Content Warning: the following story contains scenes of Violence, Death, and even partial nudity. if you find this type of thing disturbing please press the back button on your browser. As well this story follows a type of "mirror" universe and contains several confusing events to anyone familiar with the real storyline of my world (as well as many developments that would seem excessive if you are not familiar).
By Desert Mouse
The rain wasn't so gentle on the small child running through the forest. It struck painfully at the large open wound on her forehead from when a tree tore into it. But she was forced to ignore the pain because she could never stop. This may not have been her first game but she knew that no matter what happened this would be her last.
She has been released several times during the last few months of her captivity so they could hunt her down. She was never able to escape, they always caught her and allowed her some rest before the next hunt.
The nine year old stumbled on a fallen lumberman's axe and knew that it was over. The hunters could be heard not more then a few steps away. They made plenty of noise, taunting the girl with how close they were. She struggled to her feet and turned to face the men hunting her. If ever there was a time for tears during the game this was it. And she couldn't stop crying, for herself, for the other girls that had already perished, and for her town.
"I'm the last one. The other girls are gone now." She thought waiting for the three men to get closer.
"Giving up already?" the larger of the men asked. There was disappointment in his gruff voice if the child had not been too terrified to hear it.
"She had a good run boss." One of the men reminded him. His name was Lex and after months of abuse the child was surprised that he was almost standing up for her.
"Your Right she has provided some great hunts. I think she deserves a special reward." The leader decided. He looked at her with a sparkle of respect in his eyes but not a drop of sympathy.
"Close your eyes girl. I will give you a treat." He told her. The child did what she was told and stood quietly.
"It will be more comfortable this way." She decided before the man blanketed her in a dark silence for eternity.
From there history went wrong.
This was the first time her masters had taken her to this part of the endless forest. They might have decided that their usual hideout in the western part of the forest wasn't safe right now but that was none of the girls concern. She had been told to gather firewood for her masters and that's all she cared about.
Schala was an interesting creature, in her years of service to her human masters she had never even seen someone else like her. The large feline ears that sat on the top of her head, and her tail were both favorites of her master Simon. It made her happy how he loved to pat her on the head but she wasn't allowed to show it.
Schala picked up a few peaces of wood that looked like they would be good for a fire and walked back to the camp, she was trusted enough by her masters to be allowed on her own despite what she was.
Not far from the slave a powerful warlock named Salem Anderson was traveling with three of the Black King's soldiers. They were sent to protect him during his mission but he didn't need them, and he didn't care what happened to them. Salem only came to this forest for one reason, and now the weapon he was looking for was in his hand.
Then he saw her, it was strange to spot a Jiyu'rei in this forest. She was carrying wood for a campfire and in the dark it looked like she might have been wearing slave rags. Salem was always the curious type, his lust for knowledge had no end and here was an interesting specimen so he called out.
"You there, hold on a moment." Her ears twitched and she looked around to find out if the stranger was talking to her. Someone with her status had to be prepared to answer to any name or descriptive word that people felt like using at the moment. The strange man and his friends walked right up to her but what did they want? He didn't say anything farther instead he was more interested in examining her.
"I have to go back or they will punish me if they have to come looking." Schala thought becoming nervous. She lifted her small bundle of wood and risked looking at his face. She was hoping that he would figure out that she had chores to do. However he didn't move and he didn't speak. He found her simple movement oddly interesting.
"Can't she speak?" he wondered.
"She's an interesting specimen. I'll have her taken to the lab for farther study." He decided.
"If you want to say something to me then spit it out." He informed her. pain flashed across her eyes because she couldn't grant his request until her voice was released.
"he doesn't understand, he's going to make masters very angry with me" she thought becoming upset. Then she heard the voice of her master Simon calling for her.
"Hey what's taking you so long?" she turned to his voice and wished that she could cry. Todd was with him and that meant they would be angry that she was delayed. She used her firewood to indicate the stranger that held her up.
"Who are you and why are you keeping her from her chores?" Todd demanded. Simon gave her a little pat on the head.
"Don't worry it's not your fault. Your not going to be punished for this." He assured her.
"She belongs to you?" Salem asked.
"Yes now who are you?" Todd repeated.
"Salem Anderson, I wish to study her."
"No." Todd replied firmly.
"I will take her to my laboratory." Salem said simply.
"I don't care if you are the Black King's warlock. You can't have her." Todd said determined. He looked at the strange sword in the warlock's hands and the men behind him to make a tactical decision.
"However I may be willing to let you borrow her."
"Acceptable." Salem replied.
"Return with me to the castle and we will discuss this in further detail. He suggested.
Salem's return with the Sword of Star's was a turning point in history, with it's power at his disposal the Black King, Vincent Vanhorn was able to overthrow King Sutherland and his allies. In only a few short years the state of the world had changed drastically. Now more then twenty years after Salem had found the sword and bargained with a couple of slave owners. The man calling himself Winter Wind looked over the ruins of a small town he had fallen in love with. It had been destroyed two years ago because the Black King wanted to get the warrior.
"We have to stop meeting here. It's not good for you to sulk." A beautiful voice spoke up to announce her presence. She knew that she didn't need to though. The warrior didn't miss anything.
"Duncan this isn't your fault. Isn't it time you forgave yourself?" she asked.
"There's nothing to forgive." The warrior said simply and turned to look at his old friend and training partner.
"Terisa I haven't gone by the name Duncan in a long time."
"I know, you've let Winter Wind take over." The brown haired woman replied.
"Nezumi was crafted in this town wasn't she?"
"Yes by the local sword smith. Now they are gone too and Nezumi's becoming worn out." Winter Wind replied.
"What are you going to do when she breaks? Duncan you can't save everyone by yourself."
"I have to try." Duncan said simply.
"Why did you want me to meet you anyway?" Terisa Wilcox asked. She flicked her tail and wrapped it around her waist.
"I need your help Swordsong. I want to do something bigger to help people." Winter Wind replied.
"Retrieve the Sword of Star's and destroy it."
"Destroy the Sword of Stars? Can that be done?"
"I don't know but I have to try. It can't remain in the Black King's hands." Winter Wind explained.
"What do you suggest?" she asked.
"The Duchess? You're not expecting any help from her are you?"
"I know what she is but I still think that she might be willing to help." Winter Wind seemed sure of it.
"I'm afraid I can't come with you Duncan. The Princess still needs me. Why don't you forget about trying to destroy that sword and come back to Kawaii with me?" Terisa suggested.
"Go to her then Swordsong. Princess Serenity is a special person. Make sure that she's protected." He told her, but he refused to budge from his idea that the sword needed to be destroyed.
The old man's staff tapped across the degrading stone streets of what used to be the old kingdom's capital city. Now it was a breeding ground of suffering. It wasn't always like this, before Celeus had been executed the city was prosperous. But after that public and terrifying event and the Black King moved into Sutherland Castle the city had become a place of fear and mistrust. To punish the people for living under his rival's rule Vincent Vanhorn turned the city into a large prison. He created strict new laws with severe consequences.
"I'm getting too old for this." The man thought walking through the street. It was easy to get inside the city, the hard part would be when he was ready to leave. The old man looked at the fear in the townspeople's eyes. There were no children anywhere, they had been hidden away for protection. These days the Black King's soldiers commonly took women and children into custody. They were shipped off to the other parts of the world as slaves. That was the price of being part of Sutherland's old rule, the fear of never knowing when you would be taken and sold.
He saw the four men that tried to sneak up behind him long before the bald one opened his mouth.
"Red Reapers? So the rumors are true then." He thought looking at the blood dyed armbands they all wore.
"You look like fun. How much coin do you have?" the bald reaper laughed.
"You mean that I'm a feeble old man." He thought amused.
"Why would I have money? This place is a prison." He told them.
"Why don't you try someone a little more challenging." Someone else called out. The old man looked to the voice and saw someone with a sword that wasn't much younger then he was.
"Don't get involved." He thought. But the stranger drew his sword and attacked the Red Reapers.
"Fool." The old man muttered. He swung his staff swiftly, smashing the neck of the bald Reaper while the stranger deflected two of the bandit's weapons. The two of them fought side by side until all four of the Red Reaper's were dead.
"You shouldn't have drawn your sword." The old man commented when it was all over.
"I thought you needed help." The stranger replied with a shrug.
"That staff doesn't appear to be the most menacing weapon when your using it to hobble down the street."
"Look's are deceiving aren't they. What is your name?" the old man asked.
The old man smirked.
"Time hasn't been kind to you Thomas. I didn't even recognize you." He commented.
"Darien is that you?" Thomas asked studying the old man.
"Winds wisdom it is you isn't it. Time hasn't been very kind to you either." He laughed.
"It's been more then twenty years since we last worked together. What brings you to Sutherland?" Darien asked.
"I came to investigate the rumors that the Black King was letting the Red Reaper's have full run of the city's population." Thomas explained.
"From the looks of it those rumors are true." Darien replied.
"But what are you going to do about it? You can't hope to remain here and fend them all off."
"No id be noticed and the Black King would see that it ended. I'm going to have to go at the source of this."
"Destroy the Red Reapers?" Darien grinned.
"In time, but what brings you here?" Thomas asked.
"I'm trying to establish a way for these people to escape the city in secret. I have the help of the Jiyu'rei finding safe havens for anyone that I can bring them." Darien replied.
"The crown prince can't think he can protect all these people?"
"He hopes he can. We could use your help too when your done investigating the Reapers. Tony would be interested in the information you can gather." Darien suggested.
"Interesting idea. After I find the Reaper's nest I'll head to Kawaii and see what the Crown Prince thinks." Thomas commented.
Terisa wasn't back in Kawaii for long before she was called to a meeting with the Crown Prince and his daughter. They called her out to the gardens in the palace.
The Princess was smiling brightly as usual almost making her pink gown glow. If you looked at her it was hard to tell that she was aware of the things going on outside her islands. Her father on the other hand looked like he was scowling at something.
"What's the latest word from the humans?" Tony asked impatiently.
"Elder Thunderwhiskers I don't bring good news. I met with Winter Wind and he is determined to destroy the Sword of Stars. He is not interested in joining any of your plans at the moment. The situation grows worse and I don't think the humans can handle it without help." Terisa reported.
"Can it be done?" Serena asked.
"Can the sword be destroyed?"
"I don't know Princess. Winter Wind thinks there is a way." Terisa replied. She sighed when Serena stuck her tongue out at her for using the title Princess. Sometimes she wished that Brightmoon would grow up.
"I've been giving it some thought. There isn't a Jiyu'rei on this island that has the power to do what needs to be done. We need a special feline before we can help the humans." Tony said.
"You're not suggesting this again?" Serena gasped. Terisa looked at the Princess curious.
"What does she mean?" she asked turning back to Tony.
"We can only help the humans in limited ways right now because to truly bring peace back to their lands we would have to kill. Terisa Swordsong you are our peoples most experienced warrior. You have been out protecting the human innocents more then any of us. But when was the last time you silenced a voice?" he asked.
"I haven't for years." Terisa explained.
"Exactly my point. We need to find a Jiyu'rei that has been raised away from our people. Someone who's telepathy has never been trained and they can't use it."
"I think we should forget it daddy. We can help them without turning some poor kitten into a killer." Serena frowned.
"For the past several years while I have been in the human lands I have been chasing after the trail of a Jiyu'rei living in slavery." Terisa announced.
"You have mentioned her before but the trail often went cold. Do you think that if you could find her she could be what we need?" Tony asked.
"Father!" Serena protested.
"Calm down Brightmoon. I am going to find her but I promise that it will be her choice if she participates in your father's plan. She has spent her life in captivity I have no intention of forcing her to do anything." Terisa transmitted her thoughts to the Princess.
"Before you start teaching her how to hurt people. Please bring her to me." Serena pleaded.
With the state of the rest of what used to be the Sutherland alliance. The city of Windley seemed a little too well off. But Winter Wind knew what was really going on even if the people of this city didn't. Most of them thought they had gotten lucky to be spared the Black King's attention this long or that any time now he would get around to destroying their peaceful existence.
The warrior approached the castle carefully because he was well known. The Black King's people wouldn't attack him openly in this city but of course they were here and there was a large reward being offered for his head. He approached the front entrance and noticed the absence of any guards. He kelp walking towards the audience chamber until he was intercepted by what looked like a maid.
"Can I help you sir?" she asked in a timid voice.
"Actually I think you can. I'm looking for your Duchess." He replied. Winter Wind studied her for a moment. She held herself submissively almost like a slave but there was light in her eyes and no fear. He knew who she was at once and it was said that this maid was among the only friends Duchess Rei had left.
"If you could please ask her to meet with me in the audience chamber I would appreciate it." He added pitching his voice with a measure of urgency. Tima nodded but didn't think it was worthwhile to say anything. Instead she quietly left the warrior to find his own way.
He headed into the audience chamber without any further delays. In the past he had been here many times on invitation but this time felt different. The room was deserted now, not even a guard stood at the doors to watch over things.
He only had to wait a few minutes before the Duchess arrived. She didn't come in the back to sit on her throne, instead she came in the same door Winter Wind had just entered. He couldn't help noticing that she was alone.
"Rei its good to see you again." Winter Wind stated rather formally. He saw that she was struggling to place why he seemed so familiar.
"Winter Wind, I met you when you were a child." He announced extending his hand in introduction. She hesitated a moment reluctant to take it but then she weakly gripped his hand and shook.
"What can I do for you Mr. Winter Wind?" she asked sincerely.
"Duchess you are the last ruler left from the old Sutherland Alliance. It is for that reason that I have come to you in search of information. I am setting out on a task on behalf of everyone that believes in the way Celeus used to rule his people before his death. I have come to extend my hand in friendship and allow you to decide if you are willing to play a role."
"And if I don't help him what happens? This warrior has a reputation for being unforgiving." Rei thought carefully. On the other hand she could use his help and he was also known for his fierce loyalty to friends.
"What are you trying to do?" she asked.
"I'm going to destroy the Sword of Stars and take down the Black King." He announced. Her heart dropped.
"I can't help him, not without being caught."
"I'm sorry but I can't help you." She told him. He saw the desperation in her eyes and had an idea why she could offer him nothing.
"Thank you for your time Duchess Windley. I will not trouble you any longer." Winter Wind replied. He didn't speak another word before leaving Rei alone with her problems. He could see what was going on, he knew what was happening behind the scenes but if she was unwilling to suffer even a small amount of risk to change things.
She stood staring at the door for several minutes after the warrior had left. When she came to her senses and exited the audience chamber she found that Tima had been waiting for her. She was always grateful for this maid's friendship in times like this.
"He was asking for more then help." Tima commented quietly.
"I know it was more of a test then anything. He doesn't need my help." Rei replied with a sigh. She was startled by the eerie voice of a man speaking up.
"Tima I need to speak to the Duchess alone. I think that you should find some work to do." The voice said without respect. Tima turned to face the owner of the voice, a rodent featured man named Wi'Zell. She gave him a polite curtsey because even if he had no respect for her, she couldn't help but be polite to everyone she came across. Reluctantly she said farewell to her friend before scurrying off.
"I want you." Wi'Zell said glaring at Rei after the maid left. She hated this man but refused to let it show.
"To report to my bed chambers. I will be up there soon and if you are not completely undressed and ready for me your little friend will be the one punished for it." He warned bitterly. By now the threat was pointless because Rei knew that if she ever disobeyed this man in any way the first one to be hurt would be Tima, then it would be her people.
"Yes sir." She replied quietly. He turned away from her like she was a piece of garbage. She didn't risk wasting any more time before running to his bedchamber to obey his command.
The Village of Redmond was a quiet little place. There had never been anything special in this dusty village to draw attention to it. Visitors had always been few and far between so Terisa Swordsong could feel he village people's eyes on her. She caught extra attention because she had not bothered to hide her Jiyu'rei features. She had followed the trail of rumors, lies, and forgotten details to this place.
"There have been plenty of people coming around these parts." An old man was explaining to her. He didn't even try to cover that his eyes were mostly focused on her tail while he talked.
"I was under the impression that you didn't get many visitors. Who else came by?" Terisa asked.
"There were a couple of guys about two days ago traveling with a young lady." The old man said. He thought for a moment remembering a strange detail.
"A prisoner or a slave or something. Hands tied."
"Doesn't sound like the kind of visitors your town would want." Terisa commented. The old man simply shrugged.
"Didn't do no harm."
"She was here. If I hurry then I should be able to catch up to them." Terisa thought.
"I have a long road ahead of me but it was a pleasure talking to you." She explained. He shrugged at her and turned back to his gardening.
The palace was close as Thomas sidestepped a pouncing Jiyu'rei and offered his hand in a more humanlike shake instead. He had been doing this all morning but he couldn't really hate the Jiyu'rei for it. Entering the palace Thomas shook his head at the lack of guards. This was also the Jiyu'rei way and the Crown Prince had nothing to fear from his own people except the occasional playful pounce. But the rest of the world wasn't so safe and the aging warrior believed that if Tony was going to start offering humans a safe haven he should take more precautions to protect himself.
Thomas couldn't have been wandering the palace for more then ten minutes before a bright young Jiyu'rei in a beautiful white dress came walking towards him. The look on her face told him that she had known exactly where to find him and when he had approached the palace.
"Perhaps the Crown Prince isn't as unprotected as I thought." Thomas considered.
"I've come to bring you to see Darien. After that you can rest before my father will see you." Serena explained with a soft smile.
"That sounds good Princess Serenity." He told her. He raised his eyebrow when she stuck her tongue out at him after referring to her so formally.
""In my younger days I might have desired her." he thought amused by her playful attitude. Quietly he followed her to the northwestern wing of the palace where Darien had been given temporary quarters. The other aging warrior had apparently already been informed that Thomas was coming because he was standing outside the door to his room to greet the two visitors.
"Thank you for bringing him to me Serena." Darien said. The Princess giggled and gave him a hug before taking off somewhere. She knew that they would be talking about serious things and didn't think that she should intrude right now.
"She's quite spirited." Thomas commented when she was gone. With their ability's it didn't mean that she wasn't still listening but he didn't think that she would be.
"Its rather refreshing actually." Darien replied. He opened the door to his quarters, a series of rooms dressed in blacks and dark grays.
"So have you destroyed the Red Reapers yet?" he teased.
"Not quite but I found their hideout. I'm going to need a plan before I can take them out though."
"You found their hideout? Please tell." Darien grinned
"There's a hidden town in the Farview forest. It wasn't easy to find, no wonder no ones ever known where the Reapers nest was. it looked like they have been there a long time." Thomas explained.
"Secluded, not exactly unexpected though. You can't weed them out with brute force either." Darien said thinking.
"If Tony will offer me a safe place to think about it I can come up with a plan." Thomas said.
"I'm sure he will, but I should warn you that I've been asked to remain here for awhile." Darien explained.
"And you think he might want me to stay too?"
"He's up to something."
"Interesting I'll keep my eyes open." Thomas said simply.
He stood at the edge of the large stonewall protecting Wallace manor. He wasn't stuck on how to get in, he was going to take a direct approach. He didn't even need to build courage for what he was about to do. He wasn't afraid. But the warrior was biding his time until he was noticed, that would signal the beginning. He didn't have to wait long before three well-armed men approached him. The Baron's secretive nature was well known and the consequences for trespassing were apparently true.
"I've been waiting for you to arrive. I would like to see the Baron and you three will take me to him." Winter Wind said simply. The first guard to speak must have been in charge of this group because he didn't pause for even a moment.
"I don't think so. We aren't here to escort you anywhere."
"You're here to kill me I know. But I'm not planning to go anywhere until I've spoken to Baron Wallace." Winter Wind said coldly. He waited for the Wallace guard to make the first move, but when it was a poorly planned attack the warrior wasted no time. The three guards didn't have a chance, with four swift, fluent motions Winter Wind's sword cut them all down leaving no survivors. He kept his sword ready because the next wave would not be long. Wallace was well known for being persistent about killing people that poked around outside his walls but he wasn't stupid. He wouldn't let Winter Wind wipe out his small force of guards before taking a more active role in the attack.
"That's the problem with being so secretive that you hire as few people as you can get away with. You don't have many spares." The warrior thought while four more of the Baron's guards positioned themselves.
"One warning is all you get. Take me to the Baron and no one will have to die." These four guards were no more willing to listen to him then the last three. But this time he didn't wait for them to attack first. Without an immediate response to his request Winter Wind cut them down effortlessly.
Inside the manor one of the observers of the fight rushed to speak with the Baron. He was in his study working on something and was irritated at the interruption.
"Make it quick." He snapped at the nervous guardsman
"There's someone outside the walls." He announced.
"You know what to do, dispose of him. Why are you bringing this to me?" the Baron demanded.
"We have tried sir, he's already eliminated seven guards."
"Seven guards?" The Baron repeated.
"Sir I think I know who he is." The man hesitated. He only knew this warrior from legends and had never seen him in person. But he was almost sure that's who it was.
"Spit it out." The Baron barked impatiently.
"Sir I think its Winter Wind."
"Impossible." The Baron insisted.
"Still if he took out seven of my men maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the idea." He thought.
"If he's still alive bring him to me. If he's who you suspect then he will cease to fight immediately.
"as you wish." The guard replied and left quickly.
The warrior Winter Wind was finishing off the third wave of the Baron's men. This time it had been another three solders. The one's in charge of repelling the invasion had decided that the warrior must have been getting tired by now. The ploy failed so when a single man approached Winter Wind he was mildly surprised.
"The Baron has agreed to speak to you." The man said nervous. Winter Wind nodded and put away his sword to follow the man inside. He was led down a fairly simple route to some stairs. At the top he was directed to the Baron's office and let inside. This was the first time in over thirty years that anyone outside the manors employees had seen the Baron. He was different then you would have expected, he was in good health and surprisingly fit for someone that spends his life studying everything about the arts of magic.
"It is you isn't it Duncan Forester." The Baron spoke up first. He had a moment to study the warriors face and even though they had never met in person he knew this man from the old Sutherland Kings descriptions.
"I have not gone by that name for some time and will not return to it until the Black King has been eliminated." Winter Wind replied.
"Very well Mr. Wind why have you come?" The Baron asked getting straight to business.
"I require information about the Sword of Stars. Your family has studied the blade." Winter Wind explained. Almost forty years ago the sword had been lost while it was being transported back to Sutherland from the Barons manor.
"If it will get you to leave my home without the need to kill any more of my people. I would be glad to help you any way that I can. What do you need to know about the sword?" The Baron asked.
"Tell me about its powers, how does it work? Can it be defeated?" Winter Wind asked.
"I don't know if I can properly answer some of those. None of the Wallace families tests involved trying to defeat the sword but we did learn some things."
"Start at the beginning then." The warrior suggested.
"The sword draws from the wielders strengths and weaknesses. I suppose that you could try to exploit that but in the hands of someone like the Black King that would be difficult."
"I doubt its possible." Winter Wind agreed.
"The sword seemed to take pity on some people though. It was almost like it had a Jiyu'rei's ability to sense feelings."
"How do you mean?"
"When it was used against someone helpless. Like a maid or a child, even if they were armed it didn't show signs of its power. It was imply a piece of sharp steel. When they wielded it however its power was increased and didn't enhance their weakness too." The Baron tried to explain.
"That sounds like something. Was there anything or anyone it favored?" Winter Wind asked.
"Some of the subjects had the skills to fight, but not the will. They were overcome by fear or didn't want to harm anyone even in play. With its strong tie to emotions I suspect the sword can be defeated by someone who's been emotionally destroyed." Wallace announced.
"That's a grim idea, and very dangerous if your wrong." The warrior commented
"It may not be possible to defeat the sword Duncan. But that doesn't mean that you can't get it away from the Black King if you use stealth and trickery." The Baron suggested.
"I'll have to consider what you have told me, so I will leave you in peace." Winter Wind said. There wasn't anything more he could hope to learn and nothing he could do with what he had just been told yet. Within hours he was on his way back to the ruins of Craik and the Baron had not attempted to prevent his departure.
The slave walked quietly behind her masters. She was curious where they were heading now but she didn't dare try to satisfy her curiosity. She was bound with her hands in front of her and being led around by a large rope attached to them. This was her master's favorite way for her to travel. Todd believed that it reinforced what she was and made her more compliant. But it didn't make a difference, she knew and enjoyed what she was. She looked at the ropes as a way to keep her masters happy and prevent her from getting lost or separated from them.
They approached what looked like a town with a crumbled wall around it. But the buildings looked like they had collapsed, leaving the place abandoned. Schala didn't really understand why her masters always looked for places like this to camp. She often had an uneasy feeling about some of these ruins, almost like she could touch the shattered dream.
"Its perfect." Simon announced proudly. No one would dare come poking around a town that had been destroyed by the Black King. It would be safe here and they could have their slave scrounge up enough from the ruins to make a comfortable place to stay.
"Go find us some rocks and wood to make a suitable spot for a fire." Todd ordered the feline slave. He untied her hands and she immediately took off to fulfill his order.
not far away on the other side of the broken wall the warrior Winter Wind had been inspecting the stone. He was looking for something that he might have missed the other thirty-five times he had examined this wall since the disaster. Maybe he could have done something more to protect his town. He heard the voices and gripped his swords hilt. Carefully he crept back through a hole in the town's wall wondering who would come to a place like this.
Winter Wind came face to face with the last thing he had expected. It was a Jiyu'rei woman he had never met before. She carried herself different then every Jiyu'rei he had ever come across. It was like she was unhappy, broken.
"Who are you?" Winter Wind demanded in a forceful tone. He emerged from hiding but held his swords handle.
"Schala." She replied quietly. She avoided looking at him.
"Slave rags, timid voice, submissive posture. How is this even possible?" Winter Wind wondered. He had never encountered a Jiyu'rei slave before. Normally it "was impossible to capture one because of their telepathic powers. In the past slavers had tried and were driven insane by their new toy.
"Who owns you?" Winter Wind demanded. He pitched his voice so that she would be unable to resist his command. However she didn't need to, two strangers approached them drawn by the sounds of their voices.
"Don't answer that." Todd commanded
"That is none of your business." He said looking at Winter Wind.
"You two are the ones in charge of this?" Winter Wind asked indicating the slave.
"She is ours, what do you want..." Todd started to say, he was quickly cut off because that's all that Winter Wind needed to hear. Before the slave owner could finish his sentence the warrior had his sword drawn and Todd's head detached from its body. Simon barely had time to realize what just happened so that he could try to run before the sword cut through his heart from the back.
Winter Wind turned his cold gaze to the slave.
"Your free now." He stopped noticing the horrified and confused look that the Jiyu'rei was giving her masters corpses.
"What's wrong with you? I said your free now." Winter wind said to her. At first her expression didn't change, she had a sickly feeling in her stomach as she realized that her masters would not be able to take care of her anymore. She looked at the warrior that took them away from her. She didn't know how these things worked, was she his prize? Was that why he killed them, because he wanted her to serve him instead?
"Don't you understand? You can go back to Kawaii." Winter Wind tried to tell her.
"What's he talking about? I think he's speaking to me but what's a Kawaii? Am I supposed to find one for him?" she asked herself. Schala didn't understand what he wanted from her so she did the only thing she could think of. She approached him carefully and kneeled down submissively directly in front of him.
"What's wrong with this cat? Does she think that I…" Winter Wind thought frustrated. He had to be sure about what he suspected, but she didn't know what he was going to do with her if he was right.
"Why are you kneeling?" he asked her directly.
"I'm sorry master, I don't understand what you wish from me but I didn't want you to think your slave was disobedient." She hopelessly replied.
"What am I supposed to do with her? I can't take her to Kawaii myself. I'm not even sure a Jiyu'rei in her condition could make the trip at all, and Tony would have me killed if I approached the Island owning a feline slave." He considered carefully. He had no illusions that he could go near Kawaii without this cat making people believe he was her master by choice.
"I also can't just abandon her here, but I don't have the time to baby sit her."
"Stand up and tell me something. Why do you believe that I own you?" he asked. He was running low on options and needed some information. Most of the slaves he had ever freed knew what to do when he killed their owners. They thanked him and went looking for surviving family members.
"You won me when you killed my masters. Isn't that how it works?" Schala asked getting to her feet. The idea that he was rejecting her hit and twisted her heart.
"He doesn't want me? What have I done to displease him?" she wondered. She was almost in tears but she held those emotions carefully under control, she was not given permission to express herself.
The warrior wasn't fooled however, he saw a twinkle of sadness in her eyes that betrayed her hidden tears to him.
"I don't know what she thinks I'm planning to do to her but she's almost crying. I must admit though she has remarkable control." The warrior thought. There was only one way he was going to figure out what to do with her. He would have to subject her to some intense questions to find out how she was trained
"Find something to sit down on and make yourself comfortable Schala. Before I can take ownership of you there are some things I'll need to know." He explained. She nodded and tried to get back on her knees right in front of him.
"That doesn't mean kneel." He stopped her quickly.
"We are going to be here awhile talking. I have a lot of questions for you/" he said helping to direct her to a more suitable place to sit down.
"This is going to be a long evening." He thought with dread.
Several days later Terisa followed the trail to the ruins of Craik. She felt like she was getting closer to the slave. She could almost hear a Jiyu'rei's subdued voice. Of course that was impossible, her target could not be close enough yet to hear the voice of her mind.
"It seems like I can't get away from this town." Terisa thought staring at the old town in the distance. As she got closer she started to realize that the place wasn't as deserted as it should have been.
"Is Duncan still out there moping?" she wondered.
Back in what used to be Craik the warrior didn't know Terisa Swordsong was coming. He had his hands full with a simple slave. He moved around the town's wreckage like he was looking for something, symbols of the people that once lived here. He decided days ago that since for the foreseeable future he was stuck here, he wanted to build the townspeople a memorial. But the slave wasn't making it easy for him, she watched what he was doing and tried to help every time he took his eyes off her. But she didn't know what he was looking for and the warrior was afraid that she would hurt herself by trying to grab something too large for her. It didn't help his frustrations that every time he tried to stop her, or get her to sit down and rest she would get upset
After going though that cycle a few times the warrior had to stop and release some of his frustrations. He closed his eyes and attempted to clear his head, but when he opened him he found that damn girl staring back at him.
"What is it?" he asked her.
"Master look's stressed, does he want relief? I have been well trained master." She replied grabbing the bottom of her rags. She was ready to take it off at his command but warning bells immediately went off inside the warrior's head. He knew that with how outrageous her suggestion was it was being made innocently and would have to be handled carefully.
"Your right but I can handle it. But please Schala don't undress. I'm saving you for a very special purpose and can't use you in that way." He told her. She looked like she had a question so he asked her what was on her mind.
"Do you find me displeasing Master?" she asked letting go of her rags. The question made him uncomfortable but he hid it well. if she wasn't doing it for all the wrong reasons, if she wasn't a slave that thought he was her owner he would have enjoyed what she wanted to offer him. He thought she was stunning even in her slaves dress but he refused to take advantage of her.
"Not at all Schala. You are very beautiful and normally I would be interested. However I can't use you like that because I took an oath to only do that type of thing with a special person." He explained hoping that the half-truth would satisfy her
"Now this is interesting. The great Winter Wind is being intimidated by this little one." Terisa laughed. She had been watching the exchange for a while and he didn't even notice her approach because he was wrapped up in his visitor.
"This isn't what it looks like." He quickly told her.
"Relax Duncan. I know you better then that. Besides I saw what you did when she wanted to offer herself."
"How long have you been standing there?" Winter Wind asked.
"Long enough to see you finally intimidated by someone." Terisa laughed again.
"Schala I'd like you to meet and old friend of mine, Terisa Swordsong." He said turning to the slave. She bowed but thankfully didn't try to get on her knees again.
"So why don't you explain what's going on?" Terisa asked after greeting the girl.
"Can't you just look in her mind?" he asked.
"I can but it's not as fun as making you squirm. By the way it's nice to see that Duncan has come out again. This girl has some something marvelous." Terisa said. Both Schala and Winter Wind looked at her curiously, the slave was happy that she had done something good even if she didn't understand what.
"What do you mean?" He asked, but from the way she was looking at him he knew she wouldn't answer.
"I came here to think after my visit with Baron Wallace. She came with two humans that didn't like it when I talked to her so I was forced to dispatch them, and now." Winter Wind told her indicating the girl. He didn't want to say it out loud with her nearby that he was now stuck with a slave.
"I'm not sure what to do with her though, my mission is too dangerous to take her with me."
"Fortunately I do know what to do with her. This is the girl that I've been trying to track down, but why didn't you take her to Tony?" Terisa asked.
"Because it doesn't matter who I am. If I enter Kawaii with a feline slave your people will tear me apart the moment they look into her mind. What did you plan to do after you found her?" The warrior countered.
"I hate to admit it but he may be right. That girl believes with all her being that he's her master now." Terisa thought poking a little into the slaves mind.
"I'll take her off your hands and bring her to Kawaii myself. Tony wants to see her because he believes because of her situation if she were to be trained to fight she could be used to take out the Black King."
"You want to give her a sword and force her to slay the Black King?" Winter Wind asked.
"She was raised outside of Kawaii as a slave. Her Jiyu'rei powers are undeveloped and she would be unhindered by the feeling of death when she kills." Terisa replied.
"Terisa I never thought I would ever have to say this to any of your kind. But if you attempt to take this girl I will kill you." Winter Wind said with the coldness of death in his voice. She felt chills run down her spine and knew that he was serious. If it came to that she wasn't sure she could win.
"Duncan you can't handle this one. Let me take her home."
"I didn't kill her captors so you could force her to fight."
"No one's going to force her to do anything. She has a choice." Terisa protested.
"Terisa look at her! She doesn't have a choice." The warrior replied.
"What's wrong with you? When did you start having so little trust in me or my people?" Terisa asked. She stopped dead.
"Duncan you have fallen in love with her haven't you?"
"Impossible that would be wrong. I could never harm her like that." Winter Wind protested.
"That's why it's tearing you up. You love her but because of what she is you can't know what she does from training and fear or what she does from the heart." Terisa said. Then she felt something and smiled.
"Your kitten is very happy to hear that you love her. It's a shame you can't feel it." They both glanced at Schala who turned away ashamed that she let her emotions show. She didn't understand about Terisa's power.
"Look what you did Terisa." Winter Wind said annoyed. He walked over to Schala and held her carefully.
"It's ok you didn't do anything wrong." He whispered to her. Swordsong took great enjoyment out of watching the world renown Winter Wind drop his cold personality to comfort a girl.
"It's going to be fine Duncan. Princess Brightmoon's the one that's going to be talking to her about what we want to do. She's going to make sure that we don't try to do something that Schala herself isn't willing to at least be part of." Terisa told him gently. The Jiyu'rei princess was the most powerful telepath in the world, her ability was even stronger then her father's and she had a heart to match.
"I'll let you take her to the Princess but I'm going with you to protect her." Winter Wind decided. Terisa smiled and turned to the feline slave.
"You're a very lucky girl to have Winter Wind's heart, and the protection of his sword." she said to the confusion of Schala.
Tima entered the duchess's room unaware that Rei was resting in the bed. She apologized quickly and might have left but in the limited light spilling past the dark curtains the lavender eyed maid saw that her friend was upset.
"Are you ok Duchess?" Tima asked quietly. At first there was no response but then in a beaten voice Rei asked.
"Can you get me a robe, or something to wear?" Tima retrieved a silk robe from the closet and helped her friend sit up and get into it. For the brief amount of time that her skin was exposed Tima noticed countless bruises on her friend, all of them below the neck and only visible when she was undressed.
"Do you want me to take you to the gardens? Or the library?" Tima asked. She was worried about her friend and those were the only two places that Rei could still feel at peace.
"I'm not supposed to leave." Rei said trying not to sound broken anymore.
"Rei you can't keep this up." Tima said softly. Her friend looked at her like there was something that she wanted to say, then changed her mind.
"I don't have a choice." She replied instead.
"What about Winter Wind? He can give you…" Tima started. She stopped when the Duchess shook her head.
"He left disgusted with me. He's not going to help." Rei said. She hesitated then in a low voice added.
"If he tried, something terrible would happen."
"How is Wi'Zell controlling you? Don't you realize that he's going to get bored of abusing you eventually? You can't save our people by doing this." Tima said. She saw Rei's face change and realized that wasn't the only thing securing her chains. The way the Duchess looked at her suddenly made her afraid.
"It's me isn't it?" She asked. Rei wasn't going to respond so she continued.
"He threatened to hurt me if you don't do what your told." It took most of Rei's courage just to nod.
"Duchess please don't do this." Tima begged.
"I can't let you suffer for my sake."
"How would Miles have handled this? He would have known what to say to her that would have gotten to her act." She wondered. She owed everything that she had to Rei, it was her father that gave her a place to stay. He gave her a job, and a full stomach when she was just a child. All these years Rei had been her friend, they grew up together even though she had been into a noble family and Tima was nothing more then an orphaned maid that was allowed to work in the castle.
"I think the warrior wanted to help you. Why don't we call him back and see what he says if you are willing to ask?" Tima asked. Rei had to consider it for several minutes because she knew that Wi'Zell would hurt her friend if they dared to do it.
"Maybe she's right. I'm not going to be able to protect anyone for long." She thought. She looked at Tima in the low light and felt a pain of guilt.
"For her sake I'll obey him, at least until Winter Wind can return here."
"I'll send someone to bring him back to Windley." Rei said.
"But who can I still trust?"
"I'll go." Tima offered.
"I can't let you do that, it's dangerous and you have never left the castle since you arrived." Rei replied.
"If I'm not here then they can't threaten to hurt me. Please let me go find Winter Wind." Tima begged. She wanted to do something to free her friend of the abuse she was forcing on her. The way she looked at the Duchess made it hard to say no.
"Prepare well for your trip then Tima. You can leave in a couple of weeks if you're truly ready." Rei finally agreed. She was deathly afraid that something was going to happen to her bashful friend because of her.
The Jiyu'rei Princess sat in one of the palace guest rooms studying the strange feline that had been brought to her. She felt sorry for this girl, her mind had been twisted and she had been denied the happiness that was every Jiyu'rei's birthright.
Schala was sitting timidly on the bed wishing only that her master were here with her. He left her alone with this stranger and didn't say what she was supposed to do. When they first arrived in this strange land she had been sent into this same room and told to change into a lovely purple dress. She needed her master to put it on for her because she wasn't used to dressing without supervision, but he was unwilling so Terisa had to help her. It made her a little uncomfortable because she had never been allowed to wear something like this before. But her master seemed to really enjoy looking at her when she was wearing it.
"Are you scared?" Serena asked breaking the long silence. She didn't really have to ask because she could have found everything she needed in the girls mind. But that wouldn't have been the right way to really get a feel for this strange kitten.
"I'm not permitted to fear." Schala replied. This was a question that her former masters had loved asking to trap her with. If she didn't answer in the same way she just did they would always punish her for it.
"Everyone's allowed to be afraid. What do you think of Duncan?" Serena asked. The question seemed to make the girl scared but she tried to answer the best she could.
"She thinks there's a wrong answer." The Princess realized while Schala was talking.
"Master is everything."
"You like having him as your Master don't you?" Serena asked. The girl nodded her head and looked down at her new dress.
"Do you want something else to wear? If the colour doesn't suit your tastes." The Princess asked. While they had been talking Schala had looked at her clothing multiple times like something might be wrong with them. She shook her head.
"Is something wrong then? You can't stop looking at them."
"Forgive me Mistress, I don't mean to appear ungrateful for the clothing I have been provided by you and Master. It must look nice on this slave because Master smiles when he sees me wearing it but I'm not used to being allowed to wear something this fine." Schala replied. Serena saw a couple of images in the slaves mind when she spoke.
"The Master's she had before Duncan found her only let her wear a slaves dress or often nothing at all." Serena thought with a frown momentarily breaking her endless smile.
"You look very pretty in it and I know that Duncan is very happy when he sees you properly dressed." She said with her smile returning.
"Schala I have something very important to ask you. Its not going to be an easy question but I need you to answer the best you can." The Princess said deciding that she had enough glimpses of how the slave thought that she could find the answer. Schala waited patiently for her to continue.
"Some of Duncan's friends would like to teach you something. With his help of course, would you want to learn it? Even if it's hard for you?"
"Whatever Master desires, I will learn." Was Schala's predictable response. But that was only the first part of the question and Serena wasn't relying only on the spoken words of the slave to find what she needed to know.
"If they gave you a sword that could hurt someone, would you use it?" Brightmoon asked.
"If Master desired it." Schala replied more reluctantly. Serena studied the feelings coming from the slave very carefully.
"She has given herself completely to Duncan. Her mind, her body, her soul all to what would make him happy. But I do sense more to it then simply the concept of being his property. That's part of it of course because she still thinks that she's a slave but she has stronger feeling for him then she did the humans that kidnapped and raised her." Serena thought.
"Do you mind if I step out and speak to Duncan for a few minutes? I'll make sure that he comes in to see you when I'm done." Brightmoon asked. She received nothing except a confused silence from Schala who could not understand why she was being asked something like that.
Feeling sorry for the black haired Jiyu'rei. Serena got up and left her alone in the room. She knew that Schala would probably just sit quietly until someone came for her. Winter Wind was standing just outside the door waiting for Serena's response. Terisa had tried to wait with him but he sent her off with a threat.
"What do you think Brightmoon? Is she going to be ok?" Winter Wind asked as soon as the door was closed.
"You can teach her to use a sword if you want. She's yours Duncan." Serena replied.
"That's not what I asked. I don't care about your fathers plan for her, I don't even think I want her to learn to use a sword. I just don't want to see her get hurt. I want to know if its possible to make her happy, repair the damage those humans did to her." Winter Wind snapped. Serena looked at him with her bright smile and explained.
"She wants what will make you happy. That's all she wants. Its what gives her joy right now. So if you teach her how to fight so she can protect herself she won't use her sword unless you want her to. I trust you Duncan, you'll guide her to do only what she wants with the skills you give her."
"I'll let them teach her then." Winter Wind said. He figured that maybe knowing how to protect herself would be good for her. But the Princess wasn't finished yet.
"She's very fragile so you better take good care of her Duncan. She's completely yours now and I won't be happy if she gets hurt because you don't understand what that means."
"Explain." Winter Wind suggested.
"The poor girl truly believes that you want a slave. I know you want her to be free and happy but your going to have to be very careful about how you ease her into it. She really loves you."
"No she doesn't." Winter Wind replied.
"She's been programmed to think she loves her Master. That's all it is."
"Its not that simple, her feelings for you are so much stronger then what she had for the men you killed to get her." Serena explained.
"Of course they are. I killed to own her, since the beginning I've been nice to her. I have not harmed her, I've protected her and even brought her here to dress up in pretty cloths. She's not used to anyone treating her so well. As far as she can see her new Master is making her feel special, so she's going to be fooled by false feelings of love." Winter Wind said sharply. But the Princess wasn't convinced.
"In her heart there's more to it then that. Take care of her Duncan." Serena said.
"I can see that you care about her greatly too. I'm sure that the two of you will find a balance to express your love. Though I don't think it's a romance in this case." She thought curious about the love those two shared.
"Now go in and see her. She misses you." Brightmoon said.
"And don't forget to tell her how pretty she looks in her new dress. We want her to feel right wearing normal cloths."
Two months after Serena's talk with Schala and a decision had been reached about her upcoming training. Winter Wind and his pet Jiyu'rei had been living in a clearing in the endless forest. This had been one of the hiding spots Schala's old masters had used many times. Now it was being used as a training ground where Duncan with the help of Terisa Swordsong, Darien Macgregor, and Thomas McAlpine was teaching the feline how to fight and defend herself.
"Very Good Schala." Winter Wind said giving the cat an encouraging pat on the head. She still didn't show emotion because she had been taught for too long that's he would be punished if she did. However the warrior could see in her eyes how happy she was to be petted.
"I think we are done for the day so you can go rest." He told her. it had been challenging to train her these past months, she learned quickly pouring all of her heart and her energy into what her Master wanted her to learn. But when she was done her lessons she always wanted to help around the camp.
Winter Wind spent a lot of time trying to get her to rest, and making her feel better about having the free time while the rest of them tended to things she had always been solely responsible for doing. Despite his best efforts Winter Wind could see that his success was limited.
"I think her trainings finished." Terisa said walking up to the warrior.
"There's still much she needs to learn." Winter Wind replied.
"There will always be something for her to learn Duncan but look at her." Terisa interrupted. The warrior glanced over at the shelter where Schala was squirming around trying to rest. But she couldn't take her eyes off Darien preparing a fire for the night.
"She's reached the limit of what she's capable of learning. Until she understands that she's free and can think for herself, she's done." Terisa said firmly. Duncan knew that she was right but part of him was trying to deny what Schala was.
"We aren't teaching her anything at all anymore, its just programming her to respond with a sword to the things she sees. It's no different then how her former Masters showed her to respond to complicated chores without thinking for herself." Winter Wind thought. He wanted to do more for her but it wasn't going to happen soon. It would take years to break her mind from the chains those two humans had beaten into her.
"Lets keep going for a couple more days. Thomas will be back by then and we can move on." Winter Wind suggested.
"Why don't we let her rest until he gets back?" Terisa suggested.
"Maybe work more on making her a little less submissive."
"I think her heart would shatter if we forced her to sit around for the next couple days. Winter Wind pointed out.
"Breaking apart the slave in her is going to be harder then any of this." He added indicating the camp.
"She deserves someplace warm and comfortable, a real home. Before we put her through that."
"Sounds like you want to settle down and try." Terisa grinned.
"I need to take responsibility for my actions. I'm the one that freed her and I can't abandon her now." Winter Wind replied. Swordsong didn't look like she believed that was the reason he wanted to put so much effort into helping her.
"There must be a better way to get to Salem." He commented. Terisa was expecting him to get to this eventually. The closer they got to leaving, the more doubts she saw in his eyes.
"There's only one way to do it with her Duncan. We can dress up as Red Reapers but we can't make anyone believe she's one." Terisa said.
"There's something I didn't tell you Duncan." She added reluctantly.
"He knows her. That's why I suggested that you and Thomas pretend you're her old Masters. I saw in her mind that Salem ran some tests on her a while ago. Terrible and painful things but he's studied her at length. So we can't just hide her."
"I don't want to make her wear those humiliating slave rags again." Winter Wind reported. He had his own doubts if the Black King would even fall for the deception they planned. Winter Wind could easily go dressed up as a Red Reaper and finish Salem off himself.
"It wont be long, and we can have her change as soon as we get back to the mainland." Terisa replied.
"Besides I don't think she minds the rags."
"Of course not. She'd be just as comfortable wearing nothing if I told her to." Winter Wind snapped.
"Well then don't complain. At least we are making her wear something." Terisa grinned back.
"You're getting a kick out of her discomfort aren't you?" Winter Wind asked.
"Actually I'm enjoying yours. She loves being allowed to wear a pretty dress for a while, and she loves how much you enjoy it. But she expects that it's going to end soon. Its not going to cause her harm to wear a slaves dress once more time."
"You better be right." Winter Wind warned.
A full month before Schala finished her training hidden in the endless forest with Winter Wind. Tima was on her own quest to find the famous warrior. In the distance she could make out the rubble of what used to be the city of Roddenberry. Once ruled by the second Duke of the old Sutherland alliance. The city had been one of the victims of the Black King's vengeance over twenty years ago when he had first gotten the Sword of Stars. It was that city he first tested the blades powers before heading to Sutherland.
Tima's travels had taken her this far but she still didn't know where she was going. The warrior she was looking for had disappeared and she stopped at every town she came across looking for information. But no one had seen Winter Wind in some time. Many of them wouldn't have admitted it even if they did because as long as he was out there. The people had hope.
"Its getting dark, I better stop for the night." She decided. For a moment she considered going into Roddenberry to find a place to hide but the city would have been too spooky for her.
she never had any intention of visiting the dead city so she settled down beside the road where it was safe. There would be no tell tale fires to alert people where she was. Tima didn't know how to make one. She sat quietly watching the sky ease into darkness, eating a little of the dried meat she bought two towns over.
It happened too fast for her to truly comprehend the situation. Shortly after she drifted to sleep, two men joined her startling her awake. One of them pinned her firmly to the ground while the second one promptly warned her to keep her mouth shut. At first they didn't do anything except look at her. Rape was apparently not their intention, as they didn't seem very interested in her at all. And neither was robbery since they ignored her supply bag.
"Get the rope and tie her up." the man sitting on top of her ordered. He looked briefly into her fearful eyes and seemed pleased.
"You didn't really think your departure from the castle was unnoticed did you Tima?" he asked her. she didn't respond but he wasn't expecting her to either. Shortly after he spoke to her she was roughly pulled to her feet, her arms got twisted behind her and tightly bound so she could offer no resistance. Not that she would have been strong enough to fight back anyway.
She was made to stand there for several minutes while they set up a proper camp before she was allowed to at least understand what was about to happen.
"Don't worry you'll still be allowed to sleep tonight since that was your intention." One of the men sneered.
"I suggest that you make good use of it too since tomorrow you'll be taken to see Salem." He laughed.
When Tima drifted back to consciousness she couldn't remember when she had blanked out. Her memories seemed foggy and unreal. The two men that captured her didn't offer much food during the long trip but that was about the only thing she could recall.
Now when she woke up she found that she couldn't move. She tried to look at her hands that were trapped on both sides of her head. She found no visible ropes holding her down but she was surprised to find her arms were bare. A terrifying glance downward showed her that she was completely naked from the waist up.
"What are they going to do?" she wondered. She felt like she was going to cry but she held back for her Duchess's sake.
"I'm sorry Duchess I don't think I'm going to be able to finish your mission."
She was allowed to lie like that for several hours. Exposed and her own fear sinking in to create terrifying visions of what was going to happen to her now. Then at last an old warlock entered the room. He was alone but she knew who he was at once and had more to fear now then if he had brought some of the Black King's guards with him.
"I promise I won't tell him anything Duchess." She thought closing her eyes to bite back the tears. At least he didn't seem interested in her exposed chest. In fact he hadn't even looked at her since he walked in. then almost like he could read her mind Salem spoke without even turning to face her.
"The Black Kings believes that I'm here to collect information on your mission. But I could care less about your secrets. You're here because I wish to try something on you." He explained. Only now did he actually look ay her because he wanted to examine her response.
She didn't move, and she didn't speak. She could do nothing to help what was about to happen to her so she just accepted it.
"I don't get many cooperative ones from the outside."" He mumbled almost pleased. When she opened her eyes she watched Salem approach her carrying only a small knife. She couldn't guess what its purpose was because it was too small to effectively kill her, and it didn't look very useful for eating.
She felt the invisible ropes holding her arms and legs still tighten up. then she felt new ones creep along her chest and head. They forced it up and back so now she couldn't move at all.
"Don't try to speak or squirm. It will only make this more painful for you, and an inconvenience for me." He warned her.
he made the first cut on the side of her throat while she was still awake. She tried to scream from the pain but his magic silenced her without needing to use a gag. While he worked she wished only that the pain would allow her to pass out.
Tima woke up still hanging where she had been left. It must have been over a week since the operation that Salem had given her, but it could be hard to keep track of time when your drifting in and out of consciousness. Immediately after he was finished with her, Tima was locked in a small cell just outside the Warlocks main lab. A slave's dress was provided for her to change into since she was still half naked and she was left alone for several days so he could observe her reaction to her new silence.
"Feel any different?" he asked almost taunting her. He wasn't making a joke however and expected a response. Once again she fell into the habit of trying to speak.
"My head aches." She tried to say, but no sound came from her mouth. She felt pressure in her chest at the reminder that she would never speak again.
"Try thinking loudly." Salem suggested. He waited two minutes but nothing happened.
"Still nothing." He said annoyed. This experiment was becoming a greater challenge then he thought it would be. Taking her voice had been easy, but it hadn't been enough to satisfy him. She barely responded to unique combination of barbaric medicine and modern day magic that he used to silence her. so he came up with this new experiment.
Ignoring her discomfort he placed his hands on her temples and started to focus his energy. He did this for twenty minutes, two times a day trying to alter her mind. She silently bit down on her lip to distance herself from the agony his magic caused.
And when it was over he would be left only with another failed attempt to give her a new kind of voice.
Even with the days fading light Winter Wind could not help look at her. Their costumes disgusted him, the one they forced Schala to wear most of all. She was back to wearing a slaves dress, short, ugly, coarse, and offering no protection from elements or prying eyes. He hated seeing her so exposed like that. Meanwhile the rest of them, including Terisa Swordsong were wearing hooded robes of dusty brown and mud colours. They also wore blood dyed armbands that Thomas stole from a couple unlucky groups of Red Reapers.
Winter Wind couldn't wait to get the armband off, it was the blood of an innocent person that gave it the colour. Their unheard suffering ended only when they gave too much blood to continue living.
"Stop fussing about her clothing and lets go. We have a spare dress in the boat when we finish." Terisa whispered. They approached the castle so Winter Wind made sure that his hood was up. It would be a bad time to be recognized.
They expected guards at the gate and had come prepared to deal with them. Instead they found one man in an unkempt uniform fast asleep in a chair.
"Should we bother to wake him up?" Terisa asked
"Well we need some witnesses." Darien pointed out. Without waiting to see what Thomas thought Winter Wind rolled up a fist and struck the guard in the stomach. He then blocked off access to the man's sword so when he woke up he had no choice but to listen.
"We are here to see Salem." He said flatly.
"What do you want with him?" the guard demanded. He believed that even without his weapon he could beat four bandits and a slave.
"Mind your own business and take us to whatever hole he keeps himself in." Winter Wind snapped at the guard.
"Fine have it your way. What do I care." The man grumbled. He led the five of them through the castle and into the dungeons. As they walked Winter Wind saw that they had been converted into something else. Most of the cells had been left intact but with the strange silence and slight sounds of movement it was difficult to know how many of them were occupied. Near the end of the trip he saw one cell that had been left wide open but it still looked like it was being used.
"Now that's interesting. It looks like he has a prisoner he trusts to return to their cell at night." Winter Wind thought. The guard led them into a chamber that had probably once been used to extract information.
"These Reapers wanted to see you." The guard announced and took off.
"The King didn't leave you much for protection." Darien sneered.
"What do you want?" Salem asked looking up from some of his notes. It was obvious that he was angry about the interruption. Winter Wind repositioned Schala to the front of him and imitated the voice of one of her old Masters.
"You recognize her don't you? We thought you would like to play with her again." Salem took one look at the feline slave and thought he knew who was under the hood.
Schala saw who she was being given to and became afraid. She remembered the pain from his experiments on her several years ago. With her unavoidable surge of emotion the group heard something shatter not far away as a cleaning slave that hadn't been noticed withered in silent pain. Terisa using her mental powers was able to learn what was going on.
"Don't be afraid, he's not going to be allowed to hurt you." She whispered into Schala's mind. She could feel how much pain the cleaner was in and knew that it was related to the fear emanating from Schala
Salem and Winter Wind both looked at the noise, but the warlock lost interest when he saw that it was just a glass candlestick that was broken.
"Hard to find good help." Winter Wind commented.
"Tima! Why are you here?" he thought. He turned away from the cleaning slave so his interest would not be noticed and create suspicion yet.
"It doesn't matter. I'm done with her." Salem casually said.
"As I am with your slave. I have no further use for that one." That final statement reminding the warrior that this man had once hurt Schala in the past ended it. He no longer had any reason or desire to hide his real identity and uncovered his hood. He gripped Nezumi's hilt.
"Duncan?" Salem said. He might have asked why the famed warrior had come, or been annoyed with himself for failing to notice. But he knew that he didn't have much time for regrets, in a surge of uncommon rage from the coldest man in the world. Winter Wind had his sword drawn and closed the gap between him and the warlock. Salem wasn't given any time to weave some of his magic to protect himself before he was savagely cut down.
"Duncan!" Terisa yelled.
"Control your emotions." She demanded and pointed at Tima who on feeling the rage was now on the floor crying from the intense pain. Winter Wind quickly calmed himself down and she seemed to feel better.
"I don't understand." He admitted.
"It must have been one of Salem's experiments. Come on lets get her out of here." Terisa said. They approached Tima and found some rope nearby in one of Salem's tool piles.
"I know you recognize me but don't make a fuss. Keep quiet and we will explain once we reach the mainland." He told her firmly. Then he tied her hands together in front of her. The rope was loose enough for her to understand she needed to play along with them.
They led her slowly out of the castle. Stopping from time to time to find guards to pointlessly slaughter and make a mess of things. Winter Wind regretted that for the moment they would have to leave the rest of prisoners behind. But he vowed that someone would come back for them after the Black King was dealt with. Eventually they approached the same guard at the door, he was almost asleep again.
"We are taking this girl as extra payment. When you inform the King that his warlock is dead and what transpired here. See to it that he knows the Red Reapers are nobody's pets." Winter Wind growled at the man. They left with the guard rushing off to find out what happened.
They walked in silence to the boat that was waiting for them. Only when everyone was safely aboard and they were already on their way back to the mainland did the travelers fully reveal who they were and untie the confused maid.
"Tima why were you there?" Winter Wind tried to ask. With the almost full moon lighting their path she gave him a sad look but could not answer.
"Duncan look at her neck. I don't think she can talk anymore." Terisa pointed out. Her eyesight was better then the warriors because of her peoples feline attributes.
"Can you look in her mind then?" Thomas asked.
"I'm sure she's been thought enough. I can't subject her to an invasion of her mind." Terisa said shaking her head.
"Then how do we talk to her?" Darien asked. The only ones that noticed Schala was giving the Windley maid a look of understanding was Winter Wind and Terisa. She looked over at her Master like she desperately wanted to tell him something.
"Of course! She's lived her life in silence." Terisa thought.
"What is it Schala? Can you understand what she wants to say?" she asked. The slave nodded her head but didn't speak yet. She waited for her own Master's interest.
"What do you think she wants to say?" Winter Wind asked.
"She was looking for Master when she was taken." Schala replied quietly.
"Why do you think that?" he asked.
"She's looking at Master like I would if what you commanded me to do was within reach, but I am still unable to fulfill your desire." Schala replied.
"Your Duchess sent you to find me?" he asked Tima. She nodded her head but couldn't do anything else.
"Why did she send you?" Winter Wind asked. The real weight in his question was obvious. Tima made some strange movements with her arms trying her best to communicate. When she was done Winter Wind looked to Schala for the answer.
"Do you know what she's saying?"
"Forgive this girl if I am not correct." Schala said timidly. The movements had been a more complicated series of pointing to mark a relationship connection and the breaking of shackles.
"She left on her own to find you because the one she serves could be free if she's gone." She added before her speaking window closed. Tima nodded for them all because what the cat slave said was close enough.
"Are you sure that she can't use her Telepathy?" Winter Wind asked Terisa. Her interpretations of Tima's movements were impressive.
"You seem surprised Duncan." Terisa teased.
"She can't even use her base empathic abilities anymore. When I examined her it seems that she unconsciously learned to block it out because it was dangerous to her. She was badly beaten any time her Masters saw signs of it." She explained.
"Your kitten is just so used to having to communicate without the privilege of speaking that she can tell what Tima's trying to say by her body language. Duncan have you forgotten the things I taught you?" Darien asked surprised.
"You read body language the same way when you fight to determine your opponents next move. But you have been fighting so long that you've forgotten that people use the same language outside of battle. However Schala is forced to rely on it to ask her questions, or speak of what she wants. I want you to look at her now and find out what she's thinking." He ordered his former student.
"Your not my teacher anymore and now isn't the time to waste on pointless lessons." Winter Wind said flatly.
"We need to take Tima home and get to the Farview forest." He pointed out.
"I hate to get between a teacher and his arrogant student. But we can't take Tima back to the Duchess wearing that." Thomas interrupted.
"He never used to be arrogant. I'm afraid that we might be losing Duncan forever." Terisa thought concerned. But she knew that they would not find out how much of his original personality was left until after the Black King was dead.
"We only have one spare dress." Winter Wind pointed out.
"Schala isn't a stranger to what she's wearing. I don't think she would mind waiting until we reach Windley to change so why don't we let Tima have it?" Terisa asked.
Winter Wind hated the idea. He wanted Schala out of the slave's dress she was wearing, and for her to never have to wear another one. But he couldn't bring himself to say anything. He knew that Tima didn't deserve to wear one either.
Her rescuer's had become distracted by this new question so Tima in her silent state had a lot of trouble grabbing their attention. She finally got Duncan to look at her when she tapped on his arm.
"What's wrong Tima?" he asked. She shook her head and pointed to Schala
"What did she say?" the warrior asked the feline.
"Master she want…apologies Master but it would not be proper to continue." Schala said quietly. She looked down at the bottom of the boat ashamed.
"What's wrong Schala?" Winter Wind asked worried. But she refused to answer and instead looked like she was about to get beaten.
Tima meanwhile gave up on the hope that Schala would speak for her this time. The cat slave was afraid of what the maid wanted to say. That's why she had made her decision, the girl made her sad the way she acted. She was kind but afraid to receive kindness in turn. So Tima started searching the bottom of the boat, suspecting that it was around here somewhere. It didn't take long to find it, a bundle of cloth tucked harmlessly away. She picked it up and put it on Schala's lap and pointed at her.
"I think she wants Schala to have it." Winter Wind suggested.
"She's worse then you are Duncan. We better just put it on Schala and stop to get her something else on the way back to Windley." Terisa said. She thought for a moment then with a grin added.
"I'm not going to supervise her this time though. You'll just have to help her get changed."
"She doesn't really need someone to change her like a baby does she?" Winter Wind asked.
"She's a grown woman." He added uncomfortable with the idea. Terisa choose to taunt him by not replying. He would find out soon enough.
It was late and most of the city people were in their beds resting for the coming of another day. But in Windley castle six people waited in the audience chamber after over a week of hard traveling. Not even being able to afford the time to stop in a village for extra supplies or to get the Windley maid something to wear. When they arrived it had taken an extra several hours just to locate a member of the staff that remained awake and could fetch the Duchess.
"Is it always this empty?" Terisa asked while they waited. Tima stood in the corner trying to hide her feelings of sadness. She wanted to go get the Duchess herself but Duncan had told her it would have been too much of a shock for her friend.
"I didn't see any guards last time I was here either. They must have forced her to disband everyone except the domestic staff." Winter Wind replied. After a few more moments of silence the Duchess Rei Windley walked in wearing a robe that was hastily thrown over her nightgown.
"What's going o…" She asked. She stopped dead when she saw Tima.
"Great Wind goddess what happened to you?" she gasped running to Tima's side. That's when she saw the sickening scar.
"She can't speak Duchess. We found her in Salem's lab in this condition." Winter Wind explained.
"There is more you should know but first what were you thinking sending her out alone?"
"I…we…" Rei couldn't finish and started crying.
"Duncan." Terisa hissed.
"Show some compassion."
"Tima would you please go to your room and change. And burn that outfit when you're done." Winter Wind suggested softening his voice. He saw that she was feeling Rei's heightened emotional state and it was causing her a lot of pain. But for her friends sake she did everything she could to hold it together. Tima was grateful for the suggestion but she hesitated a moment before leaving. She gave Rei a weak reassuring smile.
"Why did you make her leave?" Rei demanded to know once she had regained some of her composure.
"I said there was something else you needed to know. Salem didn't just take away her ability to speak. He tried to do something else and failed." Winter Wind said.
"What Duncan's trying to say is that Tima's had a twisted version of a Jiyu'rei's powers forced on her. The deep sadness your feeling right now after seeing her is causing her physical pain. Please try to balance your emotions when she's around." Terisa finished softly.
"This is my fault. I shouldn't have let her go." Rei sobbed.
"Tima told us that she left to find me for you, and that she was the only choice for the task."
"How? She…" Rei asked. She looked at Terisa as the obvious answer but she shook her head.
"Schala is good at translating people that can only communicate with their body." Winter Wind explained. He patted Schala's head who smiled and seemed happy.
"You had a reason to send her looking for me. What was it?" he asked. He knew that they didn't have a lot of time to waste. But his answer would have to wait because the chamber door burst open and a small man barged in.
"What is the meaning of this." He demanded glaring at Rei. Winter Wind moved quickly to approach him.
"You have not been invited to this meeting. I suggest that you leave now." He said flatly. He hesitated after noticing that Rei had become tense since this man entered. Reversing his decision the warrior reached out and grabbed the small man by the neck. He turned to Rei and asked her directly.
"Duchess Windley I have a question for you. It is important that you ignore who is in the room and answer me with complete honesty." He said. She stood silently but nodded, staring at Wi'Zell.
"Tima left to protect you from the control of someone. Is this man your handler? Winter Wind asked. Rei needed a moment before she had the courage to answer him. He was going to need more then a weak nod this time. She knew what was about to happen.
"Yes." She said quietly. She looked away out of shame at being his slave and because she didn't want to face the angry threatening glare that Wi'Zell was giving her.
"I've changed my mind. You won't be allowed to leave." Winter Wind said. He let go of the man's neck and for a split second Wi'Zell thought he could get away. The warrior didn't give him the chance, with one swift and powerful motion Winter Wind struck the man's throat with his fist. Then he turned away and faced Rei leaving Wi'Zell's throat to swell until he could no longer breath.
"Duncan? A slow death?" Terisa asked surprised.
"There is no point in leaving a mess for the Duchess or her maid to clean up." Winter Wind replied simply.
"Duchess I no longer care why you asked me here. But because you did, knowing that you risked harm coming to the person most important to you. I'm going to give you a chance to prove that you have the strength to help your people. Very shortly we will be departing to intercept the Black King in the nearby forest. If you wish to help then you have until morning to gather as many of the old Windley guard as you can trust." He told her.
"How many do you need?" Rei asks surprised.
"None, this isn't about what we need Duchess. This was planned without relying on unpredictable elements such as finding your maid. Gather what you can and it will be enough to show your determination to change. Or you can do nothing and in the morning we will leave in peace." Winter Wind said.
"I'll arrange quarters for the five of you. Do you and the black haired Jiyu'rei wish to share a room?" Rei asked quietly. She saw how lovingly the girl looked at Duncan and thought they might be a couple.
"Of course not." Winter Wind replied swiftly.
"But have her placed in a room next to mine." He added so that she wouldn't feel sad. At least she would be able to sleep knowing that her Master was nearby and could call on her.
Rei was about to respond when she noticed that at some point in the conversation Tima had rejoined them wearing her maid's uniform. Winter Wind and Terisa looked at her too. She pointed to them, then herself and motioned for them to follow her.
"Tima you don't have to, you should be resting." Rei tried to protest. But Winter Wind cut her off.
"Let her do it. Her voice was taken from her, not her resolve." He warned her.
"Duncan's right, she needs to do something familiar now so she doesn't feel useless." Terisa commented. Rei reluctantly agreed and the five of them followed Tima deeper into the castle.
Less then a full day after leaving Windley, Winter Wind and his expanded group could see the edge of the Farview forest. The Duchess had only been able to recover seven men from the old Windley guard in the short time she had. Rei wanted to come with him but the warrior wouldn't let her.
They entered the forest and crept along the inner edge until Thomas indicated for them to stop. Everything was peaceful now so they made a small hidden camp to wait things out
In two days they saw through the tree's a large group approaching the forest slowly. In front they correctly assumed was the Black King himself being followed by what could not have been more then fifteen men.
"That's all he's bringing to your party?" one of the Windley men commented.
"The forest limits how many people he can bring in. he's coming to destroy the Red Reapers for betraying him but with that sword he would have only needed two men." Darien explained in a low voice. Winter Wind told them all to be quiet, and then as the Black King penetrated the forest he motioned for everyone to follow Thomas deeper into the woods.
At first all they did was watch. The Black King with his magic sword had charged into the nameless village the bandits hid in and challenged their leader, barely any of the words could be heard by Winter Wind or his people with the exception of Terisa and Schala. It was only Swordsong however that was paying attention to them.
"He's demanding to know why they killed his warlock." She explained. Not surprisingly the Reapers leader claimed he didn't know what the King was talking about. They seemed to bicker for a few more minutes before the expected explosion. The Black King having had enough of the man's lies readied his sword and struck the leader down. Shortly afterwards his men spread out to help cut off escapees.
Vincent himself did most of the work, using a sword that brute forced its way through what could have otherwise been effective counter moves. However it didn't look like he had a lot of control over who was in the swords way. More then once his own people had barely been able to scramble out of its path. It was all over in a matter of minutes with all of the Red Reapers lying dead in the village they had slaughtered over thirty years ago.
In a taunting gesture Winter Wind emerged from the forest by himself. He clapped his hands loudly applauding the Black King's performance.
"Well done Vincent." He announced.
"Winter Wind I've been looking for you and here you are hiding in the bushes." The Black King said.
"I thought I'd let you have your fun with the bandits. Thank you for removing them by the way. But you should know it wasn't them that eliminated Salem." Winter Wind said placing his hand on Nezumi's hilt.
"You did it?" Vincent growled.
"No matter you won't be returning home to brood about how you were tricked." Winter Wind said simply.
"And I suppose your going to hurt me?" Vincent laughed.
"I just eliminated the Red Reapers, how are you going to do better?"
"We have you out numbered." Winter Wind suggested. The rest of his friends emerged from the forest, including Schala who had been anxious to rejoin Duncan since he left her side.
"So did they." Vincent pointed out.
"Regardless I don't intend to fail." Winter Wind said. He glanced over at Terisa and Darien.
"You know what to do." He told them. Immediately Terisa, Thomas, Darien and the Windley men spread out to intercept any of the Black King's people that remained alive. Schala refused to leave her Master's side.
"Since when does Winter Wind need to pair up for a fight?" Vincent asked disapprovingly.
"She's my apprentice, she's here to observe and nothing more." Winter Wind said coldly. As he approached the Black King he drew his sword and pushed all of his emotions away.
He earned the name Winter Wind because of the cold personality he had during battle. Now he needed to submit himself completely to that state. He was taking a great risk, pushing his emotions so far that it was possible he would never return to being Duncan Forester.
The gambit worked, Nezumi met the Sword of Stars without a crackle of power in the magic blade. The black aura the sword seemed to have in the hands of Vincent looked like it was fading but Winter Wind showed no response to the look of shock on the Black King's face.
"How did you?" he asked trying to understand how his magic sword had been stopped. Winter Wind said nothing but pressed his attack keeping Vincent busy trying to defend himself. His own skills had once been effective, but over the years using the Sword of Stars had dulled them
"I don't know what you did to the Sword of Stars Winter Wind but you will fail and your friends will die." Vincent growled as he blocked another attack. He made a bold attempt of his own to strike the warrior but made no progress.
"How about your pet cat?" Vincent asked. He saw now what Winter Wind was doing differently from everyone else.
"Its that cold stare, the Sword of Stars won't work without emotions." He thought.
"There is nothing you need to know about her." came the cold reply. Winter Wind wasn't about to let the Black King get near her.
"I bet I can have some real fun with her after your dead. She looks quite sweet." Vincent laughed. A sparkle of anger flared in Winter Wind's eyes and the Sword of Stars erupted. The next time the two swords met, Nezumi shattered into five pieces and Winter Wind was knocked to the ground.
"I told you that you would die and your friends will follow. Except for her, I'm going to enjoy her." Vincent taunted. With one final motion he swung the Sword of Stars to strike down the warrior.
"What?" Vincent gasped when the sword got stuck on something. He followed the length of the blade until he saw what kept him from victory. Schala's sword was drawn and she held the Sword of Stars safely above its mark.
"You want to try now too little girl?" Vincent asked withdrawing his blade. She didn't answer him and he incorrectly assumed she was using the same tactic as her teacher.
"Forget it girl, I defeated him and I'll defeat you. But don't worry your much too pretty to kill. Maybe I'll keep you in a cage?" Vincent tried to create anger like he did in the warrior.
he pushed forward, this time keeping her inexperienced sword on the defensive but nothing he said helped. She was fueled by the simple desire to protect her Master no matter the cost to herself. It was this innocence and not a lack of emotion that caused the Sword of Stars to lose its power this time.
"Master I'll make you happy." Schala thought bringing her sword up the way she had been taught. She poured everything she was into the skills her Master has painstakingly given to her. Vincent deflected her attack and countered, she stepped to the side and tried to thrust.
"Not bad kitty but your as weak as he is. Give up now and I'll let you live comfortably as my pet." Vincent offered. He parried her attack but she kept trying. She ran through every bit of information her Master taught her, she slowly picked up speed remembering other parts of her lessons.
The Black King had trouble keeping up with her, she wasn't as skilled as Winter Wind was but she was improving with every stroke and had the Jiyu'rei agility.
"You're a good girl Schala I know you can do it." Winter Wind shouted with encouragement. He gripped the broken hilt of Nezumi feeling almost empty without it. His voice gave her even more strength and she slid her sword along the edge of Vincent's until she reached the center. Then with everything she could muster she pressed it down and twisted rapidly until he lost control and it fell from his hands.
"Impossible." Vincent growled. He waited for her to finish him off but she stood silently. He couldn't hurt her Master now so she had no reason to continue.
Duncan Forester got to his feet still gripping the shattered hilt. With Nezumi destroyed the warrior Winter Wind was now dead. But Duncan could give his faithful sword one final victory. He approached Schala and the Black King.
"You did well Schala. You made me very happy." He told her giving her a little pat on the head. He saw her eyes light up with the praise.
"Great fire I was beaten by…by a slave?" Vincent couldn't believe what he just saw.
"She didn't defeat your sword's power the same way I tried Vincent. She is innocent, her motives are pure. The Sword of Stars won't favor you over her." Duncan said. The Black King barely had time to understand before Duncan cried out in rage and sliced Vincent's throat.
Several months after the death of the Black King, the sky looked none too happy as a storm prepared to stop construction for the day.
"We are never going to get this done if Wind and Water don't stop conspiring against us." Thomas announced annoyed. Darien looked up at the sky and laughed.
"What's your hurry?" He asked leaning against one of the broken homes of Craik. The two of them had gathered people from the Black King's island, as well as volunteers from other towns in an effort to rebuild Craik. This was going to be the first such project, ending with the fallen city of Rodenberry.
"No hurry but we have a lot of work to do." Thomas suggested.
"We haven't seen any activity from the remains of the Red Reapers so what else could you want to get done?" Darien questioned.
"Do you think that day really ended it?" Thomas wondered out loud.
"To be honest there's probably a handful of scattered groups left of the Reapers but they are on their own now." Darien replied.
"It won't be long now, lets get everyone packed into the shelter." He said putting his attention back on the upcoming storm.
Sutherland castle had been restored to the bright inviting place that it had been a long time ago. But it depressed Tima every time that she walked through those hallways like she was right now. She came here several months ago after the Black King's defeat. However it wasn't to help clean up the mess Vincent made to the castle or the city. She had been forbidden to work anymore by the new queen of Sutherland. Tima entered the queen's bedchambers and smiled at her old friend Rei. Briefly she remembered how a month after Vincent was killed. Tony Thunderwhiskers the Crown Prince of the Jiyu'rei had visited them in the newly recaptured castle to grant Rei Windley the title of queen. It had been Duncan's idea that she was the most qualified person to bring peace back.
"Hi Tima." Rei said quietly. Then she noticed the look on her former maid's face.
"Not again." she thought sadly.
Tima considered the question for a moment, she didn't want to answer it because its not why she came to see the queen. But her old friend would just get worried and upset if she wasn't honest about her feelings. She pointed to the door and made a motion like she was sweeping the floor.
"You want to return to work with the other maids don't you?" Rei asked. Tima nodded her head.
"It's my fault she can't talk anymore. If I had been stronger when I was the Duchess I would have asked for Duncan's help when he came to see me that first time. Instead Tima felt she had to go find him when I did get the nerve." Rei thought guilty. She made the decision two months ago when she was given the new name of Sutherland and the title of queen. She would make up for her crimes by giving Tima an easier life without all the hard work she was used to.
"We have talked about this before. I need you Tima. I need your strength, I need your friendship and I need you by my side. Your not a maid anymore, you're my most trusted advisor." Rei tried to explain. Tima looked like she understood but was having trouble accepting it.
"She's been a maid ever since she was a small child. It's going to take awhile for her to adjust to not having to work so hard." She thought. Tima approached her and grabbed her hand. She tugged lightly like she started doing every time she needed the Queen to follow her.
"Stop feeling guilty and come with me. Your needed in the audience chamber." Tima thought quietly. Rei smiled at her and started to follow getting an idea where she was being taken.
In a place far from the storm that interrupted work on Craik, Terisa Swordsong entered the palace gardens where she found Tony Thunderwhiskers waiting for her.
"You wanted to ask me about the sword?" Tony said with a grin on his face. The more Terisa watched him the more he reminded her of his daughter.
"You wanted time to decide what to do with it. Have you found a place?" she asked.
"It is a little dull without Serena around isn't it." Tony commented. That was the real reason she wanted to know about the Sword of Stars. Three months ago Duncan and Swordsong trusted the blade to him. They decided that in the hands of the Jiyu'rei it would be safe from being used the way the Black King used it. But Tony knew that Swordsong trusted him, she wasn't as much looking for information on where he decided to hide the sword as she was trying to keep herself busy.
"That's not what I asked. But yes there is something missing." Terisa said pretending to be annoyed at changing the subject.
"The sword's safely hiding." Was all Tony would say. He hid the information about it in a corner of his mind he kept locked from other Jiyu'rei. But he had arranged things with his daughter before she left to hide the sword in the last place anyone would ever think to look for a weapon, a simple locked chest in the Princess's bedroom.
"I wanted to speak to you about Brightmoon. I think you would enjoy this assignment." Tony turned the conversation away from the sword again.
"It's still dangerous in the human lands and Duncan's not the warrior he used to be?" Terisa suggested.
"Its strange how all of his capacity for violence was in that sword." Tony commented.
"I don't think that's it. He fought for so long without allowing himself to feel much that Nezumi breaking was the best excuse he had to not fight anymore." Terisa corrected him.
"And that poor Jiyu'rei girl of his." Tony thought out loud.
"He will protect her at all costs, with or without Nezumi. I don't think anything could harm her now." Terisa laughed.
"I'd like you to go protect my daughter until she's ready to come home." Tony announced.
"I would be happy too Crown Prince." Terisa said with a respectful bow. She didn't think that the Princess was in any real danger but protecting her would give her something to focus on.
In Windley castle the now Duke Duncan walked to the guest quarters with Schala walking behind him in a beautiful purple dress. She was the only reason he accepted the title and took over Windley when Rei became the Queen. He wanted to give this rescued slave a good life, and the moment she was ready he intended to pass ruler ship to her. He knew that he wasn't really cut out for this, but when she was free of her remaining shackles Schala could be a great Duchess. Perhaps it was just pride that made him feel that way. After the Black King's defeat he started to raise Schala like his own daughter. He loved and protected her just like a father and though he knew that she still wanted to be his slave, he saw that it made her happy that he cared about her so much.
"The Princess believes that she is making some progress with these sessions. Are you excited that when she's done you will be able to speak whenever you want?" Duncan asked trying to create a conversation. He found these long silences with her a little unsettling. It was a reminder to them both about the pain she suffered through most of her life and he wanted to see it end.
"At least she has become comfortable in pretty cloths now. No more slave dresses for her, and she's getting used to not doing everything. When I first brought her here she seemed like she was afraid of the maids doing her work. She's even lost the fear that I'll abandon her if she doesn't work hard and please me." He thought enjoying the progress she had been making.
"If it would please you that I can speak." Came Schala's predictable reply.
"She still has a long way to go." Duncan thought. but even her stubbornness that everything she does is to please him couldn't dampen his mood today.
Soon they arrived in the series of rooms that Princess Serenity "Brightmoon" Fraser was staying. Originally they had been painted in a series of yellows but Duncan had it changed to the pink that suited this feline so much. To emphasize that idea she was even wearing a pink and white dress today.
Serena opened the door for them and gave Duncan a warm hug. After she was finished she looked at Schala wanting to do the same for her. But she didn't, it was still too soon and the action from anyone except Duncan would make her afraid.
"Nice to see you too Brightmoon." Duncan smiled. He originally accepted her offer to come help Schala only because he wanted the best of everything for her. But as time went on he was happy every time he saw the Princess. He almost thought he might be falling for her but because of her everlasting smile it was difficult to know if she returned those feelings.
Schala silently noticed that every time that Serena hugged Duncan she looked reluctant to let go. It was a feeling that the former slave knew very well and she secretly hoped they would both discover the things she saw and become very happy.
"Are you ready to begin?" Serena giggled looking at Schala. Her bright smile sometimes scared the black haired Jiyu'rei but she nodded her head and moved to sit on the bed like she always did for these sessions. She saw how happy Duncan was during this and it encouraged her to do everything she could to help the Princess free her from the things Todd and Simon beat into her when she was a little kitten. Including her need for a question before she could speak.
"You have given me so much more then I could ever have dreamed of mas… father. I'm going to make you proud of me." Schala thought. She never tried to imagine what her life would still be like if this man had not taken her from her masters and claimed her as his own.
If you arrived here from an outside source please click here to return to the main site