The ribbon and the Red Sword

By Desert Mouse

It seemed like it had been a long time since the competition as Ishara and her feline traveling companion walked into Sutherland once more. Ishara with her deep blue eyes was different then the last time she had been here. Though she still wore the same green dress as she always did, and let her long blonde hair run free. Now in addition to the curved sword she always wore at her side. Ishara also had a much larger sword strapped to her back, and a lot of blood on her hands because of it. She was looking a bit more worn down these days.

Her companion however, was almost the same as when she had first joined Ishara. She wore a similar dress style to the human except in a light purple. Because the man who had saved her life and taken her in a couple of years ago knew nothing about women's style and had chosen to mimic a female warrior he respected greatly. Her brown eyes still seemed dead and her Jiyu'rei features drooped. Unlike most of her kind, Schala's tail barely hovered over the ground, and the large feline ears on her head pointed downwards. From looking at her Ishara wasn't sure that she was making the progress that their mutual friend Duncan had been hoping for when he suggested the two travel together.

The two warriors were coming up to the cities grand battle arena. Where it felt like it had been years ago that Ishara had participated in the last competition.  It hadn't been that long but after what she had been through emotionally she had lost a little of her energy. Back then after the competition she had gone for a little walk to clear her head after her defeat. The memory came to the front of her mind as she walked because it returned her to what felt like a much different time of her life, away from all the carnage and the blood she could never fully wash from her hands.

Night was fast approaching that day and she was tired from her final match with the world's most feared warrior. It had been before she was asked to meet with him at the nearby Inn to be introduced to the feline she now traveled with. Her walk had taken her into one of the alleys behind the blacksmith where she sensed movement ducking into the growing shadows.

Quickly alert Ishara placed her hand on her swords hilt and glanced around. Suppressing the growl in her voice she demanded.

"I know your there, come out of hiding." She waited for two minutes but when nothing happened she spoke once more.

"Show yourself, I have no desire to harm you but I do not play games." It took another minute before the small frame of a teenaged girl emerged from the shadows being cast by the close buildings. After seeing what had been watching her Ishara relaxed and took her hand off her sword.

"Its just a kid." She thought more annoyed at her own over reaction then the girl. She took a look at the teenager and found something hauntingly familiar in the face that was looking at her worried.

"Relax, I will not harm you." She said digging through her dress pocket for the small change bag she carried with her.
"She looks unwashed, her eyes seem dead, she's too skinny to be healthy and I can hear her stomach growling from over here. This girl can't be anything more then a street mouse." Ishara thought looking the kid over.

"What is your name?" She asked. For a brief moment she started to wonder if the teenager still had the power of speech. That could be the reason for the filthy ribbon that was carefully tied around her neck and complete silence that she expressed.

"My names Tammy." The teenager said in a weak voice.

"So she can speak after all." She thought.
"Well Miss Tannis, I must apologize for scaring you. I would like to make amends." Ishara offered pulling out a couple coins.

"I'm sorry…but I can't." Tammy tried to decline.

"Nonsense. You sound like you could use something to eat. Please take them." Ishara insisted.  She felt a little sorry for the teenager so she persisted, giving Tammy no choice but to accept the coins."

"That girl used to be me. She even seems to be as reluctant as I was to accept money. But don't think that she will try to use it for anything dishonest." She thought.

"I'm on my way to the Inn, I know it can sometimes be difficult for an honest person who's a little down to be allowed to eat in those places. So let me speak with the owner." Ishara suggested. She noticed that Tammy seemed reluctant to agree but the warrior could be quite persistent.

Now with the Jiyu'rei at her side Ishara let off a heavy sigh. She wondered what might have become of Tammy since the last time that she was here. The commotion had only been the first time that she met the little street mouse, but it had not been the last. However that was not why she had come here with Schala.

"We should inform King Sutherland that I found the sword and what happened to the rest of the Red Reaper bandits. He would probably like to know that the last of them had been wiped out. But I don't know if I am ready to go there yet." Ishara thought looking at the castle looming in the distance. There was nowhere in the great walled city that Celeus's home could not be seen.

"Before we go see Sutherland lets visit the Golden Stitch first. I need to pick up a few things." Ishara stated to her friend. She looked at her dress, at the tears that had been made when she revisited her birth village recently. Schala merely nodded understanding what Ishara was after. However her unique condition prevented her from speaking because Ishara had not made it into a question. The two warriors made way for the best tailoring shop in Sutherland.

"Miss Ishara, I didn't expect to see you back so soon." The middle-aged shopkeeper said with a warm smile. The warrior had been in his shop quite often over the past few years. Every time she came into Sutherland she usually visited him for supplies to mend her clothing. A skill she once told him was something her parents had taught her, and she maintained to honour their memory.

"Who's your new friend?" he asked noticing the quiet feline for the first time. Usually Ishara traveled alone since her friend and mentor Thomas had given up his sword
"This is Winter Wind's apprentice Schala. She is traveling with me for a little while." Ishara replied with a kind smile. After spending only a little more time with small talk, Ishara laid out a list of things that she was going to need and paid for them with some of the extra gold she had earned in her travels.

Not far away from the tailor shop. The black Kings top assassin was stalking her prey from the shadows.
"This filthy girl must be the one. The ribbon around her neck matches the one Teloth mentioned helping that warrior bust his cover." Ci'tal thought examining the girl crawling around Sutherlands back alleys. Once identifying her target the assassin wasted no more time drawing her knife and approaching the street rat. The teenager didn't have a chance to hear that someone was behind her before a knife appeared at her throat. Pressed against her crimson ribbon.

"Be silent for the moment and listen carefully. I have no reason to hurt you yet so if you behave yourself you might live one more day." Ci'tal whispered to the teenager. She expected the girl to call out for help, struggle to get away, or at least try to fight. But the teenager did nothing at first. Then to Ci'tal's surprise she lifted her head to give her attacker better access to her throat.

"I have nothing to give you." The girl said calmly.
"No you do not. However you do know someone that has something I want. Now slowly we are going to turn to the left and go into that doorway." Ci'tal told her. They moved carefully to an indent in the alley, where one shop's back door was located. This gave Ci'tal the best view of the area and allowed only one direction for someone to approach.

"What is it you hope to gain from taking a worthless hostage?" the teenager asked her captor.
"You'll see in a moment. Frankly it doesn't matter that you're worthless. All that you have to hope for is what value she might place on your pathetic life. Now I want you to call out as loudly as you can for a woman named Ishara." Ci'tal told her hostage.
"Those two softhearted fools won't want to see this useless girl get hurt, so they will give me the sword rather then watch her die." She thought amused.

"Even if I call out, what makes you think anyone will come?" the teenager asked.
"I'm just a street mouse, you can do anything you want to me. Cut my throat, cause me pain, and steal what little I have or even let me go and there is no one that will care you did it."

"I'm not going to stand here and argue with you rat. Call out now and we will allow you're friend to decide your fate. Otherwise I'm going to slice you and leave you to die very slowly and painfully. Because I am not going to be standing here all day." Ci'tal hissed.

Now on their way to Sutherland castle, the two warriors stopped in their tracks. Ishara could have sworn that someone called out her name, but her companion twitched her ears and turned to the blonde warrior with a strange look in her eyes. Taking a chance Ishara asked.
"Did you hear something?" the Jiyu'rei nodded.
"Someone was calling for you. I believe it was coming from the east." Schala spoke with little emotion. The two women started running in the direction that the voice had called out from, securing the location when she called out two more times.

When they found the alley, Ishara's anger flared at the scene. The young street kid that Ishara had come across twice before and received help from the last time she was in Sutherland was standing with a woman behind her and a knife firmly pressed against her throat.

"Let her go Ci'tal." Ishara growled. However the assassin smiled back at her.

"I knew I could get your attention. Now if you and your cat would please listen carefully because this young piece of garbage's life is in your hands. If she dies today the blood is yours to wash away." Ci'tal said coldly. Schala gripped the hilt of her sword, but Ishara was smart enough not to reach for hers no matter how angry she was. Ci'tal responded to the feline's aggressive act by twisting her knife to a slight angle and shredding the girl's pretty ribbon.

"That's not a good idea kitty, move your hand away from the sword or your little friend is going to paint the ground." Ci'tal said glaring at Schala. For the first time since the situation had started, Tammy's eyes went wide in fear. She glanced at the ground where the ribbon hiding her shameful secret had fallen.

"My ribbon." She whispered. At first she stood there stunned and exposed. But the blonde warrior and her friend ignored the strange marking across the teenager's neck.

"Tammy, hold on. I'm not going to let this woman harm you." Ishara said to her young friend.
"What is it you want Ci'tal?" she demanded angrily.

"All you have to do is hand over the Sword of Stars and she lives." Ci'tal demanded. Ishara clenched her fists and move to un-strap the larger sword from her back when Schala put her tail in her way and shook her head.
"Don't do it Red sword. If the Black King gets that blade more people will die." Schala thought looking at her companion. She could see the anger flashing in Ishara's eyes. It burned like it did in the village not long ago. It was obvious that she didn't want to see anything happen to this teenager.

"Listen to your cat, and the kid will die." Ci'tal said simply.

Tammy still stunned by the loss of her ribbon, slowly reached up to try and cover the mark that was never meant to be exposed.
"What's this kid doing? If she doesn't stop I'll have to cut her open and get away without the sword."  She thought annoyed. Until this point the street rat had behaved herself, but now suddenly she felt the need to protect… no cover her neck.

"She's going to kill her." Schala realized as the situation unfolded. She didn't understand why Tammy was suddenly trying to protect her neck. But if she didn't act quickly the teenager was going to be killed. The Jiyu'rei saw her opportunity when Ci'tal suddenly became distracted.

"Stop squirming trash." The assassin hissed at the girl.
"You have already took everything that matters to me. So just finish the job." Tammy said in a low serious voice.
"What?" Ci'tal was caught off guard by the girls statement, giving Schala who was the fastest of Tammy's two rescuers the opportunity to strike.

"Damn it girl, I'll cut out her heart for this." Ci'tal thought angry. She acted fast and threw her hostage in the path of the feline to make her escape. Ishara wasn't far behind Schala, but when her friend collided with Tammy she stopped to help, allowing the assassin the chance to escape. But she knew that they would cross paths again, and next time she would not get away.

Ishara put down the sword she had drawn when Schala had charged and helped Tammy to her feet. She offered the same help to Schala, but the feline had refused it. Preferring to stand up on her own.

"Are you ok Tammy?" she asked, only now noticing the strange mark across the teenager's neck. Tammy didn't reply, instead she kneeled down to pick up the crimson ribbon sadly.
"Maybe I can salvage it somehow." She thought examining the decoration.

"I don't think you will be able to wear it again. Was it important to you?" Ishara asked kindly. Schala meanwhile choose to let the woman she had nicknamed Red Sword handle the situation from this point on. She walked over to the alley Ci'tal had used in her escape encase she doubled back for another try.

"It hid my shame, without it I can't be seen." Tammy replied softly.

"Your shame? Do you mean that marking on your neck?" Ishara asked. For a brief moment Tammy looked at her frightened because of what she had seen.

"I'll help you get a new one, would that make you feel safer?" she asked.

"Your kind, but I can't accept your help I'm sorry. I know I'm not worth your time."

"That's not true Tammy. Let me share something with you. Maybe it will help you see why someone with your integrity could never be a waste of my time" Ishara started. She had to take a deep breath before she could continue.
"I've been where you are now. A long time ago I lived on the streets of a town that could never accept me."

"You?" Tammy asked shocked by what she had just heard. The blonde haired warrior nodded her head.

It could not have been more then a month since the last time she had seen Tammy. The event had left its own mark on the warrior's heart before what she learned had forced her to leave town rather quickly. She had come back to Sutherland to investigate the rumors that the Black King's tactician Teloth was hiding in the main city on a mission. She had not actively sought out the teenaged street mouse, because the warrior could never get the girl involved in something so dangerous. The second meeting had been quite accidental, she came across the girl trying to hide from the city watch while she had been scouring Sutherland for any signs or information about the Black King's man.

"Tammy is that you?" Ishara asked catching a glimpse of filthy brown hair cowering behind a water barrel by the stables. She approached it slowly, almost positive that it had been the same kid from the night of the competition. When the homeless teenager saw who was coming closer, she reluctantly came out from behind the barrel.

"Hi." She said embarrassed.

"Is someone chasing you Tammy?" Ishara asked concerned that something may have happened to the girl. She looked at the warrior in silence for quite some time, as if she was afraid to say anything. Then she shook her head but Ishara had the feeling that she was not being honest.

"Who are you hiding from?" she asked, but no matter how many times she tried. Ishara could not get the teenager to tell her anything.

"This ally isn't safe, you really shouldn't be here." Tammy tried to inform her.

"Tammy this sword isn't for show. I am perfectly capable of protecting myself. What about you, if its so dangerous why are you hanging around here?" Ishara replied seriously.

"I…what are you looking for?" Tammy asked avoiding the warrior's question.

Ishara grinned though she couldn't help worrying that something really bad was after the street mouse.

"Actually maybe you can help me Miss Tannis. I'm looking for someone that doesn't belong in this city.  Have you noticed any strange activity?"

"Like secret meetings?" Tammy asked quietly.

"Yes that would count, have you noticed any of those in the last couple weeks?" Ishara inquired. The teenager silently nodded her head. It took the warrior a few tries to encourage her to speak about what she had noticed that she considered being secret meetings. However when it was done Ishara was able to retrieve Schala from the inn where she was resting and the two of them managed to deal with the situation by running The Black King's tactician out of Sutherland.

"Consider the new ribbon a bonus for your help the last time." Ishara offered with the memory.

"I don't know, you already saved my life. Isn't that payment enough?" Tammy asked unsure. She was afraid to accept Ishara's kindness and risk taking advantage of the friendly warrior.

"Its no trouble I assure you." Ishara smiled. She waited for the teenager to reluctantly nod her head before bringing up something more serious.

"Tammy, I'm afraid we do have a problem now. Because Ci'tal failed to get what she wanted there's a chance she might come back for you. Do you have anywhere you could go that would be safe?" she asked in the off chance there was a possibility. But she knew what the teenager would say.
"If she had anywhere else to go, she wouldn't be on the streets."  She thought waiting. Tammy shook her head.

"No, but please don't worry about me." She said.

Ishara sighed looking at the girl. She knew Tammy deserved better then what she was getting out of life.
"I wonder if this is what went through Thomas's head when he met me? She's not a warrior no, but then neither was I. In her eyes I see that she has the potential to become so much more then a street waif if she's given the chance." She thought.

"If you can excuse the boldness of my offer, I would like to offer you a job of sorts." Ishara proposed. Before Tammy could reply she added with an unseen grin.
"I want you to travel with us."

Tammy was on the verge of declining Ishara's kind offer until she realized that she wasn't being offered charity. There was a strong possibility that she wasn't going to be a burden to the pretty warrior and would have the opportunity to earn everything that she received.

"What kind of job?" she asked.

"Little things mostly Tammy. The thing is that I travel a lot and could use some help with the campfires, cooking, and things of that nature. In return my sword will be at your side to protect you from harm, and you will be taken care of and fed." Ishara explained. But before Tammy could open her mouth she added.

"Of course I can't always give you a roof over your head. Most nights we will be sleeping under the stars but you'll have a bedroll that should prove more comfortable then an alley." Ishara's voice echoed words spoken by her teacher many years before. Tammy had to think for a while, but it wasn't because she was concerned about the amount of work Ishara wanted her to do. And she wasn't afraid that she would not be able to do what was asked of her. Tammy was more concerned about causing Ishara trouble, or the other possibility of not fairly earning her keep. She had come to like Ishara during the time just a few weeks ago when she had helped the warrior on a part of her quest. Though they had only spent a couple of days together she learned a lot about the kind of person Ishara was.

"Why me?" she finally asked.

"A long time ago when I was just a dirty child on the streets. A kind man came up to me and made me the same offer. He saw something inside me that I couldn't and wanted to give me a chance to prove myself, at the same time he was able to take some of the small pressures away from his travels." Ishara explained.

"Now I want to do the same thing for you. I know that you deserve better, but I can see that you're the type of girl that would never accept a free ride. You want to earn everything that you're given. So please help me with the small things that slow my travels so that in return you can accept my help gaining the security you so desperately desire."

"Ok, I'll accept your generous offer. At least for a little while, but I'll have to leave if I feel like I am just being a burden." Tammy replied.
"I haven't anything else I could do, and would it really be wise to decline if this could be my best chance at the security I've never had?" she thought.

"That's good, I'm afraid I wouldn't have been able to leave in good conscious until you had agreed to at least try it." Ishara grinned.
"Schala, would you mind heading back to the Golden Stitch to get a new ribbon for Tammy?" she asked the feline acting as guard. Schala chose not to speak, and instead nodded before disappearing.

"Can't we just salvage this one? Its not fair for you to buy me a new one after offering me a job." Tammy protested. Ishara only smiled at her and explained.

"Its my fault that she came for you in the first place. If I had not picked up this sword she would have had no reason to seek you out and cut your ribbon to get to your neck. I am deeply sorry that you got caught up in a fight that was never yours. But I would like to at least make up for it by replacing what was destroyed because of me." Tammy seemed to accept that, though she still had some concerns about it she kept them to herself. Since there as nothing more that could be said, the two girls waited for Schala to return with the new ribbon so they could continue their travels and see where the goddess wind would take them next.

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