few rooves and hiding in a chimney or something not too dissimilar, but an escape route for a larger group was significantly harder to find. Nevertheless, Arkin wasted no time in creating and discarding paths in his mind.

 

Each way he could go was blocked by Seanchan. They were flooding in from everywhere. The way out of the square was easy to find, as there was only a side street that was empty of Seanchan, but that street led to another path and then another, that were crawling with soldiers. Scrabbling onto a higher roof and hissing as his back stretched, Arkin gave himself a better vantage point and a farther view.

 

Arkin's memory forced his eyes to an alley, one that he had used before, through his stints in Tanchico in his teen years. He could guide the Band easily through the first few streets, but once they hit that crucial point, that alley might be the only option. They were hardly going to be able to sneak away through the streets, but it was always a better idea to head through an empty street than one full of your enemies. Nevertheless, that alley might be the only one to save them. Eventually, they were going to have to kill some more Seanchan to get out. If they used that alley then they could double back and surround the Seanchan that followed them in. That's why the alley was so fantastic, if you knew where to go, you went straight back around, and Arkin knew exactly where to go.

 

Leaping down, Arkin cast his wild eyes onto the battle at the cart from his crouch on the roof.

 

This was a familiar position for Arkin. The many years he had spent as a thieving vagabond had given him a fantastic ability in running away, and his acrobatic abilities usually meant that his easiest and quickest path to safety was via the rooftops. Bolting away from a confrontation with a few gaping wounds and leaping onto the rooftops had been a weekly occurrence in Arkin's life for years.

 

Arkin bellowed the paths off the rooftops, but even his performer's voice couldn't make it above the violent din of the battle going on below. What chance did a noisy tenor have against the roars of soldiers getting their guts spilt onto the cobbles, or the clash of steel against steel, struck with all the rage and the desperation of a man fighting for his life? No, no years of experience or practice could get a voice to rise above the sheer madness going on below. The battle was close and intimate and dangerous. There was no order, no strategy in the men below, just a wild primal need to hear past the blood pounding in their ears in time to identify that whooshing slice as a sword flying towards their ribs and block it, their eyes full of sweat and their own blood as they blinked wildly, trying to clear them so they could see where the next blow was coming from and where to stab next to stop that soldier from slicing their guts open.

 

Eventually Arkin went with hand signals, gesturing wildly to the first side street and willing someone to notice him before the Seanchan did and invaded their escape route. Arinth began bellowing and the cart and its soldiers began to back away, into the street. It was in the opposite direction to the gate, but Arkin knew the path he was taking them on. This was the fastest and easiest way to get everyone out with all their limbs and eyeballs and at least half of their blood. He just hoped that the rest of the Band would trust him like Arinth did.

 

The Seanchan chased their retreat and Arkin risked his back again, hanging off a roof to grab a bow and the surviving archers. He tried to watch out for Arinth and Yriel from the roof as they moved into the second street, and then the third, then the fourth, but there was little he could do while he was bellowing out orders of where to go next, when to turn, when to hold and when to start running. The whole expedition was hectic and wild and filled with improvisations as the Seanchan ahead of them changed position and having to dodge what Arkin thought was a flaming piece of flying lizard tail.

 

And then came the alley.

 

The Seanchan that had chased them had been mostly dealt with, with only a couple still hanging on to their tail. They were about to get cleaved or beheaded. Arkin didn't worry about them as he swung down from the roof, to Calder and Arinth. There were more coming, many more, and this plan he couldn't convey with hand signals. He didn't even know what the plan was. Not really.

 

Arinth looked tired. He looked sore and angry and exhausted. Arkin clapped him on the shoulder and started speaking, low and fast. "It doesn't matter which way we go now, we're going to meet some more bug-soldiers," Both Arinth and Calder's faces grew grim at that news, but lit up ever so slightly at his next words. "But, if we go down that alley, then I can show you where to go to double back and end up behind the Seanchan that will be attacking us up ahead."

 

It was fascinating watching Calder's mind whirr. Seconds after Arkin told him the layout, he spat out a couple of questions which Arkin answered quickly, and then a shining, new, simple and ingenious plan fell from his lips.

 

Arkin was sent to quickly communicate the plan to someone else and start it travelling through the Band. "We send two small groups out ahead through other paths to lessen the numbers that are going to attack us and make them suspect us less or having a plan. Then we make our move through the alley. I'll tell you where to send men off to double back and that'll be it over with. Or something like that."

 

Two groups of some gritty infantry peeled off to go and lessen the numbers as Arkin rejoined Arinth and Calder. Arkin's eyes followed them. They didn't seem too bad off, not yet. He'd see how they were when they got back he supposed. He was glad he didn't have to choose the men to complete this plan of Calder's.

 

"You scout, you're with the ambush party that'll double back. You're the only one who knows where you're going, so you go with them."

 

Arkin nodded. It was hardly unexpected. He was simply glad that the Band's escape no longer rested on his rooftop navigation.

 

And of course, he assumed that Arinth would have his back in this ambush party.

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