Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission

Chapter Five

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


Haiiro dropped his hiding magic and stepped the rest of the way into the room in his bond's wake. "Pardon me, ma'am," he said politely. "Are you all right?"

She stared at him, startled again, and he smiled as non-threateningly as he could. She replied hesitantly, " ... I am fine, but... what just happened?"

"We were tracking someone in league with that assassin all the way here. We, er, came up to rescue you, but you didn't really look like you needed rescuing...."

"I thank you for your concern, Exalted," she said, clasping her hands and bowing her head in respect-- Haiiro shifted uncomfortably at the reverence-- then continued, "It's not the first time there has been an attempt on my life. Though even the Sacred Warden--" she gestured out the intact window at the golden dragon perched on its tower, "--has not been able to capture any of them, before or after the attempt. This is the first time I have even had to force one away on my own... but the fact that I am capable of defending myself will not surprise them again."

"Hopefully Torshael will be able to apprehend this one," Haiiro sighed. "But if all else fails, we have captured what I believe is an accomplice, on the ground below."

The lady nodded, and finally looked up and around the audience chamber. Her expression was not particularly pleased, but perhaps a bit wry. " ... I suppose I made a bit of a mess."

"Probably fixable," Haiiro assured her. "At least you're still alive."

"And I suppose I should be heading down to the ground, as well. Especially if the Sentinels are here. Will you be joining me, Exalted?"

"Uh, yes. Tayne's still down there, and Torshael can find me.... And, uh, my name's Haiiro'Hiwatari... you don't have to keep calling me that-- title, or whatever it is."

"Eh?" The lady blinked at him in brief confusion, then laughed gently. "I'm sorry, you're not one of the ones who came back...." Came back? Some of his siblings had come-- here? "In these lands, you and your brothers and sisters are known as the Exalted. Your kin are known for their insight and wisdom, and they are greatly respected for it. But I would be honored to call you by name, Haiiro. My name is Ashka."

Haiiro tried to imagine which of his siblings could be known for their "insight and wisdom"-- they were only barely adults by now; were they considered insightful and wise even as children?-- but he couldn't think straight. He shook his head and put it aside. "It's good to finally have a name to go with the face, my lady," he told her politely, starting out of the room and back towards what-- he hoped-- would teleport them back downstairs.

The rune-inscribed circle was just as he'd left it, and apparently it did it's job on this floor, as well: as soon as the last part of him cleared the ring, he found himself stepping out on the ground floor again, the Lady Ashka walking beside him.

Torshael had returned, by the time Haiiro stepped out into the courtyard again, and was sitting beside his brother, the former human-formed now though the latter had apparently refused to shift. Both looked rather unhappy: Tayne was obviously frustrated by something, and Torshael's displeasure and guilt were obvious over their bond. Most of the injured had been treated, moved, or both, clearing the immediate area around the two supernals and the human-formed infernal. There were several small dragons in armor, like the one he'd seen diving past the tower window, a human rider paired with each one, standing beside them. Everyone was focused on the infernal and a dark, elfin-looking man standing over him.

Just as they moved to join the group, the elf-kin spoke up: "I will have Mara confirm this when she is finished with the injured, but it appears that his mental shield has been tampered with by an outside source. It is possible that this is the cause of the memory discrepancies."

"Memory discrepancies?" Haiiro asked, confused.

"I'll fill you in later," Tayne told him sideways. "Suffice to say, the infernal fellow either is the best liar I've ever met, or someone messed with him between the explosion and our questioning him. He doesn't seem to remember being involved in the plot."

"Oh, no," Haiiro exclaimed, dismayed.

"It is also possible, and just as probable, that his memories are untouched, and that your interpretations were the things which were altered," the dark elf continued, and Haiiro stopped short with a tail lash in surprise. He'd never considered-- never even thought it was possible!

A woman came up and repeated the process, while Haiiro, trying very hard not to look as nervous as he felt, looked beseechingly at Torshael. "Could we have--?"

::Anything's possible,:: Torshael answered privately. He looked just as stunned by the option, but he put a reassuring hand on Haiiro's scaled leg, anyway. ::But-- I don't understand why anyone would. It didn't aid the assassination attempt. All it did was uselessly torment this man. Infernal though he may be.::

"I concur with Nerith," the woman-- Mara-- said with a nod to her superior. "There is a magical residue of sorts on his mind shield, as if someone was bouncing rogue images off of it for someone like the Exalted to pick up on."

The elven man stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I still don't detect any internal tampering, as that would take far more skill. If it was external, as it seems to be, then someone could have been using him without him knowing it, to feed false thoughts and potentially even full sensory illusions to someone scanning him."

"Now, wait just one minute," Tayne interrupted. "Haiiro said he got under this guy's mental shield. He couldn't get anything conclusive from his surface thoughts. That's why Torshael went up to bother him about his nonexistent temple, so he could get under the shield and find out more."

"I do not mean to insult any of you," the Sentinel captain said with a polite little cough, "but you don't seem to want to be open-minded enough to even think you could be wrong. Did not Nerith just say that such tampering could change your perception of what happened? Could the Exalted not have believed that, that is what he was actually doing, even if it were false?"

"Hey, just because I'm trying to understand doesn't mean I'm denying we could be wrong," Tayne bristled.

"Though it would be terribly embarrassing if we were, no one is not admitting the possibility," Torshael stepped in before Tayne could actually get angry. Haiiro was glad for his bond's way with words, since he was not at all certain what to say. The possibility that he'd made such a terrible mistake still held him tongue-tied. Torshael continued: "But what I don't understand is why someone would go to so much trouble. Such a feat cannot have been easy, and what in the world would be the point in fooling Haiiro, luring us here, and then leading us to accuse an innocent man?"

"I can think of at least one reason," the infernal muttered, arms crossed and expression extremely displeased. Tayne glared at him, obviously out of sorts, himself, but Torshael's hand on his elbow kept him silent.

"We will continue the investigation," the captain stated firmly. "There has not been nearly enough time to collect further evidence." He began issuing orders to his Sentinels: "I want a mage team up here, as well as a hunter. And if you do not mind-- Torshael, was it? Could you show Kotan where you last saw the assassin?"

Torshael nodded at the indicated Sentinel. "I will assist however I can."

"Tekas, we'll have to reschedule our meeting," Lady Ashka smiled apologetically at the infernal.

"As you wish, Lady," he muttered in response.

Haiiro, still feeling utterly miserable at having misunderstood the evidence of his senses so thoroughly-- he had thought his mind reading, his enhanced senses, his heritage not so easily fooled-- approached the infernal tentatively. "If I have wrongly accused you, sir, I am sincerely sorry.... I didn't even know what was done to me was possible, or I would have thought things through...."

The infernal utterly ignored him, and Haiiro did his best not to visibly wilt. He backed up again, sorely tempted to just vanish, but he didn't think anyone would take kindly to his disappearance. Torshael, at least, offered back the gold he'd been given with a sidewise smile and the comment, "I really hadn't expected you to actually give me anything, you know." The infernal, however, just dropped the bag as if it burned him, giving it a completely disgusted look, as if it were somehow tainted. Torshael, puzzled, tried to offer it again, but the infernal hurriedly moved off.

"Don't blame yourself," Tayne rumbled at Haiiro, giving his neck an affectionate nudge with his muzzle. "We didn't have any idea that was possible, either, and at least you weren't the one to pin him to the ground."

Haiiro gave the supernal a weak smile at that. "No, but I am the reason you did."

Tayne shrugged, looking faintly embarrassed. "He's an infernal. I really didn't need that much of a reason. It's a failing of the species, I suppose."

"Besides," Torshael added in, returning from attempting to relinquish his ill-begotten coin, "perhaps this is what was supposed to happen. If you hadn't been brought here, we wouldn't have been involved in this investigation. Perhaps the High One means for us to help somehow."

"Since when are you Mister Optimist?" Tayne chuckled.

"I'm not," Torshael said with a glare. "I'm rationalizing so I can feel less embarrassed about it all."

Tayne actually snorted with laughter, and even Haiiro, dejected as he was, had to admit that he was glad the supporting Sentinel pairs arrived just then and claimed his bond, so he wouldn't have to hide his amused grin.


Chapter Six

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