A strand of silver-blue hair rebelled, escaping from underneath her hood, waving in the unforgiving wind like a raindrop in an ocean storm. Lanaia curled one barefoot over the other, sitting on the fence, dangling her feet over the edge of the board ship. Craggy land, filled with barren gravel and scrappy boulders opened up as they emerged from the silky clouds. Dusty storms, ceaselessly raging below, sang their sharp, sunken song, blurring the horizon and the orange dawning sun in the distance.
The breeze of wind brushed behind her neck like a cold blade, sudden and abrupt, followed by a loud crash and creaking of the old wooden platform. Zoork fell down from the watchtower, now dangled in a mess of ropes and limbs, protruding in every direction. Lanaia also fell down, but there was no ground beneath to stop her. She jumped up in shock, slipping down the edge.
Halfway to the engine`s below, she managed to slip her hand into the unattended hole in the bulk of the ship and grabbed the rope, that Zoork lunged after her with the other.
“I know Laia, how dare I fall asleep, yeah it`s my bad you can shut up now” Zoork complained, catching Lanaia before she could open her mouth to complain.
She lifted her eyebrows. “Oh, it`s your bad? I almost felt bad myself, what a relief.” She mocked, swaying at the side of the ship.
“Want to come back up or what?” he asked.
She rolled her eyebrows and wrapped her hands around, but offered no support as Zoork started pulling her back up.
“Please just sink your foot in one of the holes” he exclaimed in between the painting and sweat, dripping down his face. Lanaia puffed air through her nose and looked away with arms still crossed. Zoork heard his back pop at the last few pulls, sinking his feet into the base of the fence. She could easily jump over it to the ship at the point.
She didn`t. He sprang his tail to her, rolling it around her waist, and pulled her to the platform.
“Are the engines hanging okay down there?” prompted Zoork, quickly after awarded with a slap across his face.
“You could`ve gotten me killed” she jelled, paused then shook her head, “can`t believe you are still hanging from the tower instead of sitting on it”
“Feels better, reliefs the pressure to my spine, hanging down, meditating, scanning the horizon and such”
“All that to then fold in half on the platform. Is that part of the duty as well?” she laughed, showing her elbow in his shoulder. His cheeks flushed red, peeking through the thick fur.
“Well, we are getting close to the city, I`d say” he prompted, pointing his finger in between the two mountain peaks, covered in a veil of gray snow, where crooked tall wall circled around the Agora city, bringing a crumb of life amidst the deserted and dry plains. Columns of the brown buildings with orange roofs were sprinkled in the city, carved with symbols. Frost and wind curled delicately in the bare trees that dared to grow in the unforgiving climate.
Kahark limped out of the ship`s engine room, leaning on his old bamboo staff. Zoork nodded to him and moved to the side, letting Kahark walk to the front of the ship, leaning on the fence.
“She is beautiful, isn`t she” he smiled at Agora city. “Just the way I left her.”
Lanaia rolled her eyes. “Daring thing to say about a city of infamous for poor trades and scam on every corner” she provoked, then climbed to the watchtower.
“Someone`s got to take the money from the dumb, right?” prompted Zoork.
The old master chuckled and gently slapped Zoork at the back of his head. His eyes shifted restlessly, feasting on the sight as if they tried to get a grasp of every line and creek of the distant city.
The ship started to descend in the dying flame of sunset, it`s parts shivering and creaking under the pressure of the wind. The ship bore quite a couple years, and it knew that complaining about every landing with cracks, so loud even Zoork, who built it, shot his worried glance, running along the deck to check if everything was in one piece.
It was not.
Zoork threw his hands in the air with exaggerated sight.
“It would appear you`ll be busy for an hour or two” winked Kahark, leaning on his staff.
Lanaia grabbed the cloth in her pocket, rolling it around her face, so only her deep, orange eyes glimmered in the dusty storm. “We will find a place to stay, you fix your mess.”
“Where do we meet?” hesitated Zoork, squinting his eyes in the bitter wind.
Master and Lanaia were already a blur in the storm. Lonely, a raspy voice twirled in the wind.
“North of the marketplace” shouted Kahark.
Zoork jumped back on the ship and nestled in between the flat-bottomed barrels, wrapped his spot with ragged robes, and sat down cross-legged, closing his eyes. His eyebrows squinted, hands clenched into fists and a drop of sweat ran down his forehead. The parts started to move, rupture, and connect in the thick gray light of dawn and the moon.
By the time he stood up, it didn`t matter if his eyes were open or not, as he stumbled around, following the scent of Kahark and Laia. He joined them, sleeping on rough straw pillows, surrounded by the solemn embrace of the hearth.
The morning was one of the slow ones, after a sleepless night in the sound of the unknown wind, when their limbs burned, sore from sleeping on uneven ground.
“I think I broke my neck” complained Zoork, twisting and pressing the side of his neck with a grimace on his face.
“I think I thought about killing you twice, listening to your snore” hisses Lanaia, caressing her hair, pulling it up into a messy bun, a whirlwind of hair.
Zoork puffed air through his nose. “Yeah right. That was Kahark” he claimed with a grin, as he finally found the spot that hurt, pressed firmly into it, waiting for relief.
Kahark rubbed his eyes and stood up. “Stop imagining things, you two.”
“Can you hurry up, please? I want to be the first in line for the enchanted mangoes this time” Lanaia nagged, sinking her gaze into Zoork.
“That crap? It`s disgusting.”
Zoork, slipping his arms into long, warm sleeves of a pullover.
“Hurry up and shut it” she laughed.
Leaves of tainted trees scattered in the morning wind, that pulled air through the valley in its descend from the mountain ridge. Their boots made prints into the murky dirt, absent the wind. They treaded through the narrow streets, clenched between tall, scrappy stone walls, that towered above, empty windows gazing into them as they searched for the blacksmith, talking about the weather, all the parts they need to visit, and a lot about nothing in particular. Blacksmith, standing tall with his black, ragged beard to the ground, welcomed hem with a grin up to his ears, almost showing them in his workshop. That`s how nice everyone on the north side of the city was, once you agreed to buy one of their priciest items. Money changed one pocket for the other and the artifact disappeared in the depths of Lanaia`s ever-growing collection in her backpack.
She already needed help from Zoork, stuffing the thing between the jungle of items, stuck in it. She had to carry it everywhere they would go.
“Zoork, time to bring in the barrels.”
“Hey that`s not fair master, you promised I can go to the teashop” he complained.
Kahard shook his head, lit up by a wrinkled smile.
“Soon enough. Barrels first you impatient monkey.”
They walked through the market as if through a lucid dream. Spicy northern herbs, rich black coffee, and cinnamon drifted through the air, filling the nostrils of even the most distant stranger with a smell of home. Lanaia ran her hands down silken and bamboo clothes, caressing her fingers through clean, dustless cloth.
A delicate smell rode the air, enchanting the air around her. She tilted her head towards it and walked to the young man behind a stone carved counter, decorated with an array of cactuses, wildflowers, and a small waterfall, running up and down, forever caught in a loop of time. She sat behind the table and ordered her tea, clueless of the boy`s hungry gaze, fixed on her. Tea filled her stomach with a breeze of cinder, honey, and something.
“Morning tea should be free” hummed the boy and winked to her, as she raised her hand to pay. She rolled her eyes and approached him.
“This tea should know its price tho. It`s delicious, thank you anyways, she dropped the coins in his hands and he held hers, just for a second, raising his eyebrows.
“Beautiful markings” he nodded, his expression back to the blank happy face of a merchant, almost pulling you in his shop with his aura. She blushed through the thin black mask, covering her face and winked back.
They left and headed towards the engineer`s shop. A knot formed in her stomach, twisting and rolling around, with every step away she took tightening more, and more.
Her mouth dropped at the thought.
She trained for ten years and still didn`t recognize she was being poisoned? Treading back to the man, she slipped the knife out of it`s hiding spot next to the leg and pressed it against the young man`s throat.
“How often does that work out for you, huh?”
“I should have known by the color of our eyes” he gritted his teeth, leaning his head away from the cold thin blade.
“You really should`ve.”
“Come on now. Everybody has to survive here somehow.” He claimed, slowly blurted out the words and gulped.
She silently gazed into his eyes, holding him in place.
Overseer`s arrived moments later. He stood no chance. Tangled in chains, they dragged him across the and in front of his merchant rivals to the cage. Code of honor in Agora was strict and every use of magic, even just a simple drop of tainted tea, that made a person feel a pull towards the one who dropped it there, was enough to get publicly shamed.
Kahark hugged his student, dropping his hefty hand around her shoulder. She shivered as the Overseer`s started to hammer away from the boy`s market stall, their eyes restlessly gazing at her from underneath their craggy armor.
“It`s okay Laia, you did the right thing. Calm yourself down, just like in practice” he prompted, turning her away from the rusty cage.
She pressed her hands firmly on her chest and the warmth spread through her body, like a wildfire on dried out summer blasted land. As she opened her eyes again, the orange in them almost shinned, swaying in her eyes.
“There is no way that boy did it on his own” she stuttered.
“I know. Time to visit the Warlock.”
Eastside of Agora had similar buildings. The same colors shimmered in the raising sun, but the buildings stood taller, making the streets, narrower than ever, darker. After stumbling and falling over craggy boulders and gravel, stuck in the dirt, the group arrived at the opening, standing in front of a column of solemn red-reeked pillars, sieging around a palace.
Place worthy of a Warlock.
Lanaia`s chest tightened, she leaned on Zoork and whispered into his ear. Kahark`s weary eyes eagerly sparked at the overwhelming presence of Warlock`s den.
Zoork's nose wrinkled at the smell, swimming out of the palace in waves. He pinched the nose with his fingers, sighting. Among the delicious cider and herbs, the slow, creeping stench of something else gathered in the cuts and corners of the pillars, resting in the shadows. Both followed their master, stepping slowly and carefully, none of them passing their master. They got used to this respectfully gesture a while ago. Reaching the end of the hall, Kahark took his walking staff and knocked on the ground five times, hitting the door in different spots, from bottom to the top. Dust shriveled up from the top of the door as it opened inwards, revealing a maze of tables and plants inside. Each table they passed was messier, with herbs, potions, and cups filled with different brews sprinkled all across.
“Hello Dulai” greeted Kahark, waving his staff. The Warlock turned towards him with a distant smile.
“Hello old friend” he replied, his gaze sinked into Lanaia, who stood beside her master. He leaned on the table infront of him and continued to brew. “Didn`t expect a visit from you this year, with the winds and all.”
“Oh you know I had to come and visit the infamous solemn Warlock.” Kahark smiled, “I missed this. Smell of cinder, honey-“ he continued, keeping his eyes locked in with the warlock. “… and bitter, tainted leaves.”
Warlocks raised his eyebrows, pressing his fingers tightly around the edge of the table.
“Tainted leaves? Surely your smell must deceive you,”
He reached with his hand to the deep pocket of his robe.
Only to find it empty.
“Warlocks manual of manipulation” grinned Zoork, who sneaked behind the Warlock and wrapped his tail around him. He turned the book in his hands, admiring it.
“Quite a rare book, hard to get, even for a criminal like yourself.”
A hand huffed Warlocks screams. Lanaia held his head in place as Kahark stood in front of him, shaking his head with dark bags under his eyes, that seemed deeper than seconds ago.
“I heard a lot about this place corrupt over the years. To see you like that, however, breaks my heart. What did you do here Dubai? How many who don`t know any better have you trapped here with your tainted spells?” he asked and Lanaia dropped the robe in front of Warlock's mouth.
“Enough” he laughed as the door dropped down from its frame and the room filled with dark armor of the Overseer guard.