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Saturday
December 20, 2014
12:13pm EST


Have you ever dreamt of taking over the world? I have... (Dead)
[Introduction] Ground rules:
-No sex
-No killing other people's characters
-Don't use language above the Content Level
-You must add within 5 days (No negotiating)

The story starts on Pirate Isle,
some where off the north coast of Command Center City 6006,
aka Central.

Our heroine, Ce'Thera, overhears
the tragic death of the King of the Western Escarpment, Helm.
His eldest son, Theo, does not want to take the role as King.
This leads to a competition of warriors. With the largest kingdom in such a vulnerable state,
who needs to enter a contest?


As our team strives to take control of their so desired world,
What will they do when they realize it needs saving first?


CHARACTERS:

Ce'Thera
Font Color: Black
Author: Ready or Not
Background: This beautiful "young lady" is only 17. She used to be a pirate, like her mother and father were, but as her infamey grew, so did her bounty. Eventually, she got caught and was being taken to the Generallissimo of Central. Refusing arrest, she used her incredible talent to seduce men to escape. She has been traveling for two years under the name Veera.
She has her mother's Green Dryad skin, and her father's curly black hair. But her glowing teal eyes are her own. She is average height, and has a curvy figure. She is an avid dancer with quite a bit of skill. Her singing voice is as crystal as an angel's. No one would suspect someone with her looks and talents would have the attitude she does. Nor such a dark mind.

Thane
Font color: Red
Author:
§onny- Feel the Hate.
Background:Theo's Twin brother. No one knew there were two princes except Theo and their mother, Thina. Not even the King Helm knew. In order to rid herself of the boy she took him into the woods when he was but two years old, leaving him there to be eaten. He was adopted by a She-Wolf as her cub. When he came among people again at the age of 11, he gained a searing hatred for his Mother and Brother. He trained in secret for eight years in order to challenge his Brother and take the throne. After Theo had renounced his title He entered the Hero's contest planning to rule over the West with a Mighty, Malicious Hand.
He is average height and unhealthily lean (as all wolves naturally are). Although he has normal sized muscles, he is unhumanly strong and agile. His dark brown hair is long and messy, making him look savage. He fights like a wolf. Pacing around his enemy until a blind spot if found, and exploits that weakness.


Celia
Font Color: Green
Author:
DarkHeart-BlueEyes-StangeMind
Background: She is the eldest princess, and Heiress, of the Dryad throne in the East. Ce'Thera's best friend growing up. Cunning and deceptive, she gets into more trouble than a princess should. She yearns to go beyond her Eastern Kingdom, though she would hesitate if the offer came up.
she is 16 and has green Dryad skin. Her thick, shoulder length Hair is made of glossy oval Leaves, which often have bright purple flowers growing among them that match her eyes.Her clothes are all royaly embrodered Dryad tunics, which show a discourteous amount of leg. She is tall and slender, making her the dream wife of every single little gilded lordling on the contenent. Men tire her, and she dreams of marrying a man who can't stand the sight of her.


Te'Neil
Font Color: Blue
Author:
A Light in the Darkness
Background:The Marshall of Central's Military Dictatorship. His father is Generalissimo Gra'Nal, although nobody knows it. He has never once in his life called the Generalissimo "Father", "Dad", or even "Daddy" when he was younger. When there are no soldiers around, Gra'Nal encourages Te'Neil to call him "Father", But he refuses.
He is the most skilled fighter in the vast army of Central. His exulted rank and pretty-boy looks turns heads among the female officers. Personally girls make him nervous. Although he tries not to show it, his face turns an unhealthy shade of red and his voice gets shaky. His face, nor voice, hardly shows any emotion at all. He is an orderly young man with good morals. (he joins the group by being captured by Ce'Thera)
He has straight ear-length blonde hair, large, round, deep blue eyes and is short for his age, making him look 16 when he is actually 21.
The pub is practically empty at that time of day. All of the heavy drinkers come at night. There is but Two strangers sitting at the Bar, one clad in fur, as all trappers are, and one in a weather worn brown cloak with the hood pulled up over the traveler's head. The fur trapper moves to a table when another hunter enters the pub. The new trapper sat down at the table with the man. A sigh of relief passes his lips and he tries futilely to straighten out his wind whipped hair.

          “As much as I love traveling, I hate boats,” he told his friend with a chuckle.

          “So how is the trapping in the western kingdoms? Are there any beavers, or just a few squirrels?” The man in the bear pelt asked idly. He leaned back in his wooden chair and took a swig of his deep brown ale.

          “Nah, poor huntings around there. The whole Western Escarpment is in an uproar, none of the animals will even go near it.”

          “What’s got them so worked up? I thought they were so happy, with the prince’s marriage and all…” The man in the bear pelt took another drink.

          “King Helm died.”

          The man in the bear fur swallowed hard and blinked. “Say what?”

          “King Helm was killed. Someone slipped poison into his food and-” The travel worn trapper motioned ‘choking’ with his hands.

          “Died and killed are two very different words you know…When is prince Theo’s coronation?”

          “Never, he renounced his title…”

          The man in the bear fur knocked over his tankard of ale and looked incredulously at his fellow trapper. “What? Who’s taking the throne then!?”

          The travel worn trapper shrugged taking a drink from his own tankard. “Nobody knows…They’re going to have a contest to find out. That’d be a sight to see. The west’s best fighters all vying for that empty throne. Terribly bloody though. I even heard that some warriors from the east are entering the competition. I’d die before a damn tree sits on the throne. We should have destroyed the Dryads since the very beginning. They’re nothing but trouble.”

          “I almost forgot you were a westerner…Then again who could forget with a name like Thip? The ‘th’ is like stamping ‘west’ on your forehead. It makes you wonder why the King’s name is Helm.”

          “All of the kings are named Helm. Prince Theo’s name would have been changed to Helm at his coronation. It has always been like that.” Thip took a deep drink of ale.

          There was the sound of money being exchanged and the two trappers looked up at the bar. The stranger in the brown cloak stood up. “That enough for me, thanks…” The stranger spoke surprisingly in a rich, clear, female voice. The two hunters watched her skeptically as she left. When she was out of the door they took up their idle conversation again.

The young woman started to chuckle malicously…
They were back. The twitty little songbirds that always flew in her window, were back again. But she was ready for them. Celia poked her head out from under her bed, and pulled the rope that lead to a net trap where the birds were now sitting. The tough ivy net sprung up and engulfed the now screeching birds. She chuckled quietly to herself as she slipped out from under her bed. She stood up, brushing the dust off her tunic, pulling it down as she walked to the struggling birds.
She looked at them with disgust.

"Why? Why must you bug me?" She picked up the net and took it over to her little stone table. She set it down and shook her oval-leaf hair out of her face. Her bright purple eyes glinted angrily.

"You stupid birds just don't get it huh?" She flopped down in the chair and watched as the birds fluttered in vain to get out of the net.

"You all are attracted to my kind for some reason. You think that just becasue I exist only because of the trees, that you can nest in my hair as well!" She frowned and looked out her large window.

"Where is Kree? I need to get rid of these scrawny birds before-"

"CELIA!"

"Oh, great." She muttered, as her father burst in the room.

"WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT TORTURING THE BIRDS?!?"

"They won't leave me be, Pappa." Her father always softened up when she called him that. For some reason, he thinks it makes her sound like 'his little girl' again. True, his eyes softened, but his face remained the red-tinted green it always does when he gets mad.

"That is no excuse!! I've told you a hundred times, that women don't find decent husbands if they don't act like-"

"Like what. Pappa?" This time she said it to make it sound like an insult, but it just bounced off her father, for he was staring at his toes. She glared at him, just daring him to say what he was about to, anyway.

"Like human women, dear." There he said it, NOW she was mad.

"YOU WOULD COMPARE ME TO THAT OF THE LIKES OF HUMANS?!?"

"No thats not-!" Her father nearly shied away from his daughter's wrath.

"I AM FAR ABOVE THE PITIFUL HUMANS THAT RULE IN THE WEST!! I AM APPALLED THAT YOU WOULD COMPARE ME TO THEM!!" She swiped the net off the table and set the birds off in squawking distress. The net fell open and the birds dashed for the window, stiring up the air. Celia looked like a god of wrath, with her hair flying around, fists clenched, eyes burning, and shadows flashing across her face. She simply waited like this, chin high, for her father's response. He sighed heavily, sat on her now deserted table, and took her chin softly in his hand.

"Ah, my little thunder flower. You take offense so easily. You know that I am only concerned for the wellbeing of this land, and your life."

Celia growled, and shook off her father's hand. "Yet, you put the land's 'wellbeing' before my happiness."

He looked at her sadly. "Celia, you know that you must get married before you can take over the throne. You are the oldest and are entitled to be ruler of the Eastern Kingdom!"

"What if I don't wanna be?!?" She stood up and quickly strode over to the window, leaning out. "I want to travel! See the other lands! Not be cooped up here like some princess to be pampered and spoiled all my life!"

"Alas, that is what you are, Celia. You are a princess," He walked over. "You are the Thunder Flower, and the heiress of the Dryad empire. You can't change that." Celia took a breath to retort back. "Even if you run away, you can't change who you are and where your home is. Besides, your tree is here. You can't leave it."

"Sure I could. Its not like you guys would let it die, or anything. Because then you'd be killing your own daughter."

Her father smiled wryly. "You're right, but I know you won't run away."

"Your Majesty?" A young Dryad girl was at the door, nervously pulling at her maid's tunic.

"Yes?" Celia's father turned toward the girl, and she lowered her eyes.

"Your Majesty, there is someone wishing to see you in the courtyard, Sir."

"Alright, thank you." The girl curtsied and scampered off. Celia's father looked at her again. "Well, I better go down. Promise me you won't mess with the birds anymore."

"Only if they stop flying in my room and leaving their feathers everywhere. Not to mention the stench they leave behind." She waved her hand in front of her nose. Her father laughed and walked out the door. As soon as he was out of earshot she groaned loudly and leaned on the railing on her window.

"I miss Ce'Thera. I could always complain to her." She saw a brown speck flying her direction. "Kree!"

The falcon blasted in the window, nimbly made a tight circle, and landed on the bed. Celia ran over to the bird, grabbing its leg lightly.

"YES!!" There it was, the note. She could see Ce'Thera's handwriting on it. She was about to untie it when Kree bit her fingers softly.

"Oh, yes. I forgot your dinner." She looked darkly at the empty net.

"Its gonna have to be slower this time Kree." The falcon gaver her a look that clearly said, 'again?!?' in it's intelligent eyes. Celia ducked under her bed and pulled out a cage. Indside it were some lizards. They were pesty little things that ate up the fruits in the garden so she had no second thoughts about giving it to her bird. She pulled one out and tossed it on to the bed. It tore off, but Celia grabbed Kree's leg again and untied the letter. Kree sped after the lizard after Celia had let go. The letter read:
Dear Celia,...
The word of the King’s death had spread like wildfire through Central. Now the streets where filled with mourners, lunatics and troublemakers, all with their own opinion on what should be done. Though sadness was the overwhelming feeling in most, some held a great deal of anger towards Theo and his renouncement of the title.

“…shame really, if he had only accepted, we wouldn’t have to worry about this competition…” Te'Neil overheard a woman saying as he walked his daily rounds of the city.

Because of the chaos the West was now in, daily patrol of the city had become necessary. Te’Neil didn’t mind however, actually he had volunteered, an officer of his rank was not usually asked to perform such trivial tasks.

“Good day officer,” the same woman smiled, bringing her conversation to a halt for a moment.

Te’Neil nodded back at the woman considerably older than him in acknowledgement and went about his way. The woman in turn continued her conversation.

Central seemed clam for now he decided and resigned himself in ending his rounds, his time was up anyway. He walked clammy back to the spot where he was to meet the officer replacing him.

“Did you wait long Marshall,” Thane, an officer of lower rank replied apologetically as he came up beside Te’Neil.

“Not too long,” Te’Neil replied indifferently, “any thing I should be aware of?”

“Nothing that I can think of at the moment, but I do know the Generalissimo wants to talk to you.”

Te’Neil thanked him and went of to see the Generalissimo Gra'Nal. The man was his father to be sure, but no words connoting father would ever escape Te’Neil’s mouth. His own personal belief was that if he saw the Generalissimo as anything else the respect he held for the man would be diminished.

Thoughts of what the Generalissimo could have wanted played on his mind, distracting him slightly. Luckily, he made it to his destination mishap free. Seated before him was Generalissimo Gra'Nal, a dignified looking man in his own right. He eyed his son curiously, surprised at his presence.

The Generalissimo was not in the best of mood that day and has ordered that no one see him until he permitted it.

“And to what do I owe the honor,” Gra’Nal asked watching to see how his son would react. No sigh of discomfort showed on his face as he motioned to answer.

“I was told you wished to see me,” Te’Neil replied calmly which only served to anger Gra’Nal further.

“And what fool told you that,” Gra’Nal grunted barley able to hide his anger.

“That is of no importance Sir, do you wish to talk with me?”

“I had not planned on it but since you are here I might as well.” Gra’Nal motioned to Te’Neil to be seated and continued. “You know as well as I the trouble that now plagues Central and the entire West for that matter…”
Tieryn was one of the largest cities in the West. Trronjeik was one of the largest castles in the West, in any city. Woodlands surrounded the city, and there was atleast and acre of so of grassland seperating the city from the woods. Guards patrolled the walls of the city, and the castle walls. Deep inside the city, in the castle was where Thane of the Wolves resided. As he sat in a lavishly decorated chair in his room, he sharpened his weapons. His spies had informed him that an assassination attempt would be made on his life tonight. Thane knew who had commanded the the attack. The whetstone ground continously over and over again, against his sword.
Crrrsh! Crrrsh! Crrrsh!
It was the lord Drant, who had ordered his death. The day before, Thane had publicly humiliated and defamed Drant, and afterwards challenged him to a duel on the morning of the third day of the week. Drant had accepted, though he cringed at the thought of confronting Thane. It was the eve of the second day.
Crrrsh! Crrrsh! Crrrsh!
Thane had prepared for the assassination-he was ready. Two guards stood stiffly to attention at his doorway, conversing through the corners of their mouths. Thane noticed. "You may be at ease, men." Both men immediatley went to the at ease position. Many thoughts rushed through Thane's mind. He put down one sword and picked up his second. This had a jagged edge to it. It was also serrated, so it need only to be oiled and cleaned. After doing so, Thane drew a long curved dagger, and began sharpening it. The guards flinched as the whetstone began grinding against the blad.
Crrrsh! Crrrsh! Crrrsh!
He envisioned his kingdom of the West, completely dominated by him; it would be glorious! Then his thoughts wandered to his brother, Theo. Cold hatred filled his eyes. I wonder why why Theo refused the crown. He could've had so much power. He chuckled. All the more easier for me to kill him.
The sun sunk lower in the West; night was fast approaching. He finished whetting his dagger and sheathed his blades. He chuckled again. It was a strange chuckle, sending an eerie feeling through the guards. "Send Therin to me." Thane commanded. Immediatley one of the guards obeyed. Thane walked over to the place where his newly forged armor stood. It was blood red, with some black markings and runes on it. There was a large ruby embedded in the breastplate. He was wearing it tommorrow when he would fight Drant, and gain even more power, and he would announce his royalty. He had made his way up in the ranks of the lords and nobles until he had almost as much poweras the king himself. HE controlled huge amounts of the West, beginning his own armies and such. He had amassed enormous wealth and extreme power. His mind again wondered to what his kingdom would be like... when he had destroyed all the contestants that is. He smiled, and ran his hand through his long, ragged hair. It reached to almost midback. "Sire? You wanted me?" Came a voice from behind him. "Yes, Therin. Here my plan for capturing the assassins. This is what I want you to do..."

It was midnight, and Thane sat in a dark corner of his room. He heard his door creek, and was alert immediatley. The door swung open slightly, and two humans in black slinked in. Each drew a blackened blade, probably poisoned, Thane thought. They walked to the bed and theirdaggers flashed down... and ground as they came into contact with bagfuls of stones. "Are you the best Drant could do?" Thane asked, eyebrow raised, and a smile playing about his lips. Several soldiers with torches stood behind him, and his long jagged sword was in his hand. One of the assassins leaped at Thane, hoping to catch him off-guard. He didn't. Thane sidestepped and swung his sword once. Just once. Thane stepped over the mans' decapitated body with distaste. Thane gestured to the other man, and the soldiers seized. "You know what I want out of him." Thane said to the captain, who nodded, and they took the man to the intterrogation chamber. Thane walked over to his bed as they left, and threw the ripped bags of stones off it. Then he lay down on it, though he disliked sleeping on beds. He favored sleeping on the ground.
"A ship! A ship! My kingdom for a ship!" Ce'Thera murmured angrily to herself. “This damn rowing is getting me nowhere!” Panting, she continued her attempt to cross the stretch of ocean between Pirate Isle and Central. “This is no way for a lady to travel!” More panting, “Damn, I wish I was a lady…”

          A few moments later a shadow swept across her face. Ce’Thera paused and looked inquiringly at the sky. A winged brown speck blocked out the sun in random intervals as it circled high above her head.

          “Not you again…” Ce’Thera groaned. The brown speck gained shape and size rapidly as it descended in a downward spiral. The fierce looking falcon alighted on her shoulder. It’s taloned feet dug into her skin, making blood seep through her clothes with a sticky wetness. “Ah! Get off me!” Ce’Thera yelled in fury, throwing one hand in Kree’s direction. The startled bird scrambled into flight again then gracefully took perch on the small boat’s rail. “You should know better, you stupid canary!” The great falcon cocked its head indignantly and clicked its beak. Ce’Thera began to row again. Kree raised one foot to its chest, displaying the letter attached to its leg.

          “I know you have a letter, but I have neither paper nor pen to respond to it with. You’re just going to have to keep it for a few days until I reach Central,” Ce’Thera said, swinging her head to look behind her. Kree screeched and flapped his wings angrily. “It makes me mad too,” Ce’Thera told the bird, “I hate physical labor…”

          The feathered messenger turned his head abruptly and stared curiously at a ship coming their way. Catching the movement, Ce’Thera followed Kree’s gaze and grinned maliciously at the small merchant ship coming their direction.

__________________________________


          “Captain! There’s a boat in the water! Man over board! Man over board!” One sailor announced from the crow’s nest. The ship drew near to the abandoned rowboat, drifting on the waves. A limp female body lay inside, with no sign of consciousness.

          “Hurry! Haul her up on deck! She’s bleeding!” a sailor shouted. Ropes were attached to the boat and it was towed on board the ship.

          “Someone wake her up,” the captain proposed. One of the bolder sailors picked up the lifeless body and laid it on the deck, propping her up against some crates.

          “Do you think she’s dead?” another sailor asked him.

          “No, her body was warm and I think I saw her breathing…Oh look there! She stirs!” the sailor who carried her announced in awe as she slowly opened her round, thickly lashed teal eyes.

          The captain came forward. “Who are you, m’lady? Who abandoned you like that?”

          The girl looked around the ship with feign fear in her eyes. “Wh – How did I get here?”

          “Please, m’lady, let me ask questions first. I will be glad to take you back to land if – ”

          “Please don’t take me back to that Island! I can’t take much more of my master…Just thinking of the things he did to me…” The green skinned girl reminisced, tears coming to her eyes.

          “Your master? M’lady, were you a slave?” The captain asked in astonishment. The girl nodded sullenly. She pushed her luxurious black curls behind her shoulder and looked innocently at the captain and his crew. “Where were you going? I mean, how did you get all the way out here?”

          The girl bowed her head in embarrassment. “I was trying to escape to Central, but I think I went in the wrong direction…” She smiled brightly, “Then I came across this crew of fine gentlemen. They had a strange black flag with a skull and two swords on it. I thought it was charming. They sent me in the right direction and gave me food. That was nice of them…”

          The crew stared at her, agape. The captain looked shocked, but maintained his casual air. “I feel obligated, under the circumstances, to escort you to Central. It would be my pleasure to see that you got safely there.”

          The girl leapt to her feet and embraced the captain. “You don’t know how much this means to me!” The captain blushed, then all of a sudden went pale. He fell to the deck, dead. The girl’s innocent expression turned to a malicious grin. She pulled her dagger out of the man’s back, wiping the blood on the back of his shirt. She slipped it back into her boot and turned to face the crew with a sarcastically innocent smile. “You heard the man, take me to Central.” Her face suddenly went dark. “Now…” The crew scrambled to their positions and the boat made a sharp turn to the south. Ce’Thera’s lips curled back into a malicious grin and she made a rich throaty chuckle.

          Kree landed on the ship’s railing and made a cry. Ce’Thera turned to look at him. “You won’t have to keep that letter quite as long as I thought you would’ve. But have patience, little birdie, this crew could turn on us any second now…”
"NOOOOO!!!!" A skinny male dryad fell to his knees in the middle of the square. A few of the other Dryads there rushed to his side. One of the female Dryads wrapped her arms around his quivering shoulders.

"What is it kind fruit vender? What ails you?" The Fruit Vender look up at her with tear-filled eyes. He held up the dripping thing that he had held against his chest.

"It-it-" He could barely speak from the emotional crying. He looked down at the thing in his hands.
"IT WAS THE PEEAAACH!!!" He collapsed into a sobbing heap, and another male Dryad, took the peach from the vender's shaking hand.

"What wrong with it Kyed?" The female Dryad left the side of the sobbing vender, and looked curiously at the soft, suculent fruit. Kyed looked at her with confusion in his eyes.

"It- it had a bite taken out of it..." The girl looked back at him with confusion in her eyes as well.

"But what-?" The vender cut her off with a new wave of emotions.

"WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE THE PEACH?!?WHY NOT THE APPLE?!? THE APPLE?!?! OR EVEN THE PEAR?!? NO!!! NOT THE PEAR! NOT THE PEAR!!" He grabbed a pear and held it close to him, stroking it and talking to it quietly. The other Dryads slowly inched away from the emotional wreck before them, not wanting to be seen with such a nut. A tall, slender figure snickered to his/herself, and slunk off into the alleys. When the person was wll out of sight and sound of the others, the person pulled off the cap that obscured the view of her face. Celia chuckled quietly to herself as she wiped away the delicious juices trickling down her chin. Peaches were her favorite. She took off the scarf that was wrapped around her neck, and was covering her nose and mouth. Then she slipped out of the coarse leggings and tunic. She put them in her little hideaway in a hole in the wall surrounding the palace. She loved her new hobby. 'Stirring up a little excitement, and' she thought. 'I get free food!' She ran a hand through her leafy hair and realized that something was wrong.

"Oh,no! One of my flowers is gone!" She franticly looked around under her feet and down the alley she had come from. "Oh, rotten root and poison oak! It must havd gotten crushed and fallen out near the venders!" Her heart nearly stopped. "That means that pesky old vender might figure out it was me!" She squeaked in alarm as she saw someone heading her way, down through the alley.

"Your higness! Your highness!" Celia tried to look regal and calm, but she knew she was doing a bad job. Having your heart suddenly in your throat will do that to any being, human or no. Luckily the little messenger Dryad before her didn't seem to notice.

"Yes?" She flinched mentally as she heard her voice shake.

"Your highness! There has been a vandalizing! The Fruit Vender wishes to speak with you immediatly!" With hear thumping, Celia followed the little Dryad to the square.
The Generalissimo’s words dwelt on Te’Neil’s mind for only a short period of time. Afterwards he let them fade away to the back of his mind where they were safely stored until he would need them again. Now with noting to do he decided to just walk for a bit.

“Marshall,” the voice came from a group that stood a few paces away.

Te’Neil knew the voice well, “Corporal. Staying out of trouble I hope.” The man standing in the back of the group smiled as the others greeted Te’Neil as well.

“I try to but trouble always seems to find me,” Corporal Kanz smirked.

“Very well then,” Te’Neil replied as he came up to the group. He stayed there and talked about noting in particular for a while with a few of his old friends. Before he knew it an hours time had passed.

“Marshall Te’Neil,” This time the voice belonged to one of the female officer who had been very boisterous during the conversation. When he was addressing the group he had no problem looking everyone in the eye, but now he found it difficult looking the girl in the face.

“What the matter Sasha,” he almost mumbled as he started at the ground.

“I wonder if you would accompany me on my rounds of the dock, Jaya and I where supposed to do it today but she got sick.”

“Um…”Te’Neil paused for a moment and knew that the others eyes would be on him. If he declined there reaction might not be too pleasant. He swallowed hard and forced himself to look up “If you wish it soldier but we should be on our way now.”

Thane, garbed in his magnificent red armor, strode into the arena where he was supposed to face Drant. At his back were 10 elite guards, in black armor.
Thane smiled under his helm as he saw Drant standing on the opposite side. He had on black chain mail, pitiful, Thane thought.
Thane nodded to the captain of the guard, and he dragged forth and threw the would-be assassin on the ground, in front of Thane. All the soldiers stood to attention. "Drant, this is one of your assassins that you sent last night to kill me. The other is dead, and this one close to, by my sword, and his own wounds. Now for this outrage, there will be no surrender, no quarter in this duel. Only one of us will walk out of this fight alive. Now watch death take this one, as it will soon take you."
Thane drew his sword and drove it into the mans chest. The man, blood gushing from his mouth, lay on the ground, jerking convulsively.
"Now, face me in battle you cur!" Thane roared, blood dripping from his jagged sword.
Drant, enraged, charged Thane recklessly, swinging his blade about in an erratic manner. Thane easily blocked and dodged all the attacks, and delivered some of his own. They stepped away from eachother, Thane circling his oppenent, like a wolf. He was looking for a weakness, and he found one. Drants' right leg, he was limping on it. Thane smiled under his helm.
He feinted to the left, and as Drant tried to block, Thane whirled, and with a single blow, sliced off Drant's right leg. He fell to the ground, and screamed in pain, blood flowing from the wound like water. Thane stood over him.
"I respect what courage you had, but I do not respect you, you worthless son of a dog! May the spirits of my wolves devour yours in the ether!" He swung his sword and beheaded Drant.
Thane walked to his guards. "Let us go."

________________________________________

So henceforth, Thane became the ruler of that city, and the lands surrounding it, though he still had to gather all the West to him.
Ce'Thera atop the crow's nest staring idly out into the ocean. I miss sailing She thought to herself. Her face suddenly grew pensive. Maybe?when this is over? Then she shrugged, grinning. But then who would rule my empire for me?

"...I think she's a better captain than he was," came a voice from below her.

"That's Mutiny! I will never follow that pirate-bitch!?" Came a different voice.

"It's not mutiny unless you physically betray your captain. Didn't you know that?" The 1st voice said. Ce'Thera smirked. yeah, I AM a good captain aren't I? She stood up from her post. With one little hop she jumped over railing of the crow's nest and, catching herself on one of the many ropes, she spiraled down to the deck. With a merry 'thud' her boots hit the deck, startling the men talking about her.

"Mutiny, my ass," She muttered under her breath; making sure the two young men could hear her. She walked over to them, leaning on one man's shoulder. "Land up ahead, you're almost free to go." Her gaze fell upon the boy who called her a pirate, daggers in her eyes. "I trust there will be no uprisings...If you know what I mean." Although her voice stayed threateningly, her gaze grew casual. "It would be unfortunate if I had to...dispose of someone for such a silly thing as loyalty to a dead captain..." She turned to the man whom she was leaning on. "Don't you agree?" The young man nodded with mixed emotions on his face. None of them moved. Then Ce'Thera sighed, "Perhaps I'll get my own ship someday...I'd love to take to the ocean again...at least once more." She turned her head to the west, her raven black curls billowing in the wind.

The man, opposite her, gasped. She turned sharply to look at his terrified face. "You! You're her! You're the Pirate Ce'Thera!" He exclaimed.

Ce'Thera grinned and her eyes flashed malevolently. In one swift, undetectable movement she stepped behind her accuser, took hold of his wrists behind his back, and pressed the knife she had hidden under her shirt against his throat. "I'm so glad you noticed," She said playfully in her captive's ear. She continued to whisper in his ear with a wry expression on her face, causing him to flush furiously. Suddenly the man in her arms shrieked insanely.

"No!" Ce?Thera commanded harshly. She looked around franticly. Instinctively she pressed her dagger deep into the man's esophagus and dragged the bloody blade swiftly across his neck. The young man fell to the deck, convulsing angrily. "Dammit! This wasn't supposed to happen!" Ce'Thera muttered fiercely. Her gaze swept up to the man who had been talking to the killed sailor. She tossed her knife to him and screamed at the top of her lungs. The man caught the dagger by the handle, staring in bewilderment at Ce'Thera.

The whole crew came to the aid of their new captain. One sight of the dead young man and the dripping blade now held by the unsuspecting sailor, and conclusions were drawn. The framed young man suddenly realized what had happened and dropped the knife in surprise. It fell to the deck with a clatter.

"She killed him!" The frightened young man yelled, pointing accusingly at Ce'Thera.

Ce'Thera was taken aback. "You tried to kill me!" She claimed, pointing back at the young man. They both put their arms down and the young sailor advanced on her.

"Barthol recognized her as the pirate Ce'Thera and she killed him!" He looked into the eyes of his unbelieving crewmates. They all looked at him with disgust. One blonde muscular man went to the now crying Ce'Thera, allowing her to cry on his shoulder. "She's faking it! She's lying! Just like when she killed the captain!" he tried once more.

Ce'Thera drew herself up indignantly. "Yes! I was lying then! I wanted a ship to take me to shore! Did you really think I would row all the way to Central? But what reason have I to kill one of my own crewmembers?! None!" She yelled at him, still crying. The young man was taken aback by this. It looked as if Ce'Thera had won the argument. Then his eyes fell upon the dagger.

"Look at the knife! We're Westerners! What business have we with a Dryad knife?" He kicked the dagger toward Ce'Thera. All eyes followed the spinning knife across the deck. As it hit Ce'Thera's feet all the sailors looked at her. The muscular blonde sailor slipped away and joined the rest of the crowd. Ce'Thera's face was delicately dry, as if she had not been crying at all. Her skin looked suddenly green as if had not been that color before. Closing her eyes, she shrugged.

"It was worth a try," she said taking up her malicious grin. No one move for what seemed like eternity. Then there was a sudden out burst of shouts as they all rushed at her at once. She took up the knife at her feet and she began climbing skillfully up a rope she had taken hold of.

As fast as she was at climbing ropes climbing a ladder was faster. By the time she was at the top of the mast several sailors were in the crow's nest, waiting for her. They were almost done sawing through the rope when Ce'Thera kicked the man cutting the rope off the railing of the crow's nest. He fell to the deck, screaming on the way down. There was a painful gash in her side from one of the other sailors and blood slowly oozed out. The rope suddenly gave way. Ce'Thera jabbed the knife in her hand through the thick canvas sail and she held on with both hands as she swiftly lowered to the deck again.

Victorious shouts came from below as Ce'Thera fell towards her expectant attackers. Thinking fast Ce'Thera grabbed hold of another rope, and swung out over the edge of the ship. Letting go she flew into the ocean with a resounding splash. Mixed cries of alarm, victory, and disappointment emitted from the ship.

With the salt water seeping into her open wound, Ce'Thera swam to the ever-closer shore of Central.

_______________


With a death-threatening cough, Ce'Thera crawled onto shore, short of breath and sanity. As soon as she reached the knee-high grass she rolled into a ball, clutching her stinging wound. After a long while of muttering curses she got up again. Limping badly, she went in search of fire wood and clean water.

Kree followed, never too far behind. He stopped on a particularly low branch in Ce'Thera's path. He held his foot to his chest, again displaying the letter that was now slightly damp from the misting spray of the ocean.

"I know! I know!" Ce'Thera told him absently, concentrating on the faint sound of a stream. She searched the forest ahead of her for any signs of the rushing water she needed desperately.

Kree flew ahead again, taking perch on a branch in Ce'Thera's path. He held his foot up again. Ce'Thera looked angrily at him. "I KNOW!" She flicked her hand at him, knocking him off the tree limb. He flew up into the higher branches of the tree and settled down on a branch, as though he meant never to come down.

"If you were half as smart as Celia says you are, you'd know now is not the time to bother me!" Ce'Thera yelled up to him. She stomped away in search of her elusive water source.

Eventually Ce'Thera found the stream and built her campsite near it. After a long bath in the spring just upstream from her campsite she came back to dry herself near her fire so she could dress in her washed and drying clothes later. She wrung out her beautiful black hair, which sprang back into curls at the loss of the water weighing it down. She lay down in her makeshift bed of leaves and fell victim to her weariness. She closed her eyes and silently fell asleep.
Celia looked at the little purple flower in her hand. 'This thing nearly got me exposed. I'll have to be more careful next time.' She jogged down the road back to the palace. She thought back to how she talked her way out of that uncomfortable situation.

"Your highness." The vender had bowed very low, and clutched the bleeding peach to his chest. In his other hand he had something, but it was held so tightly that Celia couldn't tell what it was.

"Yes, vender?" She could feel that her wonderfully green face was pale. She cursed herself for her weak constitution.

"Your highness, I was wondering if you could do a favor for a poor little fruit vender." He wouldn't look Celia in the eye, and that made her a little more confident. She could feel the color coming back to her face.

"Depends upon the favor, vender." She put her hands on her hips and shook her leafy hair behind her shoulder. The vender looked timidly up at her, and stood up. He only came up to about her chin, and, if he stood straight, would only come up to her lower lip.

"Your highness, I was wondering if you could track down the perpitrator of this horrible vandalizing. You could even consider it to be theivery, for it will not sell."

"Well, what is it that you are so worried about?" Celia eyed the sniviling little man before her with disgust. 'He might as well be a human.' She thought. The vender finally looked her in the eye, and held out the peach, that was turning brown around the bitten off edges.

"This, your highness, was one of my ripest peaches. And it still is, but it will not sell, for the obvious reason. I-I was wondering if you could track down the low down Dryad that did this. I need the berries for my family." Celia nodded in thought, this certain vender was rather poor, and he could use the berries to buy the food that they needed. At least, that was what the vender thought she was thinking about. Celia, actually, was thinking about how he hadn't even insinuated that she might be the one. 'So,' She thought. 'I'm still safe at this point. I'll have to be careful, any slip-up and he'll be hot on my trail.' she looked at the vender, who lowered his eyes to the peach.

"This will be very difficult to do, vender, if I even decide to do it. How will I track this loose Dryad down? Did someone see him or her do this act? Was there something left behind? I can not possibly track this vilian down with just a bitten peach." The vender brought up his other hand.

"This, your highness, is the only thing that I found." He opened his hand, and there lay Celia's crumpled purple flower. She felt her heartbeat quicken.

"And where was this located?" She asked.

The vender motioned to his booth. "Near the fruit bowl where I keep the riper fruits, to make them more visible. I know that a lot of the Dryads around here have flower gardens that grow this certain flower, but I was wondering-" Celia cut him off.

"Kind vender. This is an impossible task," the vender opened his mouth to plead further. "for one so unexperienced as me. I will take the flo-evidence to the palace and give it to one of the trackers. As you said yourself, there are many Dryads that grow this plant, and you will be notified if we have any breaks in the search." Celia took the flower and the peach from the man's hands, spun around and marched, no, strutted, towards the palace. That brought her to the present where she was standing underneath her window with the balcony.

"Lets see if I can still do this." She backed up five steps, ran, then jumped ten feet into the air to land on the railing of her balcony.

"Perfect. Now, where is Kree? He should have given Ce'Thera her letter and then gotten back here with an answer by now! This place is gonna drive me crazy!" She plopped down on her bed and dozed off, dreaming of adventure.
“The docks seem quiet,” Sasha thought aloud.

Te’Neil had to arrive but was content to watch the sails sway in the breeze and watch the boats rock gently by the waves. He had agreed to walk a few more paces with her before they went their separate ways so Te’Neil had decided to make the best of it.

“MARSHALL!” Te’Neil heard a voice shout. Why does it seem everyone is calling my today. he thought as a sight smile formed on his lips disappearing as quickly as it came.

“Mar...Mar…Marshall,” the voice continued. It belong to a weary officer panting as he almost collapsed in front of them, “A ship that just docked, Sir…two men…dead…pirate.”

“Take a deep breath and relax. Now repeat what you where saying, a little slower this time,” Te’Neil replied as the officer obliged.

“There is a ship that just docked. It’s captain and another member of the crew have been killed by a female the crew identified as that pirate, Ce'Thera,” the man finished as he watched Sasha and Te’Neil for their reactions.

“Is the crew positive,” Sasha asked first.

“Yes they are,” the officer nodded, “They say they almost caught her but she escaped.”

“Take me to the boat,” was all Te’Neil said on the matter for the time being.

Ce'Thera woke up to the chill of the summer night. Being suddenly aware that she was not clothed she slipped into her now dry clothes, lacing up her vest and boots snugly. She glanced around the woods, fervently searching for spies or bounty hunters. There was no one in site.

After stamping out the last burning coals, Ce'Thera thought it best to move away, in case she had been spotted earlier. She wrapped herself in her slightly tattered brown traveler's cloak and set out. After about half an hour she was out of the woods. She sniffed the air. A salty tint came from her left. She turned a little to the right and began to walk again. Kree alighted gracefully on her shoulder, carefully positioning his claws so that he did not harm her. His eyes were wide as he looked about the open landscape in front of them. Ce'Thera took the letter from his leg and opened it. Continuing to walk, she ignored her companion. She read it over, tucked it in her belt and marched on.

It was nearly dawn when she arrived at a small farmstead. Kree took off, taking refuge in a rather squat looking oak tree. A man approached Ce'Thera

"Can I help you?" The honest looking field worker asked.

"You're up early," Ce'Thera noted, "Is there any chance that I could buy a horse from you?"

"I'm the right person to ask, but I don't part with my animals too easily. How much do you have to offer?"

Ce'Thera dug into a pouch on her belt, taking out a handful of coins. I'd say about fifteen gold crowns..."

"You call that money? This is Central, not some Western City!" He eyed Ce'Thera skeptically.

"In that case...about...nothing. I'm not in Central very often; I don't carry that kind of money with me. Isn't there anything else I can pay you with?" Ce'Thera put her money back. She knew it was time to think of a plan.

Ce'Thera sighed. "I'm pirate with a bounty on my head, I need a horse to escape from a mutinous crew I stole and the troops the Generalissimo undoubtedly sent after me by now." she took a breath and looked expectantly at the field worker.

The honest man burst into laughter. Ce'Thera stared at him with a straight face. He swept a tear from his eye and began to recover from his laughing fit. Red faced and watery eyed, he looked up at her. "You must really want a horse to come up with that kind of excuse! Here, I'll take your fifteen crowns and you can have the horse. That was one of the worst lies I've ever heard!" He broke out in laughter again as he walked towards the stable. Ce'Thera smirked with a helpless look on her face. What a loser, she thought to herself.

"Oh!" She said, almost as an after thought, "Do you have some paper and a pen?"

"Sure, there's some in the house, help yourself," He said without turning to look at her. Ce'Thera entered the man's house without knocking, surprising the his wife during her breakfast.

"I'm sorry!" She said, turning red. "Your husband told me I could find a pen and paper here, and I forgot my manners."

The plump woman smiled pleasantly. "Quite alright, child. I'll just get them for you," she said, getting up from the table. "My name is Tersy."

"I'm Ce-" She began. Catching herself, she coughed. "I'm Ce'Vera, nice to meet you."

"What an interesting name..." she murmured, "The apostrophe means you are a Central Noble. The 'Ce' means you are Eastern Royalty. Why, all you'd need is the western 'Th' and you'd have a complete set!" she giggled girlishly. "My word, your parents have a sense of humor! Ah, here you are, a pen and paper. You can seat yourself at the table and write."

Ce'Thera took the supplies sourly moved towards the table. She took the letter out of her belt and read it over again as she sat down. Shortly after she was done she began a response.

Dear Celia,
Please calm down. I understand what you are saying, but you must not go to pieces over your little misfortunes. Sometimes you must grit your teeth and not let people know how you feel. How are you going to lie well if you can't control your emotions? As I told you I will be in the Eastern Forest soon. Just hold on until I get there.
                                       -Ce'Thera


Ce'Thera quickly rolled up the parchment and tied it with some string she took out of a bag on her belt. She dashed outside to see the farmer tying a rope around the neck of a young roan horse with his mane cut into a short Mohawk. The horse's eyes were expressive and innocent. There was an immediate connection between Ce'Thera and the horse. She just couldn't wait to ride him.

There was a sharp cry from on top of the house. Ce'Thera wheeled around to look up at Kree. Her expression became devious. She motioned for him to come closer. He took flight and circled slowly to the ground. Ce'Thera snatched him up, holding him with one hand as she tied the letter on with the other. Kree squawked and struggled to get free. Ce'Thera finished tying the knot and sent her tiny captive screeching into the morning sky.

"That'll teach you to mess with me!" Ce'Thera called playfully after him.
Celia opened her eyes groggily to a crimson sunset. She yawned, rubbed her eyes and sat up. Then she noticed someone sitting sulkily in the corner. She laughed.

"Ah, Kree. Did Ce'Thera rough you up again?" She laughed again and walked over to the ruffled bird. She reached out to take the letter, but Kree bit her had hard. It actually drew blood. Celia snarled and grabbed the bird. It cried out as she ripped the letter off, and tossed him out the window. Damn bird, she thought. I don't need that attitude, not now. Just because Ce'Thera was alittle rough, stupid thing. She read the letter and tossed it out the window, too.

"She doesn't understand, she never understands!" She looked down at her bleeding hand. "Just like my heart. Bleeding, and open to everything." She sighed and watched as Kree caught the letter and sat in her tree, below. "I need to leave. I have no room to grow and flourish. Just like a plant in a too small pot." A breeze blew through her window and tussled her leafy hair. One of her flowers' pettles fell off and blew out the window.

"Your highness!" There was a knocking at the door. "Your highness, the bachelors are here! The king requests your apperance!"

"No." she wispered. "I will leave. I will meet Ce'Thera on the way. I cannot take this anymore! Kree!" Kree flew up hesitantly. Celia dashed to her desk and grabbed paper and a pen. She scrawled a quick note that she was leaving the palace and would meet her in one of the small human towns a few miles awaay from the palace. Then she grabbed Kree and tied the note to his leg.
"Take this to Ce'Thera as fast as you can. Make sure that she reads it before she gets near the palace." Kree screetched his reply and took off. Celia watched him for a minute then heard voices coming up the hallway. She ran around her room, grabbing her human disguise, a large sum of money, parchment, pens, and her long crystal daggers. Its a good thing that I bribed the swordsmaster to teach me how to use these! Then she took one last look at her room, and jumped out the window.
The next morning Te’Neil recounted the events onboard the ship the past day.

Te’Neil took a step onto the ship following the officer that had alerted him. Sasha stayed behind to continue her round.

After a short interrogation of the crew Te’Neil had a good picture of the events. The pirate was taken onboard in an at to help her, she then preceded to kill the captain and take control of the ship. Later she was recognized by a man who she intern killed. After some arguing, it was revealed who she was and she escaped.

That’s what the story boiled down to excluding some minor details her and there.

“So what do you intend to do about the problem,” one of the crew had asked in a stern tone.

Te’Neil did well not to find his tone insulting, “I will have man search and coast and all sounding land for her.”

When he return he did send men as he had promised, but when that morning there searches had turned up empty. One man did find a trace of a small camp site that could have been hers, but from there, there where far to many directions she could have gone to be sure about.

It was obvious why she had been given this particular horse. He was too energetic to be a good workhorse. All he wanted to do was romp and play. The first time Ce'Thera tried to mount him she was thrown off his back within the next second. It came as an after thought to the farmer to mention the horse was never tamed. Cross, Ce'Thera was forced to spend the rest of the day repeatedly placing her traveler's cloak on the horse's back, getting him used to having something that smells like her on his back.

By nighttime Ce'Thera was weary from her tedious chore. The young roan horse strolled over to her and looked into her eyes. After a moment, he turned to the side and looked at her expectantly. Confuse by this gesture Ce'Thera looked back at him intently. He reared up and whinnied, then looked back at the female pirate. She registered what he meant and walked towards him. She grabbed a handful of mane and swept smoothly up onto his back. He moved slightly under her weight and took off at a gallop. Ce'Thera took in a sharp breath to suppress her mirth. There was something magical about that first gallop. There was now a permanent bond between the both of them.

As they crested a low hill they slowed to a stop. Ce'Thera touched the horse's bowed neck affectionately. He turned his head around and nibbled fondly on her riding pants. Ce'Thera giggled and nudged her mount onto a canter.

They rode for the rest of the night. It was past midnight when they finally stopped to make camp. Ce'Thera took special note to sleep lightly, for she knew that central was a dangerous territory, particularly for her. She was off again at first light, traveling at a gallop most of the time.

This was her routine for the next few days. It didn't take her long to get to the border of Central. She could already see the dark oak trees on the horizon. All she needed to do was cross the Elm River and she could ride safely. She slowed to a trot, trying to give her new companion a little rest after riding him so hard. That morning was rather misty, as it usually was in the springtime.

The soft plodding of steel clad hooves on soft ground could be heard from behind the two of them. Ce'Thera turn her head nervously to look behind her. Three men dressed in shining steel breastplates and royal blue surcoats were following her. Ce'Thera tried to kick her mount into a gallop, but he did not have the energy for it. She couldn't even think of pushing her new companion into exhaustion. She reined in and slipped off her roan and disappeared into the navel high grass on the open plain. When the officers surrounded her horse she realized there were many more than just three. There had to at least be a dozen or so.

Ce'Thera reached into her black leather vest and pulled out several small knives. Slipping one between her middle and fore fingers she flicked her wrist and the knife disappeared, reappearing again in the side of one man's neck. The officer doubled over in his saddle and feel to the ground. As the others went to investigate she swiftly crept to the other side of the crowd and repeated her procedure on another guard. The knife slipped neatly between his shoulder blades and he in turn arched his back sharply and slid out of his saddle. The rest grew into a panic as two more fell at the same time. Ce'Thera watched the chaos with an ugly grin on her face.

Suddenly, something underfoot scurried past her, causing her to jump up. She looked at the ground in terror. Realizing the guards could see her she looked up at them-and bolted. The soldiers scrambled to their horses and pursued the black haired girl. It wasn't long before they surrounded her. She turned in circles several times before she gave up and sat down.

"That was very clever, hiding in the grass like that." A man with a silver lined surcoat said. "I suppose you already know why we are here. I am General Tesca, commander of the 26th regiment, here in eastern Central. You are hereby arrested and sentenced to death, by the command of Generalissimo Gra'Nal."

Ce'Thera began to laugh gaily. "You take this so seriously. If I didn't know any better I'd think you were actually going to kill me." She began to laugh again.

Tesca smiled slightly. "You are sentenced to the guillotine once we get back to the city. You ARE going to die."

"No I'm not," Ce'Thera insisted, still smiling gleefully.

"Yes you are," Tesca said, the smile fading from his lips.

"No I'm not."

"Yes you are."

"No I'm not."

"Yes, you are!" Tesca said in an irritated voice.

"No I'm not," Ce'Thera repeated, still grinning. The General made a strangled noise as he fought to suppress his frustration. "You see," Ce'Thera continued, "This is a game. Almost everything in life is a game in some way or another. Most people in my position would, in fact, die. I, however, have played this part of the game before. I survived then, and I will survive now." She lay down in the tall grass in a lounging manner and sighed.

Tesca struggled with this for a moment and suddenly smirked. "Send a runner to Marshall Te'Neil. He'll make sure this fugitive doesn't escape," He said to his troop in a militaristic voice.

Ce'Thera's eyes widened. "That wasn't expected," she admitted, sitting up again. One of the officers departed off in a northwesterly direction.

"Someone remove her weapons and bind her," Tesca snapped, "I don't want her going any where." Glances exchanged among the troops and finally someone stepped forward. He slowly crept towards her, his nervousness written clearly on his face. He patted down her legs, removing two daggers from each boot and one more from the sheath at her hip. He was about to move on to her torso, but she threw him a sidelong glance.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you..." Her voice was deadly serious and threatening. Sweat ran freely from his forehead as he suddenly went on to pat down her sleeves. There were two knives in each sleeve and one strange pin found in her hair that smelled of poison.

Ce'Thera pouted. "There are you happy? I'm as harmless as a pup with out those."

"Not yet," Tesca chided. "Tie her up." The nervous soldier silently bound her hands behind her back with a thick rope that reeked of poorly brewed ale. They were tied so tightly that she thought it might have cut off the circulation to her hands. The soldier knotted it, and tied her feet at the ankles in a similar manner. The soldier backed off and sighed in relief. It was clear that he was just happy to be alive. "Let's set up camp here." Tesca told his troops, "The Marshall should be here by night fall."

_____________________


Ce'Thera stared up at the clear, star strewn sky. The Moon was but a slit and looked for all the world like a secretive grin. The young girl's eyes lit up as she noticed a large red star right at the tip of the moon. Her hands were starting to go numb, so she rolled over onto her stomach. A caterpillar caught her eye. She watched it intently for a while, then sat up as the sound of galloping hooves reached her ears. The soldiers were all gathered around the large fire that had been built. They had been taking turns watching Ce'Thera. They had been rather slack about guarding her. She noticed several times when she could have escaped quite easily. However, she refused to leave without her horse, who was on the other side of the camp. The guards were stupid, not blind.

The sound of horses became louder. Across from the campfire, road up a young, important looking, man. Two men, clad in breastplates and helmets escorted him. The blond officer wore a both a chain mail shirt and displeased expression.

"What be this, Tesca?" he said in a monotone voice.

"We captured the pirate-girl, as you had commanded, sir. However, she threatened to escape, and we did not want to under estimate her-as did her previous captors." Tesca replied in a strangely meek voice.

The Marshall looked over at the star gazing girl and walked quite casually toward her. "Ce'Thera," He said in a commanding tone. The girl turned her green tinted face to the man hovering over her and genuinely smiled.

"Marshall." She nodded politely.

After looking her over, he suddenly frowned. "How many knives do you have tucked in your bodice?"

"Three near my stomach, one hanging on a little string tied to the back of my neck, and one in a place I'm sure you'd like to find on your own..." She replied wryly, lowering her thick eyelashes suggestively. The officer tried to ignore that but ended up blushing furiously. Ce'Thera giggled rather girlishly, sitting up on her knees.

The Marshall returned to his normal color and crouched over to look her in the eye. "Why have you not escaped yet? You have weapons, and you are not being guarded at all." He jerked his thumb in the direction of the half-dozing guard leaning against a tree. "Why are you still here?"

"Because I love you!" she admitted sarcastically. "I had to see your beautiful golden hair and sparkling blue eyes once more before I died! You're soooo gorgeous!" She looked at him dreamily, then she threw her head back in a burst of laughter.

He looked disgusted, but other than that, his face was completely serious. He turned to walk away. "I finally got you in my grasp. You will not escape my army this time."

"On the contrary, Marshall," Ce'Thera said, "I've got you!" Suddenly Ce'Thera leaped up. She seized the blond man's sword, and swiftly pinned it against his back. He froze, no fear on his face. It had taken that whole conversation to saw through both the ropes on her hands and the ropes on her ankles. "Thank you for your hospitality, gentlemen, but I must be on my way." The pirate said in a pompous voice. "Bring me my horse."

"Do as she says!" Tesca bellowed. The men rushed to bring Ce'Thera her mount and rejoined the group quietly. All of the guards were on their feet, one even motioned to help the captured man.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you..." She warned, pressing the point of the double-edged sword harder against her captive's back. His face made no movement, but he made a pained grunting noise. The soldier stopped. "I want all of you back! Back up!" Ce'Thera snapped. They obeyed. Slowly, Ce'Thera began to remove the tip of the blade from the blond man's back. He whirled around sharply. Ce'Thera dodged his punch and hit him on the side of the head with the flat of the massive blade. He hit the ground hard. Ce'Thera snatched up the body as quickly as she could, threatening still to slit the young man throat. She lay him across the back of her young roan and hopped effortlessly onto her horse. Sitting backward, with the blonde carcass in her lap, she nudged her horse to a walk. The soldiers were scrambling to their horses in order to follow.

It wasn't long before they reached the river. Ce'Thera slid of the horse's back and, walking backward, lead her horse through a shallower part of the river in order to cross. She began her assent onto the eastern Dryad shore. Once out of the river, Ce'Thera smiled triumphantly. She tied the sword to her back with some of the rope used to tie her hands-for safe keeping.

She turned her back on the flustered troops and disappeared into the forest with her unconscious hostage.
Dryads were running everywhere. Their green faces either drained or flushed. All this hubbub was because the crowned princess had disappeared. Celia's father and one of the bachelors had walked in just as she had leapt from the window. They called after her in alarm, but she did not stop, if anything the noise had urged speed onto the retreating figure. Her father was about to jump after her, but the bachelor grabbed his arm and reminded the King of his advanced age and the frailalty of his body. The King had paused for a minute and watched his eldest daughter, his baby girl, dissapear. Finally, he snapped back into his senses and started barking orders for a search party to be organized. They were going to bring the princess back.

While all that was going on, Celia was running flat out towards the closest city to the castle. It was a good twenty miles to that city, so Celia had a ways to go. While she was running, however, she was able to donn her human disguise. She slipped her daggers up her sleeves, one in each, but not without nicking herself. She grunted a curse and ripped a small section from her scarf to make a makeshift bandage. When everythign was in place, and she was properly concealed, Celia used the full length of her long legs to cover almost as much ground as a horse would at a gallop. As long as she paced herself and got into a rythm, she could go for a good few miles without a breather.

Durning one of these breif stopps, she heard running water.

"Water? Why is there water around here? I'd have to be way off course to come near the river seperating Central from the Eastern lands." Celia jogged towards the source of the noise, and stared. Before her was not the river, but a hot spring. She cheered silently to herself, walked over, slipped her boots off, and slid her aching feet into the soothing waters. She giggled to herself as her feet began to feel automatically better.

"Aah, this day just keeps getting better and better." she looked up into the trees and wondered if Ce'Thera had gotten her letter yet. 'Well, more a note then a letter.' She thought to herself. She giggled again. then she noticed that the sun was starting its journey into darkness. She groaned, and stood up, drying her feet off in the moss surrounding the hot spring. She slipped her boots back on and started off towards the city again. She still had many miles to go before she would reach the said city. she needed to over as much ground as possible in the failing light of fall.

Just before dusk, the search party for the princess was ready. It consisted mainly of bachelors and soldiers. The bachelors wanted to proove their love and loyalty to the King's daughter, and to the King himself, so that he might overrule his daughter in the choise of her spouse. There were many trackers in the soldier's ranks as well. A few hoped that if they found the princess, the king might make him the princess' husband. The king gave the order and the troops rode out eagerly, hoping that this was their lucky break.
The ringing sound had not yet left; as Te’Neil slowly opened his eyes. Dazed and confused for the moment he moved his hand to rub his aching head. His hands were tied. Sense slowly returned to him and he looked around so see where he was. The trees, he was clearly in the Dryad east.

“Damn that Ce'Thera,” he mumbled under his breath, her name leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. Where was she anyway? He turned his head as best he could, finally spotting her as she tended to her horse.

“Awake I see, Marshall,” She grinned mockingly, not completely stopping what she was doing.

She annoyed him, but Te’Neil did not let it show. He needed to find a way out of this and soon, when he got his hands on that retched pirate he’d personally see to her death.

Thane always woke early in the mornings, sometimes even before the sun had appeared.
He enjoyed taking walks in the forest also, contacting his wolf-kin while he was out.
One of these such days, he was out in the forest, when he heard several voices, shouting, and armor clattering.
Damn. He swore when the noisemakers came into view. It was Theo, along with at least a dozen soldiers armed to the teeth.
He drew a bow, black, with blood red designs etched on it. The arrows matched it. He took sight on the lead soldier, wanting to slay his brother hand-to-hand.
"He should be around here--" The soldier started, the rest of his speech halted, when an arrow flew into his mouth and embedded itself in the back of his throat.
"Damn! Who's shooting?" Theo shouted.
"You should know, brother mine." Thane said hauntingly.
Theo uttered a stream of profanities when he heard this. "Find him and kill the bastard! Now!" He shouted to his men.
Thane fired two more arrows, killing two more, and drew his sword and dagger. He had taken care to poison one of his daggers, the one which he now held.
He struck the bewildered soldiers like a thunderbolt, slaying three more, and wounding two others. The other four charged, screaming. He ran one through, beheaded another, made another legless, and ran another through the heart. He threw the dagger into the one still alive. Then wrenching his sword free, blood dripping from the blade, he walked slowly towards Theo, who stood there trembling.
"Why didn't you run?" Thane asked, raising his sword.
"I knew you would eventually find me; I'm tired of running, brother." Theo said. "Why do you hate me so?"
Thane's eyes flashed wildly with a fire of hatred and rage. "YOU KNOW! You should know. If it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't have gone through so much pain in trying to live. And that bitch you called mother, I finished her for her wrongs that she did to me. You took away what could have been mine easily, now I have almost regained it, and you must suffer for it. Life is hard, don't you think? But in a way it delivers justice."
Theo's eyes flared, but then the light went out as Thanes' blade took his life. Blood poured from Theo's body like water, as Thane walked away, a satisfied smile on his face.
Good bye, brother, and good riddance!
Te'Neil wasn't much of a talker, considering who he was traveling with, and how he was traveling. Being a hostage isn't particularly fun.

"What's..." Ce'Thera began. There was a peculiar rhythmic thudding noise coming towards her. "...That" she said after a pause. They were footsteps; now was not a time to be spotted.

A young girl with mile long green legs came into the clearing. Ce'Thera groaned inwardly from her hiding place. The dryad girl stopped and looked around. It was suspicious to see a horse with a hostage leaned up against it in the middle of the forest.There was a russling in the branches above the dryad and suddenly a person popped outof the branches yelling "SURPRISE!"

Ce'Thera stuck a landing almost 3 inches away from the dryad and caught the girl in a rough embrace. "CELIA!" she yelled gaily.

"Don't DO that!" The princess said in a shocked voice, three seconds away form a heart attack.

"But it's my job to surprise people," Ce'Thera protested, having backed away from her startled friend.

Celia lowered her hood and unwrapped her scarf. "How did you know it was me?" Celia asked

"It's my job to know who people are!" Ce'Thera said in the same type of voiced protest. "But seriously," She said matter-of-factly, "Humans don't have green ankles; you need a longer cloak."

Celia inspected her ankles for a moment. "I guess I do, don't I?" She looked beyond Ce'Thera. "Who's the blond?" Those kind of words excited her. she didn't say 'blond' or 'brunet' very often when everybody in her kingdom had leaves for hair.

"Let me introduce to you, Marshall Te'Neil of the military captial, Center City 6006. Second in command and honered captive of Ce'Thera the pirate." Ce'Thera said in her fake imperial tone.

"Really? How interesting," Celia said, stiffling a laugh.

Ce'Thera turned to face Te'Neil. "May I introduce, her Imepiral Highness, Princess Celia. Heiress to the Dryad throne, current runaway, and childhood friend of yours truly."

"Honered..." Te'Neil muttered.

"Is it that obvious?" Celia asked, "That I'm a runaway, I mean."

"Celia, Celia, Celia. You are the future queen of a whole Empire, and you are not 'escourted' by a hundred or so armed guards. Not only that, you are in disguise. And on top of that! You father hates me. If you are even here at ALL, it's because you snuck out of the palace."

"My Father doesn't hate you!" Celia replied indignantly. Ce'Thera gave her a steady look while one eye brow raised. "Much..." Celia added sheepishly after a moment.

"I rest my Case." Ce'Thera said, throwing her hands into the air helplessly. "According to my sense of direction, there should be a small town to the north of here. Let's stop there for a few days. We need horses for both you AND prince charming back there," She gestured vaguely towards Te'Neil, "You two also need disguises if I'm gonna move around at all. And we need supplies: food, soap, pots, pans, yatta, yatta, yatta. We've gotta long road ahead of us, boyos! Let's get cracking." She turned around to get her horse.

"Um, Ce'Thera," Celia said hesitantly, "When are we going? After the town, I mean."

"We're going to the Western Kingdoms"
Thane's eyes snapped open. He swore. It had all been a dream. A good dream for that matter.
He wished it had come to pass. But if wishes were fish there would be no room left in the oceans for water.
He shook his head, and flicked hair out of his face. He was proud of the mane of hair he grew. When he had lived with the wolves it had been longer, and a mark of power and authority in the clan. Now people thought of it with contempt, but Thane did not care. What other people thought did not matter to him.
They could think he was bloody devil and not even care.
He got out of bed and paced around his room, going over the details of his dream. It had been so vivid. Maybe it was a vision of what would come to pass?
Maybe, but Thane did not dwell on maybe's very often, so he dismissed the thought.
Just you wait Theo, just you wait.
The town was little, And I mean little. Ce'Thera found no reason to stay for very long. However, the purpose she had in going there had been served. Her overly excited companion and her human captive were now artfully disguised.

Celia wore a light, light, pale blue peasant's tunic with a pale lavender embroidery along the hems, which enhanced the color of her eyes slightly. Her utilitarian, brown leather sandals had straps that criss-crossed all the way up her calves in an intriguing pattern. She also had a long black traveling cloak that hid her face slightly, and had all the flowers brushed out of her fine oval shaped hair. She was mounted on a young dappled grey mare that had its mane and tail braided. She herself wore a pout.

Te'Neil and his blank expression was wearing a brown leather dublet and brown leather riding pants to match. His half-boots came to mid-calf were heavy soled and tough toed. He wore a heavy, quality, brown traveling cloak, mostly to cover his hair while they were in the eastern forests. Except for his fists, he was unarmed. His hands were no longer tied, which is the only freedom Ce'Thera allowed him to have. His flea bitten grey horse was over weight and disobedient. They also bought pack horses and supplies to last them the whole trip.

Ce'Thera was in her traditional tight black leather riding pants, white baggy shirt, black leather boots, and tight, black leather, sleeveless vest that seemed to hug her lusciously curved figure and to push her bosom to giddy heights.

"How long has is been now?" Celia asked in a half complaining, half spiteful voice.

"I'd say about a half of a mile since you last asked, your highness" Ce'Thera said, adding a mocking emphasis on the last word. Celia pouted again, but said nothing.

"We're going south," Te'Neil pointed out.

"THANK YOU! Even though I have a compass, I DIDN'T KNOW THAT!" Ce'Thera yelled dramatically. Te'Neil was silent and emotionless.

"Hey, I thought we were going to take over the humans," Celia said, almost shyly.

"We're gonna catch a boat at the southern tip of the continent and sail to The western Kingdoms, I can't risk going through Central, not with him near me" She pointed vaguely to Te'Neil. "Here, in this empire, he is a normal nobody. Out there," she gestured to the west, "He is Marshall Te'Neil, overseer and commander of all the troops in the whole damn world; who can arrest me. Normal nobody can't do that, now can he?"

"But, Ce'Thera, there's nothing south of here. I'll get a map out and show you, there's absolutely nothing past the maple settlements." Celia said matter-of-factly.

"Sure there is. The empire just doesn't know about it." She chuckled to herself.

"What?!" Celia yelled

"Don't worry, I know people there." a thought came to her suddenly. "Dammit, Celia, you can't tell your dad okay? You gotta swear you won't tell your dad."

Celia looked curiously at Ce'Thera "Okay..."
"Whatever old friend. Its not like Im real happy with my father anyway. I wont tell him" Celia barely heard Ce'Thera sigh with what she thought was relief. She resisted the urge to heave a great sigh herself. Riding on a horse was not her style.She had trades sore feet for a sore bottom. She raised herself of the elegant saddle, to lessen the pressure on her throbbing rear end. This trip is taking too long. She thought drearily. I wish there was something to do to keep my mind busy. She glanced over at the sulking Human. Te'Neil was still stone faced after Ce'Thera gave such a smart response. She would have giggled at him, but her discomfort was enough to hamper her good spirits.

"The people I know there are nice people, once you get to know them." Ce'Thera was talking, rather caringly, from what Celia cold tell from her tone and expression. She seemed to really care for these people.

"Do they have warm water to take a shower in? I feel so grimy." She shuddered, and brushed some of the dusty dirt off her sleeve. She glanced back over at Ce'Thera in time to see a lok of outright distaste and disgust on her face before she turned onto another trail. Celia's heart sank. She must hate me. I guess its because Ive been so talkative,...or something. She looked at the lovely braid that she had put in the horse's mane sadly. In her absentmindedness she sat down on the saddle rather hard, and she cried out at the sudden pain.

"What is it this time?" Ce'Thera turned on her horse to look tiredly at Celia. Celia winced. More at the look on her close firend's face than at the pain.

"Nothing, just got bitten by a bug is all. Dont mind me." She tried to smile, but when she did, Ce'Thera just turned back around in her saddle and rode on. Celia sighed. She does hate me.
If Ce'Thera had annoyed him before, Te’Neil was absolutely furious with her now. ‘How dear she’, was all he could think but he knew her words rang with truth. In these lands, he was no one; he even had to ride with his hair coved so no one could realize he was not Dryad. To add insult to injury, he was given the worst horse possible. However, his pride kept him from saying anything else on the matter.

He was actually intrigued by what he head, ‘lands south of here’.

“And you’re taking me there,” he spoke up.

“You keep your mouth shout,” Ce’Thera replied as she shot him an angry look, “You not going to start up any trouble, you know better that that.”

“Whatever,” Te’Neil mumbled under his breath. The glanced over at the Dryad Princess who didn’t seem as perky as she had been before. ‘I wonder what could have flattened her spirits,’ he thought as he rode up a little closer. He could have sworn she was almost to tears.

Without thinking, Te’Neil let himself slip clumsily off the horse. Celia burst out in laughter making Ce’Thera turn around to see what was going on.

“What do you think you’re doing,” She asked angrily as she rode back.

“He fell off the horse,” Celia giggled as she turned the Ce’Thera who was also slightly amused by Te’Neil’s pain.

“Glad to make everyone happy,” Te’Neil replied unenthused, as he tried to make his way to his feet. ‘I hope that that would bring better spirits to the group,’ he though as he rubbed his aching back.

“Don’t try anything smart Marshall,” Ce’Thera order as he got back on the house.

“I don’t think he’s capable,” Celia joked.

“Like I’ll consider escaping right now,” Te’Neil replied, “As long as I’m here in the East I’m safer with the two of you than wonder around aimlessly.”

“True,” Ce’Thera responded as she turned back around. Te’Neil and Celia followed as new lands began to appear before them.

Thane

"The dream you beheld will come to pass eventually. Though not quite the way you imagined his death." The old woman said to Thane. He nodded. This woman was an Accepted. Accepted into a tribe of wolves, and since all wolves are brethren, she is thus a sister to Thane in spirit.
She closed her eyes, her hand over Thane's. "Your future is cloudy, Thane. To cloudy to read. I only see power, and . . . revenge I believe. Your revenge against your family."
Thane nodded again. This was all he needed to hear.
He handed her a money purse that clinked, and was rather heavy. "Thank you. I might be back again sometime, sister." And with that he walked out of the dark room, into a dark alleyway. He slowly made his way through the dark streets, towards the keep.
It was hard for Ce'Tehra to seee the forest thickening around them, since she was dozing lazily in her saddle. They had been force to move at a walk for sometime now. If they moved any faster one of the horses would surely trip on the many ancient roots.

Ce'Thera's head perked up. It was faint, but it was there. She heard it. She looked around hopefully, standing up in her stirrups to get a better look. A polished gray stone hopped down from the upper branches of a nearby tree. Merrily, Ce'Thera lept from her saddle. Taking the stone in both hands, she threw it high above her head, back into the tree. A silence passed where nobody dared to move an inch. The rock did not fall back down.

Looking satisfied, Ce'Thera straightened out and returned to her roan mount.

"Okay..." Celia murmured, "Was there a point to that?"

"We're getting close. Don't want them to attack, do you?" Ce'Thera replied brightly.

The woods persisted to get even thicker. It was barely passed noon, yet they saw very little of the sun. On the edge of the forest there was now a bright light shimmering through the dense trees. Ce'Thera grinned. Her young horse felt her excitment and attempted a jolly trot. He stumbled slightly, and continued to walk. The small party advanced past the last line of tree to find themselves in a vast openness. A flat grassland, free of trees, shrubs, or foliage.

There was but one thing to obstruct its peaceful emptiness, and it came quite abruptly. A great, 20 foot wall, made from whole tree trunks, sharpened at the tops and stuck deep within the ground.

Ce'Thera turned to look at her awed companions. Celia left her mouth agape, her eyes gleaming with curiousity. Te'Neil looked emotionless, yet distinctly surprised. Ce'Thera pulled up the hood of her worn brown cloak.

"Celia, put on your cloak. Both of you, keep your hoods up." Ce'Thera instructed.

"Why?" Celia asked softly while she removed her pale lavender cloak from her saddle bag.

Ce'Thera grinned. "Theatrics..."

They approached the city at a canter, Ce'Thera leading them confidently towards it. They stopped not far from the grided steel gate. A young man from atop the wall yelled down to them, "Identify yourselves!" Ce'Thera looked up at him and slowly lowered her hood. The man disappeared from view. There was a voice from inside the city, "The Queen has returned!" There were shouts of joy and approval as the gate slowly rose to admitt them entrance.

"All hail Our Queen!" Someone announced as Ce'Thera and the others proccessed into the town. Ce'Thera smiled and waved at the small crowd of young men and a few young women. Celia looked extremely confused and exasperated. Te'Neil was calm and sat staring at the crowd of people. They continued to walk down the street as the commotion slowly died down. They reached the end of the street and stopped infront of a small house with ivy covered stone walls and a thatched wooden roof. Ce'Thera slid effortlessly off her horse and stood in the cobble stone street.

"Welcome to my humble abode! It might not be much but it's where were staying tonight." Ce'Thera told them with a sincere affection in her voice.

"Tell me what they're doing calling you 'queen'" Celia demanded furiously.

Ce'Thera laughed. "It's only a joke, your highness," Celia flinched "Besides, we can talk about this later. Let's unpack the horses and put them in the barn out back."

__________________________


Te'Neil was arranging wood in the fireplace when Ce'Thera walked inside.

"You have some explaining to do!" Celia flared, jumping up from her seat near the fire hearth.

"I know, I know, I just wanted to see your expression is all," Ce'Thera said calmly. Her face became sober, "I started this town a long, long time ago. Back when my adventuring days as pirate were still fresh and my crew, undiciplined." She took in a breath as Te'Neil got a small fire started. "This just used to be a village for my men and me. We never named it. Whenever we reffered to it, it was usually 'back to the village' or 'go home' and everyone knew what we were talking about.

"As for the nick name 'Queen', I was captain of the ship, everyone answered to me and I answered to no one, I ruled over my crew, and no one complained or disagreed with my dicisions. And when ever I was in a bad mood my crew would answer 'yes, your majesy' to my angry commands. I guess it just stuck." Ce'Thera scooted closer to the now roaring fire to warm herself better.

"Your people..." began Te'Neil, "Your crew...They're all..."

Ce'Thera smiled weakly. "Yes, I know. You wouldn't think there would be so many half-breeds, would you? Most of the are just decendants from human-Dryad children. But, there are a few with parents like mine..."

Celia was silent, her eyes full of pity. Te'Neil stared intently at his toes.

"My whole crew was made up of them. But after I was forced to leave the sea life my crew settled permanently here, when ever I saw one like us, in my travels I would send them here. In Central, The West, or the East, it didn't matter, they were always abused by the people around them and I pitied them, for I never had to go through that.

"I was born on the sea and raised on the sea. I never felt abuse like that before. That's why I made my crew, made this town. I couldn't stand having more than my equels did..." Ce'Thera sunk her face into her hands. Her head resurfaced and her eyes were red and her cheeks pale. "I'm not that hungry, I think I'll go to bed." She rose immediatly from her seat and walked upstairs.

"See you in the morning"
Celia was about to call after her old friend but thought better of it and stared at the fire instead. Te'Neil was still staring at his toes.

"Its been so long since I last saw her..." Celia said more to herself than anyone else.
"...I had forgotten." She could feel Te'Neil look at her and she stood up. "I'm going for a walk."

"Go ahead. Im staying where its nice and warm and away from those pirates." He spat the word with such disgust that Celia gave him the dirtiest look she had ever given anyone in her entire life. However, Te'Neil was scootching closer to the fire and didn't seem to notice. Celia grabbed her cloak roughly, flung it on, and whisked out the door.

"Drama queen." She heard Te'Neil mutter as she was shutting the door. She gave a short
snarl of disgust, but pulled her hood tighter as a brisque wind attempted to take it
down. The wind was a cold one sho she wrapped herself up tightly in her cloak as she
walked.

She glanced around at the few and small cottages that dotted the dirt street. She couldn't imagine living like this, but nor could she imagine the hardships these poor
people went through. She had heard stories about how half-breeds were either treated like dirt or sold as slaves. From this point on ,she thought, I shall make slavery
illegal.
But then it struck her that she could not do that since she was not on her
throne in the Dryad Kingdom. Well, then. If I see slavery in any of the cities we
pass through I shall make it an offense towards the Dryad kingdom that any of our allies or people have, sell, or deal in slaves
.

This sentiment made her feel slightly better, but it was distracting, so she walked right into one of the people she saw in the group that greeted Ce'Thera.

"Oh, Im very sorry, sir." She said hastily, curtsying.

"Thats alright miss. Hey," He turned around and looked at her quizzicly. "arent you one
of the people that came in with the Queen? I haven't seen you around before."

"Indeed, I have known Ce- er, the Queen, from a childhood age. But we kind of fell out of touch for many years, and have just recently caught back up." She stood politely in front of the man that was at least a couple inches taller than she was. Her heart was racing
with embarrasment and fear. He was a muscular man, obviously one of the pirates that was on Ce'Thera's boat, and that was the part that
scared her. He had the green tint of the Dryad heritage, and the bulging
mustles that only a human can develop.

"You sound like you grew up in one of the fancier cities. Where ar you from?" He asked,
crossing his arms and Celia's hear beat fast with fear of what he could do with those
monsterous arms.

"Oh..um," Celia tried to think of a answer that wouldnt give away who she really was. Then
she sensed someone come up behind her.

"She's from our home town of Oakenfield." Celia felt someone's hand on her shoulder, and
turned to look. She recognized the cloak that Te'Neil wore and turned back around, and
smiled at the man.

"Yes, Oakenfield, its quite the large city now, wiht multiple peoples coming for tourism.
Very profitable." Celia forced a pleasant smile.

"Well, we better get back now. The queen might need us." Te'Neil said, pulling slightly
on her shoulder.

"Oh, right." The man said, smiling warmly. "I shouldnt keep you from your duties to the
Queen. Have a nice day."

"Same to you." Celia and Te'Neil chimed. As soon as the man had turned his back and was
walking away, Te'Neil snatched his hand off Celia's shoulder.

"Wow, I never thought Id-" Celia turned to smile at him but he was already walking back towards the cottage.

"Next time, dont go wandering by yourself. That man could have crushed you like a bug." He said, his back still turned.

"Hmph." Was the only thing Celia gave him the privelidge of hearing out of her. They both wlaked back to the cottage where Celia continued to worry about her best friend.
Thane ducked easily as the trainee swung his wooden practice blade at him, and then slashed with his own practice blade.
It caught the trainee a hefty blow to the knee.
He buckled, but as he fell to the floor he swung his sword heavily, knocking Thane's feet out from under him.
Thane was up first, and offered his hand to the young man. As he pulled him up he turned to his general.
"He's good. Very good... and creative. Move him up to Sword Lt. of my personal guard."
The young man grinned, but the smile turned into the stoicness of a trianed soldier, as Thane turned to him.
"Report to Captain Thor. He will suit you up and get someone to outfit you."
With a nod to his general he walked out of the room.
Now time for some refreshment. He thought. He walked to his room and changed his clothes to a black and silver tunic, with a black coat with silver dragons laced up the arms, with leather pants.
He was supposed to have a feast tonight with several of the nobles of another city.
Unless they were going to pledge themselves to him, they would not leave the room alive.
He smiled as he walked to the banquet hall. Soon, so soon, he would be the master of the West.
The other two had long gone off to sleep. Ce'Thera sat on the balcony at the far end of her bedroom, her legs hanging off the edge. She laid her arms across the polished stone railing and lay her head sleepily upon them. Rain started to drizzle down upon her. Thunder crashed in the cloudless night sky. But even the strange weather did not pique her interest. Her silken nightgown beaded the water and allowed it to run off her body. The crystal droplets alighted in her raven hair and gave it a jewel-like quality, not even dampening her thick curls.

Evenings like this reminded her of those stormy nights when she was growing up. The thunder would crash and she would fly to her mother for comfort. Her mother's soothing voice and natural smell of lavender and peppermint would lull her to sleep almost instantly. She would sing a song of a sea-faring pirate who knew no fear until he fell in love with a beautiful dryad maiden, but even then he only saw her at night during harsh storms when he could not sail. Then his maiden died by drowning in such a storm and so when ever it rain he cried for his lost love...

The rain is falling, falling, falling
Falling from the Sky
The rain is falling, falling, falling
Falling from the Sky

I never knew a time of fear
or when I shed a tear

But now my heart has gone to pieces...


Ce'Thera's voice became thick with sad memories and unwanted tears and the melody slowed down.

...My final rest is near...


The bedroom door slid open a crack and a streak of light painted the floor.

...My tears are falling, falling, falling
Falling from My Eyes...


Ce'Thera silently pulled her legs up onto the balcony and crawled into her royally decorated bed and pulled the velvet sheets up to her chin.

"You can go to bed now, Marshall," There was no hint of mock in her voice. It had a dream like, crystal quality to it.

And with that the door slid closed again.

______________


Ce'Thera came downstairs, dressed in her freshly laundered leather outfit. Te'Neil was curled up in his blankets next to the fire. He had to sleep downstairs, since Celia had taken the guest bedroom. He stirred the moment Ce'Thera's black half boots touched the polished stone floor of the living room. She ignored him and went straight to the kitchen.

It wasn't very light outside yet. She wouldn't be surprised if the others didn't wake up for at least a couple of hours. She took a brass kettle from a hanger on the wall and went out to the courtyard. The courtyard behind the house was a large square. There were four paths, all leading up to the center of the yard, where a young oak tree stood covered in grapevines. Along the path between the house and the tree was a bridge that crossed a small stream whose banks were thick with wild flowers and fragrant grasses.

Ce'Thera took the lid off the kettle and placed it just beneath the water of the stream. She pulled it back up and replaced the top. She looked at the vine coated oak tree with a faint yearning. Then turned to go back inside.

Te'Neil was waiting in the kitchen. His hair was matted, his eyes, half open, and his face, scruffy.

Behold, Prince Charming... Ce'Thera thought with a smirk. "We should leave today, while we still have good weather."

Te'Neil didn't answer, he just stared into space. Ce'Thera took a small bottle out of a pouch in her belt and uncorked it. A flowery smell filled the room instantly, catching Te'Neil's attention. Ce'Thera removed one of the vibrantly colored leaves and added it to the kettle of water. She re-corked it and placed it back in her pouch. She took the kettle into the living room and placed it on one of the skinny iron arms above the fireplace. She stoked the burning embers and added more wood.

Te'Neil came out of the kitchen, scratching his head. He opened his mouth to speak.

"That's okay," Ce'Thera told him, "I forgive you for sneaking into my bedroom and listening to me sing."

Te'Neil looked offended and began to speak again.

"Why yes," Ce'Thera said, cutting him off, "You can use the bathroom in my room to clean up. You wouldn't want the pretty princess to see you like this."

Te'Neil's eye brows furrowed and ended up marching upstairs anyway. She smiled after him.

______________


Ce'Thera was sipping her flowery tea when Celia came downstairs in a plain white dryad tunic. She was glowing in a damp way that only women can after they've had a satisfying bath.

"Didn't you bathe just last night?" Ce'Thera said gently.

"Yes, but I couldn't help having another one," She answered dreamily. Te'Neil ignored the whole conversation, he sat in the corner eating the porridge Ce'Thera made for him. He was now crisp and handsome looking again.

Celia took a bowl off the low coffee table and filled it to the brim with piping hot porridge that was now hanging over the fire instead of the brass kettle. "When are we leaving do you think?" She asked, sitting down in a chair next to Ce'Thera's.

"Sometime today; Whenever we're ready," Ce'Thera answered, watching Celia fan her scalded tongue.

"Tho thoon?" Celia asked with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. Ce'Thera nodded, taking another sip of tea.

Ce'Thera packed up her cooking supplies in the kitchen and all of her traveling items scattered around her bed room. Te'Neil was waiting outside with his belongings already packed and Celia followed not long after. A skinny, yet somewhat muscular, young man with light green skin and spiked blond hair was passing the house.

"Cedric! Cedric, come here!" Ce'Thera called to him.

"How may I serve you, your majesty?" He said with a huge grin on his face.

"Ha ha," Ce'Thera said, rolling her eyes, "everyone, this is my First Mate, Cedric."

"Cedric?" Asked Celia, "Ce'Thera, wasn't that the name of your old boyfriend?" Ce'Thera coughed and both she and Cedric turned crimson.

"Oh," Celia said, lightly embarrassed herself.

"Any ways," Ce'Thera said loudly, interrupting the awkward silence, "Cedric, I need you to get the old crew rounded up and go down to get my ship ready. We're setting sail as soon as possible!"

Cedric looked shocked. "We're setting sail?! But you..."

"AH-HEM!" Ce'Thera cleared her throat. Her teal eyes were stony and they bore into Cedric like knives.

"Aye-Aye Captain!" He shouted suddenly, straightening his back and saluting. He ran off down the street looking happier than a child receiving a new toy.

Ce'Thera turned to her companions. "You get the horses ready, I need to go into town for a little while."

It wasn't long before Ce'Thera came back with a large canvas bag in hand. "I come bearing gifts!" She announced. Reaching into her bag she pulled out a thin two-edged dagger and walked over to Te'Neil. "Just in case you get in trouble." And she stuck it snugly in his right boot.

"Why don't you just give me my sword ba-"

"Nope!" She said promptly. Then she turned to Celia and revealed a long tanned piece of sheepskin. The leather was soft, however the wool was dreamy. It was long and clean and soft. Ce'Thera laid it across Celia's saddle. "You can have this until you get used to riding." Ce'Thera said cheerily. Celia was close to tears, she was so happy.

________________


They arrived at a cove outside of town. Cedric was standing on the dock off of the beach, waiting for them. He greeted them briefly and whistled loudly between his fingers. Celia winced at the shrill noise, and Te'Neil closed his eyes in annoyance. The bow of a mahogany ship appeared out of the cove and pulled in front of the docks where they were standing.

The ship was actually quite small compared to most. The railing had designs carved into it and a gap in the railing on the left side. There were empty slots horizontally cut into the side of the ship, spaced out equally, with four on each side. It had only one mast, considering its size, and parchment yellow, triangular sails. At the top of the mast was a crow's nest and a black flag bearing a skull and cross bones with wings coming off of it. A boarding plank was lowered from the gap in the railing to the sturdy dock.

"We might want to take down the flag..." Ce'Thera murmured to Cedric. She looked at Te'Neil and Celia. "This is my pride and joy: The Phoenix, in all it's glory."
Celia's mouth fell open.

"Wow." Was all she could say. Te'Neil looked at her like 'Whats the big deal?'.

"Its not THAT great of a ship." He said, a little huffily, or so it sounded to Celia.

"What do you mean?!" Celia said, looking at him with shock. "This is the most beautiful ship I have ever seen!" Then her face kind of fell and she scratched her nose. "Well, its the second ship I've ever seen,..."

"We get the point Celia." Ce'Thera said, amusement in her voice.

"Eh, heh, heh. Right." Celia tugged at one of her leaves and smiled sheepishly. Te'Neil was still looking at the small ship with an expression that Celia hadn't seen on his face before. 'Ah, oh well.' She thought, looking away from the grumpy Marshall, and back to the open sea. Ce'Thera caught Celia looking out over the sea and must have thought it as apprehension.

"Don't worry, Celia. I know this is your fist time on a ship on the open sea, but she's a good ship, and she'll take care of you." She gave Celia an encouraging smile. Celia smiled back, and they headed towards the ship. She was a bout to lead her horse up the ramp when something struck her.

"KREE! Where is Kree?!?" Her sudden cry made Te'Neil jump and made Ce'Thera turn around with a start. Celia was desperately trying to get out the little Falconer's horn her father had given her.

"Kree? What the devil is that?" This came from Te'Neil and Celia shot him a look.

"You know, I haven't noticed him in a while. When was the last time you saw him?" Ce'Thera said, thoughtfuly but not unduly upset.

"I don't know! I don't know! So much has happened lately that I never noticed he was gone! But if we leave the land, he'll never catch up! There." She finally pulled a little ivory horn out for her saddle bbag. It was a cute little thing, carved with obvious skill, and adorned by carvings of hawks, trees and other such pretty things. Celia sucked in a great breath and blew into the horn. Out of it came a very loud yet musical sound. IT could obviously travel from miles. There was a sudden scwaking of amny birds as they all took flight out of the woods. Celia then pulled out a seeing glass, extened it and looked towards the birds. It was about 5 minutes before Celia finally cried, "THERE HE IS!"

"Where? I don't see anything." Ce'Thera said, stifling a yawn.

"I'll be right back!" Celia yelled, even though it really wasn't necissary, since she was the only one that the horn was still affecting her hearing.

"Hey! Get back here! We have to leave!" Ce'Thera yelled. She groaned and started to walk her horse up onto the boat.

"We leaving her?" Te'Neil asked.

"No, you idiot, we're not. We'll just wait for her and then leave."

"Good, I dont want you going off without me!" Celia turned around in her saddle and glared at Te'Neil, who got red probably becasue he thought she coukdn't hear him. Celia spurred her horse to gallop towardsthe last brown speck that was kind of wobbling above the tree line. When she got close enough to see the bird clearly, she could tell he was hurt.

"KREE!" Celia stopped her horse right below the bird, who gave a weak squawk, and fell right into her lap from about thirty feet in the air. Blood splattered on her robe from a fresh wound in his wing. Celia's heart ached to see her pet hurt like this. She turned her horse back towards the boat, and spurred her as fast as possible towards it. However, when she got close to the ramp, she had to slow down as to not run off the ramp.

"Woah, slow down there, Celia! I said I wasn't gonna leave you behind!" Ce'Thera said, jumping out of the was of her horse. Te'Neil was looking at Celia in annoyance when he saw the blood.

"Are you bleeding?" Ce'Thera turned to Celia in worried shock, but Celia shook her head.

"Its not me, its Kree. He's got a nasty hole through his wing. I don't know how, but he's losing way too much blood." Ce'Thera inspected the bird's wing.

"There are some bandages in my cabin, follow me." Celia jumped down off her horse, and followed Ce'Thera through a door in the boat.
As the girls headed for Ce’Thera’s cabin to tend to the injured bird, Te’Neil made his way around the deck of the ship. The crew seemed to be hard at work preparing for the journey ahead. A few of them would shoot wayward glances at him from time to time, making Te’Neil overly conscious of the cloak he wore.

“Just my luck,” he mumbled under his breathe. The slightest slip up on his part most certainly would mean death. For the first time the Marshall wished he was someone else.

His mind turned to Central. Generalissimo Gra'Nal would still be searching for him, in all the wrong places Te’Neil feared. If anything the search party would have been narrowed to the more skilled of Gra’Nal’s forces, giving the regular soldiers leave to return to their normal duties.

Te’Neil almost wished they wouldn’t find him, how embarrassing would it be if they all found out that he was outsmarted and kidnapped so to speak by a girl. He’d never be able to proudly show his face in Central again.

“Curse her,” Te’Neil mumbled again a little louder this time as he glanced down at the water.

“Curse who?” a voice asked behind him. Ce’Thera was tapping his feet angrily, her brow arched.

“You naturally,” Te’Neil replied smugly. Ce’Thera did give him the satisfaction of a reply.

Celia walked up beside him, “You treading on thin ice you knew that.”

Te’Neil was a little amused by the statement. “I’m well aware,” he replied.

"Well, if your aware, then your aware of the consequences, too." Celia said, looking meaningfuly at the burly crew-men. Te'Neil seemed a little less cockey when he saw one of the bigger burly crew-men's mustles bulging as hel pulled ropes. Ce'Thera snickered, and he was once again stone faced.

"I'm gonna go check up on Kree again." Celia said to Ce'Thera, who nodded and walked up to stand next to Te'Neil. Probably to whisper threateningly in his ear. Celia walked into Ce'Thera's cabin and looked at her pitiful pet. His wing was wrappe up in a clean, white bandage, and there was a bowl of bloody water with the rag they had used to clean the wound. Celia made a note to boil some clean water later. She sat in a chair next to the table where Kree was in a nest of warmed blankets.

"Oh, Kree, Im sorry. This is all my fault." She stroked his head, and she saw his eyes fluter under the lids. She heard Ce'Thera's light footsteps come in the cabin.

"Do you think he's gonna make it?" She asked.

"I don't know. I have mever had to deal with this bad of a wound before. For all I know, if he survives, he might never fly again." Celia replied.

"Well," Ce'Thera said, "if he doesn't make it, you'll have a nice mantle peice." Celia knew this was Ce'Thera's way of trying to cheer her up, and she took some comfort in that, but she was still depressed. "Honestly, he'll be fine. Annying pets like that live forever." This made Celia snicker, and Ce'Thera patted her arm, and went back outside. Celia looked afte, her than patted her bird lightly on the stomach.

"Get, better, my friend. I might need you to spy on Te'Neil for me, later. Who knows what he could do, eh?" And with that she went out onto the deck of The Phoenix.
“You know you don’t have to keep constant watch you know, I not stupid enough to try to escape,” Te’Neil said looking at Ce’Thera who had taken Celia’s place next to him.

“You have my word as Marshall of Central,” he added in a lower voice as so no one else could hear.

“Can’t be sure about those things,” Ce’Thera replied.

Te’Neil didn’t reply but turned his sights back to the water. Now Ce’Thera was busy shouting orders to the crew.

Te’Neil was busy playing around with escape plans in his head although he knew he had to keep his word. “Is there anything I could do to help,” he asked.

Ce’Thera seemed surprised by the request,” and what makes you think you’d be any help.”

“I’ve been sailing science I was five,” Te’Neil replied, “Although I been doing it much less since I’ve actively began my duties as Marshall.”

"Too bad," Ce'Thera snapped, "Relax if you can, you uptight ass. Just try to keep out of my way." She then proceeded to walk towards him and purposely bumpped his shoulder. She reached for a rope tied to the railing. She untied it and retied it to another post. Ce'Thera walked back over to her sailors. Te'Neil disappeared below deck.

_________________


In the two weeks they spent on the open sea, Kree's wing had gotten better and insisted on riding Celia's shoulder, where ever she went. Ce'Thera found that increasingly annoying. Ce'Thera was lounging on the deck railing, when there was ashout from above.

"Land to the Port side!" The thin leafy haired lookout yelled down to the deck. Ce'Thera lazily flopped her head towards the sea and saw a thin strip of land on the horizon. The sandy black shore of the western penninsula was in sight.

"Ce'Thera! The sand is black!" Celia yelled in panic.

"Don't worry. Western soil is naturally black." She said flopping her head towards the princess. "I'd be worried if it was white." She looked back at the shore.

Te'Neil came up when the crew was getting ready to dock at a little fishing village Ce'Thera usually stopped at.

"Small..." he said.

"It's the west" she said with a grin.
Celia looked nervously at the coal-black sand. She rubbed Kree's head for support. He cried softly and nipped her ear in rebuke as if saying "Chill out."

Ce'Thera was actively helping the crew dock the boat, almost glowing with anticipation.

"She must really like this midgety place." Te'Neil walked up beside her as he said this. Kree reached out to swipe at his head, but Celia was faster.

"Oww!" Te'Neil rubbed the back of his head where she had given him a hefty thump with her fist. He glared at her, but Celia was alread following Ce'Thera and the part of the crew that was following them into the little flishing village.

"Keep up or they'll eat you alive." She said, glancing back at a hesitating Te'Neil. When she said this he glanced nervously around at the burly pirates and scurries adter her.

Celia giggled and looked at the island that held so many secrets for her. There was a charge in the air that only served to make Celia bob with excitement and nervousness. The black snad crunched beneath her feet, and she bent down to grab a handfull. She yelped and dropped it as somethign moved in her hand. Ce'Thera and her crew looked back at her as a fiddler crab crawled slowly out of the dropped mound. the guys laughed and Celia blushed madly out of pure embarrasment at being seen as such a wimp. Ce'Thera, however, walked over and gave her a warm thump on her back that made Kree fly of with an indignant squawk.

"Uh.." Celia looked at her, in confusion, but Ce'Thera just gaver one very large grin. Celia felt somewhat better, and Ce'Thera must have noticed becasue she walked off after her crew.

"Your lucky.." Te'Neil suprised Celia by saying this and suddenly appearing beside her.

"Gah! Don't scare me like that!" She punched him in the arm. He glared at her again, and finished his sentence.

"You're lucky, to have a friend like that. I hate her guts, the stupid half-breed-" He dodged another punch from Celia. "-but, but, she seems to really care for you. I'd hate to really get you mad and have her fight against me with you. You hurt bad enough." He rubbed his arm where she finally caught him the the shallow part of his arm just below the shoulder.

"Heh, you better believe it bub. Kree?" She called for him in a strangely husky voice, and the bird landed on her shoulder, and she stomped off after Ce'Thera and the others.

When she was sure no one could see her, she nursed her hand that she punched Te'Neil with, finally allowin her eyes to water as they had wanted to before. The huskyness in her voice was to hide the whine that was struggling to escape when her delicate fringer collided with Te'Neil's arm. She bit her lip, and fought back an 'owwwww!'. She shook her hand to get the blood flowing again and stuck it in her mouth. She trudged after Ce'Thera and the pirates as they headed towards the dinky fishing village Ce'Thera seemed pretty affectionate about, too.
Taking Celia and Te'Neil into town on foot, the crew was at the docking site, getting things all set and ready. Ce'Thera had a mysterious air about her, which set her two companions on edge. She stopped at one of the first houses they saw, upon entering the village and knocked on the door. The house was a rickety old shack that looked like a slight breeze could knock it over. The other houses in town didn't look much sturdier. The door opened a crack, and a hoarse whisper came from inside.

"We don't house visitors..." the door was about to close, but Ce'Thera stuck her foot in the crack and smiled

"I'm sure you can find time for me, old friend..." She said ambiguously. The door opened wider.

"Veera?" The hoarse voice whispered.

"The same," Ce'Thera grinned. The door opened so quickly, one might think it would come clean off its hinges. A short old man with wild gray hair, and tangled beard was standing behind it, and bowed slightly to Ce'Thera.

"Forgive me for not bowing lower, the passage of time has taken its toll on me. It is good to see you again, my child." The old man's crystal eyes were brimming with mirth, and his voice was in fact, not hoarse at all.

"Oh, grandfather, I missed you." Ce'Thera said, kneeling as she hugged him with such a hidden warmth. She stood up again, smiling like a little kid.

"Come in before some one sees you," He stepped aside to allow the party to enter. The house was as rickety on the inside as the outside, and seemed much smaller. There was a small cooking fire at the back of the room that had a smoking pot hanging above it.

"I am regretful to tell you that we cannot stay the night. The reason I'm here is because we need disguises." Ce'Thera told him directly.

"Very well, very well. We'll have plenty of time for that, let me look over you." He said, not taking his eyes from her face. "You are more beautiful every time I see you. Your beauty even surpasses your mother's, and she was a beauty to behold. However, you are using your beauty for the wrong reason child...You should find yourself a husband, and stop wearing such scandalous clothes." Ce'Thera reddened with embarrassment, and for some reason glanced at Te'Neil who was grinning, but stopped when she looked at him. "And where did you get those eyes?" He continued, "Both of your parents had blue eyes. It almost seems that I can hear the waves when I look into them. The sea has stolen more than just your heart, my dear." Ce'Thera's face showed her delight as she listened to the old man think out loud.

His old eyes then looked at Celia. He was deep in thought for a moment, then smiled with a grin that resembled Ce'Thera's. He bowed slightly, as he did before. "Your Highness," he said quietly, "You humble my house." Celia looked at Ce'Thera, who nodded. Celia curtsied to the old man, and smiled sweetly. The oldman turned to Te'Neil and his face grew stony. "Why have you brought such a man to my house, Ce'Thera?" Ce'Thera frowned.

"He is of no moment. He is not a bad person. I promise you, he will cause no trouble." Ce'Thera said in a strangely serious voice. "Please we need to disguise quickly, so we can leave."

"Ah, yes, yes. I always have a few roots around here somewhere." The old man went to a weathered old trunk near the fireplace, He took out a couple of fist sized tree roots and placed them on a table. Celia gasped.

"Don't worry, these trees were dead a long time ago," The old man reassured her. She relaxed somewhat. He took a sharp Ivory knife from his belt and sliced an end off of each root. He handed one to Celia and one to Ce'Thera. Ce'Thera started to unlace her vest. The old man grabbed Te'Neil by the collar and dragged him outside, closing the door behind him.

"A gentleman, does not watch as a lady undresses." The old man said coldly.

"What lady?" Te'Neil said under his breath. The old man smacked him upside the head, with surprising strength.

"You and I need to have a talk..."

Meanwhile, inside the house, Ce'Thera was nearly undressed. Celia was confused.

"What are you doing?" She asked exasperatedly.

Ce'Thera sighed. "You see that ooze coming out of the root, rub that on your skin." Celia tried it. There was a slight burning sensation, and the ooze absorbed into the skin, leaving it a creamy color.

"That's amazing! But why don't you just rub it on the skin showing?" Celia wondered, as she colored in the rest of her arm.

"Well, this one time, I got stopped at a check point, and a rambunctious officer felt the need to strip search me. Needless to say he got a surprise. But it's just for precautions."

"What If I feel like taking a bath, or it rains? What then?" Celia asked, removing her sandals.

"Water doesn't even touch this stuff. It doesn't smudge or wear-off..." Ce'Thera trailed off.

Celia grew upset. "What? I don't want to be a human! Get it off!" She began scratching at her skin. Ce'Thera grabbed a handful of ale from a barrel sitting in the corner and rubbed it on Celia's arm.

"Alcohol takes it right out. Don't worry, I wouldn't let you be a human for the rest of your life." Ce'Thera said, wiping her hand on a towel. The ale dripped off her arm, taking the milky color with it.

When Ce'Thera was all painted, and re-dressed. She inspected herself in a polished pan she had taken from a shelf. She held up the pan for Celia. The Princess jumped when she first saw the reflection, then they both laughed. Celia, finished between her toes, and began re-dressing. Ce'Thera was busy rummaging through the old trunk where her grandfather had gotten the roots.

"Is that man really your grandfather, Ce'Thera?" Celia asked in a skeptical voice.

"Not by blood. When My mother was just a child, her parents were killed by some drunken idiots who happened to come wandering out of the tavern that night, and just 'felt' like killing someone, "Ce'Thera said in a disgusted voice. Celia's face grew somber. "Ethdrig, the old man outside, happened to be in the city that day, selling fish. He ran the intoxicated.murders off, seeing he couldn't do anything for my grandparents, he took the 5-year-old dryad girl in his arms, and took her to his house...This house."

Ce'Thera took in a deep breath and sighed. She then took out a dark brown wig and held it up, and threw it back in the box. "No, I see you more as a blonde."

"Me?" Celia asked incredulously.

"Even if you have human skin, you'd have a hard time explaining leaves for hair. It may be uncomfortable, but it'll keep you from getting killed. There's a lot of bad blood towards the dryads out here." Ce'Thera took out a blonde wig and held it up again. "Too short," she commented, and tossed it back in the trunk. "Ah! Perfect!" Ce'Thera said with glee as she pulled out a blonde wig that was just shorter than her own hair. She placed the flaxen hair on Celia's head and brushed it with a comb she had picked up somewhere. The hair came down to Celia's shoulder blades and looked like it was actually her hair.

"Where did these wigs come from any ways?" Celia asked, styling the bangs of the wig, using the pan as a mirror again.

"Ethdrig made them himself. He is a very talented man, despite his looks. That's actually animal hair, but you really can't tell." Ce'Thera said, now combing her own hair.

The two girls walked outside. Te'Neil had a disturbed look on his face, as he stood waiting next to the old man, which quickly flushed as Ce'Thera stepped out of the house.

"My, you would have made a lovely human, your Highness," Ethdrig said with a smile.

"Thank you," Celia said sweetly. She touched the wig, and tucked it behind her ears. Te'Neil said nothing, he stared at the two girls with a startled, bright red face.

"While you two where getting ready, I had a nice little talk with this gentleman here. He might be a little jumpy for a few days. But, you were right, he isn't a bad fellow...for a human." The old man had wide grin that Ce'Thera often did when she did something devious. Ce'Thera gave a low chuckle, and put her hand over her mouth to try and conceal a smile.


_______________



"How long will you be gone?" Cedric asked in concern.

"As long as it takes." Ce'Thera answered shortly. She looked at him with a gentle smile. "Don't worry about me, I'm a big girl now."

"Captain, I always worry about you, you know that."

"I don't know why..." Ce'Thera said dubiously. She kissed him on the cheek and smoothly mounted her young roan. Cedric flushed, and became suddenly interested in his toes. "Are the pack horses ready?" Ce'Thera asked the crew.

"Aye, cap'n!" a burly sailor yelled in salute. Ce'Thera faced her crew as they slowly assembled into a line-up. She looked into each of their faces with a strangely serious expression. The dock was quiet except for the beating of the waves against the sturdy wood. She raised her fist into the air. "Take all!" She yelled fiercely.

"Share none!" They yelled back in unison. Ce'Thera smiled proudly at them and bade them all farewell. She turned her mount and nudged him into a walk as her crewmates cheered their good-bye behind her. She stopped next to Celia and looked at Te'Neil.

"And why are you riding that horse?" Ce'Thera asked scornfully. He looked at her in question. She pointed at a serious looking chestnut colored mare. "You ride her now. Ok let's go." Te'Neil's face flashed with strange emotion, but said nothing. He nodded and mounted his apprehensive mare.


__________________



Ce'Thera traveled at a canter, followed closely by Celia and her white mare. The packhorses trailed obediently, while Te'Neil came up at the rear. Ce'Thera rode in her traditional half-doze, but her head perked up suddenly. Her eyes searched the sparse trees that lined the road. Her face was serious and grave. Without warning, she reigned in her spunky horse and drew her jagged edged dryad knife. Five or six bandits sprang from behind the scrawny trees and ambushed the travelers.

Ce'Thera jumped from her saddle and landed on the first bandit, her dagger finding a resting place in his chest. Celia, fumbling to grasp her crystal dagger, was knocked from her horse. She cringed on the ground, defenseless. Then Te'Neil was there, his fist made contact with the attacker's jaw, making and awful crunch as the bone shattered. He staggered away, blood spurting through his clenched teeth. Te'Neil helped Celia to her feet, and rushed to join Ce'Thera. The Pirate was busy "dancing" with another bandit, mocking the man as she dodged his axe. As he was distracted, Te'Neil swiped the short axe right from the man's hands. Ce'Thera, then took that chance to smoothly stick her knife in the man, below his navel, and dragged the blade up to his throat. The Bandit Screamed in horror as he tried to keep the many colored loops and coils inside his stomach, but fell to the ground in convulsion. Celia slashed light cuts
in her attacker's body, which seemed to stun him, but not do any real damage. Ce'Thera snuck up from behind and, taking the bandit's bloodied face in her hands, twisted his neck until it broke.

"Deeper cuts, Celia! You're gonna get yerself killed!" She yelled in a panicked voice.

Te'Neil swung his dull bladed axe and simply cut off the man's head in one wide swipe. The head toppled to the ground with a dull thump. The last bandit standing decided he'd try his luck at running. Celia's brow furrowed and threw her crafted dagger. It landed between the bandit's shoulders, the blade buried so deep the hilt touched the man's skin. Te'Neil whistled slightly. He dropped the small axe on its owner's back. And went to one of the packs on the startled horses.

"And what do you think you're doing Marshall?" Ce'Thera asked arrogantly.

"Getting a shovel. Even these men deserve a proper burial." Te'Neil replied.

"That would take too long, just leave 'em in a ditch somewhere and let the wolves take care of them," She said with a malicious smile.

"Have you no respect for the dead?!" he yelled in disgust.

Ce'Thera gave him a deadly serious look. "Don't you say that! Don't you ever say that!" She stomped off to the other side of the road and sat down, her arms crossed.

Celia wheedled over to Te'Neil, her face pale. "Um, do you think you could get my knife for me?" He looked confused. Celia's face flushed in embarrassment. "This was my first actual fight, I've never killed anyone before..." she let it hang. Te'Neil's eyes softened. He retrieved the dagger, and wiped it off for her. He then took his shovel and went beyond the trees.

"What have I done? What have I done? What...what..." That simple, accusing question ran through Celia's mind over and over. Her heart was racing, her hands were clammy, and her knees were dangerously close to collapsing. Her breath was coming in short, squeaky, bursts, and she was on the verge of passing out from hyperventalating.

Te'Neil must have noticed because he gave her something to keep busy with.

"Hey! Celia!" She looked over numbly and squeaked out a small, "Yes?"

"Go find somewhere and set up camp. This is going to take a while." Celia nodded slowly as he dragged another body off into the woods. Celia half-glided towards the horses while her mind was screaming 'murderer'. She was still out of it when she nearly walked the horses into a tree. Her white stallion nipped her on the shoulder, and as Celia rubbed the wound, the horse nickered in an unmistakable laugh. Celia finally found a nice clearing near a creek that was coated in a pillow-like moss, that deafened even the horse's steps. She picketed the horses on one of the pine trees and went back to get Ce'Thera. However, when she got there, Ce'Thera was still brooding over Te'Neil's insult, and he was still playing mortitioner. The sight of the bloody and battered bodies set Celia's stomach heaving terribly and she dashed back to the campsite, and splashed her face with the icy water from the creek. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. When she eventually opened her eyes, she gave a cry and jumped back, looking around franticly. About 20 seconds later, after her legs started to cramp form being crouched and ready to flee, she realized that the blond, tan face she saw in the water was her own. As her heart rate decreased from the jack rabbit pace, she walked over to the horses and started to unload the supplies, and collect very dead wood for the fire, that, unfotunately, was a neccessity, due to the wild animals. Once she had enough wood to keep them alive through the night, she realized something.

"This was all a waste of time! I dont know how to start a fire! Ce'Thera or Te'Neil could have done all this heavy lifting!" She sighed and ran her hand through her hair. Well, the wig, actually, which she got her fingers tangled in, and had to pull off. She shook her leavey hair, and thuroughly enjoyed the feeling of air on her poor smothered greenery. The leaves and the one remailing flower perked up almost immediately. She giggled and stroked the soft petals, and decided to rinse them off.

The water in the creek was only knee deep, but there was a ledge that ran the length of the bank, where flood waters had eaten away the soil on the underside of the turf. Celia sat down on this ledge, and laid on her back, hanging her hair over the edge, and letting it trail in the water. She started to feel pinpricks of sweat breaking out on her scalp from the humidity, so she scootched foreward so that from her hairline down was submerged in the water. It felt absolutely wonderful, and Celia grinned. However, the ledge was already unstable, and the extra weight of Celia and her wet hair was too much. The ledge collapsed into the creek, taking Celia with it. Her scream was cut off by the inflow of icy water.

Right about this time, an innocent fish was swiming along the same stretch of creek. So, when Celia fell in, it was buffeted by the waves, and then it hit something and went flying through the air, then was cought by the tail in mid-air.

Celia shook her head vrigorously, and rubbed her forehead where something had smacked it as she sat up, gasping and sputtering for breath. She shivered as she rubbed the water out of her eyes, and heard laughter on the bank. Celia looked over and saw Ce'Thera doubled over, laughing, with a wriggling fish in her hand.

"I don't think they like you very much." She gasped out between laughs, "This fish became a flying one to get away from you!" She broke out in another peal of laughter.

"Well, ah, ha, ha, aren't you a comedic genious?" Celia growled, standing up. She inspected her soaked clothes and goose bumps broke out across her skin. Celia sloshed over to the bank,scrambled out, and grabbed the towel the still laughing Ce'Thera held out. She wrapped it around herself and sat down against a tree.

"I HATE getting wet!" Celia pouted. Ce'Thera gave her a funny look. "Like this I mean!" She shook her head again and embraced her knees against her dripping chest. Then she broke out in uncontrollable shivering. Ce'Thera grinned.

"'S what you get for trying to kiss the fish!" She laughed again and tossed the wriggling creature near the fire pit.
Burying the bandits was hard work, but Te’Neil did it with no complaints. Each body he laid to rest he thought about how the man had come to this, thankful that he had not chosen the same paths. When he covered the last body with the last bit of dirt, his hands were red and hurting from blisters. Te’Neil didn’t even venture to think about how sore his arms would be later.

Dropping the shovel for a moment, he stretched out his back, feeling relaxed when he heard it crack. Letting out a deep sigh, he picked up the shovel and headed to where Celia had impressively made camp. He had only wanted to give her something to keep her mind off what had happened before, but he never expected she would have done that good a job.

By the time he got there, Ce’Thera had already caught three other fish in addition to the one Celia “caught” prior.

“Why is she wet,” Te’Neil asked with a raised browed. The makeup served well to hind Celia’s blushing.

“Just fishing,” Ce’Thera replied winking slightly at Celia.

“So we are to be having fish for dinner,” Te’Neil smiled slightly. He had not realized how hungry he had been until that very moment.

““We”, Marshal,” Ce’Thera replied unabated, “I afraid you’re mistaken,” handing him a makeshift fishing rod, “you have to get your own.” Te’Neil flashed her an evil look, but Ce’Thera was unfazed, “Be happy I’m even giving you the rod, I should make you catch the fish with you hands.”

“Well why don’t you?” Te’Neil replied his voice raising just enough to anger Ce’Thera more than she already was. She pulled the rod away form him forcefully, causing his blistered hands to burn. He grimaced, gritting his teeth to keep from crying out in pain.

Celia and Ce’Thera began to eat, as Te’Neil made his way angrily over to the stream. The smell was wreaking havoc on his senses and now his stomach would not stop growling. He grumbled curses under his breathe as he got himself situated in the stream.

Someone had thought him to catch fish with his hands once, but Te’Neil would have been damned if he could remember what exactly he was to do. At least the cold water soothed his burning hands. Minutes passed with him standing perfectly still, finally a fish swam close enough for him to catch. He closed his hand in a swift motion, catching the unsuspecting fish in between.

“Ouch,” he yelled as pain raced up his arms, and he fell back into the water from share surprise. His sore hands would not allow him to hold on and the fish swam off. The girls, who had been watching on amused, burst into laughter and Celia had put to rest her earlier embarrassment after seeing how ridiculous Te’Neil looked.

“Well done, Marshall,” Ce’Thera applauded mockingly. Te’Neil sat up in the water his socking wet blonde hair clinging to his face before he swiped it from his eyes.

Ce'Thera lay in the tent she shared with the sleeping Celia, staring at the dun colored, fabric ceiling. The light of the still burning embers seeped into tent and emitted a sort of red glow that warmed her body and made lights dance across the walls. There was something uneasy about the recent nights; the dark seemed so treacherous for some reason. Ce'Thera got up and slipped on her boots, not even bothering with stockings. She leaned up against a tree, watching the mysterious burning of the charcoal. On an impulse, Ce'Thera peeked into Te'Neil's tent. He slept with a rather restless look on his face, but at least he slept. Ce'Thera went near the tree where the horses were tethered. Her horse was awake too.

"Can't sleep either?" Ce'Thera asked him, sliding her hand down his nose. He snorted, almost as if he were answering. Ce'Thera ran her hands through his short mane. There were all manners of thistles and burrs stuck in it. "Maybe I should brush those out...you could also use a bath. I might as well do it, since I'm awake." She began to pick out all of the burrs and twigs and such, while enjoying the silent company of her animal. When Ce'Thera was finished picking all the burrs out of his tail, she got a coarse brush and a cake of soap from the packs which were now strewn about the ground near the campsite. She came back to her horse and looked at him for a moment.

"I never gave you a name," Ce'Thera told him. He blinked his big black eyes at her. "What name could I possibly give you?" she asked as she untied him from the tree. She led him to the now freezing water that was the stream. She took off her boots and rolled up her leather leggings.

"Nothing cute, that's just not you," Ce'Thera said, scrubbing her nameless horse with the soap and brush. "You are a boy after all. But there are so many names. Belial, Edge, Turner, Jakken... So many things." Ce'Thera continued to clean her steed, deep in contemplation. She rinsed him off, and tied him up with the rest of the horses.

"Good night, Aden," She murmured. She unrolled her pants and carried her boots to her tent. She perked up her head. "Aden," she said again, in a hushed voice, as not to wake Celia. She grinned, and went to sleep.

_________________



The trio soldiered onward, north. The fact that the west was the largest out of the three continents meant there was so much more space to cover and longer distances to travel. The west had four main areas: its southern peninsula, its moors, its coastal mountains, and the great Western Escarpment. Those magnificent white capped peaks block off the northern coast and the Western Escarpment makes the west impregnable by land. However, that precipice is just as hard to get down as it is to get up, making trade and invasion a burdensome task.

Earlier that afternoon Ce'Thera, Celia, and Te'Neil had crossed over from the peninsula to the "Boundless, Rolling Moors of the West." The wind swept moors were a depressing, yet breathtaking landscape, new to both Celia and Te'Neil.

"The hills just seem to go on forever," Celia said with a sigh.

"Aye, that's why they be call the "Boundless" moors o' the West," Ce'Thera said, lapsing into a pirate baroque, as she often did when her mind was at peace. Ce'Thera rode in the back with the three packhorses. Te'Neil rode in front, at Ce'Thera's suggestion, and Celia rode beside him to "keep and eye on him." They were traveling on the main highway, after all. If the group happened to be stopped by a patrolling legion, it would seem suspicious if a woman were riding out in front instead of a man.

Let's get one thing straight. In the West, women are treated like objects. They can be bought or sold on a whim. It is not uncommon for a wealthy man to have more than two or three wives. Women are almost never educated. They have very few uses in the Western male mentality: cooking, dancing, reproduction, and pleasure. That's not to say they are disrespected. Western women have more spunk and attitude than healthy. They would have no problem with cutting off an unwelcome hand, making men behave themselves. Women get a third of the profit when they?re sold. In fact women make up almost half of the western army, however that is the cause of women being seen as so expendable. (This is probably the biggest argument between East and West. The Dryads are practically ruled by women.) But I digress...

"Oi, what you be thinkin' 'bout, Marshall?" Ce'Thera asked him, maintaining her baroque.

"The west seems a mystery to me. I can not even begin to understand the conflicting mentality of its inhabitants." Te'Neil's tone was rueful. "They themselves are, in most respects, barbarians, and they look the part. However, they continually surround themselves with a beauty that seems almost..." He searched for a word.

"...Magical," Celia said with a distant smile.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were a poet, Marshall," Ce'Thera grinned at him. His expression was unfazed.

It was early evening when they reached the magnificent city of Tieryn. The vast walled city reared its beauty out of the surrounding forest. Its slender towers soared white and gleaming into the sky, which at the moment was shimmering and golden. It's marble buildings created a sort of grandeur that commanded respect. And in the center of all the hustle and bustle of the street markets and shops was an enormous castle, sheathed by black marble and whose intricate spires sweep above the towers. Named Trronjeik by its current resident, a sharp young noble man whom is said to be familiar with swordplay.

Upon entering the grid iron gate to the city, there were fewer people in the street than usual. The day was ending, and people were starting to go home. A servant boy in sober livery stopped in front of Te'Neil and held out a scroll.

"Could you read this for me, Sir? My lord told me to send invitations for tomorrow's banquet, but it
slipped my lord's mind that I cannot read," the boy said with a somewhat oblivious look on his face.

Te'Neil took the scroll. "To all the lords and ladies of my court..." Then Te'Neil began to list a string of obviously western names, most of which had wealthy titles tacked on to them. He handed the boy back the scroll.

"Thank you, sir. If you'd like you could come to the party, I'm sure my lord wouldn't mind. He lives in that big castle just down the street," the boy said, pointing to Trronjeik.

"I shall consider the invitation," Te'Neil said in an unnecessary formal speech, "While I have your
attention, could you point out you finest Inn here in town?" Ce'Thera threw him a hard look. However, he was not looking.

"That'd be the Lion's Mane. It's on the street just to the right of here."

"Thank you," Te'Neil told the boy in a pleasant tone. The boy ran off to deliver the invitations.

"'Finest Inn'? You're joking right?" Ce'Thera said, riding to the front of the group.

"Oh please, Ce'Thera, I'm so tired of these campsites and ramshackle Inns. Please?" Celia pleaded. Te'Neil grinned.

Ce'Thera threw her hands into the air helplessly. "Fine, I suppose it wouldn't hurt. Let's go."

The Lion's Mane was a tidy little piece of land. After half an hour of haggling down the price, they were able to stow their horses in the stables out in the back of the Inn. The entrance hall was a quaint little dining hall with a cozy fire pit in the center of the room. It seemed the majority of the guests were eating dinner. Ce'Thera asserted herself before Te'Neil could address the Inn owner.

"My master has taken a religious vow of silence, so I hope you don't mind my speaking for him," Ce'Thera said, shooting a glance at Te'Neil. "We would like to rent a fairly large apartment for a few days."

"Alright, I'll see what we have available." He checked a chart nailed to the wall and picked out a fair sized apartment. "I'll have someone show you up."

"We will require a maid of sorts, and see that a dressmaker is sent to our room. Some of our packs were held up with bad weather and we need new clothes made. If you would also have the water to our baths opened. All of this should be done as quickly as possible. His lordship does not like to be kept waiting, "Ce'Thera said in a rather commanding voice that left little arguing. "My lord will take care of the price and such," she said as a maid came around to show them to their rooms. Ce'Thera threw Te'Neil a smug little grin, that only he saw, as she and Celia were lead away.

The walls of the apartment were adorned with colorful tapestries and the polished marble floors donned rather foreign looking rugs. The room looked, altogether, rather plain. There was one large common room and two bedrooms, and one extensive bathroom close to the size of the common room.

"Here, I'll show you how the baths work," Ce'Thera said, stepping into the bathroom. This seemed like a strange gesture to Celia. "I wonder if they opened the water yet," Ce'Thera said, thinking aloud as she fiddled with the little metal knobs next to the vast marble basin that served at the tub. Steaming water suddenly began to flow from the intricate silver pipe that protruded from the wall, efficiently filling up the basin. Celia jumped back in surprise, and then clapped her hands together in delight. At that moment Te'Neil walked into the apartments with an irritated look on his face. He was not at all ready to witness Celia taking off her clothes right in front of him. Leaving the clothes on the floor, she flung her wig off and jumped into the tub. Ce?Thera calmly came walking out of the bathroom to find Te'Neil standing rigid and red faced in the common room. He was even beginning to sweat, not taking his eyes off the spot where Celia was standing.

"You have to understand that bathing is a very communal thing in the East," Ce'Thera said as she began picking up Celia's clothes and folding them. "She feels no shame in dressing and undressing in front of men. In the dryad culture nakedness is somewhat more common. Even all the athletic events take place with out any clothing. She is ignorant to the customs of the humans. I will speak with her about it but she probably won't pay attention."

"I've never seen someone so enthusiastic about a bath before," Te'Neil said after he calmed down a little. His ears were still flaming.

"The pipes. The West has an advanced piping system that allows water to be heated in the basement and then sent into the rooms through steel or ceramic pipes. Central at least has an aqueduct system,but this is the first time Celia has seen anything likethis," Ce'Thera explained, closing the door to the bathroom. By then Te'Neil relaxed enough to sit down on the over stuffed couch placed in front of the cold fireplace.

Ce'Thera set Celia's plain white tunic aside. She sighed when she realized one of the sandal straps was coming loose. Ce'Thera fished through the saddle packs and found her sewing kit. Te'Neil removed his brown leather half boots and reclined on the over stuffed couch. Ce'Thera held out her hand to him.

"Give me your shirt," She said with a roll of her eyes. He looked confused. "It has a hole in it,
stupid. I'm gonna patch it for you." He shrugged. Lowering her eyebrows in annoyance, Ce'Thera marched over to him and, grabbing the doublet on either side, yanked his shirt up over his head. Te'Neil remained on the couch, looking a bit disheveled. She took out a long brown thread from a spool and chomped down on the string to break it. She threaded it through her needle and began angrily to stitch up the hole. To occupy his time, Te'Neil decided to make a fire with the logs piled up next to the fireplace. As soon as the fire was a suitable size, he lounged on the couch again and, without meaning to, fell asleep.

A while later Celia emerged from the bathroom, wet and satisfied. She looked at the sleeping Marshall and smiled softly. She dressed in the neatly folded tunic on the table in the center of the common room. There was a knock on the door. Ce'Thera set her sewing aside and answered it. Celia hurried to put her wig on. An earthy looking woman invited herself in, looking critically at Ce'Thera.

"I am the dressmaker you called for." She furrowed her brow. "By the looks of things we should get to work right away." Ce'Thera bit her lip not to lash out at the rather portly looking woman. The awoken Te'Neil grinned. "Where can I set up?"

"In the bedroom will be alright, I don't want to bother my master with this frivolous activity,"
Ce'Thera said in a strangely meek voice. She led the woman into the larger of the two bedrooms, followed by Celia fixing her wig. The ladies shut the doors behind them.

Te'Neil stayed in the common room. There was a soft knock on the door. He answered it. A young girl of 12 or so stood shyly in the doorway.

"I'm the maid your lordship called for," she said quietly. Not sure he should talk, remembering the "vow of silence" he was under. He pointed to the door of the bedroom. The girl obediently followed his instruction and disappeared behind the oak doors. He resumed his position and continued his nap.

"I want you to wear a dress all day. At least until the party. Nothing fancy, just a simple gown. You need to learn to wear a dress properly," The dressmaker was saying.

"So we are going to the party?" Celia asked, closing the door behind the young maid.

"We were invited weren't we?" Ce'Thera said monotonously. She stood on a little step stool, holding her arms out so the dressmaker could measure her.

"Take off your clothes, dear. I need to see what I'm working with," The portly woman chided her. Ce'Thera's face flamed as she did so. The dressmaker stood studiously over her.

"This is ridiculous..." Ce'Thera muttered. Celia hushed her, unable to hide a grin.

"I'm not impressed, however, you are lucky in the fact that many girls your age are rather flat chested. We should use that to divert attention from your rather...round behind," The dressmaker said bluntly. She started to take measurements.

Ce'Thera was appalled. "Excuse me?" she yelled in an exasperated voice.

"Oh, shush, Ce'Thera," Celia giggled, "What did you say your name was?"

"Jethera, my lady," the matronly woman said, not stopping her task. She wrote a note down on a piece of paper, and handed Ce'Thera a simple gray dress. "All right, your turn missy," she addressed Celia. There were a few passing comments about her height, but nothing momentous. Being fitted for a dress seemed like second nature to Celia. "If you don't mind my saying, you would look rather charming in a lavender color. What do you think?"

"Are you kidding? My skin clashes terribly with purple!" Celia exclaimed.

"What are you talking about, child? Your light complexion and blond hair look great with purple," Jethera said in a baffled voice.

"oh, right..." Celia caught herself, "Now that I think about it, lavender sounds delightful. Maybe in a satin fabric?"

"Oh, of course. That would be lovely. How about you, Ce'Thera?" Jethera asked, writing a note on a piece of paper.

"I think a deep blue would suit her," Celia mentioned.

"Yes, trimmed with silver, elegant, very elegant. But something will have to be done with her hair."

"It has to be put up, add a braid or two."

"And a some ribbons trailing down, maybe?"

"Oh yes!" Celia agreed. They became engrossed in conversation over "maybe" and "what if we," which seemed dull to the pirate girl. Hair and fashion were never a big part of her life. It may have been a nice change to dress like a girl for once, but it seemed like so much work for just a party that lasted only a few of hours.

Celia was absolutely delighted. She was finally being pampered the way she liked. The West had some absolutely wonderful adaptations, and she especially liked the flowing water. The bath had felt wonderful on her grimy and dirty skin. She was currently disgussing the minor details of her outfit for this evening as if she were at home in the palace getting dressed for a ball. She looked over at Ce'Thera.

"I can't wait for the party, I wonder if Ill se anyone from the- er, home." She almost let slip 'the palace' but was able to correct herself without too much attention from the dresser. Ce'Thera shot her a hard look.

"Of course you won't. The West is different remember? I told you this on the road. But I must admit, it should be rather amusing to go."

Jethera stood up, groaning slightly.

"alright, Ill go make your dress, Miss. It should be done in a little and Ill come back and make sure it fits and make and adjustments needed." She nodded to both Ce'Thera and Celia before scuffling out, the little maid girl close behind. Celia sat happily on the corner of the bed, smiling.

"That was fun. Its been a while since Ive felt so pampered." She grinned wider when she looked at Ce'Thera. "You were about to have a fit! Havent you ever been fitted for a dress before?" Ce'Thera just threw her a frustrated and exasperated look, before walking back out to where Te'Neil was. Celia just started to laugh.
Thane sat at his magnificently set out table, playing with his wineglass out of boredom.
He had no use for inane young woman who only babbled about clothes and fashions and men they could bed, nor could he stand foppish men who were only interested in money or women they could bed.
If his mood had only been slightly better he would have had the patience to carry on conversations with his guests. He was brooding over the words that the Sage had given him. Revenge. And power. He chuckled. Several of the women their laughed with him, though having no idea what he was laughing at.

Let them linger in their ignorance. He thought.

But, he poliely ignored them, allowing them to do as they pleased.

As the night wore on several more guests arrived. Acting as the gracious host that he was supposed to be, he thanked them all for coming.

One group, though, puzzled him. He knew most of the guests that were coming. Various lords and ladies with their servants, and a few wealthy business owners. He had even had a private banquet that afternoon for many of the poor people in his city that were without food and clothing.
But this group was strange. It was made up of two women and a man. One of the women had a hawk on her shoulder and walked with a strange swagger that was uncustomary to women, and more with proud men, who usually were proficient with blades. The second woman was not much different than the young ladies that had attended his party.
Ditzy, proud, and talkitive; she laughed too much. Her skin had a green tint to it, strangely.
Something stirred in the back of his mind. A dryad? He asked himself. He raised his eyebrow, moving on to study the young man.
He was dressed in a very flashy suit of blue, and though he looked quite handsome in it, he looked uncomfortable, and he glanced down at the fabric, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles.
He looked a soldier to Thane. He probably was some high-ranking officer, and he had a Central toungue in his mouth. Why would a Central officer be at his party?

After he had them seated he resumed his own seat. He tapped his sword handle as he comtemplated his newly arrived guests. What would a Dryad, a female sword-master, and a Central officer be doing here? He would wait, and watch.
Celia had fallen immediately into the crowd of high born ladies. Ce'Thera shifted uncomfortably in the dress Jethera had made. It was a deep royal blue, velvet gown with intricate silver embroidery along the cuffs and rather low neckline. It was a somewhat simple dress, which weighed more than it appeared to. Celia had done something complex so that Ce'Thera's raven hair trailed down across one shoulder. When she first saw it in a mirror it did look rather nice. Now it all just seemed like so much.

Celia, wearing a wig, simply held her flaxen hair back with a bronze circlet that resembled leaves blowing in the wind. Her simple satin gown was a soft shade of lavender with bronze embroidery along the hems and neckline. She and Ce'Thera looked like a pair and opposites at the same time, almost like day and night.

Ce'Thera seem alienated from the frivolous conversation of dresses and hosiery. While Celia
seemed rather engrossed, Ce'Thera scouted out the party guests. The lordlings were mixed with the businessmen, who mixed among the courtiers, all of which resulted in a babble of general small talk and gossip. Ce'Thera was in the middle of a great sigh when she noticed the man at the head of the table watching her. He was a lean faced young man with an air that commanded attention. His fine black doublet complimented his dark features, making him to be a comely bachelor, no doubt the host of the banquet. Ce'Thera nodded to him slightly. He raised his wineglass in acknowledgment. She turned to Te'Neil who sat beside her at the banquet table.

"This is where you start pulling your weight, Marshall," She told him quietly.

"You act as if I'm your comrade," He said into his goblet, "I am your prisoner, remember?"

"If you were my prisoner, I would have killed you once I crossed that border into the East. No, you chose to follow me. You could have run a long time ago, and I wouldn't have stopped you," She countered, her voice condescending.

Te'Neil paused a moment. "What do you want?" he asked in a hushed voice.

"Here are the roles, I am your possession. You are my cousin, your uncle died and he left me as your property."

"What do you mean?"

"This is the West, women are objects here. We're hardly considered human. In fact we are one of the most expensive commodities a man could own. What I want you to do is sell me to that man at the head of the table."

"Want me to what?" he asked incredulously.

"You better prepare. After I talk to him a while, I will signal to you. You then come over, shoo me away and peddle me off."

"You're crazy!" he whispered exasperatedly.

"Watch for my sign," She said standing up.

Ce'Thera didn't hide her direct route. She pushed a rat-faced yes-man from his chair and sat down next to the appealing lord at the head of the table.

"I hope you don't mind my boldness, my lord, but the man's propositions seemed to bore you,"Ce'Thera said in a perfect replica of the harsh western accent.

"Indeed, but I seem to be in good company at the moment," He said, taking a sip from his wineglass. Ce'Thera lowered her lashes flirtatiously. She turned his free hand palm-up and ran her fingers along the lines.

"you have strong hands," she noted, admiringly. She ran her fingers along his. "But not so strong as to obstruct your dexterity." She smiled. "But your skin is so rough, and callused. You should wear glove, keep your hands sensitive to touch." She removed a glove, and pressed her palm against his to let him feel how soft her hands were. His eyes watched her face as she slipped her hand away from his. Ce'Thera glanced up to meet his gaze,and smiled again. He pushed a stray hair from her face, his expression remained cool and unreadable.

"From where do you hail?" he asked.

"My father from the southern peninsula died recently, and left me to my cousin, who lives on an island off of Central's south western coast. He is up here on a business trip."

"A business-class family?" He asked, somewhat disinterested.

"Yes," Ce'Thera concluded simply. Her eyes fell on the wineglass. "May I?" she asked reaching out her hand. He relinquished it to her with no comment. She swirled the wine, the crimson climbing up the wall of the goblet with each turn. She delicately breathed in the aroma, closing her eyes. She brought the cup to her lips and drank. The wine had a certain satisfying bite to the flavor. It warmed her stomach.

"You certainly paid enough for this," Ce'Thera said, handing back the glass. "It has a smoothness, a coastal trait. I'd say a mountain valley to the west of here."

"Very good," he said with a surprised grin. "The Schekat Monastery, in the coastal mountains. When will you cease to amaze me?" He had an alertness to his words. Leaning closer, he took a lock of her hair between two fingers and held it to his nose. She lowered her lashes again. The band of minstrels struck a waltzing tune. The host stood up.

"Would you like to dance?" He asked with an unreadable grin. He offered his hand. Ce'Thera was hesitant, but placed her hand in his. He led her to the dance floor, taking her right hand in his left, and laying his right hand on her waist. Her left hand went instinctively to his shoulder, and he led the waltz.
Celia was enjoying herself to the fullest. She chatted away, beaming at the glorious outfits and stately hair styles. However, she noted smugly, none looked as good as Ce'Thera's. Celia was very proud of her creation becuase it went well with Ce'Thera's dress and it framed her pretty face perfectly. There was a twang of envy though, because Ce'Thera's dress seemed to draw more eyes from the men even though Ce'Thera kept to herself.

Celia looked down at her dress, smoothing out a wrinkle and noted how skinny and rather flat she was. She sighed and drew a glance from a young Lord and a question if everything was alright. His companion, a busty woman with a scandelously low neckline glared at Celia for drawing the attention of her prey from her.

Celia smiled reassuringly, and replied that everything was fine and that she just needed some fresh air. What she really wanted to do was locate Ce'Thera because she seemed to dissapear, along with Kree, a while ago.

The couple kept chatting like little songbirds flitting about. Celia looked around for her friend in the meandering croud, but couldn't see her. So, finally giving up she went to see if Ce'Thera was still at the table with Te'Neil.

When Celia got to the table she noticed that Ce'Thera wasn't there but Te'Neil had a profoundly disturbed look on his face and was absently poking a bit of meat that Kree was attempting, unsuccesfully, to filch.

Te'Neil jumped slightly in his seat when Celia tapped his shoulder lightly and sat down next to him.

"Wheres Ce'Thera? She's not much for fancy parties and mingling." She stripped a bit of pork off the bone and gave it to Kree who gobbled it down happily.

"Oh-um...ehm..." Whatever had made him so antsy had abviously disturbed Te'Neil more than Celia had thought.

"Well spit it out man!" The circumstances were starting to make Celia nervous so her voice had a bit of bite in it.

Te'Neil simply gave her an odd look and jerked his head in the direction of the table where their host was seated. As Celia's eyes trailed over to the table, they widened.

"What is she doing?!" Celia stared as she watched Ce'Thera flirt with their host, and the host flirt back!The thing that shocked her most was that Ce'Thera could flirt with the dark guy when he reeked so obviously of trouble.

The man brushed a lock of hair away from Ce'Thera's face and Celia felt herself fuming agrily. Then, with a pang of guilt, Celia realized why she was angry.

She was jealous. Celia, Princess of the Dryad Kingdom, was jealous of her childhood friend.

Celia sighed and relaxed back in her chair, closing her eyes and petting the fabric of her dress absent mindedly.

"What is she thinking, Celia?" Te'Neil glanced over at Celia then returned his disturbed gaze to Ce'Thera and their ominous host.

"What do you mean?" Celia took up a glass of wine and sniffed it. "Feh, young stuff."

"You mean Ce'Thera didn't talk to you first?!" Te'Neil gave Celia an incredulous look then groaned and rubbed his temples. Celia ignored his antics and sipped the crimson spirit, letting it sit on her toung, tasting it, then looked at the glass in disgust and looked as if she was going to spit the wine back out.

"Blech, this stuff is disgusting!" She stuck a bit of bread into her mouth as if to suck up the taste, then she looked at Te'Neil. "Ce'Tera hardly ever tells me anything. Why?"

"Ce'Thera wants me to sell her to the host." He watched Ce'Thera with steely yet baffled eyes as Celia coughed and choked on the bread and stared at him.

"Keh, What?!" It was Celia's turn to stare incredulously. However, before Te'Neil could elaborate, the band struck up a waltz and they both watched as Ce'Thera was guided onto the dance floor.

"That little..." Celia saw a servant walk past and put on her best half-drunken ditz act. She called the servant over.

"Yes, M'Lady?" The servant bowed slightly and Celia giggled intoxicatingly, then hiccuped.

"My lad..who be that oohhh so hansom man ova therrre with tha blue drressed girrl? This lovely wine seems to have gone to meh head!" She giggled again and wobbles slightly in her chair.

"That, M'Lady, is Lord Thane, the host of this party."

"Aahh, thas right..Thank you my fine boy." She hiccuped and gave the servant a good smooch on the cheek which clenched the drunken routine. The servant scurried away, face crimson. Celia turned to Te'Neil who was simply staring at this point.

"What? Nevermind, come on, we're dancing." She grabbed the sputtering Te'Neil by the hands and hauled him to his feet and dragged him onto the dance floor.

"Celia! What-?" Te'Neil blushed as Celia put his hand on her waist and took his other hand in hers.

"Shush." She hissed, voice now quiet and alert. "I've heard rumors of this Thane guy, and none of them good. Ce'Thera is very sharp and her blade the same, but she can sometimes be brave on the border of foolishness." Celia glanced at the waltzing couple. She had a bad feeling about this...
Te’Neil’s head was spinning, partly from the dance and partly from thinking about what Ce’Thera had so harshly commanded him to do.

“What do you mean rumors,” Te’Neil replied eyeing Celia curiously, glancing over at the one called Thane then back to Celia.

“Oh hush would you…I have to think,” Celia replied hitting him on the shoulder, “Let’s try to get closer. I wonder what she’s up to.” Celia did well to hide the worry she was feeling and Te’Neil was sick to his stomach at this point.

He hated his clothes; they were the most uncomfortable things he had ever worn. He couldn’t help pulling at them from time to time in search of relief he already knew would never come. “What I wouldn’t give for my uniform,” He sighed to angry looks from Celia.

“Can you keep your mind on the trouble at hand,” She whispered angrily stepping on his foot in hopes that her message had gotten across. It worked like a charm. “Well are you going to go through with it?”

Te’Neil suddenly realized he had no idea. Ce’Thera had sprung this on him so quickly and cunningly, he hardly had time to refuse before he found himself roped into it. However, he knew he had to do it, for far of physical harm at Ce’Thera’s hands.

“May I cut in,” a random girl announced, pussing Celia out of the way and pulling Te’Neil into a waltz with her. His face was extremely red now, as the girl began talking to him and giggling incisively. He tried to talk back but to his horror his voice cracked at nearly every word. He was saved when Celia stormed over and pulled him back.

“I had that all under control,” Te’Neil replied his voice still cracking, then in his normal voice, “But thanks anyway.”

Celia just shook her heard looking over at Kree, who was perched quite comfortably of on of the chandlers in the distance.

With one more glance in the direction of the dancing couple, Te’Neil saw the signal. A laugh, he’d never heard Ce’Thera laugh like that before.

“She’s signaling me now…” Te’Neil replied, “Let’s go.”

The two walked over slowly to were Ce’Thera and Thane danced.

“Well, well what do we have here,” Te’Neil began in his proudest, most confident, cockiest voice, “My dear cousin what have I told you about talking to others without my permission.”

“The man asked me to dance, I merely was polite and accepted,” Ce’Thera replied playing along as she had planned.

Te’Neil continued, he was stating to enjoy this ruse, “Stupid girl, what makes you think you are in any place to make those decisions. I have a mind to put you in your place here and now.” At this he raise his hand as if you was about to slap her, he truly was enjoying himself, “You’re not even worth it,” he replied pulling his hand away. “Lira take her back to our table at once!”

Celia stood watching until she realized she was the Lira Te’Neil was talking to. What a stupid name, she thought but said aloud, “As you wish Sir.” With at Celia walked over and took Ce’Thera’s hand and pulled her away.

When the girls were out of sight Te’Neil continued with a sigh, “Aw, that girl is so testing,” he raised his hands to his temples messaging then lightly as he spoke, “If I had not loved my uncle dearly I would have sold her the moment I got her.” He looked over trying to read the expression on Thane’s face.

“Such a pity, I would say you were a lucky man,” Thane replied casually.

“Ha, you call ‘that’ luck. She is pretty to be sure, but that smart tongue of hers is not my taste. I like my women silent and obedient,” Te’Neil replied as he pulled his handkerchief to his face and coughed lightly, “You seemed to enjoy her company, perhaps you could take her off my hands. I promise you a fair price.”

Thane rsied his eyebrow. What game are these people playing?
When they had entered, the woman with the swordsman grace acted clearly as the one in charge; but sometime later, it seemed, she had allowed the young man to assume command.

"It would be quite easier to do business with a person if you knew their name." Thane gave a slight smile. The young man chuckled uneasily.

"Nielle. Nielle is my name." Thane nodded, taking note of the Central name. "A pleasure to have met you. Now...name your price and you'll see if I'm interested or not."
The young man shrugged his shoulders, as if to let his uneasiness pass with the stiffness in his joints. Thane's intense gaze often made many people uncomfortable.
He gathered, by the way he held himself, how he sat so straight in his chair, as if he had a longsword strapped to his back, that he was- or once had been- a soldier. He also looked as if he was used to giving orders, and having them obeyed...but then again, a lot of people did.
If he was good with a sword he might make an invaluable luitenent. He wondered if he had left from his military force on his own free will...or forced to leave.

"20,000 gold marks." Thane blinked in amazement, the surprise of the price interrupting his thoughts. He spilled a little wine on the table cloth. Damn waste. He thought.
Beautiful women, or higher ranked women were sold for several hundred thousand marks each.
Either this Nielle was an utter and complete idiot... or he truely wanted to be rid of this woman.
And, either way, it suited Thane. He took a drink from his goblet.

"Done." He said, and offered his glass in a toast. The man returned the toast. After he took a sip, Thane asked, "Were you- or are you, by any chance a soldier?" Nielle looked slightly uncomfortable for a moment, and then quietly answered:

"I was."

"Were you handy with a sword?" Thane inquired. "Quite." Nielle said with a confident smile.
Thane laughed. Though it was not a cold laugh, it was neither a warm laugh.

"Would you like spar with me sometime? It is dreadfully boring here, sometimes."
Nielle smiled. "I would enjoy it. When would you like to? And where?"

Thane gave a strange smile. "Oh, I'll find you...Just be ready by a unit after Dawn Watch."

Nielle returned the smile uneasily. "I will be milord."
A toast went up around the room and Ce'Thera was inclined to join in. Te'Neil lingered at the table head for a moment and headed back to join the girls.

"Am I to believe that toast was to announce that I've been bought?" Ce'Thera asked casually.

"If you have a plan, Ce'Thera, now's the time to say something!" Celia said, taking a step towards Ce'Thera.

Ce'Thera ignored her. "How much was I sold for?" She asked, feigning surprise for the sake of the guests.

"20,000," Te'Neil stated proudly.

"20,000 what?!" Ce'Thera yelled in genuine rage.

"Marks," Te'Neil said, taken aback by her sudden fury.

"I may not be a noble woman, but I'm not ugly!"

Celia stopped trying to get Ce'Thera's attention and stared at Te'Neil. "Are you crazy? She could have easily fetched 500,000! That amount is insulting!" Celia whispered exasperatedly.

"How was I supposed to know?" Te'Neil whispered guiltily. Ce'Thera burst out crying into her hands. Celia didn't expect this and flinched. She tried to calm Ce'Thera, and between sobs caught a hidden wink given to her. Te'Neil, not catching on, looked disheartened. Celia whispered something to him, and his face became stony and collected. Ce'Thera pushed passed him and joined her "new master" at the head of the table.

"What makes you weep I wonder? Do you not find me favorable?"

Ce'Thera wiped her cheeks, "It is not you. It grieves me that my own cousin would disdain me so much as to part with me at such a price." Ce'Thera sniffled. The host wiped away a stray tear from her stained cheeks. He looked at her face with an unreadable grin.

"It has occurred to me that I do not know the name of my prize."

"Thera, my lord"

"Do not resort to such formal titles. Call me Thane."

"If you command it." Ce'Thera said, her voice and face somber.

"I do not, but it would please me if you did."

"I hope you don't mind me asking, but do you own other women?"

Embarrassment flashed across Thane's face, but it was gone as quickly as it came. "No, you are my first." He told her in his cool manner. "I was intending to make this a permanent ownership, and my only."

Ce'Thera hid her surprise well. She froze at the unplanned suggestion. How was she supposed to react to news like this? A permanent ownership almost always led to marriage, and now that she was already his, she had no choice. Either this clever man was testing her, or he was unexplainably attracted to her.

"Your only? Monogamy is not a very practiced trait." She looked directly at his face, and studied the signs there. There was nothing to be read there, but Ce'Thera swore that she had seen those eyes somewhere before. This made her wary. It was very possible that he knew who she was, in which case it was best for her to stay on her toes. Thane laughed suddenly.

"You look at me as if I had just betrayed you. Do you not wish to be the only? Many women would love such a proposition."

"It strikes me as odd is all." She kept her voice neutral. She flinched as a hand slid around her waist. She glanced at it and couldn't stop her cheeks from flaming up. He touched his lips to her ear and whispered something in a rough voice.

"This is hardly how someone acts in public, my lord." Ce'Thera said gently, pushing him away. He frowned at her.

"At first you are forward, and now you push me back. I do not understand this change in attitude." He pulled his arm back and awaited her reply.

Ce'Thera sat uneasily in her chair. "My mind set has not changed. You are the one pushing yourself on me."

"I apologize," Thane said, the unreadable grin returning to his face, "I am not exactly acting the gentleman. Perhaps too much wine warms my belly." He pulled the glove off one of her hands, and once again admired her smooth skin. Someone appeared on his left side and drew his attention away from her. She was about to replace her glove when, in his haste to clasp the man's hand, Thane knocked over his wineglass. A flow of crimson washed Ce'Thera's hand. She gasped as the makeup dripped away from the back of her hand. Thane turned back to her, to inquire about the gasp, the splotch of green skin catching his eye. Ce'Thera fumbled desperately with her glove, but it was too late. Thane stood up, his expression defiant. He took Ce'Thera by the wrist and pulled her out of the chair. His grip threatened to crush her bones. She let out a strangled cry. Thane looked over the crowd, searching for someone.

"Where is the man who sold me this mutt?!" Thane yelled, knocking over the table in front of him.
Te'Neil stood up out of the subdued crowd and looked grimly at Thane. Thane looked at him with rage, then smiled. He threw Ce'Thera into a corner of the banquet hall. She collapsed into a small heap. Celia ran to her.

"All of you leave my house!" Thane yelled at his guests. He turned to one of his guards. "Get this man a sword, we settle this now," He said, drawing his own sword.
"Well that went to hell..." Celia thought in a dry voice as she went to check on the crumpled Ce'Thera. She kneeled near her friend as she cradled her already bruising wrist.

"Are you alright Ce'thera?" She whispered, inspecting the bruised appendage for breaks or fractures.

"I'm fine." She grunted back. "I should have been more careful." Celia blinked and grinned at the miffed Ce'Thera.

"You? The clutz of a wolf boy Thane was the one that spilt the wine all over you." This didn't seem to help Ce'thera's mood any but a small flicker of a grin appeared on her face and Celia knew it was only her pride that got hurt. The harsh rasp of half a dozen swords being drawn jerked Celia's attention towards Te'Neil who was facing off against a furious looking Thane and a bunch of guards.

"Oh rotten root..." As the old Dryad curse slipped over her lips she stood up, hiding Ce'Thera behind the mass of her evening gown and bent down to extract a dagger from her knee high boot. She slid the poison tipped blade up her sleeve where it would be concealed yet still effective if anything happened.

"Ce'Thera..." Celia hissed this in a half whisper, keeping her eyes trained on Te'Neil. "...you have any plans on how to get us out of this one?" When there was only silence from behind her, Celia started to glance back at Ce'Thera, but then she heard the smooth rasp of a well polished and sharpened blade being drawn and her stomach dropped to her toes. Thane had just drawn his blade and it was a whicked looking thing. It was tinted a light red with what was apparently human blood. As she felt the blood drain from her face, she saw Te'Neil pale visibly as well.

"Now, Nielle, we shall duel to the death for you insult. Selling me a mutt, that is a discrace! No wonder she was so cheap." Thane's eyes glinted horribly as he pointed his blade at Te'Neil's chest. A thin, western style saber was hefted at him from one of the guards.

"Face your enemy and die!"
Like all campfires, good and bad, people just stop writing. For one reason or another you can't make an addition, and the storyline doesn't progress for months. That's when the campfire is dead, no one is interested anymore. It becomes a hassle for the campfire manager to maintain.

I pronounce Taking Over the World dead. Make up your own damn ending.

The End!

© Copyright 2005 Ready or Not, DarkHeart-BlueEyes-StangeMind, A Light in the Darkness, §onny- Feel the Hate., (known as GROUP).
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