Servants to the Senate
The sun was high and hot over Oasis in this Season of Fire, particularly now at midday. Nearly all businesses were shut down, save for those directly on the shores of Aila. The great lake that allowed for life here to thrive had hundreds of thousands of Oasian citizens in her waters. Many were swimming, wading in the shallows, some lounged on boats and pontoons, others sought refuge within the Deeps, the section of the city built downward into the lake. Much of the population was huddled in and around this great water source, as well as they many pools, fountains, and ponds that the city's engineers built to be fed by Aila.
And while most were lounging, trying to conserve their energy in the heat, there were those newer faces that worked tirelessly. The bipedal, metallic beings were one of the newest innovations by the finest magi-engineers, and they had been called The Servants. They could be programmed with magical crystals, so that they had very specific rules and orders to follow, and they could do that which dozens of people together couldn't do. The Servants were obscenely expensive and difficult to construct, however, so only the Senate and a few select members of the richest had access to them. Right now, in this high heat, they were being used to fetch luxury iced wines, communiques, and other goods for Senators who didn't wish to leave their yachts on Aila.
And so, on this slow, hot day, where only the Servants were toiling away without tiring, the greatest city seemed to grow quiet. This was not literal, of course, for a city of this size never truly grew quiet. There were hawkers out selling their flavored ices, magically produced, of course. There were children playing and splashing, there were pets barking, cawing, and otherwise kicking up a ruckus. But the world around them all was still.
And there on the edge of the lake, a pair of Servants, one golden hued and in matching robes, masculine and tall, accompanied by a female, silvery and lunar, walked along. They moved with the same determination as every other Servant, task driven. But as they rounded a dock, the masculine one stopped at the water's edge. He stepped out into the reeds, among the lily pads, and wrapped two fingers around the stem of a small, yellow water lily. It snapped off, and he turned, joining his companion who seemed to be waiting and watching. The pair started to walk again, and the man subtly slipped the flower into the hand of the woman. She cradled it gently, careful to not crush it, before they took a noticeable change of course, stepping down a side alley between the walls of two manors.
The Fall from Grace
The stolen orb glowed in soft pulses, humming with ancient magic.
Along the golden band wrapped around the center of the artifact like an equator, strange symbols clicked with every sweep of her hand. Twisting and turning the device, the winged woman pressed indentations, and adjusted notches while puffing sharply on a thin cigarette. The stolen puzzle clicked, loud and singular, and Navyri stood from her seat with renewed passion. This was it. Lips splitting into a smile, she twisted at the final lock.
And nothing happened.
The container did not open, a strange entity did not speak. Navyri was still the same as she had been before, standing in the center of her bedroom at the Ox’s Bellow. More upset, of course.
Disappointment flared first, then disgust. Fear and frustration crept up soon after, sweetened at last by rage. She had to get this right. He would kill her otherwise.
Stilling for several minutes, she turned over her patterns to figure out where she had gone wrong. She looked at the orb. Staring. Obsessing. No mistake, she assured herself. The execution had been textbook perfection. Navyri was a woman of technique. She stormed across the room like a hurricane and furiously took another drag.
Using every inch of her willpower to keep from launching the hunk of metal through the wall and likely into Soren’s sink, Navyri cursed and abandoned it on the table. She tilted her head back and blinked, pressing her fingers into tired eyes. She had been at this for hours, arriving back into town sometime before the last call, much earlier than her usual (if sporadic) dawn visits. When staying in a location semi-regularly, one could never be too careful by remaining unpredictable to any unwanted attention. Soren might have desired her to take the world by storm, to step out from the shadows and into the sun, but old habits died hard.
And with a woman like her, was such a thing even possible?
Stubbing out the embers of her last meal, Navyri’s wings opened to allow her to sit on the edge of the bed, Outside, Curio circled the skies and watched the streets. The familiar sent flashes of vision so regularly now, it was almost easy ignore the tired heaviness to her body, the need for rest. She could blow out the candles and fall into the darkness if she wanted, Oh, how nice.
She leaned back, stretching across the bed while knowing she shouldn’t. Curio’s birds-eye view tempted her like a dream and she saw the roof of the tavern. She could feel the cool morning breeze against his feathers. The streets were still dark, but she could make out the opened window of her bedroom. Curio swooped downward. Nearby, in the room over, a light came on.
Soren was awake, then. Faintly, she thought she heard the sound of water as he began his morning wash routine. Breakfast wouldn’t be far behind. Navyri rolled onto her side and contemplated if she should join him downstairs - and certainly take advantage of whatever stash of caffeine he had - but she didn’t need distractions. And if he asked her what she had been doing all night, she wouldn’t quite know how to answer.
The white owl came to the windowsill and began to preen beneath his feathers. A constant companion, Navyri felt at ease in his presence, knowing that he was watching over her in her more vulnerable moments. She could see herself, beautiful. Graceful. Smooth skin and soft breathing, lounging on the duvet like a slumbering muse.
And then, her eyes opened, she sat stiffly, staring at the orb. Obsessing. Staring.
She stood, rising from the bed to take the orb between her hands. Her own eyes glowing, she did not look at the familiar. Curio cried out to her. He warned her. Why was she not paying attention? Navyri’s mouth opened, but it was not her voice that spoke. Repetitive chanting. The voice of strangers. Curio screeched again, louder this time. The humming of the orb grew louder, buzzing.
She brought the orb to her lips and kissed it.
A flash of light exploded outward, a force of magic so powerful, Curio was thrown into the wall. Shattered glass. Splintered wood. Curio, dazed, tried to rush towards his bonded. A loud thump sounded as the golden orb fell to the ground, no longer held up by the hands of a woman.
Navyri was gone.
And yet, she had only just arrived.
A light formed high above the water like a second sun, buzzing like a charge of electricity. Some pointed - it wasn't wholly unusual, but where did it come from? Some shaded their eyes as they squinted to see what it was. A great mass of energy - what Navyri might have once called a fracture - rippled outward like an explosion of thunder, booming as a wave of energy erupted in the sky and a woman began to dive towards the water, the rush of wind causing the leisurely boats to jostle from newly created waves.
Blue sky. Clouds. Heat. Wind. Navyri tore towards the water like a winged meteor, voice stolen as she realized she was falling and no longer laid curled up in bed. Her body burned, she gasped, and opened her wings to try and catch the wind, but failing. She nearly clipped the mast of a strange vessel before pulling her wings in and twisting, narrowing missing a horrible collision by a hair, only to hit the water and feel as if she had been shattered into a million pieces.
Several eyes had cast upward when the rip in space opened up with a loud, booming crash. And most of those went back to looking at whatever it was they were doing before. The people of Oasis were used to such things. Most of them used portals regularly, and many assumed either one went wrong, or someone was just having fun.
"Look mommy! Is a bird!"
The child's mother, barely listening, "That's great honey." The woman shaped person, a Suntouched who wore several gaudy pieces of jewelry and nothing else to her trip in Lake Aila, looked over at her equally tacky and affluent companion. "Didn't the Senators make it illegal to have loud portals here at the lake?"
Her friend chuckled, sipping on a drink that was purple, strong, and in a cup that stayed magically chilled, "They did, but it doesn't apply during Fire."
The mother scoffed, before squealing as a wave formed by the explosion over crashed over her. After she recovered, "Why do we even have these Senators? They're useless!" Her friend just laughed.
Meanwhile, the little girl was wading through the shallows toward where the 'bird' had crashed. She looked up to see a Servant jogging across the surface of water, seeing his feet glowing as it went. The magi-mechanical being fetched the winged woman with the ease and care one might hold a baby bird with.
The little girl, "#$*&#%^"
The Servant looked over at her, nodding, "#%*^&#$(*" in a tinny voice. It began running back to the edge of the lake, but for how it was built, Navyri would not be jostled. As it went, the Servant spoke softly to her, "@#*%@(*&$^@&(#&@%&(@#&@%@)*&%@^&$@)^#*&@$^)@*&$."
When it reached the main road that wrapped around the water's edge, it paused, looking down at the being, waiting for a response.
She tried to move in the water, to orient herself. It seemed impossible with so much pain. She twisted, choking on the sudden agony. Her hand brushed against silt, earth. Darkness wavered at the edge of her vision. She was going to lose consciousness. She had to do something. She couldn't breathe. She-
Something hard and metal wrapped around her body and lifted her and suddenly there was light as she was plucked from the water. Blinding. Burning. She coughed, squinting at the explosion of senses. Her ears were ringing, everything sounded far away. Blue eyes fluttered, a disgusting whimper of disorientation escaped from between her lips. Her head lulled backward, droplets of water rolling down her face, her hair, her clothes. She focused on breathing, wrapping her wings around her like a coffin. A feathered crysalis.
Glimpses of color played from beyond her lashes, strange... silhouettes. Navyri's eyes closed, but there was an urgency. What happened? "Curio," she whispered each syllable a weight on her tongue. She looked at the skies, searching, needing her guardian, "Curio," she tried to lift her head, but pain shot through her arm, and Navyri hissed against the horrific sensation. Broken? Was it even still attached? Navyri forced her eyes open wider and tried to lift her head to try and see the damage to her body.
Nothing made sense. Nothing she looked at registered. Where was her bed? Where was her room?
Where was Curio?
She looked around and then the haze of shock and adrenaline seemed to part enough to allow the winged woman to understand one thing. She was being carried. By...
A small voice spoke out of her range of vision, tiny and feminine. Girlish. A child? And then, in a strange voice she couldn't quite pinpoint for she had never heard anything like it, the thing - contraption? - made noise almost like... A language?
"Wha-?" she groaned without thinking. Navyri's brow furrowed in confusion, trying to find the words in Common. Gods, everything was so bright. She couldn't think! Was this what death was like?
The thing spoke again and stopped moving. It had felt instantaneous. The servant waited, and while it did not have eyes, Navyri had the strange feeling it was watching her. It was metal, like a giant, oversized wind-up figurine. And yet...
She tried to move in its hold, testing limbs, fingers, feeling. Even inhale hurt. A broken rib, likely. The aches and sharp pains kept her body from shutting down. She had to keep from passing out. At this point, Navyri was scared of closing her eyes, "I don't... I don't understand," she admitted after a disoriented reluctance. Could she stand? She had to get away from here. She just needed to figure out what happened. Maybe, if she could just... The thought floated away before she could carve out a plan. The thing carrying her stood at a road and waited. Navyri stared at it - the living artifact- and not the road, managing to lift a hand and touch the strange metal, "What are you?" she whispered, in both fear and awe. She saw something shift from the corner of her eye and tensed, looking down to see a small figure with a jolt. The child?
Beyond the strange little girl was so... much.
Creatures and people unlike she had ever seen. Architecture, loomed and glowed and moved. Most citizens moved slowly in the heat but others were unaffected. She stared, a look of pure awe on her face. Navyri twisted and clutched the robes of her carrier, a familiar sense of dread sickening her. She had to make a choice and she didn't know what was happening. It didn't seem to be hurting her, at least not that she remembered. It just... was helping her?
But injured and alone? That was a sure-fire way to become prey. That often defined prey.
She seemed to be thinking, weighing pros and cons. Calculating something. And then, with resignation she pushed aside her fear when nothing immediately tried to eat her. Then again, the day was still young, "Put... put me down." she said, looking up at the bot. Then, when she wasn't sure if it understood, gritted her teeth and shifted more, trying to open her wings and ignore the stabbing pain, "Down," she said again breathlessly, pointing with her good hand. Was it stupid or was she? "Up," she said pointing towards the sky, "Up," then she pointed with more conviction towards the ground, "Down. Put. Me," she patted her chest in quick succession, then pointed again towards the ground, "Down... Put me down!"
The Servant watched the being closely. It hadn't gotten an especially close look yet, and winged beings were common enough. It recorded all of the information, though. It always did. It did not recognize the language used by the being, though it suspected it might be female by the pitch of its voice. Many races were like that.
The creature began to speak more aggressively, began to wriggle and writhe. It did not seem to like being held. It looked at the Servant, and it seemed to be human in the face. It watched her gesture and speak, quickly understand the connotations of several of the words, tones, and body language she was giving off.
It set her down, gently.
It stood there, waiting, face looking at her softly, albeit blankly.
It then tried speaking again, this time in the Cave-Tongue language. It seemed most humans knew that one. Common hadn't worked before. "#*&(Q$#Q*&$Q(%&#Q$*#."
The Servant watched and waited, then held out its metallic arm, golden arm turned upward, palm open and exposed toward the being's face. It was showing her the bright blue gemstone that was within its palm.
With its other hand, it pointing just as the being had down, pointing at her, softly. Then it spoke again, "Me." Then it pointed at the crystal that was embedded in its hand.
Around the pair, the road was slow, wide, finely paved marble. But it was large, several wagons could travel side by side with enough room to avoid pedestrians. The marble was in intricate, colorful patterns and looked pristine, untouched. Looking all around, one could see that the city sprawled for days in all directions, slowly moving up an incline. They were in a massive basin. At the top of the basin, were large, floating islands of stone, hovering outside of the rim. And in the air, over the closer parts of the massive city, were beings and vehicles that flew, varied and common.
And the sun was directly overhead, unmoving, unwavering, as it would be through the entire season.
Communication was not something Navyri typically struggled with. She had learned a thing or two regarding body language, tone, direction, eye contact; taking an interest in the nuances of the spoken word like a composer with music. Speech was her strength. She could use it, flourish it, manipulate it… but now? Ha.
The living metal set her down, regarding her. Navyri exhaled a sigh of relief when her foot brushed the ground. She clutched the servant's shoulder with one hand and extended afoot, gingerly, first testing her weight in her toes and then to the entirety of her foot. More aches but it held her. She remained focused, placing her second foot and maintained her balance, “Good,” she muttered, visibly relaxing. Her legs weren’t broken.
She tested her weight, shifting between each foot, and then tried to straighten her back delicately. She glanced once at the little girl, frowning. Navyri pushed her shoulder back, grimacing at the hurt with each breath, and she clutched her side with her good hand. Definitely something wrong. She grit her teeth and took short, fierce breaths.
The bot continued to regard her and spoke another nonsensical sentence. The sounds were different now, maybe a different tongue? It didn’t sound much like a language at all… just.. odd choice of noises. The dark-haired woman shook her head, repeating her former sentence, “Don’t understand,” She looked away until he reached out. Navyri's eyes flashed and she stepped back, her sense of uneasy growing with every new observation of the world around her. This place was absolutely foreign.
She looked at his hand, then to the space which would have held a human’s face, trying to figure out what he wanted. She couldn’t find the answer in any expression.
Payment, she realized. What else could it be? No matter where she was, the world ran on give and take. Language differed but the coin was universal. A solemn panic unfurled within her stomach. There was no need to check her pockets, she knew they were empty. Think. What were her exits? The woman reached inside her mind, trying to strum the familiar chord that tethered her and her familiar, needing him and his aid, but without an answer, Navyri closed her eyes, pushing harder. Where are you? Come to me!
Nothingness called back.
The woman searched the burning skies again, a deep awareness of the utter void within her mind. It was just her. Everything felt... empty. Where was her closest friend? Her partner in crime? For the first time in over half a century, Navyri's mind was hers and hers alone. She ceased to breathe, caught in the revelation.
Then, it (he? she? they?) spoke a single word which she understood. Me.
Navyri blinked, grounded once more. She seemed to focus on the servant again, brought out of her racing thoughts and into the present moment. She continued to steal wary glances at the things around her but seemed to gather enough control to fight back the desperate rush of emotion. Where are you?
The metal figure had said something, the gem still held out, facing her. Was it introducing itself?
She furrowed her brow, the light catching the crystal.
Navyri leaned to the side, considering. In quick agreeance, she brushed her open palm to the embedded rock, willing to offer that. Assuming that was what it even wanted “Navyri,” she introduced in soft mutterance, confused. The thing had grasped one word, maybe there was hope still. She pulled away to turn and face the street, unable to hide the concern. It was clear she was searching for something. Then, remembering the girl was there, honed her blue eyes on the child.
"What?" she asked sharply. She looked between the child and the servant, motioning between the two, "What even is this?" After the words left her mouth, she decided almost immediately that she did not care. There were bigger problems than the relation of these two. Priorities first.
"I need to get out of here."
Navyri tried to open her wings, the left one unfolding to a great size behind her and beating, kicking up a flurry of wind, spraying speckles of water across the marbled street as the feathers fluffed, adding to her size. The other, however-
Sharp pain doubled her over, racking up her wing and down her spine, the injured appendage spasmed and drooped. Navyri sucked in air between gritted teeth to choke a scream, strands of wet hair clinging to her cheeks.
A quick mental inventory followed. Bruised rib, maybe. Shattered wing? Broken or dislocated right arm. Strange surroundings. Even stranger company. Fuck! Her fists clenched until the initial searing pain faded to drumming, insistent ache.
She has survived worse, but she'd be better off with aid. If she had been plucked from the water after her crash, maybe there was a reason. Could they help her? Would they? "Broken," she said resolutely, looking between the two, silently pleading for them to understand. She hated how weak she felt. Disgusting, "Broken. Me. Navyri. Broken." She lifted her good arm and waved it weakly towards her injuries. Gods, could it get any hotter! She felt like she was going to combust, "Me... Navyri," she tried again, feeling faint, sick and less patient. The sun had warmed her clothes and now she felt the building heat beneath the weight of her soaked clothes. Her mouth tasted like ash, the taste of fading adrenaline. Maybe she had been too hasty when she had demanded to be set down.
Before she could stumble, Navyri crouched before the child. At least this one had a face that resembled faintly like the ones she was used to. Again, she touched her chest, saying her name. She turned her body to tentatively display part of her wing, allowing the pain on her face to be visible, "It's broken," she said softly, trying to keep the vocabulary repetitive in hopes something might click. She clutched her weak arm. She didn't often engage with children, but desperate times called for desperate measures, "Can you help me?"
She looked up at the servant, wondering if it would recognize the word again.
The Servant and child watched as the being stood up, and seemed to be checking itself over for injuries. It also now had a better look at it, and while it most resembled a human, the wings and other things were slightly off. Maybe it was a hybrid of some sort. Possibly an Envoy. It would have to connect to the Crystal later to research more on humans.
But it watched to see that the maybe-human was injured. The being's eyes were searching for escape, exit. Panic was in it. A common thing among the biological races. It continued to speak in its foreign language, but the Servant was a quick study of languages.
The child smiled, showing excitement, pressing its hand against her chest, "Me Corteya." Then Corteya put her hand on the Servant, "Me Servant." She smiled knowingly, though she had used the word in her language as the Servant's name, not the word Navyri would know for 'servant', for they were not given names. Naming them was considered taboo, but she was a child and cared not.
The Servant though could see the broken wing. It was rather obvious as she tried to open it, as she was wracked with pain. And it spoke back to her, as best it could, in her own, strange language. "Navyri, you. Servant, me." It then pointed at her wing, "broken," followed by pointing at itself, "Servant help you."
A voice rang out, "#$&^#$*&^#$ Corteya #@*^&#@%^&." It was the child's mother, waving at her, calling the child back to her. The child waved at the woman, then scampered back into the water to her mother who was glaring defensively at Navyri, as she began babbling to her drunken friend. The Servant was now pointing down a well traveled road, "Help up this."
If Navyri took the offer to go with it, it would then point at her mouth, followed by mimicking the movement of a mouth with its hand. Then it would begin leading the way down main roads, passing by homes of extraordinary size and beauty, each with its own massive and filled garden. They passed houses of entertainment, some were for theatrical performances, others for music, some for art and pleasure. One was a yard of statues made from stone and gems, which moved around, conversed with one another. One would even wave at them as they passed by.
And eventually, the Servant would stop in front of a large gate made of what seemed to be glass. It pressed its hand, the one with the gemstone, to the surface of the glass, and it glowed indigo, illuminating a bubble shield that extended up and over the entire property before fading back to invisible. The gate opened, and the Servant stepped into a courtyard filled with well manicured flowers and plants, as an ebony cat darted out of the open gate, disappearing down the road.
Navyri did not understand the girl's language enough to be able to discern the difference between names and titles but she now had a word for each of them and that was better than before. The winged woman nodded in approval, admittedly surprised something useful had come from the interaction. Were children here smarter or had she just never taken the time to exploit their curiosity? There had been rumors from the mouth of doting parents, who claimed their child absorbed things like a sponge, but she had never believed it. If that was the case, why were so many of then so dumb? Prejudices aside, this one proved to be refreshing... or maybe she was just more desperate than she thought.
"Navyri, you. Servant, me."
Her attention snapped back towards the mechanism.
She turned her body to face it more fully, standing slowly. It understood her? “Yes,” she encouraged carefully, the girl’s existence gone from her mind nearly as soon as it had taken hold, “Yes.”
“Servant help you.”
Further away, another woman called out, repeating the same name. Corteya. Navyri turned her head to look over her shoulder. A mother waving? She did not need to know the language to picture the translation. Come back over here, Corteya, stop talking to strangers. Maybe even, Over here now, Corteya, what did I say?
Navyri and the mother stared at each other.
Corteya waved and ran off, back to where she came, which allowed Navyri to attempt her newest and most unexpected hobby: Integration.
Servant spoke first, “Help up this.”
Her eyes roamed down the street, seeing the impact of the veined marble and exhaled, low and slow. She nodded, “Yes.”
Navyri waited, arching a brow when he pointed at her mouth and his hand flapped like moving lips. Was Servant wanting her to talk more or stop altogether? She tilted her head, shaking more water from her good wing.
Servant was clearly capable of learning. It was intelligent.
If she spoke, more words could be collected and used.
If Servant couldn’t help her, perhaps it could translate to someone who could. She had never seen so many people and not hear a word of Common.
She would speak, then.
“Navyri,” she pointed to herself as they took their first steps, “Servant.” she pointed again, and then grabbed the being’s forearm, making sure to pause for clear distinction between each word, “We.” They continued onward, “Navyri and Servant. We.”
She decided the next sentence letting go to hold two fingers and imitate a walking motion in the air, “Walk.”
“We walk down the-” she tapped ground, waving up and down the street, “street.”
She wanted to know if it understood.
They moved further away from the lake and deeper into the residential district where estates and mansions and luxury were everywhere you turned. Navyri’s aches and pains somehow seemed lighter here. She would have liked to be able to take to the skies to get a higher vantage point of this alien metropolis.
It was a strange place with stranger company.
Something buzzed and came unfolding out of the second-story window, rushing down like a waterfall. Navyri jerked, smacking into the side of Servant, pain racking up her body as her injured wing was jostled. The wave of synchronized beetles amassed into something resembling a bi-pedal tortoise, approaching a vendor. It scuttled and buzzed, stranglers lingering until they flew and caught up with the rest of its hive.
“What is that?” she hissed in horrified shock, stepping quickly to the other side of Servant, gripping its robes. Her neck might as well of broke with how she craned to see everything. As if to mock her, when she finally looked forward, she nearly came face to face with a gurgling mass of slime squelching in her direction. Behind it, cleaning up the trail of sludge were two horseshoe crabs the size of dogs, lapping up the filth.
She made an undignified sound of horror, nearly (and quite literally) jumping out of her skin.
Oh gods, it was revolting! She tried to mask the scare with an uncharacteristic lack of success. Then again, it had been a long time since something scared her that wasn’t some ancient deity.
When it was further away, she looked at Servant, stubborn and horrified, “I know you saw that!”
And yet, no one else reacted?
She was not the unreasonable one here! Navyri silently fumed, tempted after a few steps to reengage. Passing more gardens, animated statues waved, “Friends of yours?” she finally asked, having difficultly with her bad wing scraping the ground.
Great blooms and the scent of foreign flora sweetened the air with their petals and perfume. Navyri took a deep breath. It reminded her of Elivarn’s party in the garden, except a million times better.
They stopped at a glass gate.
Servant lifted a hand and then a great shield shimmered in a flash of indigo. It vanished. She blinked. “You live here?” her mouth dropped. That gem unlocked this? It reminded her of the alchemical project she had commissioned in Melrath… Except even better. Again.
He stepped past the gate, a black cat darting past their feet. She glanced in its direction before assessing the skies, still thinking Curio would come breaking through the wisp of clouds.
Cradling her injuries, Navyri followed after.
The Servant learned and remembered and recorded everything she said, and in response to her question of its understanding, it answered, "Yes? Yes." The Servant spent much of its focus on what this Navyri was saying. It understood the concept of questions in this foreign tongue. She asked a lot of them. But beyond what she was saying, Servant could see she was much more foreign than any other it had met. She'd never seen a Swarm before, never seen anything even remotely similar, if it judged her reactions correctly.
It was picking up on tone and inflection quickly as well.
At her latest question, the Servant did actually answer, looking at her. "I Servant. I broken live." But as it turned back toward the gate, there would be something in the motion, maybe its head moved fast, maybe its shoulder slumped just a millimeter more than it had been, but something was different from before the question.
The Servant led the way through the gate, holding it open for Navyri. The being shut the gate behind her, moving around to be in her field of vision. It held up its hand now, and the gem was glowing. The shield around the property glowed back into vision, and the Servant pointed up at you.
"You.." Then it pointed at Navyri's good wing, "Up, yes." It reached down, plucking a purple fruit, akin to a miniature pineapple in shape, from a vine, and lobbed it straight up through the shield. It passed through harmlessly. It kept pointing as the fruit fell back down toward them, as it touched the shield, it evaporated in a sharp flash of light, not even leaving behind a bit of smoke. "Down, broken."
Gesturing toward the path through the garden, up past ponders and fountains and trees full of bounty, was a mansion, beautifully built and carved. "Here we friends." A woman, of sorts, appeared at the top of the steps. She was smiling softly down at the Servant and Navyri, wearing a light lavender skirt, purple top. She was covered in scales, a large alligator tail swishing behind her.
Then she saw the broken wing and sadness filled her eyes. She stepped forward, and in a singular instant, she was standing directly in front of Navyri and the Servant, her eyes locked directly on the damaged wing. Her voice was commanding as she spoke to the Servant, and the two were speaking back and forth in their language, rapidly. Navyri's name was shared during this. The woman nodded, stepping past the Servant.
She smiled softly again, and in the true common tongue, she spoke the words of greeting followed by "Navyri. Me Uralai." Uralai then summoned a glowing ball of light in her hand. It did not radiate heat or coolness, simply soft light. She then flicked a wrist and the ball of light shot forward, burying into Navyri's chest, with no pain, with no sense of feeling whatsoever.
Then Uralai spoke again, in true Common, and Navyri would understand. "I apologize for the intrusion, but time is a factor here. You're injured, and wing injuries are often fatal in those species and I need you to understand me. I've inserted a spirit I've subdued into you. It understands my tongue, and is allowing you to understand. This is temporary, and if you say 'Out', it will leave immediately. I am both a doctor and a healer, and I wish to help you. But we must make haste. I will open a portal to the Spirit Realm, we will go through, and there I can heal you. Once I'm convinced you're out of danger, we can slow things down and talk. Or you may leave, if you wish."
Uralai then slashed her hand downward behind her and ripped a tear in the fabric of the world. It roared, as air from the world was pulled in past her and Navyri into it. She nodded toward it, before Servant stepped through, followed by herself.
On the other side of the portal was a world that looked exactly the same. Sort of. The walls, and ground, and mansion all stood in the same exact spots. But the plants were all different varieties, spectral, and glowing. And all of the colors were wrong. The sky went from blue to deep purple, the marble path from white to crimson, the mansion from soft rose to mossy green. The barrier around the property was visible and shown as a scrawling orange.
If Navyri followed, she'd find Uralai there, standing, eyes closed, preparing, her whole body glowing, as she absorbed energy from everything around her. As these energies flew into her, the Servant seemed to be standing a vigilant watch, constantly scanning the world around them. Uralai spoke, but didn't open her eyes, "If you're ready, I am."
It answered her question as they stood before the gate, its tinny voice answering the best it could, “I Servant. I broken live.”
What did that mean?
She tried to discern the message. Servant didn’t look broken on the outside, but then again, she didn’t know the meaning of the name she called it. The context would have been helpful. There would be plenty lost to their lack of shared language.
Navyri watched as it plucked the fruit from a vine. She assessed the plant from which it came. There were grapes and plums and figs, but nothing shaped and colored quite like this that she knew of. There was a common theme.
Before she could reach out and take it, Servant pulled and arm back and launch the fruit into the sky. It shot into the air and the dome shimmered when it broke the barrier. Then, just as she had done, the fruit suspended and began to fall, disintegrating into instant nothingness when it came into contact with the invisible barrier. Her mouth dropped.
“Understood,” she muttered, “Very good to know,” What if she had gotten thrown over one of these houses. She’d be dead in an instant. She’d have to be careful flying…. How many more of these shields were out there?
She hurried after Servant after the demonstration, quietly unsettled. Her good hand lifted to her throat, where it slipped beneath the collar of her shirt to touch the necklace beneath. Spirit teeth and the cork of a pirate king. Lucky, indeed.
“Here we friends,” he said, and Navyri considered the wondrous bounty that surrounded them.
“Better than enemies,” she answered, just as a figure appeared at the stairs. A woman in soft purple, scales running along her body. Did someone’s mother fuck an Ithecal? Purple must have been in season. The woman took a step and-
Appeared directly in front of them.
The scaled figure noticed Navyri’s wing (how could she not?) and Navyri waited while Servant explained the details. The woman finished and introduced herself.
Her hand glowed and a ball of light shot forward. Navyri braced for the worst, being made of shadow and all.
Uralai ripped open a portal and Navyri couldn’t exactly think of any good reason to deny it. She needed to be healed. Like Uralai had said, wing injuries often meant death in those species. Hot wind rushed forward and Navyri followed the pair. At this point, she was unsure if things could get stranger.
Navyri stayed silent, taking in the appearance of the spirit world. Like a mirror of where they had been, but in strange colors. Did the mimic in the mountain feel this way? The thought reminded her of the fist fight she had gotten into with the replica, putting the filth in its place. No one could take her place.
Navyri took note of the barrier, how far up it spread.
When she looked back at Uralai, the healer was glowing.
"If you're ready, I am."
“If we wait until we are ready, then we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives,” Navyri quoted, bracing her stance. She glanced at Servant, who appeared to be keeping watch. Best to make haste.
“Let’s do this.”
Uralai nodded, stepping closer to Navyri. She reached out, pressing her hands that shown as brightly as the sun overhead, and then some. The energy within her was then pushed heavily into Navyri, flooding her body with the power. "You're... I've not seen your kind before. Interesting."
The power coursing through Navyri sought out every injury of hers, filling it to the brim with this spiritual energy she was being gifted. At first it was warm. A comforting bath. Then it was hot, uncomfortably hot, worse than the sun overhead. Then the itching came, a woolen sweater while standing next to a blacksmith's furnace. There was no pain, just these sensations.
After what could've been a few minutes or a week, Uralai's hands moved from Navyri's shoulders upward along the shadow woman's face. She reached the crown of her head and dug her nails into the flesh. No pain, no blood came. She dragged the nails apart, tearing a single layer of hair covered skin with it. She pulled and yanked and tore this skin away, revealing an unharmed Navyri beneath the skin. Even the clothes she had been wearing were intact beneath. Not just intact, but repaired. Uralai continued to rip away the old Navyri, a snake shedding its skin.
When she was done, Navyri was there without pain and without energy. The glowing ceased, and Uralai looked clearly exhausted. She picked up the pile of flesh and hair and clothes, unhinged her mouth to a seemingly impossible width, and swallowed the lot of it whole.
Uralai looked over at Servant, who said nothing. "Come, let us leave here before the portal closes. I'm too tired to open another now." She led the way out and Servant would wait on Navyri before he would follow himself. Once they were back in the garden, Urulai would lead the way to a bench next to a pond filled with some strange fish, reptiles and water fowl. Speaking to Servant, "Would you get us some refreshments, please?"
Servant went to do that, and Uralai looked back at Navyri, "I'd say we have about an hour or so until that spirit inside you tires out. I know I have many questions for you, but I suspect you may have many for me as well. Please, go first, and I will answer what I can, and ask my own in kind. Is there any food you're not able to eat? We can cater to all kinds here."
Navyri remained quiet. She was one of a kind. Her people were secretive and she was no different. There were no others like her, and it was exactly why she had found herself stuck behind a locked door or strapped to an operating table. Because she was interesting. There was something about how the scaled woman spoke that fueled the spark of concern inside her. There had to be more Naer here. Hadn't the healer ever heard the rumors, fairy tales, horror stories? Even those in the North had assumptions. How else could anyone explain the moons? The Naerrik were responsible for a fundamental force of nature becoming forever changed. They were a force of nature.
White light erupted and its effect still lingered. Her entire body felt warm, then hot, then itchy. Had her arm not been broken, she might have scratched at it. It was a difficult sensation to describe. Something was under her skin... Under the illusion. She forced her arms to her side as Uralai reached out, touching her shoulders, her neck, her face. There was a small bite once she reached the top of her skull, and then... Skin peeled away, wounds fell with it. Pain vanished. Navyri stepped away from the shed energy like she would a dress on the floor and observed the healer who was in such close proximity.
Uralai scooped up her body, Navyri dumbstruck by her replica, watching in both awe and horror as the woman's mouth opened, stretched, jaw bobbing as the whole of her former skin was stuffed into her mouth and swallowed.
Wings no longer damaged, Navyri drew them close to her and glanced back at Servant, on edge by a sense of unease. There seemed to be an understanding between the trio that they were almost finished, but that did not mean she understood their work here. Navyri took in the details of this spirit realm, fixated on the buildings, the shield that glowed a soft, ethereal orange, the unique tinge to every flower in the garden. Testing the strength of her legs and the balance of her feet, Navyri stepped lightly, careful not to touch anything, sniffing the air. There was a distinct scent here.
"Come, let us leave here before the portal closes. I'm too tired to open another now."
Blue eyes lifted and she nodded.
Uralai had aided her and there was still much to discuss.
What other option did she have?
Passing by Servant, Navyri stepped out of the portal and into searing light. She winced, lifting a hand to shield her eyes from the burning sun, but it appeared she was one of the only affected. After a series of blinks and squints, her vision adjusted and they were standing beside a pond in the garden. Servant went to fetch refreshments and Uralai coaxed her towards a bench so that they could sit and talk. Navyri's movements were careful, as if still in disbelief that the wounds had been healed so immediately. She still held her arm by habit but sat down without hindrance.
"I'd say we have about an hour or so until that spirit inside you tires out. I know I have many questions for you, but I suspect you may have many for me as well. Please, go first, and I will answer what I can, and ask my own in kind. Is there any food you're not able to eat? We can cater to all kinds here."
She considered the question, unsure how to proceed. Scared of revealing too much by her questions and scared of learning the truth.
"I cannot say," she looked out among the garden with a serious expression. Her predicament had distracted her earlier, her focus had been on her own wounds and trying to speak to strangers. The more she saw, the more she understood. This wasn't any place she had ever been before and spotting the waterfowl, her heart ached for her old friend, "I..."
Navyri frowned before relenting, "I do not know where we are, or what it is you eat." A bit softer, she added with a light scoff directed at herself, "What do you recommend?"
Curiosity aside, she needed to figure out what her next move was. Ignorance was never an attractive trait to the shadow woman, "I must have hit the water harder than I thought," she paused, There really was no graceful way to get out of the question, not when the time was so limited. If what the Uralai said was true, she had a very small window before she would be back struggling with simple sentences, "There was a device," she remembered the orb, she recalled struggling with it. Flashes of herself standing from the bed, reaching for it. Memories that weren't here own. A dream, "The sun hadn't risen. I-" Navryi grasped at the mental imagery, failing to decipher what was real and what wasn't.
She needed answers, "What is this place?" she decided, "Is there a king? A queen? A council?" strength had come back to her voice. The sunlight caught Uralai's scales, "Tell me everything you can."
A soft smile accompanied with piercing, studying eyes. "I recommend you have what I have." Uralai listened, she watched, and clearly her mind was taking it all in. And as Navyri reached the end of her struggles, switching over to questions, Servant arrived, carrying a platter made of some sort of amethyst hued crystal. Servant set the tray down, before stepping away to assume a watchman sort of post, distant, but close enough to be of service, or protection.
Upon the tray, not one piece of food that would look familiar to the shadow woman. Nuts in the shape of stars, naturally; some sort of black fleshed melon with purple rind; round, transparent blue berries with something clearly moving inside of them; dark green crisp bread; some sort of congealed, white cubes. Next to the foreign charcuterie, two goblets, with a familiar, deep red liquid in it though.
"Well, that first question of yours is interesting enough on its own I suppose. Clearly you're not from around here. To a staggering degree, for everyone in our land knows of our great city. Not to boast, by any means. It simply means you've come a long way. Somehow." She reached forward, grabbing one of the blue berry like things, she plopped it into the wine. As she did, the entire glass chilled, and the air around it followed suit. She then picked up the glass, taking a sip, leaning forward to grab one of the slices of melon, nibbling in small bites.
"This place is my home, my house. The city knows it as Enklin Manor, though I don't use such silly terms. My home is located in the Gardens, one of the Central Districts of our great city, Oasis. Oasis is the capital city in our world here, that we call Owasiwa."
She finished her first slice of melon, moving toward the salted nut. As she bit into it, a golden, jelly like substance spilled out into her mouth. Savory outside, sweet inside. "There are kings, queens, and councils within Owasiwa. It's a bit of an outdated governing model, in my opinion, but some people just truly enjoy traditional aspects in this life."
Uralai then pointed out over the wall of the garden, at the massive, flower shaped building that dominated the center of the giant lake that Navyri had crashed into. "That is our Senate. Here in Oasis, we vote for Senators. Our Senators are representatives of us, of our wishes and desires, and ultimately, they answer to us. We have Senators for all things. We have Senators that represent parts of the city, others that represent a single race, some that represent age groups, and on and on. They make our laws, they keep us safe. And they've done so for the last six thousand years."
She sipped down some more of the chilled wine, "What I can also tell you is this. You are both dangerous and in danger here, and I'm sure you've realized this. I know you are something... else. And for me, that's not a bad thing." At this, she looked over at Servant and smiled, "But I am not the majority on that matter. I was there when we discovered humans. A hundred years have gone by and they still struggle under the yoke of exclusion and suffering."
She leaned back, taking more of the drink in, "I want you to know that my healing of you let me... glean some things about what you are. I don't understand it, but I am glad I was able to help you. I am a healer by trade. I am barely competent in our politics here, but I do pay attention. I will say this, those that are different, so different as to scare people, they survive by either hiding in the shadows or walking proudly in the light of our sun. Both have worked for many."
Grabbing some more from the charcuterie, she continued, "On a more practical note, you'll want to learn our language. We use Common Tongue here. It's easy enough to learn, and is the only united language within the city. We have hundreds of languages here. You'll also probably want to get a Personal Identity Crystal, though that will provide... challenges for someone quite different. After that, most things are made easier. To an extent."
"Would you mind telling me something of where you came from? Servant here says you arrived through a portal with a large amount of energy. It seems it was night time there and it is far different from here. I can see that in your eyes, in how everything here is new to you."
There was always a power structure, a hierarchy of nature.
Navyri needed to find her place before she was made. As much as she wished to believe otherwise, she was at the bottom. Unsure of everything around her, forced to trust strangers for the most basic of reassurances, not quite knowing what could kill her or what wanted to. Knowledge was power and she had none of it. No coin, no allies, no understanding. Like a babe thrown from the sky and nearly broken, she had to learn everything all over. How to walk, how to talk, how to live. Uralai answered her questions easily enough, while Navyri mirrored eating habits. She picked up the berry, carefully as if it might freeze her too, and dropped it into the red liquid. Crystals of cool ice patterned the glass and the dark-haired woman observed in fascination.
She peered into the cold glass, sniffing it. The melon caught her interest and she tilted her head, using a nail to peel at the purple skin before running her tongue along the dark flesh. To those who might have known Navyri in her former life, they might have found her curious reluctance amusing. Navyri licked her lips, trying to decide if she liked the flavor, before taking a genuine bite. The texture was wet and a bit spongey.
She sipped the wine, eyeing the rest of the meal.
Although her attention was lowered, she listened carefully.
There were humans here?
Navyri never thought such an announcement would bring her relief. If they were like the ones back home, she wasn't at a total loss. Navyri knew how humans worked. She took another drink, sighing. Dangerous and in danger. Something things never change. She looked back at Servant, wondering why something so clearly used as a watchdog and a guard, was at the waterfront in the first place.
Then, Uralai said something that caused Navyri to stiffen in surprise. In the shadows, or in the sun, "You almost sound like someone else I know," she smirked, pausing almost immediately. She thought of breakfast. Navyri bowed her head before plucking up a star-shaped nut, "Someone I knew."
Again, she fell into silence.
"Personal Identity Crystal?" she cradled the glass, enjoying the frosted air that emitted from its rim, Navyri frowned in thought. Servant. She knew its meaning. It was not a name, but a purpose. The Naer would still be broken in the lake if it hadn't been for the bot. She modified her speech, "Like the one your companion carries or does that one hold a separate purpose?" Before she knew it, she was genderizing Servant, old habits rationalizing that anything that served another was clearly meant to be male, "He held his hand up, I thought it might have been a greeting."
Now she feared she had displayed a simple-minded foolishness.
She chuckled at herself, trying one of the nuts. The jelly inside made her blanch and her face twisted, "We don't have these," she started, quickly rinsing away the flavor with another sip of wine, "We don't have any of this. There were many languages, my kind alone had two, not including our version of what I can only assume is the equivalent of your Common Tongue. My world was not called Owasiwa, that I can assure you." Just like her wonderment at the world around her, Navyri struggled to hide the deep sense of dread that weighed upon her shoulders, "In total, I think I had learned about eight tongues, almost all of which belonged to a different people... Some good that does me now."
Navyri leaned back, craving a cigarette and a cup of coffee, "So," she felt tired, healed but exhausted, "Say I pick up the language. What's next?" she idly stroked the feathers of her wing, "No shelter. No income." she smirked, more and more aware of how much shit she was in. This must have been karmic retribution. Nearly sixty arcs of selfish deeds coming to fruition, "Do you even use coins here or do citizens barter? My, my," she smiled, but it didn't quite reach her blue eyes, "I must owe you both something, no?"
Uralai was pleased to see that Navyri was a sharp one. Attentive and asked the right questions. "Yes, like the one Servant carries. And it is a greeting, of sorts. The Personal Identity Crystal is connected to a vast network of information on people who carry them. And it is required to have one if you wish to be a citizen here. The Senate knows your name, your work, your home, your race, age, gender, everything from that Crystal. It connects to your account at the bank and grants you access to many and most of the privileges within the City. And all of the protections as well. When Servant offered his Crystal to you, it was its way of trying to see who you are and what language you speak."
Uralai laughed, "Many don't like it. Some think it too invasive, others too much information or power for the Senate. But if you want to get by here, it's practically mandatory."
Listening about this other world, she waited, pondering how much to share. "We have, probably, as many currencies as we do languages. It's a wonder how we got things done before the Senate. Now, if you get a Crystal, then we use Senate Credits, or just Credits. The bankers determine how much that is worth, but it is beyond me how they do so. I am certainly not a math person. I do know that the further you get away from the city center, the more likely you are to use physical currencies and barter. The nomads only use barter."
Then her face grew serious. "I am from these nomads. We do not typically settle here in the city, and we do not typically conform to their ways. However, we do have a story that gets told at every Crossing. It comes in many varieties, but it speaks of people, long before any of us were alive, coming from other worlds. Many think it simply a story, and yet, here I am, talking to you, with Servant's eyes as witness. They called those people Outlanders. And while I'm certainly not all knowing, I can tell you that such an occurrence certainly isn't normal. I'm sure those at the World Seekers Guild would love to meet you."
Uralai smiled, "No, you owe me nothing. Being a part of your story is more than enough for me and Servant here. On a more practical note, if you are an Outlander, here in a new world; take the opportunity to make yourself into what you always wanted to be. I've lived far longer than many, so I know the burdens, the chains, the shadows that follow us as we put ourselves out into the world. You have none of those now. Your world is gone from you, and you are gone from it. Make yourself some money, find a place to call home, make some friends, and do what makes you happy and fulfilled."
She summoned Servant over with a wave of her hand, "If you'd like, I've been meaning to send Servant on a longer task than I would typically give him, but I could do so now. He is fetching me some seeds from the Fringes of the city. If you'd like to accompany him, I'd pay you for the service, so long as you speak some of these languages of yours to him. He'd record and learn from them, and would teach you some of our own Common in return."
She sipped at her wine, glanced over the top of it at Navyri, an eyebrow raised, "Interested?"