Fourteen. Tactical Planning
"He can carry us all the way to the Arkene?" Nikko asked. Their temporary campsite had been packed up. No remnants of their presence was left behind. The rocks used to contain their fire were returned to their exact positions in the earth and Red used magic to fix the ground where Hyperion's claws had tore it up.
"Of course he can," Red said lightly, using magic to shrink Nikko's pack and attaching it to her belt. For most of the morning, Nikko had grumped around the campsite, a scowl on his handsome face. Red had forbidden him from casting even the simplest spells or exerting too much energy. She insisted that he take it easy, and that flying would sap enough of his energy. When she caught him fighting her orders and attempting to shrink his own pack, she'd rounded on him and threatened to temporarily drain him of his magic. Defeated and cranky, he rested against Hyperion's flank while Red bustled around camp like a busy barmaid. Then he made the mental image of Red in a low cut shirt and a corset, serving him ale. His scowl diminished considerably after this. Once or twice Red considered asking him what his grin was all about, but quickly thought better of it.
In a short bit of time Red had the camp completely packed up. "Well, are you ready? We've got to get going."
With minor difficulty, Nikko clamored onto Hyperion's back. The crystalwing bent low to assist the sorcerer. Red mounted and sat behind Hyperion's wing joints. Hyperion shifted slightly to adjust their weight on his back. Unsure of where exactly to put his hands, the sorcerer rested them on the crystalwing's back, lightly scratching the smooth scales. He could hear Hyperion murring loudly in pleasure. In front of him, Red smiled.
"You might want to hold on," she warned. Before he could ask why, Hyperion bent low and hugged the ground, then, using his powerful legs, launched himself into the air, massive wings spread wide. Nikko, still being very unaccustomed to flight, grabbed onto Red's waist quickly and gripped Hyperion hard with his legs. Red's hair whipped past him, and when he looked up at her face, she was grinning from ear to ear. In the short time he'd known her, he'd learned that flying was, without a doubt, Red's favourite thing to do.
Within seconds they were above the lush canopy of the jungle, soaring smoothly beneath the bright blue sky. Feeling that he could let go a bit, Nikko did so and looked down. He may not have been used to flying, but he was learning (very quickly) to love it. His hair blown back from his face, cool breezes buffeting him, the feel of powerful wingbeats on either side of him - it was exhilarating in the least, and he couldn't put the best into words.
Looking down, he saw that they were flying at an incredible speed, though the wind in his ears did not reflect it. When he addressed this to Red, she twisted around and beamed with pride.
"I told you, Crystalwings are magnificent creatures. This is part of their magic - a lot of wind in their ears could throw off their flight path or leave them open to enemy attack without hearing anything. Their magic surrounds them during flight and cuts all that noise down. Hyperion here is so considerate - he's expanded that magical reach to include us." She rubbed his neck affectionately. Nikko was impressed. The more he learned about the creatures the magi traveled with, the more he thought that the opinions of the sorcerers were wrong. These were not dumb animals that didn't know how to properly wield the magic they were given, and the magi did not enslave or take advantage of them. The beasts were incredibly intelligent and were masters of their own unique magic. The magi themselves loved and bonded with their companions, worked with them and sacrificed for them. If he ever rid himself of those pesky Black Hunters and defeated his monstrous sibling, he would make sure the Elders knew that their teachings were misguided and hugely inaccurate.
He rubbed Hyperion's back again (this caused the giant bird to squirm slightly in delight), pleased with himself for coming to such an epiphany.
Red nudged him out of his reverie and pointed down. He followed her direction and gazed down - they were flying over the outskirts of a huge, sprawling city.
"That's Synara," Red told him. Nikko gaped. Synara already? Had they traveled that far that quickly? He looked up at Red in disbelief. The magi grinned and laughed. Below them, Hyperion chirped loudly. "He'd probably be to the Arkene by now, if he didn't have any riders. The only creature that can match an unmounted Crystalwing for speed and stamina is an unmounted Unicorn."
"He's incredible," Nikko said sincerely. Red beamed, and Hyperion sang out at the compliment.
Synara City glided below them, its golden spires and marble towers gleaming in the sunlight. The people of the city moved through the streets, looking more like ants from their height, slaves to the earth's gravity.
Nikko thought that he enjoyed flying very much.
"Your man failed me," Dreyla spoke calmly, almost distractedly. Colian the cat sat in her lap, purring quietly as his mistress stroked his soft black ears. Astair stood before Dreyla, scowling down at the floor.
"Borlin is a new recruit. He is inexperienced, too green," the captain of the Black Hunters said sharply. A week ago he had been following a lead on Nikko, and now he found the near entirety of the Black Hunter Corps under the control of this mysterious and powerful woman. Only the Creator maintained distanced from this woman, remained uninterested in whatever plans she was concocting. The Creator was so power, his plans so advanced, that if this woman wanted to play with a few low level Hunters, what was it to Him?
"You do not seem to me to be an unintelligent man, Astair," Dreyla said smoothly, flattening her hands on the large wooden table before her. Colian glanced balefully at the tall man, recognizing him as the reason his mistress had stopped lavishing him with attention.
"I'm not stupid," he said stiffly. Dreyla did not smile at him.
"Then, in your infinite knowledge, why did you send your most inexperienced member after the sorcerer that has eluded you countless times?" she asked. Her voice was cool and only minimally threatening.
Astair simply stared at Dreyla. Only years of trained self-control prevented him from gaping at her. He had... no answer. He simply narrowed his eyes at the floor again.
"Wouldn't an intelligent man have sent his most powerful man after this pest, instead of working his way up the ladder?" she questioned. Her voice remained cool, but he noticed a small line form across her forehead. She was displeased. His stomach dropped as he remembered Jeckal, who had been the victim of Dreyla's displeasure only days before.
"He is traveling with a magi now, a female of reputable power. We had to test that power," he tried.
"Test it with power. Exert force. Send out your best man immediately," she commanded imperiously.
"Do not tell me what you think you cannot do," she cut in. She stood swiftly, sending Colian streaking under the table. "They are making their way to the Arkene Godstone as we speak. I can only venture to presume that they will try to contact Arkenna. They will find that they are not able to, however. They will more than likely begin their travels around the world to find a way to summon her. Your best will go forth, hunt them down, and eliminate them." She circled Astair, twirling her hair around her finger. "Should you fail me again, Astair, you may find that you have fallen out of my favour." She paused, resting a bejeweld hand on his shoulder. She took great pleasure i feeling a shudder pass through his body. "Understood?"
"Yes, Mistress," Astair said, completely subdued.
"Now get out of my sight."
Dreyla left the antechamber and entered her private quarters, slamming the door shut behind her. The oil lamps were dimly lit, just illuminating the scarlet, silver, and black decorations. The loud noise did not disturb the man lounging on the bed.
"As delightful as I find you, Judah, I feel that your colleagues could be the most enormous group of dunderheads I have ever had the misfortune of working with," Dreyla said exhaustively. Judah shrugged.
"I'm really only using them. They've got a wonderful wealth of resources, you know." Dreyla sat down on her luxurious bed, sinking into the plush blankets. Judah scooted closer to her and opened his arms. Dreyla relaxed into him. She reached up and brushed his black hair out of his eyes.
"You know I've got to send you out if this next little tin soldier of Astair's fails," she said.
"That's fine. I haven't seen my dear older brother in quite a while. I do so miss him," he said, his voice mockingly wistful. He inhaled as if he were going to say more, but instead he descended upon her neck with warm lips.
"Mmm, can you defeat your brother?" Dreyla murmured, threading her fingers into his silky hair.
"Of course I can. He's tenacious, but if there is a woman in his life, then therein lies his weakness," he said.
"Is a woman your weakness?" she whispered. She twisted in his arms and rained kisses up his jawline and across his cheek.
"Of course not," he said huskily.
"Not even a certain red-headed magi of the sea?" There was no jealousy in her voice, merely curiosity. Judah's dark brows, however, shot up and disappeared into his hair.
"Is that who my darling brother is in keeping with these days? My, my. What a plot advance this is," he said quietly.
"Does she bother you?" Dreyla asked. Judah scoffed.
"I'm not some wishy-washy creature ruled by emotions, you know. A woman is no more difficult for me to eliminate than a male."
"And could you eliminate me?" Judah withdre his hands from their journey down her body and crossed them. He scowled at her.
"What's with the third degree, woman? Why should you need to test my loyalty?" Dreyla smiled at him, a twisted glint in her eye.
"Because you are loyal to no one, sorcerer," she said. Her voice was low and seductive, and her hands wandered down his shirtless chest. Past irritation vanished from Judah's face and he smirked, looking very much like Nikko then.
"Very true, love. However, if it comforts you any, you stand on the threshold of where loyalty could very well have been located in my consciousness," he said brightly. Dreyla shrugged.
"We're the bad guys, Judah. That's more than good enough for me." She then pressed her lips firmly against his, effectively ending any forthcoming conversation. Her hands wandered down to the button of his trousers, deftly undoing them with a fluid movement of her nimble fingers.
Nikko remembered why he left the Arkene - well, at least one of the reasons. It was bloody freezing.
Upon landing, Nikko couldn't grab the pack from Red fast enough. He pulled out his alpaca wool clothes and put them on. Rubbing his hands together, he prepared to cast a warming spell on himself, but a baleful glare from Red stopped all spellcasting. Red had put on her own alpaca wool clothes, and in Nikko's ever so humble opinion, she looked incredible.
Most people in the Arkene had a frostbitten, weathered look about them. They wore their clothes wrapped around them tightly, only their eyes exposed. Red had no such look about her. Her bright hair spilled from beneath the hood of her cloak and her cheeks were pleasantly rosy. The white of her clothes blended in perfectly with the snowy landscape. Nikko was certainly enjoying the view.
He was starting to want her. He'd wanted her from the beginning, naturally. She was a different kind of beauty; not the striking kind that stopped you in your tracks, but the kind that you couldn't get out of your head for days. She was feisty and confident and he had wanted her primitively. After being in her company for only a few hours, however, he realized that she wouldn't fall to his usual, preferred tactics of seduction. This turned him off to her for a while. And now, seeing her there in his homeland, perfectly wing-whipped and glowing with the prospect of new adventures, he wanted her again. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully - he'd have to change his methods a bit. She wouldn't fall easily to his advances.
"-are you even paying attention to me?"
Nikko blinked into focus. Red was standing in front of him, her arms crossed. The sorcerer averted his gaze.
"Sorry, vertigo," he said lamely. Behind him, Hyperion loosed a series of chirps that sounded remarkably like laughter. "What were you saying?" Red pursed her lips.
"That we should find Daiki and Pryce as soon as we can. They should be around here somewhere, and then we can look for this lake." Nikko gazed out at the horizon.
"Didn't Raistlin say that we needed tokens from the elemental goddesses before we can summon Arkenna?"
"And that we need a druid with us before we can summon the elemental goddesses?"
"So what are we doing pounding around in the snow if there's no chance of proper progression?" Red bit her lip.
"It won't hurt to know the location of the lake, and maybe we can find someone along the way that knows of the druids," she said. "Besides, did you forget Thane's mission? We need to check on the Godstone. We'll probably be sent to Voltar after that, to check on the Godstone there. There's a better chance of finding a druid here than in the desert, anyway." Nikko suddenly looked pale.
"Just wonderful. Two steps forward, one step back," he said, his voice agitated. Red sighed.
"I know it seems that way. But once we get these missions from Thane out of the way, we can focus on our problems," she said. Her voice was soothing and calm, and her eyes were empathetic.
For that moment, Nikko felt a surge of affection for Red, felt guilty for his salacious thoughts. She was willing to sacrifice her free time to help him. Damn, this was the second time she'd made him feel like dragon dung. How was she doing this? he thought furiously.
"Gods be damned, you deaf sorcerer!" Red exclaimed. Nikko grinned at her.
"What were you saying, love?" Red scowled at him.
"I'm not repeating myself," she muttered, then stalked off. Hyperion followed after her dutifully, swinging his tail through the snow playfully behind him.
Okay, another long chapter. But I've been writing them out in a notebook beforehand and then typing them up, and fifteen pages of notebook paper doesn't seem like a lot, but it's a bitch to type.
SO. Judah is sleeping with Dreyla, and has some kind of past with Red. This is strange, I wonder why Red didn't tell Nikko she knew his brother? And Nikko is back to his dirty old tricks. Just when we thought he was starting to soften up! So much for that! And where in the wide world are they going to find a druid?
I dunno kids, I guess you'll just have to wait~
Last edited by MadameRed
on August 10th, 2011, 5:37:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.