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Darkstar
04-12-2004, 05:40:13
"Jokkra! Come over here!" yelled a woman whose hair had long ago turned silver. Time had left a long evidence upon her, but she still carried herself with the joy of life, if a bit more slowly then decades ago.

A young man boy, obviously in that in between stage of life of child and adult, quickly let go of a younger boy, and turned around. He tried to act as if nothing amiss had bee going on just moments ago as he walked slowly over to his grandmother. He expected a dressing down for getting caught teasing one of his youngers again.

Only the woman's slightly downturned lips showed her impatience. "Jokkra, I need you to go to Haidon today."

Jokkra's face broke into a confused smile. "Haidon, grandmother? Certainly I will go! But it's better to start in the morning. Is it Tides day already? Grandfather said I wasn't to leave until Tides day."

"Jokkra, I need for you to go now. What's got into you?" She gave him the look that only a lifetime of motherhood can grant a woman for staring down children. Jokkra settled down immediately. "The plans have changed. You should leave. And take Keeto with you. It is past time he learned how to handle that task. Your grandfather will have better things for you to do then just go to Haidon soon enough."

Jokkra looked at his grandmother. He had privately feared that his grandfather would leave him to playing little merchant for the rest of his life. "Yes ma'am. But Keeto is practicing with grandfather now. Grandfather won't like me interrupting their session."

"Don't you worry about that. You tell him I set you to do it. Go get Keeto and get travelling. Or you won't get very far before sunset."

Jokkra grinned, and took off at his top speed for his grandfather's training house. Being able to interrupt his grandfather's lessons was a rare, rare treat. And it would be Keeto losing out. For the hundredth time at least, Jokkra thought that even his grandfather must soon realize that Keeto was not much good for anything. He had never spent so much time with any of the family, teaching them. Keeto must be a very slow learner. Jokkra finished his wonderings as he usually did, wondering if his grandfather would die before giving up trying to teach Keeto. It was a short run to his destination, but Jokkra's mind was already racing on all the things he'd do in Haidon when he got there.

Jokkra burst into his grandfather's teaching room, preparing to make his announcement. He just saw the barest flash of an old man's hand tattooed with an iridescent black and brown dragon head suddenly coming at him.

Jokkra found himself lying on the floor, his head ringing, the room twirling slowly. The ringing roar in his ears quieted enough for him to hear his grandfather saying "---boy, you had better be dead, because if you aren't, you will wish you were before I'm done with you."

Keeto, a few short years behind Jokkra in age, was dabbing a wet cloth on Jokkra's head. Noticing Jokkra's eyes looking around, Keeto said, "Grandfather, he seems to be coming around."

"Is he then?" Did Jokkra hear a small tone of concern? Just what happened? Grandfather? Jokkra's eyes narrowed. He managed to grab the cloth from Keeto, and toss it back as hard as he could muster at Keeto's face. The nerve! Calling him that!

His grandfather continued. "I hear him stirring. So, his head really is made of stone then." Stone? He didn't do anything silly. Keeto was the stone head! Why---

"Boy, after all these years, what has caused you to forget your manners and common sense? I haven't heard the bell ringing, and you know I allow for nothing less before someone interrupts a lesson."

The world was slowly returning to normal, other then the ache where a mountain had hit his head. Jokkra managed to get out in a mostly steady voice "Grandmother sent me to get Keeto. We are to leave for Haidon at once.” Jokkra tried to get up, and the world warned him that was a bad idea. He decided to stay where he was for a while longer.

Excitement and confusion battled across Keeto’s face. “Haidon? Now? But the lesson! And it’s so late in the day! Shouldn’t we leave tomorrow at sunrise? Haidon!”

“Boy, when a woman like Milla says its time, then its time. Consider that the end of your lesson for the day.”

Grandfather looked at the two. “Don’t just lie there wasting time. If you are going to Haidon, then you will have to pack for the road. And don’t forget the crestnuts this time, Jokkra.”

Tossing off Keeto’s help, Jokkra struggled up. “I won’t, Grandfather.”

Grandfather watched the two walk back to the house. He truly did not know what had caused his wife to decide to send them now, but he had learned long ago to give way when she decided such things. He would have better chance of fighting a hurricane with a fan than get her to change her mind. He would simply have to wait until later to find out what her reasons were. Why Keeto? He wasn’t old enough yet to be trusted on his own for so long. Grandfather had no doubts that Jokkra would do nothing other then cheer at each of Keeto’s mistakes. Those two had never gotten along. Toghann would have made a better choice. And Toghann would jump at the chance to make the three day trip to Haidon. It would give him another chance at wooing his fiancée away from her wedding spinning for a day or two.

Patience, he schooled himself. Time enough to ask her later. He continued to stare after the two boys, long after they had disappeared into the house.

Darkstar
04-12-2004, 05:45:27
* * * * *

Grandfather sat outside, watching the sunset. He wondered how far Jokkra and Keeto had gotten in their travels. Those thoughts led him back to wondering why his wife had sent them off today in the first place.

*So strange today*, he thought to himself. Dinner was the best meal he'd had since New Year. Milla had prepared almost everyone's favorite dishes, smiling and hugging everyone. She had even rubbed their eldest's balding head like she did when he was five. She'd promised him she'd never do that again in front of his friends, following the fight he'd had when she had done that in front of his cousins. And she hadn't ever done it since, until today. And Yoliu was missing for supper. When he'd commented on that, Milla had told him that Yoliu was running an errand for her, and not to worry. What kind of errand would she trust to such a young one that would take so long? Very strange. The small worry that had started as an ember earlier that day had grown into a roaring forest fire.

"Yotan" he heard her say from behind him. The sound startled him, but he managed to not jump. She was the only person alive that still called him by his personal name. He was embarassed that he'd been so deep in his worries he had not heard her approach.

*Now, she will tease me mercilessly for that for the next year.* He thought to himself. He hoped she would anyways. That would be one normal thing at least. Right then, he felt that if he looked quickly at the sun, it would be rising instead of setting.

She sat down by him, taking his right hand into both of hers. Milla turned his hand over, running her hands over it and up the wrist, playing over his Earth Drakai. She smirked and giggled slightly, looking at its head. "Why does everyone say your dragon tattooes are always menacing them? They always seem to be laughing with me, and smiling."

"You make them do that." He told her. It was true. She giggled lightly at him. She never believed him when he explained the Drakai. The sound of her laugh lightened his mood and he smiled at her.

With her hands still playing on his Earth Drakai, she asked him suddenly "Do you regret that I prevented you from gaining your third dragon?"

Yotan's mind stopped. What an odd question! But the look on her face was very intense. And worried.

"No. Never. I'd give up both my Drakai, to be with you. Although I hope you are joining me in our next foray to this world in their study. It would suit you very well."

She laughed at him. He grinned. He meant it, and hoped she would believe it was a joke. Her laugh was the very stream of Life, feeding the Great Tree of Existance right then to him.

When she stopped laughing, he asked her, "Why did you want to send Jokkra and Keeto to Haidon today?"

She turned, and watched the sunset. After a while, Yotan was sure she hadn't heard his question. He was just about to ask it again, when she turned to look at him and asked, "Are you pleased with our life?"

Stunned again at the twist, Yotan answered, "Completely." Seeing Milla was still troubled with his answer, he added, "I wouldn't change a second of it with you." She put her arms around him, and just hung on him.

Trying to shift her mood somewhat, and deciding he'd send one of the younger grandsons over to their neighbor's farm as soon as he got her back into the main house, he said, "If we got to go down that stream again, I'd build you that bath garden right over there, just like I always wanted."

Milla looked at where he had pointed. And smiled slightly. The brush he pointed to was where they'd first snuck off to be with each other, a year before they were married. The memories of all the time they'd spent there over the years flowed through her mind. Milla looked at him and smiled. "If you had, our family would have been short by quite a few, I'm sure."

She stood up, and pulled at him. He joined her, and she started leading him over to their old love nest. The honey suckle was no longer in bloom, but there was still a light scent of its aroma in the air as they neared it. "Milla, I don't think I'd be able to... ah..."

"What's the matter, old man?" She asked. "Have you been saving all your energy for your trainings again? Or didn't your fellow bachleors ever teach you the secrets of that rock dragon of yours while you were studying with them?"

Yotan quickly got over his shock. "You want to see a rock, old woman? I'll show you the secret of the rock dragon!" He took the lead, dragging her along behind him, she giggling all the way.

Darkstar
04-12-2004, 05:49:50
* * * * *

Keeto and Jokkra trudged along the Haidon road. As soon as they had gotten out of sight, Jokkra had insisted Keeto carry Jokkra's load as well, claiming Elder's privilage.

Keeto had tried asking questions about Haidon for the first hour as they walked, but Jokkra didn't bother to answer with anything other then an occasional, "Go whistle.", "Concentrate on the road", "Stop pestering me.", sighs, and finished with a "Save your breath for the walk, stone head."

Slowly, Jokkra had opened quite a lead on Keeto. With the sun hanging in the west, Keeto finally caught up to him at the top of a small rise in the road. "How much further till we stop for dinner?" Keeto asked.

"Shut up, stone head. We are being followed." Jokkra answered.

"What? How do you know?" Keeto asked, excited. Followed? Why would anyone follow them? Maybe it was bandits! He'd heard stories about bandits.

"Skunk breath, shut up!" half shouted Jokkra. "If your head wasn't so full of stone, you would have noticed the birds that keep scattering behind us."

"Really? Wow! Do you think it's bandits?"

Jokkra shot Keeto a disgusted look. "Maybe a sick or mad dog from one of the farms. Smells our food maybe."

"A sick dog? A mad dog?"

"Don't you know anything, stone head? Sometimes there are animals along the road. From the farms."

"Yeah, so?"

"Well, sometimes when they get sick, they get like Tooki got. Remember Tooki?"

Keeto nodded. He had loved Tooki. Tooki had been his favorite dog of those on the farm. But Tooki had gotten into a fight with a racoon, and gotten sick. Very sick. And he got very mad and stayed that way. They'd had to kill Tooki.

"So what do we do?" Keeto asked, worried.

"You keep walking down the road for a bit. I'm going to go off to the side, and see if I can't see what or who it is."

"Then you'll catch up with me?"

"Yeah, sure." answered Jokkra. His tone of voice did not reassure Keeto.

Keeto asked, "What do I do?" Jokkra opened his mouth, but Keeto continued. "I mean, what do I do if it's a sick dog and tries to eat my arm or something?"

Jokkra laughed at him. "Drop the packs and run up the nearest tree, stone head! Do I have to tell you everything?"

Jokkra shook his head, "Now, get going, rock for brains."

Jokkra walked the other side of the rise following the road, until he thought it blocked their follower from being able to see him. Then he went over to the nearest tree, and climbed it. Jokkra figured he'd get a good look from the tree when the follower came down the rise. He grinned to himself. He bet Keeto had peed himself by now. It was most likely one of his cousins following them, planning to scare them. Jokkra had decided that Grandfather had convinced Grandmother to change her mind, and their follower had been sent to fetch them back. It wouldn't have been the first time it happened since Jokkra had been making the trip to Haidon.

After a while, Jokkra saw their follower. He couldn't believe it. Yoliu? They had sent Yoliu? Well, he'd give her a good piece of his mind, dragging along like that. She could have just told them when she had first caught up enough with them. What could she be thinking? They could have already been home and having dinner!

Jokkra watched her go by him. She was still trying to sneak up on them. Maybe she thought if she didn't catch up with them early enough, they'd take her to Haidon with them.

*That must be it. Well, if she thinks I'm going to babysit her and Keeto, she's going to learn different!*

Jokkra climbed down, and started after her. A good thrashing and a kick towards home would get her going quickly. And teach her not to try and get him in trouble.

Jokkra caught up with her quickly. She was concentrating on following Keeto, while staying out of his sight. As Jokkra rushed down on her, she finally noticed Jokkra and yelled, "KEETO!"

Jokkra hit her a couple of times, just to remind her who was older and in charge. Yoliu got stubborn and sometimes acted like Grandmother was just behind her. "That's what you get for trying to sneak up on me!" She just sat where she had fallen, crying and trying to catch her breath. Jokkra rolled his eyes.

Keeto managed to join them in a few minutes. He was breathing hard, but wasn't going to give Jokkra the satisfaction of seeing that it bothered him.

After catching his breath Keeto asked, "Yoliu, what are you doing here?"

Yoliu calmed down, seeing Keeto there. Keeto would side with her against Jokkra, if he tried that again. She got up from the grass, dusting herself off and said "Jokkra, I should tell Grandmother on you!"

"Grandmother is back at the house, and she'd say you got what you deserve! What do you think you are doing, trying to sneak up on us like that?" Jokkra barked back.

Keeto asked Yoliu again, "What are you doing here?"

"Grandmother sent me." she replied.

Keeto and Jokkra looked at her. "Why?" said Keeto. At the same time, Jokkra said, "No she didn't."

"She sent you to go with us to Haidon then?" asked Keeto.

"She sent you to fetch us back for dinner, and leave tomorrow?" asked Jokkra.

"No." she simply replied.

"See, Stone head? You aren't the only one whose ears are seperated by pure rock."

Yoliu glared at Jokkra.

"Oh, just stop telling your stories."

"I am not, Jokkra! Grandmother sent me!"

Jokkra rolled his eyes. "Keeto, you had better take her back to the farm. Or Grandmother and Grandfather will be as mad at us as they will be with her."

"But what about Haidon?" Keeto replied. Yoliu was just gasping at Jokkra.

"There is a shrine just a little further down the road. I'll wait there for you until sunrise tomorrow. If you don't make it back by then, I'm leaving without you." Jokkra said. *Grandfather will probably make you stay home this trip.* he though. And smiled at the thought of no Keeto along the trip doing stone headed things and embarassing him.

"But..."

"I'm the elder, and I'm in charge!" Jokkra yelled. Seeing Keeto's reaction, Jokkra added, "Think about it, snot sprayer. Grandmother and Grandfather would want Yoliu back home."

"Yeah, I guess."

"Good. Now, give me my pack, manure hair. I'll need it if you don't make it by sunrise."

Keeto thought about slamming it against Jokkra's head. Jokkra grinned at him with no humor. Keeto handed over the pack.

Jokkra turned and started to go on down the road to Haidon. Yoliu threw a rock at him. He just yelled back, "Missed me." Turning back to look at her, he yelled, "But Grandfather isn't going to miss you when you get home." He waved at them, and went back to walking down the road, whistling.

"It's so nice to see he's in a good mood." she said.

"You should have aimed for his head. That's too big to miss." Keeto said.

Yoliu smiled at him. "I will next time."

"Well, lets go." said Keeto, heading back to the farm.

"But Keeeto, Grandmother sent me." she protested.

"You said that. You had better hope she says that when Master Yotago is asking me why I'm back already."

Darkstar
04-12-2004, 05:55:20
* * * * *

Yoliu had continued to protest for a good long while, and finally stopped following Keeto. Keeto and her had argued a bit, but she refused to go further towards the farm. When he tried to drag her back, she fought back. Unluckily for her, she hadn't trained in fighting. Unluckily for Keeto, he hadn't wanted to hurt her, and had ended up getting several bruises from her before he'd managed to get her arms twisted behind her. They had been walking down the road back to the farm in that odd, ackward way. She with her arms twisted behind her, he holding them and pushing her forward. Whenever she tried to stuggle free, he twisted her arms a little more. She'd stop struggling then, and they'd go for a space before it started again. Keeto didn't know how long they could keep it up. It was exhausting.

As they walked along the road, they heard the sound of horses and mens voices mixed with odd sounds coming up behind them. They both stopped. Yoliu strained her head back to look. Keeto stepped closer to Yoliu and turned slightly, to peer back down the road as well. They saw a mixture of men coming down the road. Some on horses, some not. Banners were flapping in the slight wind, scattered here and there among the men.

All of the mounted men wore High Warriors armor. The rays of the western sun glinted occasionally from the gold and silver scrollwork on their armor. The rays also glinted occasionally from the walking men, picking out a spear here, a touch of scrollwork there.

One large white banner easily stood out from the other banners. As the men and horses drew closer, Keeto and Yoliu could see that what they had thought were overlaying rings were intertwined dragons. *One of each of the Drakia.* noted Keeto. Who would carry a banner with a design of the Drakia, he wondered.

One of the lead horsemen yelled "Yo there!", and sprinted his horse to quickly close the distance between them. Noticing Keeto having Yoliu's arms twisted behind her, he laughed at them. "You've learned already, have you lad?" and laughed some more.

Keeto let go of Yoliu and looked at the man. The man grinned back at him. Looking at Yoliu, he winked. "And a cute one at that." He laughed again.

"How far is the Yotago farm from here?" the man asked.

"Not far. You'll be there well before dark if you just keep going down this road. It's just before the shrine to Mopiki."

"Thanks lad." He tossed Keeto a small copper coin. Keeto caught it. "You'd do better catching your girl again. She's worth more then that. But maybe you can use it to buy her a sweet to bait her back." The man laughed as he wheeled his horse about and returned to the group.

The group was still to far for Keeto or Yoliu to hear what was said, but very quickly afterward, the group was travelling faster out of sight then it had come into it.

Keeto and Yoliu moved off the road and watched them pass. Yoliu was watching excited, but Keeto was nervous. He had thought he'd seen some with a Drakia of their own. And he thought one of the mounted men had Drakia as well. Or maybe they were just tattooes? He hadn't seen them long enough to know.

After the group had passed, Keeto looked at the coin. It had the same pattern as the white banner on one side of the coin. On the other was a naked woman holding a noble's sword. "What are you going to buy with that in Haidon?" asked Yoliu, seeing him looking at it.

"I wonder what they want at our home?" She continued.

"We can find out when we get there." He answered her.

"Oh no! I told you. Grandmother sent me."

Keeto rolled his eyes. He'd heard those words too many times already. "Then what did she send you to do?" He asked her.

"I can't tell you yet." Yoliu replied, somewhat subdued. She'd already answered that question before, but he did not believe her.

"Fine. Then she will tell me. Let's go."

"No!"

A quick tussle later, and they were back on their way towards the farm, Yolia with her arms twisted behind her, being pushed along now and then by Keeto. Both were quiet.

Darkstar
04-12-2004, 06:06:44
* * * * *

As the last of the sun slipped beneath the horizon, the small army of men came upon the farm. They'd asked at each farm how much further to the Shrine of Mopiki, and each time they were told a few farms down the road. Many of the people talking to the group were very happy to help send them down the road. While travellers would often stop at the shrine for the night, very few other then merchant trains travelled in such number on the road. There was nothing about these men that said 'merchant'. Many of the younger farmers and their families that saw them wondered about the High Warriors and their accompanying men, but the Elders felt uneasy having unknown High Warriors travelling so near their homes. They rarely did good, and it was too easy to say or look somehow wrong around them. The Elders scolded their youngers to get back to the evenings chores, and stay well away from the road that night.

Finally, the band was told it was just down the road and across the stream. The mounted man then asked if that meant this was the Yotago farm. When told yes, the mounted man waved back to the band and rode hard to quickly close the distance.

The few Yotago outside the house watched this odd behaviour with puzzlement.

"So this is the farm?" Asked the High Warrior with 3 dragon tattoos running from his face down his neck and disappearing under his armor.

"Yes, my lord Gotien."

Lord Gotien smiled. "You know the orders, Yawkto."

Yawkto bowed in his saddle to Lord Gotien. Raising his voice, Yawkto told the men "It's time." Several of the men began directing the band to spread out on both sides of Yawkto and Gotien. All the mounted warriors grouped together in the center.

The Yotago family members outside had told the house of the odd travellers. Many were coming out to watch the band, and were talking and speculating about them and their odd actions.

Once the band had spread out in two wings around the mounted men, Yawkto looked up and down the line, raised his right arm above his head, and dropped it. All in the line except Lord Gotien and Yawkto charged forward as one. Lord Gotien and Yawkto merely watched.

An unease had started growing amoung the more cautious of the Yotago when the band had started forming a line. When the line came charging in at them, panic had sprung out through all of them. One of the younger men ran to the House Bell and started ringing it.

Several of the Yotago men started yelling questions, insults, and prayers. Several of the women started grabbing up the smaller of the children and ran into the main house.

Where the chargin line met the farmers, many of the Yotago went down and did not get up. Only a few of the attackers went down. Everything turned into a confused, ever shifting mass. In a few places, some knots of men formed. Invariably, these knots were of two or three of the farmers surrounded by several more of the attacker's foot men. Most of the riders had split up. They were riding around the various cluster of buildings, cutting down everything that tried to run away.

The bell ringer stood his ground in the chaos. He kept ringing the bell until a rider rode past, parting the man's head from his body in one slash of a sword. A balding Yotago man carrying several years of plentiful home cooking came charging out of the house with a staff in his hand, screaming something beyond words. The staff's end smashed squarely into the rider's collar bone. The rider was slammed backward hard by the force of his ride meeting the staff, landing in a stunned heap on the ground by the balding man. The staff rose. It's end came down hard, like a spear, stopped only by the ground and a large clump of flesh of the dismounted rider. The balding man stared at where his staff met the ground, through the fallen rider's throat. The balding man twisted the staff's end, trying to tear more then flesh. The din of his surroundings suddenly came back into his focus, and he grimly lifted his staff.

The staff man turned, and then bashed the back of two more attackers' heads. They were part of a small group fighting two of the Yotago near the main door of the house. The group opened up, deciding how to handle the new fighter. One of the formerly circled Yotago men saw the staff carrier, and yelled happily "Uncle Yolin!"

"Toghann!" yelled Yolin. He didn't mean it as a greetings or acknowledgement. Yolin's staff's end struck out at a man stepping in to strike Toghann from behind. The staff end rammed hard into the man's throat. He staggered back. The staff was spun around and streaking towards another target. Yolin realized even as he struck that he'd only get one of the two striking at his other nephew. Yolin's target changed his lunge into a roll, but his partner reached the nephew. Down went both. Yolin started to step over to help, but lost sight of the pair as he had to side step and twist to avoid being struck.

Toghann stomped kicked Yolin's attacker's left knee, and then sprung away, dealing with another stepping forward to attack him. Toghann heard his uncle shouting "Duck!". He dropped and rolled toward the outside circle. A swush of air and the pounding of hooves told him before he'd finished rotating to his feet that a rider's sword had missed him.

The rider's passage had scattered the group melee Yolin and Toghann were in. Yolin could see that his other nephew was still laying on the ground, his head at a completely unnatural angle. Anger and hate threatened to overwhelm him completely again.

"The fat one is mine!" yelled a man charging over from another cluster of men. *FAT THIS!* thought Yolin, and went into a frenzied attack. His challenger managed to avoid the first few attacks, and then stepped into a sweeping hit. A foot up from the staff end's, the mast slammed into the the man's ribs. While the force managed to drive some of the air out of the man, he managed to grab the staff. Yolin released the staff with one hand, beginning to strike at the man, and felt an intense wave of burning heat spreading out from his abdomen. Looking down, he couldn't understand why. The man's other hand had struck him in his gut, open handed. A long, red and orange streamer or ribbon was wrapped around the man's hand. The ribbon seemed to glow. Smoke was actually coming up from where the man's hand was pressed against Yolin's tunic.

The pain became too much, and Yolin completely released the staff as he crumpled into a ball around his hurt abdomen. He heard himself screaming.

"Staves are a crutch for the weak and pathetic." stated his attacker. Placing his red ribboned right hand around the middle of the staff, he strained his hand around it. Fire leapt up around his hand. The staff parted, both ends burning. The unsupported half fell onto Yolin and the man laughed. He tossed the other burning half at the main house.

Toghann shouted "You goat dung eating curr!" as he ran over and lept at the man. The man, hearing the yell, rolled and twisted forward, coming up to face in the general direction where he had been gloating. Toghann knocked the burning destroyed staff half off his uncle. "You and all your peope are going to pay for this!" snarled Toghann.

"Maybe. But no soil covered, honorless sot like you is going to do it." laughed the man back.

Toghann started attacking the man. He was constantly trying to step into the man, swinging and kicking. But the man managed to stay outside of Toghann's reach by side stepping and back pedalling, laughing.

"Toghann." Yolin managed to croak. "Don't. Run --- you --- fool." But Toghann was too lost, too focused in trying to hurt and kill the man. He could not hear Yolin over the noises around them. "Toghann..."

The man drew his right hand back. The glowing orange and red ribbon was still wrapped around that hand. Now it was thicker, and gave off enough flickering light to be seen easily many feet away. "Jokintaka!" Yelled the man. "STRIKE!" He finished, striking at Toghann with that hand. Toghann thought it was just a distraction attempt, as the man was now back a good seven feet from him, and whatever that strange thick ribbon was, it was tightly wrapped his right hand. But as the man's hand came forward, the ribbon became even thicker, and an end suddenly flicked up over the man's hand. Toghann tried to side step, but he'd started too late. The red, round ribbon suddenly uncoiled, striking like a snake at Toghann. He just had time to see that the end of the ribbon was a reptile's head, and then his only thought was of pain. A burning pain everywhere. Toghann noticed in the great burning pain the dark sky turning orange and then red. Then Toghann was released from the pain. And everything else.

"Toghann..." Yolin croaked from where he lay. He'd been able to roll over and just managed to see Toghann's end. He'd been trying to warn him. Trying to get him to run. None of them had a chance. He saw the lethal strike. The 'ribbon' had trasmuted into pure fire as it lashed out. Where it struck Toghann, it had melted instantly through his flesh. Toghann had turned into a living torch, for a few instants. Now, his body was a burning lump where it had fell. Yolin watched his nephew's body, and the man. The fire ribbon had wound itself back around his right hand.

"Toghann..." he creaked. "You should --- have ran. They --- have --- Drakia." Yolin's last thoughts were that he'd never get to see his daughter's newest child. Then blackness swept in on him from everywhere.

Darkstar
12-12-2004, 08:54:47
* * * * *

Keeto was chasing Yoliu. She had begged for him to let her go so she could relieve the pressure on her bladder. She had promised she wouldn't run away. He hadn't believed her, but as he needed to water a tree himself, he had let her go. After seeing to his own problems, he set out to catch Yoliu.

It had taken him a while to catch up with her. If he'd have dropped his pack, he could have caught up with her more easily. But then, he'd have to find his pack afterward. Doing that while trying to lead Yoliu would have been impossible, if she continued resisting as she had. He considered once again just knocking her out. But he didn't want Grandfather or worse, Grandmother, punishing him for hurting Yoliu.

When Keeto was six years old, Yoliu and he had gotten into a fight. He had already been training with Grandfather. He had always been training with Grandfather, as far as he could remember. He did as he was taught. It had taken Yoliu a long time to heal from that fight. Just thinking about it now, made Keeto feel shamed. But he was too young then to understand.

Grandmother had gotten very mad about the whole matter. She was mad at him for not understanding, and especially mad at Grandfather. He could still remember how cold Grandmother had been towards them, back then. Whenever he’d ask Grandfather what was wrong with Grandmother, Grandfather would say: “A woman holds a grudge until she dies. Then she gets furious.” That always scared Keeto, hearing that. Eventually, Keeto told Grandfather. Grandfather answered by rubbing Keeto’s head, and saying “Don’t worry boy. It’s good for a man and wife to get mad at each other occasionally. Once Yoliu heals, they will both be alright. Mostly. And Yoliu needed to learn that even a mountain runs out of patience.” Then he laughed. Grandfather had a weird sense of humor.

Keeto shuddered from just thinking about Grandmother being mad at him, again. He wouldn’t have any excuses this time. Then he considered what they'd do to Yoliu for running away. That would persuade him to want to stay away from the farm. No wonder she didn’t want to go back. But what could have made her leave in the first place? Yoliu usually did everything that she thought Grandmother or Grandfather wanted her to do. Very strange.

Perhaps… Keeto shrugged his head. The only thing he could think of that worried Yoliu was her being promised. Other then Grandmother and Grandfather, no one else seemed to know about the man she was promised to. His name was quite odd. They (Yoliu actually, as she never listened to anyone else on the matter) had decided he must be a foreigner. Yoliu had managed to get a few details about her promised from Grandmother. Such as, he was about her age; that he was from a very old, and very honorable, family. Whatever else Yoliu had learned, she hadn't shared with Keeto.

Humm… could that be what this is about? About her age. Adults often thought a gap of 2 or 3 years made people about the same. So, if he was just a few years older then her, he could be turning fourteen. Sometimes, people got married at fourteen. Especially when arranged. Especially when arranged to a noble. Or so the ladies of the farms had told Yoliu (who had told Keeto). Maybe her --- husband --- was coming for her? To take her back to his home, somewhere far away? It was very odd thought. One day, Yoliu would just be… gone. Very odd. But maybe. What else could it be? Maybe that was why. But if that was why she had run away, why didn’t she just say so?

Keeto doggedly chased Yoliu until she ran out of breath. Determined to make sure she didn't get away, he tackled her as soon as he got near her. They wrestled until he had her pinned down, with her lying on her stomach. Making sure she stayed pinned down as he repositioned himself, Keeto moved carefully until he was sitting on her. There he sat, and waited, while he caught his breath. He ignored her screams. And her tantrums. And, finally, her whimpers and begging.

Looking around, he noticed they were by the old split tree, just outside the collection of farms that formed their little hamlet. It had been hit by lightning long before he had been born. Or his parents. Perhaps even before Grandfather had been born. The people of the farms would come out and collect leaves and bits of bark from the tree to use in various remedies and pep-me-ups. Keeto wondered if there was anyway to use the magic of the tree to make Yoliu come to her senses.

"What would Grandmother use with the leaves of this tree to make you see sense and behave?" he said, thinking out loud.

"Tree?" Yoliu asked. She stopped struggling and tried to look around in the growing twilight. She could just make out the old tree. "Is that the crooked old man?"

Not understanding the change in Yoliu, and suspecting yet another trick, Keeto answered simply, "Yes".

"Oh. Well, then, I can tell you now."

"What?"

"Grandmother had forbidden me from telling you why she had sent me, until we were at the crooked old man. I... I thought she had gone, well... " she broke off.

"Could you look up in the tree? See if she put a pack for me in it? She said she'd leave one for me there. It will help me explain everything to you. I promise I won't try to get away anymore."

Keeto snorted. "You think my head really is made of stone? I’m not going to fall for that!"

Yoliu sighed. "Then tie me up."

"With what?"

"You don't ... " Yoliu sighed. "Get those vines over there."

"No. I get up to get those, you take off running again."

"Keeto! I promised!"

"You promised before. That's how we got here."

Yoliu sighed. After thinking for a few seconds, she said, "So, grab me by the hair. I won't be able to run if you keep a good hold of my hair."

Keeto remembered one very painful training session. “No.”

After concentrating for a bit, Keeto thought of something that might work. Or at least, make Yoliu give up her current ploy. He moved off her. “Sit up.”

Yoliu rolled over and sat up.

Keeto reached down, and untied her shirt tails.

“Keeto!” she yelled at him, in shock.

Still holding the tails, he yanked them up over her head. She flailed at him, in panic, but he caught her arms, trapping them in the makeshift sack. He double tied the tails together.

“If you keep that up, your shirt will rip!” he warned her.

Yoliu settled down. “Ok. Happy? I cannot see. I won’t be running away like this, will I? So go get the pack Grandmother left in the tree for me.”

“You are going to explain everything?” He asked her. “Then explain.”

“What? Get the pack! Then I can explain everything. With proof!” Her voice was slightly muffled. “I promise I won’t run away.”

Keeto decided he’d easily hear her struggling out of the shirt. Looking up in the tree, he was surprised to see a pack hanging in it. What an odd place…

“Don’t go anywhere.” He warned her. He set down his pack, and went about retrieving the hanging one. While collecting the pack from the tree, he noticed a sling bag hanging near it, and grabbed that bag as well. Once on the ground, he had a chance to examine both. He saw that the pack was so full, it was almost bursting. The sling bag had some small rips in it, but was also quite filled.

“See? I told you. Grandmother had those put in the tree, for me.”

Keeto looked back over at her. She was raising the collar of her shirt up, looking at him with her right eye. When she noticed Keeto looking at her, she released the collar. The collar slowly slid down to about where it started from.

Keeto gave a grim laugh. She looked so comical. *Well, she didn’t try to run.* he thought to himself.

He put down the pack and sack by her, retrieved his own, and sat on his pack. It gave a bit, in protest of its new use.

“Hey! Don’t leave me like this!” Yoliu protested.

Keeto rolled his eyes, and stood back up. He untied the tails of her shirt.

“Ok. You’ve got your pack. How is this going to explain everything?”

Yoliu finished straightening her shirt, wrapping the tails around her stomach and back around behind her back. She tied them back into place. “Let me get it out and show you.”

“Get what?” Keeto grew wary. There was no telling what was in the pack.

Ignoring him, Yoliu opened the pack. And gasped. On the very top, was her grandmother’s favorite scarf. Yoliu started to cry. She grabbed up the scarf, and after staring at it for a long few seconds, tied it around her throat.

“Hey! That’s Grandmother’s! What are you doing with it?”

“She promised it to me. She said that I’d get it, on the day she died.”

“What? Well, even if she did, you shouldn’t have stolen it! It wasn’t her that ran away!”

“Stolen? She put it in the pack for me!”

“Yeah, prove it!”

Yoliu glared at Keeto, and began digging through the pack. She pulled out some items, as she dug in the pack. First out of the pack, came two small blankets. Onto those, went everything else that she pulled out. Digging to the bottom, she pulled out a shallow box. “This is…” She started to say.

Keeto’s eyes widened in shock. He recognized the box. Grandfather had shown it to him, several times. “That’s the honor of Yotago!” He looked around, in a panic. If Grandfather even slightly suspected he had anything to do with it being stolen…

“Well, not the honor of the family. But it…”

“LIAR! Grandfather told me! That’s the honor of Yotago! It’s so important, he sleeps over it. Every night! He checks it, to make sure it’s there every night! And every morning! It’s the last guardian of the family’s honor!” Keeto was getting into a panic. When would Master Yotago check on the box next? If he noticed its hiding place had been disturbed, it would be too late. Too late for all of them.

“No Keeto! Keeto! KEETO!” she yelled at her very loudest at him, straining her voice.

Darkstar
12-12-2004, 08:56:12
“If we run back right now, maybe we can sneak it back before he knows. I wonder if we could tell him we saw someone stealing it and we scared them away? No, no… he’d never believe it.”

Yoliu hit him. Keeto just laughed at her. “It won’t do you any good, fighting me and running away now. He will track you down. He’ll track me down. He’s going to skin us alive! Once he figures out that one of us must have taken it…” Keeto shuddered.

“Grandmother took it!” Yoliu yelled at him, exasperated. “She gave it to us! To me, so I could show you, and tell you!”

“It doesn’t matter who took it! When he finds it gone, and then us with it…” Keeto shuddered again.

Yoliu was looking past Keeto, watching something in the distance. A large stream of smoke showed something was burning. Like a smoke pit. Or many somethings near each other were burning, and their smoke was intermixing, joining together as the smoke lazily rose into the sky. Sometimes, when the wind shifted, she thought she heard some odd noises.

“Keeto, he won’t find us tonight. Grandmother said that, well--- she said that, we were to wait until morning. If there was no fire during the night, we could come home in the morning. But if there was a fire, you could never be allowed to set foot on the farm again.”

“What? But… I didn’t steal anything! You did!”

“That’s got nothing to do with it. Well, it does, but…”

“You aren’t making any sense!”

Frustrated, Yoliu pressed the box in the way her grandmother had taught her. The box opened. She lifted the lid up completely, and carefully began pulling out what was inside it.

“How did you know…”

“Grandmother showed me. She said I would need to know.”

“Grandfather is so going to punish us! Hey! Don’t mess with anything in there! Put it all back!”

“No, he won’t. Besides, it all belongs to you. He won’t punish you for having what’s yours.

“STEALING SOMETHING DOESN’T MAKE IT YOURS!” yelled Keeto. “And that’s not mine! It’s the family’s! And it is supposed to be safe, under Master Yotago’s bed!”

“Keeto! Keeto! Keeto.” Yoliu tried to calm him down. She tried to talk to him like her mother talked to her when she was very small, and scared. “Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. It will be alright. Shush. Keeto. Don’t worry. Keeto. Shush. Keeto.”

“Don’t you get it? It’s not going to be alright!”

“Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keeto. Keetie keeto!” she started singing his name, like they did when he was little. “Crazy kitty Keeto! Crazy kitty Keeto! Fell out of the window! Fell out of the window!”

“Stop that.” *She’s completely lost it.*

“Look. I know this is a lot. It was a lot for me too. But Grandmother set this out for us. So, Grandfather will just be mad at her.”

“Grandfather never gets mad at her. He’ll get mad at us, even if what you say is true.”

“You mean, he’ll take it out on us.”

“Whatever. We are in trouble.”

“You cannot be in trouble. These are yours.”

“Don’t start that again!”

“Look! Read this!” She grabbed one of the scrolls of parchment that was inside the box, and shoved it into his hands.

“Huh?”

“LOOK! READ!” She grabbed his hands, unrolled it some. She made some tutting sounds, seeing it was upside down. She spun his hands around, so the parchment would be right side up for reading.

“What?”

“Just read this. It will explain most of it.”

Keeto stared at the parchment. He looked through the parchment slowly, looking at the marks. Most of the marks meant nothing to him. He spotted a few marks he knew. However, that didn’t help him. They were surrounded by a sea of unknown marks. He noticed that while he was looking at the parchment, Yoliu was leaving him alone.

Keeto wondered, should he dare to knock her out, and try to drag her and the great box of Grandfather back at the same time? Or should he just grab it up, and run back to Grandfather as fast as he could? Would Grandfather believe him? Or blame him? Or blame him for not bringing back Yoliu as well as the box?

He closed his eyes, and concentrated on slowing his heart. “A panicked mind is no mind at all.” He remembered Grandfather teaching him.

He heard the distinct sounds of someone eating. That had to be Yoliu. His stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten since early that morning. He hadn’t had a chance to have one of the packed meals, since he’d spent most of the afternoon and early evening struggling with Yoliu.

“Oh, look! Grandmother packed your favorite!” The slight smell of sweet chicken was in the air. Opening his eyes, he could see Yoliu waving a cold chicken breast just under his nose. Keeto’s stomach growled. He reached out to take the chicken breast, suddenly aware of just how hungry and tired he was.

Yoliu jerked her hand away. “Put that away. We don’t want it to get messy. It isn’t a wipe cloth.”

A small spike of panic shot through Keeto. He checked the parchment, making sure he hadn’t done any harm nor dirtied it. He set it carefully into the box.

Then he grabbed the chicken, and ate it. The light, sweet, and slightly spicy taste was even better then he remembered. Yoliu handed him another two pieces, a wing and a drumstick.

Yoliu watched Keeto, amazed. “Grandmother had said that a good meal might help calm you...”

With the hard edge of hunger ebbing away in his gut, Keeto replied “A full belly makes all troubles seem smaller.”

“What?”

“It’s what Grandfather says. ‘A full belly makes all troubles seem smaller.’”

“I’ve never heard him say that.”

“Well, he doesn’t train you girls. So maybe you haven’t. Doesn’t Grandmother teach you those sorts of things?”

Yoliu laughed. “Not anything so simple.”

Keeto noticed that Yoliu was finishing eating her favorite treat, some sweet cake.

“Wow. Grandmother really made us both treats, huh?”

“Yeah. I guess it’s her way of making up for this night.”

“What?”

“Well, you know, with scaring us. And with, you know, finally telling us about everything.” Yoliu started at Keeto. Her intense stare was making him feel uncomfortable. Like a cat looking at a squirrel, with him playing the part of the squirrel.

“What are you talking about?”

“What? The letter! Oh, was that in the other? Here… read this.”

She handed him a second parchment. It wasn’t as long as the first. Nor as old. He scrolled through it, slowly. He recognized a few marks, including Grandmother’s, Grandfather’s, the Yotago family’s mark. And his own. But looking at his own, he saw it really wasn’t his mark. There were surrounding marks around it, making one bigger mark. “Oh.” He said, disappointed. He didn’t know what that meant. He hadn’t realized that his mark was used to make other marks.

Yoliu reached over, and patted him. “It’s a lot, I know. I really can’t believe it. But here. Look. Here’s the great seal. Just like the parchments say. Imagine!”

Keeto just stared at her. She kept offering something to him. So he finally took it from her. It was a small, round plate. It had many raised features on it. Along the rim, there were small dragons, each biting the tail of the dragon in front of it. In the center, a large dragon head brooded, or did it menace? Below that, a noble’s sword crossed over a shovel. Below the shovel, was rice. Below the noble’s sword was grain. Four dragon faces formed a square, positioned between the border and the inner features. One dragon face was surrounded by a puffy circle, one was surrounded by a circle with two curved “v”s cut into it, one was protected by a notched, upside down “v”, and the last rose out of a circle of waves. The seal itself seemed to be made out of a silvery metal. Each dragon’s eyes had very small gems inset. The largest dragon in the center also had several gems cut and inset in place of its scales.

Keeto wondered how much it was worth. He set it very carefully back into the box.

“And see? Here’s your family’s personal seal. Although why it’s on a rock…”

She handed him a simple, round rock which filled Keeto’s hand well. It was longer then it was round. It had a small “s” carved into it. Around the “s”, forming a circle, were five curved lines each with a small loop head. The tail of the preceding line passed through the loop head of the next. The carving was cut very shallowly into the rock.

Keeto continued to look at the stone. He couldn’t understand why anyone would think it would make a good neck bauble, but apparently, someone had. The rock was held in place by several silver wires. At the top of the stone, where the silver wires met, a long simple silver chain necklace ran through and under the holding wires.

The stone didn’t look very interesting. If it wasn’t engraved and wrapped in wire, Keeto doubted he would be able to pick it out from any other simple stone in a creekbed. However, it seemed to Keeto that it was warm in his hand. As he continued to look at it, it felt like it shifted slightly in his hand. He immediately handed the caged stone back to Yoliu.

Darkstar
12-12-2004, 08:56:36
“That’s great, Yoliu.”

“It is?” She asked, surprised.

“Sure. Well, we should pack and get on our way, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, we need to. Where are we going? Have you decided?”

“Back to the farm, of course. Look, don’t worry. I’ll figure out something so Grandfather doesn’t skin you alive for stealing the family treasures. But you are going to have to deal with Grandmother on your own for stealing from her.”

“I didn’t steal anything! Didn’t the letter and the diary and the…”

She stopped. “You didn’t really read those, did you?”

“Well, not all of it.”

“How much of it did you read?” She asked him. “You didn’t read any of it, did you?”

“Well, no. But I don’t need to waste my time reading a bunch of parchment to understand you are trying to get away from the farm. I can understand that you need to take stuff with you if you are going to run away and hide from your future husband. But you shouldn’t steal from Grandmother and Grandfather. I’ll take back the stuff that isn’t yours. But you could have saved---”

“You idiot! You absolute stone headed idiot! I didn’t steal anything. And I’m not running away! If you had bothered to read! You… you… you…” she was fumbling for a truly suitable insult. Yoliu was so mad at Keeto, tears of fury were coming out of her eyes.

He picked up the box. He could see her clenching the caged stone’s chain in her hands. He decided it wasn’t worth trying to get it away from her now. “Best to start early when bailing out an ocean.” He reminded himself. He stood up with the box, carefully closing the top.

“You’d better get going.” He said to her.

She stared at him in shock.

“When I get back to the farm, and Grandfather is done flailing me, he will ask where you are. Best you put as much distance between the old crooked man,” Keeto jerked his head at the old lightning scarred tree, “and you.”

Sticking the box under his arm, he turned in the direction of the Yotago farm. They seemed to be having a bonfire, from the amount of smoke coming up in the direction of the farm. He wondered what the celebration was for.

Yoliu couldn’t stand it. If he would just have read the notes, the diaries… but he wouldn’t. Did he think she was trying to trick him?

“Look!” He pointed. “I think they are having a bonfire. Is that for your promised and his family coming to visit?”

Yoliu was mad, and frightened. Grandmother had made it clear to her. If there was a fire, Keeto could never return to the farm. Ever. Why didn’t Keeto trust her? Why didn’t he understand?

Yoliu stood up. She couldn’t think of anything else she could do. She stepped toward Keeto, raised her right arm up, and tried to hit him as hard as she could on the back of his head. She’d once seen Jokkra knock out his brother by hitting him on the back of his head.

Keeto saw her trying to hit him with her fist. He stepped forward, out of the way, so she’d miss. Keeto immediately realized his mistake. Yoliu was still holding the chain of the caged stone. He tried to duck under its swing by letting his left leg collapse. The stone connected with the back of his head. The sounds of a crack and a sick thunk echoed. Stone fragments flew out from what had been the simple, leashed stone.

Keeto fell in a lump. Blood immediately ran from the wound. Yoliu stared, horrified. Yoliu dropped to her knees, right beside Keeto. She wasn’t sure what to do. She wasn’t sure he was alive. Blood continue to come out the back of his head.

She turned him, so she could better see the wound. Some parts of the shattered stone seemed to be pressed into his head. She saw a small bit of silver wire, sink into Keeto’s wound, completely out of sight.

“WAH!” she screamed. Grabbing the fragments she could see, she jerked them out. Some broke up in her hands into smaller bits. Her hands were completely covered in his blood quickly.

She worked as quickly as she dared. One stubborn bit of stone would not move. Fearful it would do as the bit of silver wire she’d seen, she grabbed up a small knife that she had found in her pack, and dug at the stone. Keeto made a very weak moan, and she froze. After a few seconds of not moving, not making a sound, she thought she heard his breathing. Desperately glad, desperately scared, she again worked at the last bit of stone. It slipped out. While she carefully felt around to see if there were any other bits of anything that shouldn’t be there, she realized that he wasn’t as hurt as much as she had first feared. She had feared she'd broken his skull open. But what happened to that bit of silver? It must have been a trick of her mind, she decided.

Once satisfied she’d gotten the wound as clean as she could, she pulled out her small water skin, and poured every bit of the water over the spot.

If only she had some honey… “HONEY!” she shouted. She remembered seeing a small jar of honey in the sling bag. She dug through it, and grabbed out the bottle. She tried to open it repeatedly, too panicked to properly open it. Finally, she managed, and daubed a big glob on the wound. Honey would help protect it. Honey would feed the body, and keep away the bad spirits that might seek to enter Keeto to make him sick, or kill him. She grabbed up one of her spare shirts that had come out of her pack. She ripped it into strips, and wrapped Keeto’s head. In her panic, she almost covered his nose and mouth completely. But she caught herself before completely smothering him. She forced herself to move slower, more carefully. It wasn’t long before Keeto’s liquid life was discoloring the wrapping. But it was spreading slower. It seemed slower to Yoliu.

She put her head on his chest, listening to his heart, worried. She stayed like that, until the first sounds of thunder. She didn’t see the lightning, but didn’t need to see it to know that if a storm was on the way, they needed to find shelter.

She quickly packed everything lying around into her pack. She grabbed up the three bags, and tried to drag Keeto off. They needed to find shelter. She remembered a small cave not very far from there. Giving up on the bags for the moment, she pulled out the box of the seal, set it on Keeto, and began to pull his limp form off.