Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission
Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight
"Finding civilization" was something of an understatement, but really, Tayne was good at understatement. What he and the rest looked down on was a city that had their snowy headquarters beat, and which probably matched up to half of the City of the Sun. It was, to say the least, impressive: surrounded by walls of massive construction in some places, walls of the cavern itself in others, and lit by more of those light-collecting crystals built on towers, currently dim, like some parody of moonlight. Smaller lights dappled the city itself, like any other city at night. Night it might be, but the city certainly wasn't entirely asleep.
There were gates ahead, and once Haiiro shook off his surprise at finally arriving at their destination and got his country-bumpkin staring under control, he started straight for them again. This time, he didn't have any light of his own, relying on Tekasynos's torch-thing and the lights placed, conveniently, to either side of the gate. The road, unsurprisingly, led right to it and, while there were no guards on the road by the gate, there were certainly guards on the wall overlooking the gate.
Tayne recognized the basic form of "dark elf"-- and probably would have, even if he hadn't met Yaashir in his guise of one. They had dark skin, black even, with pale hair and odd-colored eyes. In her journal, Ishtar had mentioned their sensitivity to bright light and the sun, though whether that predated their shift to living underground or came as a result of the move she didn't address. These guards also had streaks of blue in their hair-- something else Ishtar, ever-obsessed with the details, had talked about. The amount and style of the dying, for the blue most certainly wasn't natural, signified rank within the Azure Knights, Mori's defensive force. Just what style and amount meant what, though, she said not even she had figured out. Well, Tayne just hoped that the Azure Knights wouldn't take offense to Tekasynos's more natural blue-haired look. Or, really, to anything about their party at all.
The party got a thorough glance-over as they approached the gate, but that was it, before being tacitly granted entrance to the city. Once inside, however, the next step wasn't as obvious: where to find the mage Ixin. There weren't exactly signs directing one to individual mages, no matter how powerful or important.
"Do you think we should ask someone?" Haiiro queried hesitantly, looking around a little helplessly.
Tekasynos shrugged noncommittally, Torshael frowned in thought, but Tayne wasn't sure he felt comfortable asking for directions of someone who probably didn't speak any language he understood. Maybe the guards, but they were rather out of reach on the wall. Still, how else were they going to find Ixin? And it wasn't as if they could really look any more like out of town folk.
"I believe we will find Ixin in that direction," Irithin interrupted the search. Tayne glanced at him to see his eyes closed and hand pointing off to their left, westward.
For a minute nobody said anything, taken aback by Irithin using something as inherently mystical as his visions just to avoid asking directions. Then Tayne, the most pragmatic of them all, shrugged and grinned. "Helpful, thanks, Irithin. Well, shall we?"
Though it was a long walk, at least this time it wasn't monotonous: there were shops, though mostly closed, and obviously residential buildings, a few people to watch as they walked by, and they even passed what looked like a red light district in the distance. Torshael resolutely did not look, blushing faintly, to Tayne's high amusement. Given how poorly most of his teases lately had gone over, however, he refrained from mentioning anything. He did try to share an amused look with Tekasynos at his brother's expense, and though the infernal looked more sorry for Torshael than amused, Tayne still got the most friendly return glance out of him that he'd gotten yet. He couldn't help but feel a little heartened.
Finally they reached an open square that had apparently been built to be set apart: it was set atop an incline, with stairs leading up to it, then flattened out into a higher tier than most of the city. The bulk of it was empty but for what looked like a low garden of some sort, but at the center was a tower built of white stone with something extremely large and very vividly green against the white. Tayne couldn't even guess what it was, but it was big, and it looked wrapped firmly around the tower.
"Up?" Haiiro asked Irithin. The elf nodded.
As they approached the stairs up, right before the green thing disappeared from view, hidden by the stairs and raised square itself, Haiiro paused.
"What is it?" Torshael asked.
"It's-- another dragon," Haiiro said, staring up at what he could see of the green thing. "And I think it's got more than one head...."
"Well, do you think it's there to keep people from coming up?" Tayne asked.
"No, it's asleep... she's asleep," Haiiro amended. "I think we can go up."
"Then up we go," Tayne nodded, and started climbing, albeit a bit reluctantly. He was starting to get tired of all this walking, climbing, flying... whatever.
It was, indeed, a dragon, and it did, indeed, have more than one head. In fact, it had seven, each one crowned with two gold spikes and attached to the end of a long, twisty-looking neck. By the time they reached the top, even Tayne could see it. "Wow," he muttered, impressed despite himself. It was probably as big as Zu; it certainly could have been taller than the tower, if it stood up and stretched up its neck.
As they cautiously approached the tower and it's sleeping "guardian", there was a clicking and whirling sound. Haiiro paused first and the rest, taking their cue from him, did the same. It sounded to Tayne like some kind of alert, though not a warning one. At the sound, one of the seven heads shifted, one with a silver crown on top of it, opened one eye halfway. It was entirely orange, with no pupil or white at all. Tayne stared at it, concerned but more curious, and rather than growling or threatening, the dragon-- hydra; weren't these multiple-headed ones called hydras?-- merely lifted that one head and yawned widely.
"Hello, ma'am," Haiiro said tentatively. "We didn't mean to disturb you. We're looking for the mage Ixin."
"Seems a bit late for visitors," the hydra said, looking confused.
"You have no idea," Torshael muttered, too low for such a large and high-up creature to hear: after two "nights" in a row, it felt rather late, indeed.
The hydra's other heads were waking up, now, apparently independently. Each one had its own yawn. It was really rather fascinating to watch, though Tayne had to keep his own jaw clenched to keep the yawns from catching. The crowned head-- the primary one, perhaps?-- was still regarding them curiously, tilted to one side thoughtfully. "May I inquire as to the reason?"
"We need information on one of his former-- ah, students," Haiiro answered. "We're sorry to call so late, but it is rather urgent."
"Fascinating" turned into a little unnerving, when all seven pairs of eyes were fixed on them. Tayne looked back steadily, but Haiiro looked less than certain, especially at the hydra's doubtful tone. "Ixin does not like to be disturbed so late in the evening... but if it is that urgent, I will wake him for you-- though I doubt he will take kindly to it. Are you certain it cannot wait until morning?"
"I'm afraid not," Torshael answered, when Haiiro looked like he might give in and back away. "Tell him it concerns his pupil Ishtar. I expect he will understand what that means."
"As you wish." The hydra turned her crowned head towards a window on an upper story-- the lower levels didn't seem to have any, which was just as well, since the hydra's body would have blocked them, anyway-- and there was silence for a moment. The rest of her heads stayed fixed on the group on the ground, an extremely odd sort of situation. Tayne couldn't remember ever having been stared at by the same creature who was, at the same time, relaying a message to someone fairly far off.
At last the hydra gave them her entire attention again, curling her tail away from the tower's base and revealing a doorway into the tower. "Please conduct yourselves inside and up the stairs," that same crowned head said. "He will be waiting for you in his study."
"Thank you, ma'am," Haiiro told her with a bow, apparently recovered enough from her skepticism of their welcome. Torshael did the same, then they all started into the building. They passed through the entrance hall and up the stairs, a spiral along the outside of the central room. The tower itself seemed neatly organized and was certainly well-kept, with rooms off the stairwell decorated at a happy medium between plain and ornate.
The third floor let them out into a landing with a single door: Ixin's study.
"Go on," Torshael murmured encouragingly to Haiiro. "You're the Exalted, here."
Haiiro wrinkled his nose at his bond, then raised his hand to knock politely on the door. His knuckles never made contact; before they could, a disembodied voice resounded, "Enter."
Exchanging a glance with everyone else, Haiiro obeyed, pushing open the door and stepping into the roomy study beyond. It was lined with bookshelves full of various writings, in various formats, with a desk covered in odd objects-- an orb-like model floating like an illusion above a crystal, a small statue or two, yet more scrolls, and more: magical artifacts collected over time-- taking up most of the one wall. The far wall ended in another doorway and stairs leading up.
Behind the desk was presumably Ixin, himself: a dark elf with white hair, red eyes, a slightly wrinkled face, and a tired-looking expression. Given his attire-- what looked like a dressing-gown of some sort-- the hydra had gotten him from his bed with their demands. He had his chin resting on his folded hands, leaning on his elbows on the desk. "Now, then," he said, "who is calling at this forsaken hour, and what is this regarding Ishtar that couldn't wait until light?"
There was a brief pause as Haiiro, who had been expected to speak, didn't, frowning as if in confusion at the mage. Thankfully, Torshael stepped in gracefully, almost before one could tell there had been a pause. "Many apologies for disturbing you rest, sir. My name is Torshael Peregrin, this is my brother, Tayne, and my bond, the Exalted Haiiro'Hiwatari Taelann. Tekas Valar," he continued, "and the seer Irithin. We have recently been in the company your former student, and have discovered some very-- troubling news about her plans."
"She's trying to kill the god Yaashir," Haiiro put in, apparently over whatever puzzlement had made him pause. "And someone far worse is ready to take his place, should she succeed, unless we can find her phylactery and destroy it. The longer we take to find it, the closer she comes to achieving her goal. We knew you were her teacher, and hoped you might have some insight for us."
Ixin sat back, looking surprised. " ... I knew she bore him a grudge," he began when Haiiro fell silent for an answer, "but I'd never imagined her taking it so far.... And necromancy? I never taught her that."
"No, that was a more recent study," Haiiro agreed.
The mage inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Still, that is disturbing... especially since I would have a personal interest in making certain she does not succeed."
Before Tayne could ask about that curious statement, Ixin frowned in thought and continued. "There was a time, when Ishtar was traveling with her comrades, that they discovered a manner in which they could access a fragment of the dream world while they were awake. This allowed them to manipulate that shard with their own dreams, turning it into a sort of retreat they could use. It would be the most protected place she could hide something."
Haiiro deflated visibly, a little. "That does sound like a very protected place... almost too protected. How are we supposed to get to a broken-off part of the dream world?"
"Well, they had to get there, as well. It's not completely inaccessible." Ixin nodded to Haiiro. "Your kindred assisted them in this endeavor, before Ishtar turned to darkness. You may be able to access their gates, those they placed for their own access."
"Gates?" Torshael repeated. "Well, that's better than I'd imagined."
"There wouldn't happen to be one through a frozen tunnel in the ocean off the northern coast of Khelek, would there?" Tayne asked shrewdly. "That's our next scheduled stop."
Ixin shook his head. "No, they were in places easily recognized by those that knew their secret. They were, effectively, hidden in plain sight. I, myself, do not know these locations, but there were several. Any of her former companions would be capable of assisting you."
"Would you happen to know where we can find any of them?" Haiiro asked. "We have a list of names-- Ishtar left a journal-- but I don't think she said where we might look for any of them."
"I am quite aware of who they are, regardless of Ishtar's records." Haiiro blushed a little at the matter-of-fact statement, but Ixin continued. "I can contact one, or perhaps several, of them for you.... But I hardly see the need to do this late in the night, unless she is actively taking action against Yaashir at this very second. But if she were," Ixin smiled, "I highly doubt you would be spending your time talking here with me right now. In the very least, you must make time to take care of yourselves. Some of you look a little ragged around the edges... and facing off against Ishtar, let alone whatever minions she's accumulated, when you are not at your best is a very foolish idea. You'll only make it easier for her."
That time Haiiro wasn't the only one going a little red in the face. Tayne glared at the implication that he was that stupid, and that he hadn't been taking care of his brother and his bond, much less their tag-alongs. "Don't worry, we weren't planning on it."
"We've been warned how dangerous our next planned stop was, whether or not Ishtar is actually there," Torshael explained. "After visiting you, we'd been planning a rest."
And getting Irithin someplace safe, Tayne added to himself, glancing at the seer, who was watching Ixin as if fascinated by him. Useful Irithin might be, but he'd be hanged if he let him anywhere near anything of Ishtar's again. Discounting the former teacher who was obviously not about to kidnap him for her, of course.
"I meant no offense to you," Ixin said calmly, fixing Tayne with his stare. "But you did wake me in the middle of the night in a rather urgent manner, and did not bother to elaborate on your plans. Hence, I made my own assumptions." Tayne refused to be intimidated or reprimanded, but he did make an effort to cool his temper. Maybe he was tired. "You are welcome to use the lower rooms in my tower if you wish to rest," Ixin continued. "If you wish to continue regardless, I will contact those individuals now and leave you to your business. It's up to you."
::A free room for the night is better than having to find an inn or trying to teleport us all back to the Order in Khelek,:: Torshael sent quellingly before Tayne could say anything-- not that he'd been planning to turn down the offer. "Your hospitality is unexpected and appreciated, especially after our rudeness," he Favored said aloud. "If it is truly no trouble, I think a good night's sleep with improve tempers all around." The look he shot Tayne did nothing to improve said temper then, and he rolled his eyes.
"We didn't really realize it was that late," Haiiro said apologetically. "It was only just past sundown when we first came underground...."
"It can be disorienting for those used to seeing the sky," Ixin replied understandingly.
"We should let you find your bed again," Torshael said. "Is there anything we should know before we do?"
"That should be all," Ixin answered, shaking his head.
"Then thank you again for seeing us, and enjoy your rest," Torshael said with one of his charming smiles, and firmly ushered his bond-- and, since they were all behind Haiiro, everyone else as well-- out.