of Beasts and Man

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Conviction

Tarjen wasn’t the only one with fire in his heart. Lady Naomei was still heated after she was forced to return to the surface. She wanted- no, needed to stay down there longer, to continue searching for Olivier, her charge, but the townsfolk dragged her out. The water had gotten too high, too dangerous, too unstable; what about for him? Did any of them spare Olivier a thought?

She could see him whenever she closed her eyes, the bright-eyed, spirited youth she once knew... now ashen, bloated and bobbing just under the surface. His once wide eyes, so full of life, were now clouded, grayed out, the innocent soul inside extinguished and torn out. His mouth was parted, as if asking a question, pleading for someone, anyone to save him, now forsaken.

Tears burned on her cheeks, rolling down her eyes, yet she was silent about it. Her eyes were bloodshot, hair a knotted mess, robes rumpled and drenched in things most foul, but she was able to keep her smile, even as she meditated on that rooftop in the business district. No one else wanted a star bed, the clouds so fierce, the rain so violent that night, but it was dry where she sat, a perfect ring around her. The heavens shined upon her, kept her safe and warm until it broke and the dawn washed her in its magnificence, but it could not take the pain from her heart, like a lead weight in her chest.

It was a bit passed noon when her eyes finally fluttered open, ridding herself of that horrid picture, of dread unwarranted. She looked down at her left hand, at its ring finger, where a red band of energy pulsed, still very much alive. Which meant the heart it was tied to was still beating, and still out there, alone.

She uncrossed her legs, standing, every part of her cracking and snapping and popping as she did. Though the stars tried to keep her warm, some cold still sneaked into her aging bones, but it did wonders for her skin complexion, still so smooth and crisp, not a crack to be seen. She moaned a little as she raised her hands to the heavens, cracking her knuckles to it, palms held out to that rising sun, then huffed as she let them fall, heading for the tiny box against the far right corner of the building. It was little more than a bit of masonry and a ply door, opening to reveal a set of stairs, leading down into The Kiln. As she descended, she could hear that the common room was already packed, voices, angry ones at that, arguing about the day and night before.

One by one they went silent, watching in her descent. The candles were snuffed out, the room lit by the sun pouring through the dome skylight overhead, but they might as well have been sitting in the dark compared to the brilliance she brought with her. Her heels softly padded down the rich red wood steps, thumped on the dark green carpet, but each one was like thunder, echoing, booming in the quieted tavern.

She stopped at the desk, reaching inside her robes for her wallet, but the keeper, a slim Terrahn lass, held out her hand, giving Lady Naomei a soft, weary smile.

“It was on the house, dear,” she said, her voice betraying her age. At a glance, she looked no older than thirty, but her voice and its crackle emphasized the gray in her honey hair and the crow’s feet and cracks that plagued her ruby eyes. “Our condolences for what happened with your Madam.”

“Thank you,” she said absently, and headed for the door. Her mind was focused on other things. Well, one thing. By now, Olivier couldn’t have been in the sewers. He must have found a way out, but where? She was lost to herself, head bowed, mumbling as she started down the street towards the plaza. People simply parted for her, subconscious of doing so, allowing her to pace of her own free will. “Where are you?”

If he had gotten out of the sewer, where would he go? A more poignant question would be when; if it was this morning, there was no place really in the city that was safe to travel. Everyone was looking for him now. Everyone knew what he looked like. There were even wanted posters up... for...

She blinked, and finally paid attention to one of the posters that had been placed around the plaza. They were not the ones she remembered... Lady Naomei knew where to go next, and flowers and grass burst through the cobblestone, sending it flying as she dashed towards the guard barracks. People cried out, guarding their children, their loved ones from the rocky rain as they shielded their eyes from how strong the sun shone upon her and her path, only growing brighter, the growth wilder with each wanted sign passed, each one demanding the same thing of her Olivier.

The wooden door of the barracks was flung open, the metal bolts keeping it there rusting away as ivy sprouted from it and grew along the walls. The tree, itself, rooted to the ground and quickly became a proud oak, towering over the two-floor postage stamp of a building. There were two guards at the table, out of uniform; they only had on some dingy undershirts and loose leggings, wincing and covering their eyes with their mugs as the sun, itself, seemed to enter their little corner of the world.

Lady Naomei snatched one of the posters off the desk by the door, crumbling apart as she did and became a bush, holding it out to those guards.

“What is the meaning of this?” She boomed. “‘Dead’? ‘Mass murder’! These are lies, libel upon Olivier.” She would have torn the poster apart, but it sprouted into a bush, as well, reaching for the ground before she even dropped it. “Who printed these lies? I demand to know this instant!”

“Settle down, girl. It was by my orders.”

The light vanished, the birds that swarmed her and sung scattering as that familiar, cold voice wound its way down the steps before its keeper. Slowly, carefully, an elderly woman sauntered after them, her dark, curled hands locked before her, garbed in the familiar red robes of the Church of Terra. Her hair was stark white, pulled into a tight bun, not a single wisp of it allowed her sharp, crow-like face. Her lips were slim, almost nonexistent, her chin sharp and long, while her nose was even longer yet thinner than a knife. Her eyes held its edge, those opals shining in the dimly lit room, glaring down at Lady Naomei, suddenly feeling very small.

“Madam Hyld,” Lady Naomei said. “When did you arrive?”

“This morning. I was allowed use of the griffons since one of our most holy was snuffed out... Tell me, Naomei. Tell me why you have impeded justice?”

“Madam-”

“From the report I received, it sounded like you refused the local guards from being allowed to subdue this monster.”

“Olivier is not a mons-”

“It killed Madam Volum. It killed a number of innocent civilians... and you refused to allow them to use weaponry to slow It. You refused for them to enact justice... and even now you are showing such rebellion in denouncing my choice to exterminate this rabid beast.”

Madam Hyld stopped right before Lady Naomei... and struck her. The back of her hand rang like a hammer. Its impact sent Lady Naomei reeling back into the tree she just grew, the teeth behind her left cheek rattling, shattered from the force, yet it seemed she didn’t move at all, hadn’t raised her hand whatsoever, held before her again. She looked down at Lady Naomei’s hand, at that band of red, and sneered at her.

“He is still very much alive thanks to you, free to wreak even more havoc,” she said. “Such incompetence... Then again, that’s par for the course for you, isn’t it? First your Page, then your charge, and now even your Madam.”

“Olivier isn’t g-”

“Foolish girl! Don’t you get it? You are freed of your charge. Such a creature is now beyond the salvation of the Holy Mothers... Really, I believed he was always damned, but everyone else said to have faith.” She chortled, shaking her head as she sucked on her teeth. “I had faith, alright. I knew that one with fetid blood from Natalie’s domain would never amount to anything short of disappointment... and my faith has been rewarded.”

Lady Naomei scoffed, light gathering around her again. It filled her mouth as Madam Hyld talked, fixing her teeth, sealing the cuts left on the inside of the cheek, all the while she glared her down. At last, the light left it, and she stood on her own, fists shaking.

“Not yet.” She stated, spitting out blood. “This isn’t over. I have it all under control.”

“You call a member of the church and a mass funeral pyre ‘under control’?”

“Olivier didn’t do this... He couldn’t have... You should have seen the look in his eyes. He was scared, hurt... He was just looking for answers, somebody, anybody to stand up for him, but he was surrounded by so much hate... No one that was there knew the real story. He was simply found holding Madam Volum and everyone assumed he was the killer.” She growled, and swung her hand before her. “He didn’t do this! He was framed.”

“Regardless, it is a public menace and needs dealt with. Whether he is innocent of this crime or not is immaterial... You are to return to Terra. You have been called back, and will not be allowed to leave until the next season.”

“No! I will not abandon Olivier. Not again! He needs my help now more than ever.”

“Are you really going against my word, a Madam of the Church of the Holy Mothers? Are you really going against the word of the Mothers?”

“Olivier is innocent, and I will not abandon him now.”

“You do realize you speak heresy, correct? If you continue like this, I would have no choice but to excommunicate you and treat you as a heretic.” She unclasped her hands again, and, as soon as she did, white chains formed in between. They had a golden gleam to them, but, to Lady Naomei, they might as well have been a guillotine. She could feel them on her neck, closing, ripping and tearing through until, with one, solid flash and a hefty crack, she was gone. “Is this what you truly want, Lady Naomei? Haven’t you lost enough?”

Lady Naomei, though shaking, paling from those chains... shook her head, still glaring Madam Hyld down.

“He did not do this.” She stated, light surrounding her once more with each, panting breath. Tears continued to stream down her cheeks, burning so much, but not as much as the weight in her chest, frothing and roiling with the roar she wanted to unleash. “He is being framed! He... He is still the sweet, if spirited, boy from back then... Brand me a heretic if you must. Kill me if needed, but I will not abandon him. This is one thing I will not lose.”

Silence held between the two, disturbed by the chains still clacking, the birds returned to sing around Lady Naomei. Their eyes were locked, the fire, the anger and pain so vibrant in Lady Naomei’s eyes, clashing against the coldness, the... hollow void those opals had, gazing down on her. The guards at the table simply watched, afraid to make any sudden movements, barely even breathing as the two women stared each other down.

At last, Madam Hyld blinked... and clasped her hands again. The chains disappeared, her feet so loud on the floor as she walked up... and passed Lady Naomei.

“Bring him in,” she said. “If you can.”

With that she left for the plaza, and Lady Naomei was finally able to breathe. Though she was still angry, she couldn’t help but feel a bit proud. She stood up against one of the Madams. She stood up for her convictions... and, most importantly, she stood up for Olivier.

However, time was not on her side. Madam Hyld didn’t tell them to change the wanted posters, so she had to find him. She had to keep him secret even then, and, most importantly, keep him safe until she could truly prove his innocence.

It was as if the fire in her heart dripped down to her feet, unable to stand still for even a moment as she dashed into town, checking every alley, every district, every nook and cranny –at least, that’s what she planned to do... but what good would it do? No... she couldn’t just rush in. That’s what she did in the sewers, and look where that got her.

She slowed in the plaza, sitting at one of the thirteen benches that lined it, and leaned on her knees, looking at the stone. Where could he be? Where would she even begin to look... What did he like to do now? What was he like?

Lady Naomei scoffed, head aching as much as her heart.

I should know this, she thought, pinching her brow. This shouldn’t have to be a guess... have I grown this distant? Have we been apart this long?

She simply sat there, lamenting, thinking of how he used to be, the rambunctious little show-off that he was... She could still remember him, at the age of five, climbing along the side of the church. Oh, the others were so mad, but she and Page Olivia were scared... but proud. She chuckled, remembering how he held on with one foot and waved at them, cheering before climbing back down... She hated punishing him for that, but she had to. That was far too dangerous an act to not go unpunished; even his mother gave him such a scolding, even as she patted tears out of her eyes... Was he still a little daredevil? Did she really not lash it completely out of him... She hoped she didn’t.

Voices droned around her, completely oblivious of her pilgrimage down a path none of them could see but went further, was far grander, than anything in the city around them. There were others reminiscent, sometimes even grander. At eight, he had taken a Faun kid’s loaf of bread and not only climbed the church but leaped from it onto the bakery... It was as if he had no fear of being hurt when falling. Cephamorians didn’t have bones, but could still rupture something when they hit a surface or are hit hard enough, but he was Cephamorian and a Terrahn. The force should have been enough to snap a wrist, break a leg... but he simply rolled with it, still his bouncy self. He, of course, returned the loaf, but the Faun headbutted him, calling him a freak... She didn’t feel the need to punish him after that.

“Where are you, my little Ollie?” She said, sobbing, and held herself tight. “Where are you...”

“... an’t believe this.”

“Prices a... far better in Narvaal!”

“Produce is no... shave a silver off and we have a deal.”

The crowd roared around her, snippets rising above the rest. She sniffled, simply listening to the drone of it all, heart once more like lead.

But then she heard something, something rather interesting.

“Alright. That takes care of food and sundries,” she heard, the voice deep but not too deep, strong but subtly so. She scanned the crowd, looking for it... and saw a gray Cephamorian in a dark jacket. He was talking to a pair of Itchyomen, one hanging off his arm and drinking in every word he said as if it was gospel... while the other actually showed restraint and truly listened. There was, also, a red Aceon with them, weaving an orb that splashed on the Cephamorian... too far away to hear. The Cephamorian, though, huffed, and shook his fist at the Aceon. “Don’t push your luck just because it’s your last trip. We’re not getting that much rum.”

The Aceon started to prickle, the shell splintering, its purple barbs seen all the way from here as it spun another orb. This time, she did catch a hint of it, and its message made her mind whir. The Cephamorian winced, and looked around; Lady Naomei quickly looked down at her legs, hoping he didn’t see.

“Not so loud, you crusty coot,” he grumbled, and groaned. “You have a point though. It would be nice to have in celebration... All right. Let’s go order three kegs, two of which will be saved for the celebration. What a pain, though... Can’t believe we are being rushed for this.”

They hurried into the tavern in the center of the plaza, the Shelled Aceon. Meanwhile, Lady Naomei finally had an idea of where she should go. If she truly knew her Olivier, knew how much a risk-taker he was, there was no way he would pass up going after the most infamous ship to ever sail... And, even then, there was what Bubbles had told them about it. He was either on the Scylla, or going after it... All she had to do was wait for her would-be guides to lead her to the ship. Hopefully, they would be able to walk a straight line by the time they return, but a part of her was wishing they couldn’t. Would make it a lot easier to sneak aboard.

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