Disclaimers Chapter 1

Chapter 31

You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.

-Robert Frost

Kafka shifted from atop his mount, squinting his narrow eyes further to observe the horizon. West and south, the land rose into gentle tumbling hills, where the farmsteads surrounding the keep were nestled. The farmers and homesteaders on the land surrounding Majora's keep were serfs; their families had worked the land since the time of Majora. Since then, the infamous Lord's sons had not had a lot to do with the farmsteads or the small village to the south, opting to keep to themselves and their business. Kafka sighed soundlessly, turning a sharp eye on the horseman who was reporting in slow even tones to his brother.

Juno was perched atop his mount in a relaxed pose: one hand on the double-hilt of Domination, which lay across his thighs, the other loosely holding the reins as he nodded. Both were dressed in tunics and heavy traveling cloaks, their blades customarily bare.

The horseman finished his report, and saluted.

Juno turned to look at his brother, open blue eyes inquisitive. "What about the southern route? The riders have not yet reached the village." After holding council, they'd decided to start out after the horsemen and their bloodhounds. Kafka had grown increasingly agitated with waiting for news from their contact, and his brother had proposed they head towards K'Gar to cover some of the terrain themselves. It hadn't been to his liking, but his edginess had increased over the following days, and had finally driven him to join his brother on the trek.

Kafka's face darkened, and he gripped his reins tighter, feeling uncomfortable off of his feet. A gentle sea breeze kicked up, whipping the dark hair around his face as he considered the roads. "We'll take the coast." He grasped the hilt of Command, nudging his horse forward, and jerking his chin at the horseman.

"Get moving."
The man saluted sharply, and turned his horse, rallying his hound. The big animal flicked its dark clipped ears at its master's whistle, and rose from its spot in the shade to follow the cantering horse. Its large head came up to just under the horse's shoulder, and it kept paced closely at the uneasy mare's side.

The brothers watched the rider retreat until he was a dark smudge on the horizon, heading south, before Juno turned to his brother with a frown.

"Suppose they headed south…"
Kafka snorted. "Then they'd be fools." His brother urged his horse forward as well, and they set off at a brisker pace, kicking up dust behind them. "If they do, they'll hit the Wall south from here anyway, and the Guard will stop them."

"They know where they're going." It wasn't a question.
Kafka looked up darkly. "They think they know where they're going. Perhaps our cat thinks to be rescued in K'Gar." He cursed under his breath.

"She won't," Juno said confidently. "We'll find her first. She can't have gotten far." He released the reins and shaded his eyes, leaning forward to review the horizon, as if he were suddenly expecting to see the escaped princess.

Kafka bit down on a retort. "Unless that cursed bastard has his spies out…"

Juno straightened up in his saddle, swishing the reins and easing his mount into a gallop. "He won't!" He called out over the wind, face determinedly set. Domination slipped from the saddle, its heavy pommel upsetting its balance, and he caught it deftly, swinging it around and brandishing it in his hand as they raced, swinging it in an arc. Kafka gained ground on him, allowing himself to forget the discomforts of riding in a saddle, and unsheathed Command in a flash, meeting his brother's blade with a clang. He twisted Command, letting the greater length trap Domination. It was an old game between them, both for practice and pleasure. Neither had ever been able to gain an upper hand in battle.

"He'd better not!" He growled loudly to be heard over the wind roaring past their ears. "If he does-"

"He won't!" Juno called, his eyes becoming even brighter, and his face flushing. "I won't let him!"

Kafka fell silent, tightening his one-handed grip on the reins as they raced along the road, blades catching the dying light of the day along their lengths as their wielders' parried blows.

S'Lora gazed out the window for the umpteenth time, her nervous gaze taking in the orange-tinted water as the sun set. Far out, hidden by several of the town's buildings, the pirate ship floated. She sighed, fiddling with the cup of mead the owner had brought her, after having cast a wary look in Koji's direction, and retracted her gaze.

Koji, across from her, was looking less and less strange to her and more like a person. She suspected it was his discomfiture at having to be surrounded by so many people, and the shyness that kept him hunched over and silent. Sheik had ordered him to stay put right before he'd joined the sailors, brushing off S'Lora's questions with a strong hand on her shoulder and a firm string of words. Da, as sure as I breathe, did tell me that all people, big and small, were the same. Da… Her thoughts strayed inevitably to her parents, and to the conversation she'd overheard earlier when the two bedraggled fugitives had first entered the town's small tavern, between two merchants.

"The Gods, as they watch, keep us!" One had uttered, having just arrived and not heard the juicy gossip about the pirates anchored just off the shore. The man he had chosen to sit with kept it to himself temporarily, curious along with the rest of the patrons as to what news this traveler carried. "Majora's mark!"

Several hushed him hurriedly, looking around as if expecting said mark maker to appear. The man, looking pale, took a heady gulp of mead from his companion's bowl. The serving wench appeared, brining him a bow sloshing to the brim. "Go on, as you speak, man!" His companion urged.

The man took another hasty drink, before wiping a shaky hand across his mouth, and continuing. "I came, with purpose of warning, as fast as I could! The blood magic, hounds of Majora, have been set loose!"

A chill had raced up S'Lora's spine, and she quietly found a seat, dazedly beckoning for Koji to join her. Blood magic. Her father's fearful words rang suddenly in her mind.

Several gasped, and the serving wench covered her mouth, her eyes wide. "But why, in al truth, were they sent?" Another patron piped up.

"Aye," the merchant's companion grunted. "Where, across the land?"

"To the farmsteads, as I sit here!" The man had uttered solemnly, leaning back to watch its effect. Silence filled the tavern suddenly, as every ear tuned in to the conversation. The growing dread in S'Lora's stomach blossomed, and she at last spoke up.

"What, in their search, did they want?" Her voice had sounded small and far away, and Koji had flinched at her calling attention to them. Heads turned in her direction, and the merchant looked grim.

"They went, in search, to find escaped slaves. The prisoners, foreign and strange, were said to be seeking refuge!" He looked back down at his bowl, and lifted it to his lips. "They destroyed, rending life and home, much of what they found." He finished the words quietly, and quaffed the drink.

A dizzy array of conversations had started up afterwards, and the young farmer's daughter had found herself too lightheaded to speak, merely gripping the table with one white knuckled had until the tavern keeper had taken pity on her, and brought her a bowl of water-cut mead. He'd almost tried to speak to Koji, but had seemed to think better of it, and merely walked away, going to the table adjacent to them where the merchant had stopped to hear the story about the pirate.

After a while, the dizzy, panicky feeling had eased. Her parents had, after all, apparently known about the horsemen prior, and it had made sense, after she'd calmed down, that splitting up was the wisest plan of escape.

The alternative was something she didn't want to think about.

The merchant's words came back to her, and she forcefully pushed them from her mind, turning her attention onto who table mate, who was tracing a gouge in the wooden table under his spindly arms. They'd waited just long enough to see Sheik board the keel with the rest of the sailors, before Koji had slunk off, looking oddly chagrined. She'd followed him to the tavern, though her thoughts had followed the boat.

They'd arrived in the village after Sheik, having followed the now lagging sounds of battle after losing sight of him. S'Lora at last rounded the last hillock, with Koji weakly struggling to keep up, and seen the remains of the short lived skirmish between sailors and pirates. S'Lora, having grown up in the shadow of Majora's Keep, was no stranger to the idea of death, but it had been the first chance she'd had to see it up close. Sheik had been crouched over a crumpled body, and was wiping off the grisly remains of death from the little blades she hadn't even realized he carried. His eyes, glancing up to meet hers as she covered the last of the trail into town had been unreadable; both surprise and regret dancing briefly across the inimitable red eyes, before they'd been replaced by an unknown expression, as he turned away.

The sailors, though wary, had been thankful for the help, and it was S'Lora who they'd explained the situation too. She was quickly coming to find out that being a guide was far more complicated than she'd first thought. Explaining the town's complicated position: having decided after years of out-of-the-books trading with a ruthless and foreign pirate captain to stop the business and become legitimate, had proved near impossible. Fortunately, she had only to stumble over the name of the pirate's home country to light a fire in the partially veiled warrior's eyes. Afterwards, it was impossible to stop him, and he'd gently held her back, his eyes expressing caution where his muffled voice could not.

Koji unexpectedly glanced up, catching her gaze with his hollow, dead eyes, before jerking his chin down again, and muttering something to himself. She found her gaze drifting back towards the open window, inhaling carefully, the sharp ocean breeze tickling her senses. "Do you, in your heart, think he is okay?" She said at last, knowing he could not understand her, but needing to voice her worries nonetheless. Dull, deep set eyes flicked up at her, set beneath a furrowed brow. The ex slave took a deep breath, his ribs becoming even more outlined under his pale skin, and released the breath with a tumbled of words she barely caught. S'Lora grimaced, feeling exhaustion from the long days of walking, fear of capture, and from worrying over her family. On top of everything else, now, there was her eerie eyed savior's well being to worry about as well. From the moment she'd seen him, kneeling over the body whose life he'd stolen, she'd had to come to terms with this sudden new facet of the quiet, stealthy fugitive. Somehow, she had never pictured violence in the hands of the gentle voiced young man

She looked up at a commotion, as the merchants rose, still chattering, and headed towards the tavern's door. The sun had begun to finish its trek across the sky, and she watched it with troubled eyes, as the skyline erupted in shades of red and orange.

Chapter to be continued