The hour was close to twilight, and vaguely warm hues of the afternoon were fading into colder blues and purples. “We should set camp here…” V’dan spoke, trailing down the entourage with his eyes. The High Lord of Xaxios’h was entering his autumn of life but despite the age he still looked a formidable lion. “If you think it’s best, master…” Xaxas nodded, smiling “I’m no longer your teacher, boy.” The male reminded him, voice kind and full of warmth.
The blond looked the frailest and the youngest of the entire group. He was in his early twenties, but his figure was much smaller and sleeker for a male of his age. In fact, he was smaller than some lionesses that accompanied them.
Xaxas took the liberty to regard his beloved, giving him a gentle smile. V’dan led them into a small oasis nestled in the middle of the dried grassland. The trees and bushes provided shelter, while small waterhole allowed for quenching their terrible thirst. “Walk to Corazan will take another few days, my lord.” One of the soldiers regarded the blonde “We should rest, the kingdom… it’s nothing but wastelands since the war.” “I know…” the boy nodded, saddened and worried “We’ll wait here for Strider to come back.” He declared “They will find for us a safe passage…”
He gazed to Leto again, this time with worry. He dearly hoped that the seeker party would come back with good news. It was late summer and the sun was merciless during the day… Roshan made sure to poison each major waterhole from Xaxios’h to Corazan… if Strider would fail to find any puddle of drinkable water, they might have no chance of reaching their destination at all.
The chiseled soldier knew Strider wouldn’t disappoint the guy was nothing if not thorough if there was a untainted source of water he’d find it, if there wasn’t well… you can be damn sure he had checked the area thrice before he delivered a negative report. Even so the worry he saw so clearly in husband was reflected by everyone in the party with varying degrees of intensity in all of them, except V’dan that old guy was as unreadable as ever. His distinct ice-blue eyes shot the sky squirting at the fading light of the sun, the fact that it was edging on night fall was good, and it meant the intense heat common during the day would lessen its grip on the land.
Leto stood average as far as males went, he was certainly not the tallest of the group nor the most buff, he was toned sure but compared to some of the guards in their company the soldier was outright sleek, which left Xaxas coming off as a lioness more than half the time, if the blond’s mane hadn’t been such a dead giveaway. His messy mane was relatively coarse yet thick, indeed if size didn’t distinguish the soldier from the rest of this band his perpetually dirty appearance certainly did; he bore a look of being tastefully unkempt, his mane was messy and tangled, his pale orange fur painted dull from dust and dirt.
The left side of his face was marred with remnant old scars and odd few coated his body as well, remnants and mementos from a darker time. His walk was off-set by the fragments of a limp in the left back leg, sustained during torture as a POW during the war it had long since lost its pain and no longer hindered or impeded him in running and fighting, barring leaving him a weak spot of opportunity.
“It’s going to be alright.” Leto reassured Xaxas’ worries with a tender nuzzle, “Besides, the poison hasn’t reached the ground water.” the seeker shrugged reminding his love as settled himself down under a tree, indeed as long as the ground water remained intact there was still hope for these wastelands. They would regrow, Leto knew they would no mortal lion has the power to destroy the land beyond repair.
While waiting with the rest of the group for seekers return, chill went down Ares’ spine. “Corazan, I wonder how unhappy they will be to see me again” he said to himself. Last time he was here, his brother almost tore him to pieces from breaking another political engagement organised by him. Thankfully this time, he is coming with an official business. He knew nothing about politics but so far advising the warchief consisted only from occasional dinners with other nobles and agreeing with his decisions. He tried to avoid any army or politics oriented topics since he was pretty convinced that everyone knew that he have no idea what he talks about.
As one of the few, he wasn’t really covered in any scars that would prove his experience in combat, because of that most thought that he is just for show to represent that despite all the destruction, Corazan males are as strong as they always were. He stepped forward towards High Lord V’dan “If seeker would return without good news are we staying here or going forward?” He asked him. “It’s up to the warchief boy” seasoned warrior answered. Thinking that this could be an opportunity to shine, Ares pointed towards Corazan “Well, if we keep moving we will definitely reach…” but before he finished, V’dan starred him down “Listen boy” the old male growled “If I would like an advice on how to brush my mane or hide my tail and run, then I will come to you, but leave serious matters to lions who know what they’re doing. I know times have changed but that doesn’t mean I have to put up with ones like you”. Ares wanted to say something but when he looked in V’dan’s eyes he decided that best thing to do would be stepping back to the rest of the group.
Hlela stepped quietly with the rest of the guard, her marching form perfect. Her sleek body was rigid with decorum, oceanic eyes steely--even her tail was cocked at a neat angle down near her back paws. She had to be the perfect soldier, organizing herself as much as possible--at least, someone had to.
Since Roshan had become a crazed, warmongering leader, Hlela's faith in the military--and therefore the entire government--had been shaken badly. Needless and wasteful death had occurred on a mass scale, taking lions that could have been trained and honed to perfect their society. Torture to the point of insanity and crippling injury had done the same. Many of Hlela's own squadron had been wiped out by the overwhelming forces on the opposing side of the civil war, and even when it was over, only she and a precious couple others were pardoned. They were only soldiers, after all, following the orders in the chain of command. Hlela did not disobey, nor would she even be able to without a death wish. Roshan's iron paw was ruthless, even in his own factions. Even worse, Roshan had used unfair and disgusting tactics, committing war crimes and poisoning their water resources. Didn't he know that tainting the water supply would harm themselves, as well? But at that point, he'd been desperate, insane--and Hlela had known it. Known it, and went along anyway. And where had it gotten her?
Here. Back to being the lowest soldier, looked down upon by many as one of Roshan's unwilling cronies. The cocoa-brown lioness now bore scars from the decidedly one-sided battles, her once pristine fur covered in criss-crossing claw marks around her shoulders and flanks.
The troop finally came to a halt when the order was called, stopping near a few males who were watching them with guarded gazes. A small blonde-maned male who was only inches taller than tiny Hlela, an average dark-maned male, a young pale-furred lion, and an elder, looking upon them with a piercing gaze. She stood at attention, taking all this in out of her peripheral gaze--not daring to even swivel her eyes anywhere but forward as a trained soldier.
"At ease!" Her commander officer barked, and Hlela sat on her haunches with the others. They relaxed a bit, still silent but allowed to look around and get more comfortable, but Hlela's natural stance stayed stiff, even as she analyzed her surroundings. She vaguely wondered what these lions had to do with this guard, and what would be expected of them.
The nightfall came swiftly, the sky speckled with hundreds of stars. “Was it wise to take only handful of soldiers?” V’dan asked the blonde “I wouldn’t call six a handful…” Xaxas smiled to his old mentor “Any more and we would look like a war party.” He gazed to Leto in hope of support. V’dan didn’t like the idea of traveling with such small escort, not when the convoy composed of both the warchief and a High Lord.
Risking coming off as too militant was something Xaxas wanted to avoid at any cost. Last thing they needed was more incidents involving already wearied patience of Corazan. Just as he was settling himself to sleep, resting his head against Leto’s paws he was woken by a gentle prod of the soldier. He gazed up to meet the ice-blue eyes who smiled and pointed eastward with his head. Strider was back.
Everyone rose to attention to regard the Seeker commander and his group. The marched all the way up to V’dan who beckoned Xaxas to his side. “What’s the situation?” the old male asked “No water… every waterhole from here all the way to Rezan filled with carrion.” “Is it poisonous?” Xaxas asked to which Strider solemnly nodded “Dead animals litter the grounds around the puddles. We must turn back to the river. And take the north passage.” He explained “But that means we have to go back to Xaxios’h border!” V’dan protested “There’s no other way, old friend…” the seeker replied.
Xaxas sighed in annoyance. Time was of the essence, and Julan’s patience was running short “If we follow the river to its spring, where will it take us?” he asked “All the way to the Overlook Mesa.” V’dan replied “And how we would get to Corazan from there?” the blonde enquired “Three days march through savannah.” Strider answered the question. Xaxas sulked into deep thoughts, the river gave them water, but once they would reach a spring, what then? “Was it burned out as the rest?” the boy mused “Affirmative.” Strider nodded “And the water?” Xaxas continued “Polluted, although some might be drinkable.” The seeker stated.
Xaxas lowered his head. He was at complete loss “The river is hardly a solution then… isn’t it?” He gazed to his mate for some advice “What should we do?” “Xaxas.” V’dan protested “It is your decision to make.” “And I have decided to consult my husband…” he replied, gaze still locked in the ice-blue eyes.
Leto rose to his feet as Strider returned Leto gave his mentor and commander-in-chief a silent nod of greeting, ever since the war the strict military discipline in the seekers had slowly withered away at least within the force itself and between its members leaving only the deference to hierarchy remaining. On the outside however they were still as orderly and efficient as ever, the unkempt male stared at the ground as he listened to his commander’s report slowly his eyes closed in thought. His eyes only opened as he heard his mate’s inquiry he turned to Strider, Leto like his commander was familiar with the geography of the region.
The weather-beaten seeker took a deep breath, turning his gaze back to Xaxas who had sought his advice, “There is a possibility.” He mused, “If we force-march through the night and dawn, rest at noon and then continue come twilight.” He suggested turning to Strider who closed his eyes. “It will take us four days, tops.” The auburn maned male revealed, “How many days won’t matter if we die along the way!” Leto stated plainly he knew they were on a tight schedule but their own safety should be paramount, “Julan patience can be damned.” the darker male sneered, “As I doubt he have an interest in speaking with dehydrated corpses.” Leto pointed out.
“We shouldn’t rely on there being water until we reach Julan himself.” His gaze trailed the gathering, “Once we get to the river it’s up to each one of you to make sure you sate your thirst!” He stated voice rising notch allowing the soldier’s in the far back to hear him. “If you fall behind, you’re on your own!” he called out, not that he’d actually abandon or anything but the threat of such was often enough to motivate a soldier to do as told.
Hearing the discussion between Warchief and the seekers, Ares thought that this could be a chance for him to shine. He stepped forward from the group and violating all of protocols he spoke up “We can keep going! We don’t need to take a detour”, he said hastily. Suddenly an awkward silence fell among the gathered. Strider raised his brow, giving an impression of being surprised by this bold action, while Leto and Xaxas looked at each other. Suddenly, he felt someone pushing him aside. It was V’dan who stepped in front of him and with noticeable anger in his voice, growled “I’ve told you to stay quiet you fool! It’s not any of your fancy gatherings where you can shine and try to score some points, so step back! And if you will do it again I promise that-” “Wait-” Xaxas interrupted him “Let him finish, after all, he is from this land and they sent him to advise me”
V’dan snorted with disapproval but he bowed down and moved aside allowing Ares to step forward. “With your permission warchief…” he lowered his head looking at Xaxas who nodded allowing him to speak. “If we keep marching this way we should reach Rezan in about two days. There we could refresh ourselves and regain strength before further journey”. Xaxas listened to him and looked at his husband and then Strider, who could confirm those words. “My liege, we cannot guarantee that water is there or if anyone will greet us” Strider replied “Those lands have been ravaged by cast-” he stopped half-sentence knowing how close he was to insulting his new lord. “I mean, freed lions.” he corrected himself “They don’t have to be necessarily friendly towards us and…” – “I can assure we will be fine!” Ares interrupted him “I can bet my hide that they will welcome us with open arms” He said that with confidence. “But it’s your decision my lords” he bowed down and stepped back.
While walking back towards rest of the soldiers he heard V’dan’s voice “Better hope I won’t need to take your hide, boy… because I certainly will if needs be.” the old lion grinned and moved closer to him “And know this. No matter how wild customs our warchief will introduce to Ti’wenkai, better pray that you won’t cause any trouble. You are no soldier, nor you really know how things worked here before, but trust me, with given chance I will teach you the Xaxios’h way so you will remember it until end of your days” After finishing this sentence he turned around and left the young male with his thoughts, hoping that he will learn his lesson.
The lions gathered in a loose circle, exchanging information and preparing for their march to Corazan. Hlela stood back at attention when she was addressed by her CO, along with the other five of the guard. She answered along with her peers as Leto, the darkest of the lions speaking before them, warned them to sate their own thirst as they marched to Corazan.
"Yessir!" She answered dutifully, heels coming together as she pushed volume into her voice from her chest. This was interrupted when the young, paler lion spoke up, making suggestions and constantly being shot down by the elder lion, V'dan. V'dan seemed tired of Ares's inexperience and unwillingness to back down, though somewhere in Hlela's subconscious she was glad someone was showing a bit of spine. She quickly quashed that idea--orders were meant to be followed, no matter what. But V'dan seemed to allow Ares his idea to stop in a nearby pride to refresh themselves, giving them the strength to go on this long journey.
Hlela found herself agreeing with Strider--Rezan didn't seem like it would be the friendliest of places. It was a gamble to go there, but the decision was not hers to make. Rather, the group of commanding lions needed to put their heads together and come to an agreement, while Hlela and the other guards waited patiently for a decision to come. Personally, Hlela would have gone the tougher route, opting for an assured source of refreshment for her soldiers--but then again, she, out of many others, was far more disciplined and had trained her small body to do without for longer than others.
Xaxas’ ears folded backwards as Strider mentioned the ‘freed lions’ “Y’shenna’s castles are no longer part of Ti’wenkai.” He stated coldly “Whatever sentiment I might have to my former fellow slaves does not extend to those ruthless rabbles.” He explained. There would be no confusion here, as much as the boy pitied the fate of the castles, those who have chosen to follow the murderous lioness have chosen to follow the path of Roshan. “We need to make sure Corazan understands where our loyalties lie…” he gazed at the Seeker commander “If that land was ravaged by the castles, then I am more determined to visit it and lend support.” He stated.
V’dan threw his confused gaze to the boy “What support?” he snared “We have only six soldier’s here!” he stated “Ten…” Xaxas corrected trailing Leto, himself, V’dan and Ares. “Leto is a seeker!” V’dan protested “You yourself cannot possibly put yourself on the line and I am-“ “Too old.” Ares smirked, gazing at the man who been taunting him for weeks “Which leaves us with seven.” He added with satisfaction. “You are NO soldier!” V’dan snarled “You are incompetent, undisciplined riffraff and-“ “We are going to fight riffraffs.” Xaxas smiled, trying to calm down the two males “If it will come to fighting that is.” He mused calmly.
He hoped that perhaps their presence would convince Y’shenna’s slaves to leave Ti’wenkai peacefully… but he would not back down from confrontation if that’s what the lioness expected. “If Rezan is beset by conflict, that it should be our destination.” Xaxas commanded “At least, once we get to Ju’lan, our deeds will speak louder of our intent towards Corazan.” The boy stated.
The soldier turned to his commander as Xaxas spoke of the potential that Y’shenna would engage them should they traverse Rezan, V’dan seemed opposed to having Leto or any of the seekers on the front-line and in part the old man’s reasoning held true; Leto and the seekers in general weren’t trained for front-line combat, sure they could fight but if it became anything more than a skirmish they’d be forced into a retreat. Nothing was worse than a failed retreat the last thing Leto wanted was fall into their claws again, the things they had done to him those awful five months he had the misfortune to be their prisoner still lingered in his memories, and brought him mental and physical pain whenever he slipped into thoughts of it.
Strider took a step forward, “M’lord.” He spoke addressing Xaxas with deference, “I can send Leto with a squad to advance and scout ahead of us.” He proposed he met eyes with Leto who was his second-in-command, “It will be better if only one of us go, sir.” Leto spoke correcting his commander’s tactics, “A fire team risks drawing unwanted attention upon crossing the border; a lone lion is little threat, and a war party like this too big a challenge.” His gaze trailed the gathering, “A squad will be easy pickings, if Y’shenna has violent intentions, sir.” Leto stated glancing at Xaxas before they returned to his commander.
“Very well.” Strider breathed, “If the war chief approves.” His gaze fell on the blond briefly, “You got an hour and a half to prepare, soldier.” He ordered Leto nodded affirmative, “Yes, sir.” He stood to attention briefly before he relaxed; now he had to wait for Xaxas’ verdict.
"He who fights with monsters,
should look to it that he himself
does not become a monster.
When you gaze long into the abyss,
the abyss also gazes into you."
Xaxas shook his head “No.” he stated “I won’t be sending anyone alone into Rezan. Scouting or not… those lions have proven they hold no regard to anyone.” He gazed at his beloved. The treatment Leto received should be proof enough that if they catch anyone, the person won’t likely be walking out of it alive.
“Captain!” Xaxas called out the leader of the small unit they have taken “Yes, my liege?” the lion bowed gazing up at the blond “Travel back to Lowland and Riverland prides. Gather reinforcements.” The young warchief uttered “If Y’shenna’s castles want to stay in Ti’wenkai, we will have to bury them here.” He trailed the horizon “And by the sound of it, there might be a lot of digging…” The captain smiled at the words. He did not expect the young boy to display such conviction when it came to dealing with an enemy. “As you command, my liege.” “Who is your second in command?” Xaxas asked “Hlela, my liege.” The officer gazed at the lioness “She will take your place as a commanding officer during your absence.” Xaxas instructed.
V’dan shook his head “Is it wise, my boy?” he spoke “To send off any of our troops?” “If we are to face an army out there…” Xaxas stated “We will need an army of our own.” He sighed, gazing at Leto “Hopefully those fools will back down. There has been enough blood spilled.” -fin-
Hlela listened carefully to the conversation, silently relieved that the decision went in circles around the fact that marching into Rezan was a bad idea. The lioness's ears flattened involuntarily and then perked back up as words were muttered quietly, though she caught her name among the words. Perhaps referring to her status as second-in-command--and the glance back at her confirmed it. The captain was probably going somewhere else while Hlela commanded the guard.
She felt a mild sense of content rise up inside at this. Position as captain reminded her of her old position, when she commanded her small squadron... and it also left a bitter taste in her mouth. The memories only served as a reminder of the system's failure, and of Roshan's betrayal of their country as a whole. Ti'wenkai used to be so much more in her eyes, but now... Well, right now she needed to straighten up and prepare to give orders.
Ares listened to whole conversation. He wasn’t really keen on visiting back his homeland but at the same time the idea of taking a detour and extending this trip for more than necessary was filling him with dread. The land was scarred almost beyond repair and staying out here not only was dangerous but depressing. He sat with the rest of soldiers trying to join any conversation to kill time but everyone was trying to rest and catch a breath while they could, then he noticed old lion coming his way.
V’dan came towards Ares “Come with me”, he said without emotion. The male was wondering what that old and bitter lion could want from him. After gaining some distance from the rest V’dan climbed small rock formation that was overlooking the savannah. Ares have followed him and they both sat next to each other. “Listen boy” the old one spoke “I have no respect nor I will have any for you as long as I live, but since I’m forced to suffer my autumn surrounded by your stupidity, let me give you an advice” he looked into Ares’ eyes to see if he understands him “Since you have never been trained as you should, let me explain something to you. Xaxios’h are powerful nation and everything our paws touch, is ours, that’s why we are the backbone of Ti’wenkai”. “But after Roshan’s rampage, I doubt you control anything” Ares slipped in. V’dan gave him cold stare “If you would be wise, you would never said that. But since you’re a moron, then shut up and let me finish, unless you want to become a moron without throat” he growled. Despite being bigger than the older male, knowing how experienced he is, he folded back his ears “I’m sorry sir, please continue”. “Maybe there’s something you can learn after all” the old one replied and after a short pause continued “You must know that despite all that happened, Ti’wenkai will go back to what we are. Discipline is in our blood, conquest is like an air for us. Sooner all later, some will start demanding blood and return to the old ways. When that time comes, I hope you will at least be ready”. Ares didn’t understood, he looked at V’dan with confusion without saying a word. The old one just shook his head “By all that is alive, you are hopeless… I guess if your father would know how dumb you are he would kill you right after birth!” he snorted and started walking back towards the group while the young male still tried to figure out what this all was about.
The stars began to fade away, while the dark blues of the night shifted into purples and pinks of the morning. As the sun shyly peeked from beyond the horizon, the sky exploded with hues of red and orange. The first to wake up were the soldiers, accustomed to the military drill. Captain prepared for his departure, passing his command to Hlela and instructing his troops to follow her orders, but above all protect their warchief with their own lives. He then left, wasting no more time.
As Xaxas opened his eyes the group was nearly ready for further trip. He gazed sleepily at the entourage and realized he was the only one they were waiting for. He gazed at Leto with annoyance “Why no one woke me up?” to which the soldier smiled “Point me to the one brave enough to interrupt warchief’s slumber…” Leto jested, nuzzling his beloved “Well, I could think of one certain someone…” Xaxas purred, but quickly their affections were interrupted by a cough.
“We have to leave.” V’dan stated, gazing at remaining five soldiers and two seekers at Strider’s command “We need to find some shelter before the noon.” The male uttered, gazing up at the slowly rising sun. Within just few hours the heat will be unbearable and in this barren landscape, with no water to quench thirst, the trek will just become death wish awaiting fulfilment. “Agreed.” Strider nodded, gazing back at Xaxas “Shall we continue with scouting?” the seeker asked, after all, Xaxas expressed wishes of keeping the group together.
“Yes…” the boy stated reluctantly. He have changed his mind during night. “But I want you to stay close and not engage anyone, either in combat or conversation… regardless who they are.” Xaxas commanded, lowering his head in a nod to signal that the Strider has his leave. The seekers quickly paced towards the horizon to scan the land ahead. V’dan didn’t like the idea of proceeding into this wasteland, the river option seemed much more feasible… for the almost suicidal change of plans he had Ares to blame. -fin-
The soldier watched the seekers ran off, as much as he’d want to join them he knew his place was at his husband’s side, Leto wasn’t too keen on this arrangement either he shared his foster father’s sentiments that it seemed a suicidal option especially if they had little in the way of forward intel, if the seeker team was ambushed one would have to escape in order to warn them. If they didn’t they’d be sitting ducks, despite their entourage of soldiers Leto knew from firsthand experience how deadly effective ambushes could be though to ambush anything in this barren wasteland one may as well need be invisible.
They walked along for the better part of the dawn which was slowly stretching into morning; Leto subdued a soft yawn that was caught by V’dan who snorted a laugh. “Getting complacent boy?” he jested, drawing chuckle from Leto who shook his head. “In your dreams old man.” He murmured turning to his foster father. V’dan snorted Leto had always had a wild streak but Xaxas had against the odds managed to sooth it and as the years dragged on Leto had become increasingly level-headed, patient, and calculating rather than brash, valorous, and reckless.
Though one could argue the five months spent in torture as POW which not only broke his spirit also changed him on a fundamental level, in truth V’dan was sure it had… cause the Leto that had been extracted from that dungeon had not been same as the one thrown into it. Leto hurried his steps coming up beside his husband, “Do you honestly think we’d need an army?” he asked doubt lining his voice, he knew most of Ti’wenkai were sick and tired of war, so those who would pledge anything to take on Y’shenna’s league of former castless were pretty slim from what Leto could deduce. “I know they need to put down or forced into exile.” He frowned pausing, “But why insight more wars… you know she has a lot of pull with those who were the most oppressed.” He stated, indeed a lot of former castless outside her band were mildly sympathetic to her, and a few were vocal against Xaxas.
“It won’t make you any more popular.” The soldier murmured, indeed at times he was worried for his husband, it didn’t do well antagonizing people… you’d only invite assassins.
"He who fights with monsters,
should look to it that he himself
does not become a monster.
When you gaze long into the abyss,
the abyss also gazes into you."
Since the seekers left the group they started marching in silence. Everyone seemed to be focused on their task but in reality it was the monotony of the journey. Since terror in form of Roshan befell Ti’wenkai, everyone seemed to be different. The old pride of being a lion died a little in everyone and they had to grow accustom to respect the former castles. Not to mention serving under one was also considered an unusual experience.
After a while the young male got bored with this trek and tried to at least stay occupied. He waited the moment until V’dan moved to the rear of the pack, probably to ensure if soldiers are marching in orderly fashion. Seeing this as an opportunity he dashed forward towards the warchief and his husband. “Sire” he tried to sound not too excited “Yes Ares?” the warchief replied with hint of surprise on his face. “I know you have your doubts but thank you for trusting my judgement. I’m almost certain that Rezan still stands. They have never treated cas- I mean free lions with disrespect so I doubt they have been crippled during the migration” he continued talking “Besides, before I’ve been sent to you I’ve been travelling through here and everything seemed like always” he looked at warchief’s husband “And I guess when we get to Julan, he will welcome you with open paws”. Warchief smiled and nodded with kindness “Thank you ambassador for your advice but I doubt that will happen”. “Why?” Ares asked, to which Leto replied “It’s because there’s something between me and Julan that he will never forget”.
You could see some serious concern on their muzzles, like something that happened in the past was stuck in their heads, some dark memory that would always be there. Xaxas poked the side of his mate “Don’t worry, Julan is maybe bitter but he’s not stupid. He knows that staying as Ti’wenkai is his only option. Not to mention, he won’t do anything while I’m there with you” he smiled and placed soft lick on his cheek.
“As I’ve said Corazan definitely will welcome you with open arms. Maybe former warchief broke our land but our spirit stayed strong” saying that some sort of pride filled Ares. He felt like for the first time since he has been delegated as an ambassador, he said something important. He raised his head and bow to his liege and moved back to soldiers.
Hlela woke earliest out of the guard, meeting sunrise with a clear gaze. Years of waking earlier than the others to begin her training had made her body used to little sleep, and today was no exception. The others stirred to life soon after, seeing that the second in command had been keeping watch over them. She had no true attachment to anyone here, but she knew it important to be vigilant and stick together as a team. Her eyes cast over the still form of Xaxas, the blonde castless who had somehow gained much recognition. She didn't know what had truly happened--many events were warped and turned into false stories by Roshan, the warchief, and Hlela never got the full story. The only thing she knew was death and torture of those Roshan wished to punish, and even cold Hlela thought his tactics were, at the very least, distasteful.
The captain woke and passed off his command, leaving the guard in Hlela's care. He then left on his own personal mission, probably given to him by the lions higher in rank. Again, she went back to thinking about Xaxas and his methods of 'war'. Instead of waging war, he chose to use words and diplomacy, but that was such a strange concept to her that she couldn't quite wrap her brain around it. All she was taught was battle, to be the perfect soldier... and yet, the instability and carnage caused by Roshan (whether directly or indirectly) made her think that the blonde was on the right track. She sniffed lightly and looked away, eyes on the horizon.
Marching into the wasteland seemed foolish, but Hlela barked her orders out to the guard anyway.
"Fall in!" She shouted, voice professional but a bit thick with thirst. Traveling in the scorching heat would not be pleasant. "At attention! About... face!" The five did as she asked with precision, faces blank. She had them wait there until further orders were given to march forward. Hlela watched her guard carefully, knowing that she should not push them so hard that they collapsed. Lesser lions were known to die of heat exhaustion in this sort of weather. She frowned at the thought, thinking of Ares's foolish quest. She did not agree with his ideas, not at all, but she would make due with what she had.
They marched in silence. Words would waste energy, and though the others spoke quietly ahead, her guard did not even turn to look at one another. Good. Mindless marching would keep them from noticing thirst or the heat, which was beginning to warm Hlela's hide enough to make her begin to sweat. It was odd, carrying out orders under a former castless, but she didn't really mind. She didn't attack them on her own grounds, but rather under the orders of a higher-up. It was nothing personal; just a soldier's duty.
Just before the noon they reached a colliery chiseled in the side of a hill. It was gravelly but spacious enough to hide their entire group from the increasing heat. A small cavern concealed deep within the crag was perfect to make their temporary headquarters in, while the courtyard was taken up by the escort. The soldiers gathered near the entrance, creating a protective cordon, while Xaxas invited inside Ares and Hlela, they needed to think of a strategy.
“I’m getting thirsty…” the blond muttered, licking up his parched lips. “This is a gamble, boy…” V’dan threw a gaze outside to the vast sea of dried grass “If we won’t find water-“ “We will.” Xaxas declared, there was no other way as far as he was concerned “I hope so.” The male grumbled “But sooner or later your luck will run out.” “Perhaps…” Xaxas nodded solemnly “…but let it not be today.”
The last time they had a drink of water was two days ago. Since then every puddle they passed was filled with bloated, decomposing corpses. Pestilence hung heavily over the cadavers, not even vultures or jackals were tempted to touch them. Water reeked of death and not just any kind of death, but convoluted and painful one. “I can’t believe how far gone Roshan was…” the boy sighed.
The soldier followed his husband as they all walked further into the crag, it was relatively cold in here, the moist walls and shade lowered the temperature by several notches. It was also dark, not pitch black but still dark compared to the extreme brightness outside. The moisture on the walls was tempting the soldier was thirsty so thirsty in fact he’d lap water from stones, though one couldn’t tell if this water was contaminated, or polluted. This made attempting to taste it not exactly safe.
He came up near to Xaxas hearing his mate mutter about Roshan, and his depravity, “I am just glad we managed to stop him at all.” Leto murmured, what that insane ***hole had got away with doing was bad but if nothing had been done things could’ve looked a lot worse. “These caves and caves in general usually collect water.” The soldier stated shifting the toping to something a little more pressing, “See the walls.” He stopped briefly pressing a paw against the cold stone, “They’re moist, that means the water has to gather somewhere.” He explained, form the looks of things there should be a small reservoir somewhere in this cave, at least all the evidence pointed towards such.
"There's only one problem." Leto said after a short pause, "It's going to be impossible to know whether it's polluted or not." he frowned turning from the wall and to his husband. "Someone will have to test it." he added ears folding against his skull.
Ares was relieved when they stepped inside the cave. Cold breeze was refreshing after marching in such heat. He didn’t remembered weather being so harsh when he left, which could only mean that land haven’t tasted rain in weeks if not months. It was a bad sign. Things weren’t their best in Corazan and lack of water was the last thing that kingdom needed.
After being invited to stay closer to the warchief, he noticed the wet wall. He was tempted to taste the water, but after hearing what Leto said, he didn’t wanted to risk disease. “Shouldn’t it be purified already as it sits on the wall and not on the ground?” he suggested “After all I don’t see any carcasses around.” He moved forward towards the wall. The cold from wet stones was inviting him to take a lick… He started walking around trying to find a way to taste the water “We need to point someone to do it… and I bet it’s delicious and not poisoned but we can’t take the risk… unless some brave lion like V’dan could show us how to do it.” He tried to sound cheeky but because of exhaustion no one found his comment funny.
V’dan listened to Ares’s argument and as much as he didn’t like to admit, it was intelligible. The vapours were condensing on the walls, meaning the water was distilled. He approached the sandy male and slammed his muzzle into the cave wall “I will gladly show you…” the old male growled “Lick!”
Ares faltered under the threat, especially since it was backed by claws slowly prodding his skin. He took a hesitant lick and the water tasted just divine. It was cold, fresh and above all, pure as if he just drank from a spring.
Hlela walked inside with the others, commanding her troops to fall out and rest as she went in. Xaxas complained about his thirst, though the lioness didn't blame him--they weren't desert camels, used to going without water for days. They all needed a drink, badly. Her own mouth was so parched that she could taste blood when she moved her too-dry tongue at times. Her ears flattened at the mention of Roshan. Some form of shame bubbled up inside her, but practicality made her answer curt.
"He is not the one we should be worried about," she replied evenly. "He is dead--Y'shenna is the one we should be focusing on, and the most immediate threat." Perhaps not the most polite answer, but a smart one. Leto mentioned the caves--a smart idea, but when he brought up the fact that the water might have been poisoned, Hlela opened her mouth to answer that distillation was likely extremely safe and clean. As a teen, she used to prefer water that had collected inside dens and caverns, because it was so cool and fresh. The flavor was much better than that of the water they had to drink from warm rivers.
But before she could say so, Ares brought this up, of course adding cheek at V'dan's expense. Hlela crinkled her nose a bit, tiring of his joking and insufferable attitude. At most, she ignored this behavior, but right now she was tired, thirsty, and too dehydrated to even sweat properly. Again she was beaten to the punch, this time by the old-timer who shoved the younger lion's nose into the cave wall with something akin to satisfaction. After licking it as ordered, Ares deemed it clean--not really surprising, but good to know.
"Shall I inform the guard, then?" She asked, ignoring the hilarity of the situation and jumping straight to the welfare of her troops.
Xaxas tried to contain a chuckle as he watched the scene unfold. V’dan was his old self and it was nice to relieve old memories, even if someone else was re-enacting them for you. The golden eyes met with the ice-blue ones in a mutual, loving understanding. Both Xaxas and Leto had similar reminiscence of their times in the agoge, no words were needed, just smiles.
As Hlela asked if she should inform the guards, Xaxas sighed “We need to find a pool, as Leto said the water must gather somewhere.” He hoped it did, because it would be difficult for any of them to drink any worth through just licking the walls. If the soldiers were to join in, this would only tease their thirst further, rather than quench it.
He quickly looked around. Although the cavern was shallow and did not hold any hidden chambers, he was certain the water must’ve collected somewhere. As he inspected every crevice and hole of their shelter he lowered his head in defeat “Nothing.” He uttered, claws ploughing idly the dirt. And it was in that moment when he realised that the cave’s floor was soft.
He gazed at the ceiling and saw as it slowly dropped towards the back of the cave. If any moisture was to collect it would’ve been there. He quickly rushed the spot and started digging anxiously with his paws. The hole reached just few inches in depth and soon water oozed from its walls and filled the small pool “Water!” he exclaimed gazing down as it filled the pocket.
The soldier chuckled seeing V’dan being back to his old self, the man though sometimes mean spirited always had a meaning behind his small harassments. They were rarely baseless violence and brutality, though Leto had noticed that the past decade had significantly mellowed the old man, he was still sharp as a claw but he had become less strict in his old days.
Perhaps that was for the better, after all he no longer taught students Leto, Xaxas and the gang had been the last he had taught before the war broke out, which had postponed most agoge training, or shut them down… like what had happened to V’dan, Roshan had forbidden V’dan from teaching students after he had assumed power, forcing the old man into exile along with the rest who left Xaxios’h behind.
His stupor of thoughts were broken as Xaxas spoke up repeating how the water had to collect somewhere, Leto followed his mate in his search. Indeed Leto was just a few seconds short of Xaxas in realizing that the floor of the cave was soft like packed dirt. As his husband managed to conjure water the soldier came up next to him, nuzzling into his mane, “Well done.” He purred in satisfaction and bend down to slake his thirst, he took a whiff of the water but there was no smell coming from it.
V’dan took him completely by surprise. Despite being bigger than him, Ares’ face hit the rock with force. Bit shocked, he quickly decided to follow the old man orders, not wanting to know what would happen if he disobeyed.
After he landed on the ground, he moved his jaw a bit just to check if everything was alright, thankfully his bones were untouched and only small bruise on his cheek was the reminder of what transpired moment ago. He took a look at everyone “Ugh, it’s clean, I think.” he stated still checking his teeth.
He sat on the ground and watched as Xaxas has discovered water. Everyone started taking their turns to take a drink. Noticing the sleek lioness, who just recently became responsible for whole company of soldiers he walked next to her “Hlela right? Yes I guess you can inform everyone that they can join us, should be enough water for all.” he said cheerfully, trying to pretend that what transpired between him and V’dan was just fooling around.
Hlela nodded assent to the lion as he told her to wait until a water source was found. She silently complied, looking for a reservoir or something that water could trickle down into, but in this small cave there was really nowhere they could look that they couldn't already see from where they stood. No water. Her ears flattened in frustration, but she watched as Xaxas's eyes widened with a revelation. He began to dig frantically in one spot, paws getting muddy with dirt. Hlela flinched away from the mess, not caring for mud on her coat--wait, mud?! She all but rushed to Xaxas's side, ignoring the public display of affection between him and his husband. She flicked her gaze up at them, waiting for them to drink first since they were above her in rank, even if her throat ached for a sip of the cool water. When she finally did drink, it took all she had not to let her eyes roll back in bliss. Cool, fresh tasting water slid down her throat and quenched her thirst, easing the dryness in her mouth. She took slow draughts, stopping before it could fill her too much. A sloshing belly would make her sick and vomit, making her further dehydrated and ill.
She gave Ares a nod. "Yes, I'll go get them now." She stepped out and called them, watching them drink one by one and stopping them before they had too much. This was the break they'd been hoping for--she thanked the gods that they found it and could replenish their bodies before marching on.
The water was a blessing from heavens and a first sing of luck in many days. V’dan gazed at the blond with a weak smile on his muzzle “One day it will run out.” He stated, meaning the good fortune that seemed to be constantly favouring the boy “But not today.” Xaxas replied, watching as the soldiers took their turns at the waterhole. Each time a lion emptied the pocket, the water seeped back in through its walls and refiled it. “This will be a great base of operation.” The old male finally stated “And it will allow reinforcements to come straight towards Rezan.” “Once Strider reports back, he’s going to take over this place.” Xaxas nodded.
V’dan threw an angered glare to the blond “You want to leave him behind?” “We have no choice. We need him to have a hideout with water to effectively scout the land.” Xaxas explained “And someone waiting here to tell the army there’s water.” “But that leaves us with only-“ “Exactly what we have here.” Xaxas finished for his mentor “We are traveling without them anyway, master”
The old male didn’t like the idea, but Xaxas already made up his mind. Once the sun started to slowly descend from the skies, the commenced their march. The dried, golden grassland slowly started giving way to the barren earth covered with grey ashes. Charred down tree stumps and bones peppered the landscape. Every step they took disturbed the powder and it flew into the air, making it hard to breathe. Within few hours Strider came back with his team, baring no good news. Xaxas tank him for the report and informed of the hideout they were to command as their own. The seeker shared V’dan’s objections, but the health and safety of reinforcements was paramount in the eyes of the warchief.
Puffs of dust and ash enveloped his paws at every step, the ground were covered in a fine layer of soot and burnt dirt. Leto’s eyes were focused ahead of him, but the barren dead lands held nothing, how anything could live here was a miracle. He glanced to his mate that was walking near him but he said nothing instead his eyes focused on the surroundings, his ears perked for sounds all his sense were kept on high alert.
“This is why we don’t use tactics like this.” V’dan broke the silence solemnly, the soldier turned to his foster father, “Poisoning waterholes, burning the land.” He cringed shaking his head, “Not even the lands of those we conquered suffered this.” He murmured through a sigh, “Yet, Roshan doing it to one of our own is-” He hissed cutting his words as his ears folded back, “It will recover, the lands aren’t dead.” Leto interrupted with conviction drawing the old lion’s attention, “You’ve changed boy.” The elder lion scoffed shaking his head at the uncharacteristic optimism coming from the darker male, the soldier’s gaze turned to the horizon. “We’ve all changed, V’dan.” The young seeker pointed out in a lowered voice.
“But pardon this old man for not sharing the optimism.” V’dan added as he retreated to the rear of the gathering, leaving Leto alone. The soldier uttered a deep sigh as he pushed onwards limping up next to his mate, “Do you have any actual plan for how to deal with Y’shenna?” Leto inquired with his husband in a soft voice.
"He who fights with monsters,
should look to it that he himself
does not become a monster.
When you gaze long into the abyss,
the abyss also gazes into you."
V’dan shook his head, keeping himself away from others. Even if the land would heal… he wouldn't live to see it. For a lion to witness the ruin of his nation… to see how the world around him collapsed. It was too much to take and too much for optimism.
Xaxas regarded his beloved with a troubled gaze “You know all too well I've exhausted every option for reasoning with her.” He breathed “If she’s out there for blood, we might face another war.” He uttered “Even I cannot prevent it…” he gazed back to Ares walking nearby “You said you were from Kilimaro Pride, didn’t you?” the male came to Xaxas’ side gleefully and nodded “How badly were your lands hit by the wars?”
This Land: Jenna - I'm currently in an online lesson, ill reply in about an hour ^^
Jan 19, 2021 19:48:37 GMT
Jenna: No rush! I have just had this open at work for when I have down time xD
Jan 19, 2021 20:10:41 GMT
This Land: haha, like your thinking xD
Jan 19, 2021 21:17:06 GMT
mrcrazypants: @tl that Doctor Who soundtrack you shared is great!
Jan 20, 2021 9:09:15 GMT
This Land: I know right? Im very tempted to get my keyboard out and learn how to play it too xD
Jan 20, 2021 9:16:04 GMT
mrcrazypants: Oh that would be so cool!!!
Jan 20, 2021 14:26:11 GMT
mrcrazypants: I have a guitarr back home (stuck at parents house atm due to apartment being renovated). Imagine if I learned it on the guitar too, then we'd have a doctor who band haha
Jan 20, 2021 14:27:58 GMT
This Land: You on Guitar, girlfriend on bass, and me on the keyboard, Anyone know drums ? xD
Jan 20, 2021 14:31:06 GMT
mrcrazypants: 👏😂 hahaha! Oh and we'd need a singer too for future lyrics based songs
Jan 20, 2021 14:32:29 GMT