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Old 09-24-2009, 02:38 AM   #39
Ehlmaris
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The sun rises and illuminates the village in a faint, reddish-orange light the next morning. Clint rises and dresses quickly, strapping swords at his sides quietly. Before leaving the room, he glances at Kate, and gives her a light kiss on the forehead, mouthing the words "I love you" before pulling back and exiting the inn. "Don't you ever sleep?"

Thor smiles as he pushes himself up from his seat on the ground. "When I can remember."

Clint chuckles. "Well, hope you got some sort of rest." He begins walking out of the village, toward the hills. "We've got a hike ahead of us."

They reach the hills, and their progress slows. The trees are packed tighter than any forest their lands had ever known; the leaves above them almost block out the sun. "You know," Thor says as they struggle to move forward, "maybe if trainees had a path to lead them to the temple, these friends of yours could've conquered the world by now."

"It's the first part of the training. Anyone who can find the temple knows how to maneuver in a tight situation." He stops in his tracks, causing Thor to bump into him. Looking down, he sees a highly poisonous plant. They change their path, moving around it. "And how to identify hostile situations."

Thor sighs, uttering under his breath, "so it would seem." He steps lightly, looking upward. He sees a skeleton above, dangling from the trees. "So... there's a reason you brought the swords, then?"

Clint looks up as well. "Heh, no more than paranoia." He continues on. "That's there to intimidate people. Usually works."

After several hours they reach a small cave, and Clint leads the way in, crouching down to fit. They crawl for another hour before light appears at the end of the tunnel. Instead of opening to the day, though, it opens to a bridge leading across a chasm, splashed in the light of thousands of torches, and a molten river below. "Nice place...." Thor hesitantly follows along the span.

They reach the temple. Two guards, clad in lightweight armor consisting of overlapping leather pads, bring their long, thin blades in front of their faces in salute as Clint approaches. He raises a hand and lowers it, signaling the guards to drop the salute and open the door. The doors open as Thor and Clint draw closer, and the hums of dozens of songs suddenly flow forth from the interior... alongside the clash of steel.

Thor whispers to Clint as they walk forward. "This humming... this is part of your fighting style, isn't it?"

Clint nods. "We view combat not as the ugly, violent massacres the west tends to see. We see it as an art form." He stops, watching two combatants on their left. "See their movements; one swing leads into the next. People generally can predict an enemy's next move, maybe even two; we are taught to study the enemy before the battle, learn their style, predict every move." He continues on. "The music... centers us. It allows us to focus on the fluidity of our movements, on the enemy's attacks."

"Makes sense." Thor watches the groups sparring around them as they continue, blades flashing through the air with blinding speed, always meeting steel or air. "They practice with real swords...?"

Clint smiles. "Yes. Keeps us on our toes. Also helped me get in here. After training with the Order, the only thing I knew how to do after ten years was heal wounds." They turned as a shout erupts from the side and a student collapses, clutching his arm. "They had use for my skills." Others run over and begin bandaging, one holding his hand over the wound, a faint light coming forth. "I taught some what I knew in exchange for training." The pair continues on. "But we never go for fatal strikes - we fight to disarm the enemy. The only training-related deaths this temple has ever seen were from infected wounds."

They reach the central temple and climb its steps, the elaborately engraved, solid gold doors opening before them. They proceed through a hallway, silver-plated pillars alongside the center. At the far end of the hall, they stop before a simple oak door, almost invisible in the wall. Clint opens it slowly.

A group of men turns to view the men as they enter. "Arkanis... we had heard of your return. You know the rules of this temple, though. Why did you demand to bring your companion here?" They are seated around a rectangular table, its length stretching away from the door. The man speaking is seated at the far end. The rest of the room is as plain and unremarkable as the door - earthen walls, illuminated by four torches, one in each corner of the room.

Clint bows slightly. "Apologies, masters. We are on a diplomatic mission, and though we are both members of the newly-restored Council, I personally am representing the Darislav Empire. The Council's representative is Thor," he says, motioning to the other man.

"I see. That is... an acceptable excuse. It does not explain the weapons at your sides, however."

The corner of Clint's mouth rises ever so slightly, revealing a minute smile. "As you said, I know the rules. Call me paranoid, but from what I remember, punishments are severe here."

The man speaking rises. "And there is no reason to not be prepared." He walks around the table. "What sort of diplomacy are we discussing?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Meanwhile...

An old, haggard man walks toward the village. His body is covered by a dark green robe; a long, salt-and-pepper beard extends from the man's face, hidden under his hood. He leans heavily on his staff as he approaches the gates.

"You there, old man!" Joran calls as the stranger approaches. "What is your business here?"

"I seek the Riders."

Joran chuckles. "The Riders of the Council? You're far off track, then! They're out west, from what I hear." He points into the distance, toward where the sun is now setting. "We'll let you stay for the night, but you'll have to be going in the morning."

The man lifts his head up, gazing into Joran's eyes. His eyes, the irises such a dark brown they appear almost black, begin to glow green. He thrusts his staff forward, resting it an inch from the man's face. A vine shoots out of the ground, lashing Joran's hand - now securely gripped on the hilt of his blade - to his waist. "I seek the Riders. Not the Council."

Joran's face becomes a ghastly pale. "They... they will return soon," he stammers. "Likely tomorrow. Please, stay in the inn. The younger one has a companion there. Perhaps you know her?"

The man lowers his staff and continues into the village, toward the inn. "Tomorrow is not soon enough. I will find them tonight."
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