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On Stolen Wings



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Sat Jun 29, 2019 6:07 am
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ScarlettFire says...



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The Plot


The Realm is in turmoil; there are rumours circulating about a mysterious figure behind a string of death--of dragons and their riders--and the sudden lack of new recruits into the Council's great Hall in Draconis. Some say this figure, man or woman, calls themselves the Litch-King. Some say, Litch-Queen. Regardless of the gender, these witnesses claim to have seen them, spoken to them and been promised a great many things--from wealth and power to simply be given food and a way to provide for their familes.

The rumours circle from the No Man's Land in the South-West to Synilas in the South-East and the grand Asturian Empire in the North and back to the Council's lands of Draconis in the South.

Asturia's grand Empire is failing, their people hunger and some angry, desperate for relief from the droughts and fires and floods, and the draining conquest far to Asturia's North-East. Some say it is Synilas' doing, but Synilas maintains that they have had and will always have good relations with their larger neighbour. Others blame the roaming clans of magic-users that claim the No Man's Land as their own, and often punish any mages they happen across in their small villages or even within Asturia's grand cities. It is a living hell.

You are one of the Council's most recent recruits, either through luck or tragedy, and you have been tasked with a grand goal, a quest, if you will; seek out these rumours and find the truth, and, maybe, discover who is really behind all the death and destruction. Will you accept this Quest? Will you discover who is truly behind all the atrosticies, the deaths and the destruction? Or will you fail and fall to the Conclave's murderous schemes?

Information & Maps

Map Of The Realm
Spoiler! :
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There are two main kingdoms here; Asturia and Synilas. Then there is the Council Lands, also known as Draconis. And finally, there is No Man's Land, usually occupied by roaming clans of magic users. They have a camp in the Grasslands of No Man's Land that they use a a meeting ground for all the various clans.


Raj Mahija
Spoiler! :
This is a hidden academy of magic that is rarely heard from. Rumour has it that it's in the Asturian Empire near the edge of the Great Western Desert where it meets the Central Plains. It's said to be crowned by a tall, pale-stoned tower with a golden dome. But it is just that; a rumour.


Races
Spoiler! :
Humans
Humans can be found throughout the Realm and usually have little to no magic. Any magic they do have is limited and uncontrolled. Humans make wonderful soldiers, though, because they reproduce so fast. They are a varied and resilient people who often don't know when to give up or stay down. They're determined to prove their worth as dragon riders.

Elves
Elves are creatures of nature and can live for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Their powers relate to nature and the elements They highly dislike anything too advanced and tend to avoid cities, except for the few who live in small communties that incorporate nature into their construction. Elves are rarely seen away from the forests. Elves are the race most likely to bond with a dragon.

Tieflings, Fey'ri & Others Of A Fiendish Nature
These races have demonic bloodlines which may be reflected in their appearance and abilties, if they have any. Tieflings and Fiends are the most like their demons while the Fey'ri more often than not resemble the Elven side of their parentage. Those with fiendish blood are the least likely to bond with a dragon, and often struggle to adapt if they somehow manage to do so. They are often a violent, impulsive people, but can be reasoned with. If you're lucky.

Half-Elves & Other Half-breeds
Half-Elves are exactly what you'd imagine--half-elves. Others may be half-Dwarf or even half-elf and half-fiend--like the Fey'ri. They may live for a long time, or not very long at all. It's always a risk with half-breeds, but most resemble one sids or the other, such as half-elves, who live a lifespan somewhere between their human and elvish halves; almost as long as their Elvish brethen, but never the thousands of years some of the Elves reach. Half-breeds, especially half-elves, are second most likely race to bond with dragons, due to the varied races that are included in their bloodlines.

Dwarves
Dwarves are a short, sturdy race of humanoid people who prefer to live in mountainous areas and in the mines they love so dearly, deep below the surface where they're so rarely seen. They live almost as long as their Elvish cousins, but nowhere near as long as those with fiendish blood, and often outlive their human friends. They bond with dragons on a semi-regular basis, if they ever feel like stepping foot outside of their mountains and mines.


Dragons & Dragon Riders
Spoiler! :
Dragons
Dragons are inherently magical creatures, born of magic and nature. The reproduce much like reptiles--by laying eggs--and can come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. These eggs often need a magical componet to hatch, coming either in the form of their dragon parents, some force of nature....or a bond with a human, elf or other race that inhabits the realm. They usually prefer nature to civilization and can often been found in forests or mountainous areas. Dragons are intelligent creatures and usually live alone or in small--very small--family groups. Most dragons are hermit-like in nature and will often have a cave or nest--a lair where they protect a small pocket of land they've claimed for their own--where they sleep and live. These lairs often contain treasure, though there are varying opinions on the type of treasure one can find in said lair. Some dragons, if they are old enough, can have a humanoid form, though this is rare and almost never seen. That humans and the like are aware of. Dragons seems to be semi-secretive creatures.

Dragon Riders
Dragon Riders are humans, elves or other races that have bonded with a dragon, either by finding the egg or by being approached by a dragon. They usually have some inherent magical abilities in one form or another, and are often young when they bond. Most are orphans, but a few have families. Once bonded, a Rider will be taken by the Council--who overlook all Dragon Riders--to their Hall in Draconis, the lands given to the Council generations ago. They will be raised, groomed and trained in how to fight on and off their dragon, or as a single unit, and learn how to interact with their bonded, how to use the inherent magic they have and how to draw on their dragon's strength.

There are two groups of Riders; The Council, as mentioned, and an elusive, nastier group known only as "The Conclave". They're a darker side to the Dragon Riders, often causing death and destruction wherever they go, but they're rarely seen and are hard to distingush from a Council Rider. They generally don't look any different, but their actions speak louder than appearances or words; they's a violent, secretive people who are almost always plotting something dark and dangerous made up of spies, thieves and assassins. It's best to avoid The Conclave whenever possible, if you can figure out who they are.

The Bond Between Rider & Dragon
The bond a dragon has with its rider is a sacred thing, often viewed with awe and respect and maybe a little fear. To harm or kill one is to do the same to the other. They're bonded for life and it's rare for dragon or rider to survive the loss of the other as the trauma of losing half of yourself usually kills a rider or their dragon. The Council honour this bond, but the Conclave don't care; Conclave members are not above killing a rider to force a bond on the dragon before it dies, which results in a horrible half-life for both dragon and rider, often corrupting the dragon with darkness and violence. It can happen the other way, too, with the dragon forcing a bond on a dying rider--often, it's a last ditch effort to save the rider and, potentially, the dragon they were bonded to, too. More often than not, forcing a bond fails and the dragon or rider will die regardless, sometimes taking the one trying to force the bond with them. It's not something an amature should attempt.


Magic & Monsters
Spoiler! :
Both exist in this realm, but they are rarely seen or heard about. Magic users -- or mages, as they prefer-- are more common than monsters, but you don't hear them bragging about their magic often, if at all. As for monsters, well. If you hear about a monster, it's a pretty big deal and quite a few hunters/rangers will appear to hunt it down. For a price, of course.

Gypsies, Mages & Magic
Gypsies and Mages are two sides of the same coin. Gypsies are mages who wander, unlike Mages who settled down in one place. There are Light and Dark mages, along with every shade between these extremes. Both have magic in their veins, quite literally. They are similar to Sorcerers in many respects, but unlike Sorcerers, the magic often represents as psychical abnormalities such as unusual eye or hair colour, and sometimes even runes that appear naturally on the skin.

Some notable traveling clans are; Toril, Haverj, Almeric, Asyra, Shanni, Vanna and Belusa.

Sigil-weaving
Sigil-weaving is a way of casting magic that involves ritual and non-ritual magic, hand gestures and verbal magic and finally the applications of tattoos for permament magic. It's a rarer form of magic, almost obsolete and not one that's taught much anymore.

Monsters, Demons & Other Creatures
Monsters are beings, usually inherently magical in nature, with a nasty reputation for death and destruction. It is one of the main jobs of the Council to seek out these monsters and deal with them, either with violence or diplomacy--depending on the creature. They can be a purely natural creature--a giant wolf or giant spiders--to more fiendish or magically-inclined creatures, such as Leshi and other nature spirits/beings to Sphinxs and Gryphons, and even the odd fiendish hound or other such monsters.


Character Sheet:

Code: Select all
[b]Name:[/b] (first and last, if possible)
[b]Age:[/b] (17+ please)
[b]Gender:[/b] (male/female)

[b]Race:[/b] (human, elf, others, etc)

[b]Profession:[/b] (Dragon Rider, preferably, but you might also be a thief or assassin, or a ranger; be creative! Please include the associated skills!)

[b]Bonded Dragon:[/b] (name, age, appearance and maybe personality if possible)

[b]Appearance:[/b] (a brief appearance will work; you can include a picture)

[b]Personality:[/b] (Please make this in-depth!  Also include strengths and weaknessess)

[b]History:[/b] (brief history will work)

[b]Up For Love:[/b] y/n, orientation?

[b]Other:[/b] anything that doesn't fit above, such as personal missions/goals, any secrets you might be keeping, etc.


Characters Slots:

1. Dragon Rider - Kiera Idora - Claimed by Omnom
2. Dragon Rider - Edana Elchar - Claimed by Europa
3. Dragon Rider - (Conclave Spy) - Autumn Sunlight - Claimed by Eurpoa
4. Dragon Rider - Unclaimed!
5. Dragon Rider - (Concalve Hunter) - Mallon/Malik - Claimed by winterwolf0100
6. Dragon Rider - Luna Moon - Claimed by FlamingPhoenix
7. Dragon Rider - Aranthel Elwyn - Claimed by AstralHunter
8. Dragon Rider - Loren Arden - Claimed by ScarlettFire
9. Dragon Rider - Anelmok Serkoy - Claimed by TinkerTwaggy



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On Stolen Wings is a part of The Universe, alternatively known as YWU, a collaborative writing universe


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"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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Wed Aug 14, 2019 12:05 am
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winterwolf0100 says...



Malik



The sweat rolled down Malik’s bare skin, making it slick and shiny in the dim lighting of the training center. He continued punching the bag in front of him, images flashing as he imagined a new person in place of the bag with each punch. He studied his knuckles with grim satisfaction, before punching it again. All the people he’d ever wanted to hurt appeared in the bag, and though the sounds of their screams were fake, he savored them all the same. He glanced at the slit towards the top of the stone wall, carved specifically so those in the training center could tell time, watching as the first cracks of dawn began to filter into the room. He stopped punching abruptly, moving over to pick up his sword before ferociously attacking a dummy.


A loud harsh voice filled his ears. Weak, weak, weak, Stella chuckled inside his head, and he growled, trying to drown out her words with the sound of the dummy being struck. Stella, Malik’s dragon, loved to tease him on his morning workout routine, seeing as she could easily do any of the things he did with no training at all.


Shut up, he growled at her in his mind.


Weak, weak, weak, she mocked. What are you going to do about it? She sounded amused, which only ignited his fury further because she knew as well as he did that there was literally nothing he could do. He couldn’t just cut off their connection; it was just there. He could pull his consciousness, but she could just as easily reach out again, leaving them in an annoying cycle of him pulling away and her seeking him out again.


If you call me weak one more time, I swear, he muttered in his head, and he knew she must sense the waves of anger coming off his consciousness, but she didn’t stop.


You are weak! She roared in his brain, and Malik’s hand trembled, his grip on his sword loosening slightly before he tightened it and beheaded the dummy in front of him. You are too obedient, and it makes you weak. She emphasized the word ‘weak’ as she said it, as if trying to coax the sparks of anger inside him into a forest fire.


Stella, he grunted, if you are going to continue jabbing at me, why don’t you at least tell me what it’s about?


Oh, come on, Malik, she whined, and now he knew where the teasing was leading. You know what I’m talking about! If, instead of spending your time uselessly cooped up in that room every morning, you spent your time with me, we could go for morning rides every day. I could practice new flying techniques. It would help us more in battle than the weight-lifting you’re doing in there! I doubt an enemy is going to do a challenge to the death on who can bench-press the most. Malik rolled his eyes. She was trying to goad him on to make him fly with her.


Stella, you know as well as I do that I can’t just go flying with you. We could be seen.


I’ll fly above the clouds! She said, excitement barely contained, so strong that it began to infect Malik’s mind in waves, filling him wave by wave with excitement, each one subsiding before attacking with double force. It was making it really hard to concentrate to say the least, and he knew she was trying to forcefully change his mind which only made the rolls of her consciousness harder to resist.


Stella. We could be seen by other riders.


She scoffed, and he could almost picture the expression on her face. What of it? We both know you could kill most other riders in your sleep.


He had to laugh at that. Stella, if I was going to fly with you, I don’t think I would be sleeping while I did it.


She huffed in his mind with frustration. You know that’s not what I meant.


Yes, I know it isn’t, but I don’t care, he replied firmly, his tone harsh. I cannot go flying with you every morning Stella. That is final.


She grunted in displeasure. Suit yourself, she murmured, and he felt her consciousness subside, melting away from his as she pulled her mind away.


He ran a hand through his dark black hair, swiping it out of his eyes before stabbing the dummy in the stomach. In his mind, the dummy was all the Council members the day they gave him his egg, only to take it away as soon as he bonded and she began to hatch. He stabbed again, and it shifted to one Council member in particular, a woman, standing over him as she cast a spell to hide his heterochromatic eyes before casting yet another to make him forget their existence and along with them, his demonic heritage. It was only when he was taken by the Conclave that he learned--or, should he say, remembered-- his heterochromatic eyes, and with them, his heritage. He stabbed again, and watched as the dummy fell apart, a mix of sack and hay falling to the ground.


“Need a partner?” The words echoed through the air, and he turned to see who they came from, chest heaving. When he saw who it was, he rolled his eyes, turning back towards the dummy. “No,” he said under his breath, but he knew she heard it anyway. Maya was one of the newest recruits, only eleven. She was also the only other person besides Malik who woke up this early, though usually she spent the extra hours before the day studying in her room, not here in the training center.


“Seems like you do,” she said, gesturing towards the dummy. “He doesn’t exactly look in the position to fight.”


“You don’t exactly look in the position to fight either,” he said, mocking her words. She was well-known among the older riders as not being able to hold her own with any weapon. It was likely she’d be killed or sent away soon; the Elders of the Conclave didn’t have much patience for those who were of no use to them.


She hesitated at his rude remark, but she still didn’t leave the room. He sighed, stopping his sword midair to turn towards her. “What do you want?” He growled, and she inched back a few steps.


“I just…” she paused, her confidence waning. Her glasses were resting on the edge of her nose, and she pushed them up, a nervous habit he’d noticed her doing quite often in his presence. Because Maya was only eleven, practicing with her would be a waste of his time and decrease her confidence. In short, it would be useless.


“Go practice with someone your own age,” he practically spit, and she recoiled.


“You’re the only one who’s up this early!” She complained, before lowering her voice to a whisper. “I’m struggling with fighting…” she admitted.


Malik snorted. “Yeah. What’s new?”


She seemed hurt at his words, but didn’t let it show on her face. He was impressed, so he decided to let her finish speaking before blowing up at her. “I’m afraid if I can’t learn to use a weapon good enough, they’ll take my dragon away! I’ve learned all the rules and I’ve read all the history on dragon riders, and I excel in all of those classes, but I can’t keep up with anyone when it comes to training. I need your help. Please,” she whispered.


He looked at her, cool-faced, before turning back to the destroyed dummy at his feet. “And you think I could help you with that?”


She nodded eagerly, something he only saw out of the corner of his eye. “Yes, sir. I’ve seen you practicing every morning. You always wake up before sunrise to come and train. You have a precise schedule for how long you do each exercise in order to maintain the fittest. I know the science, and I can tell you do too. You know exactly how much to do of each thing to be the best you can be. I just need your help learning all of the techniques.”


At this, he stopped. Who did she think she was? She couldn’t just take the easy way out; she had to learn it on her own if she ever wanted to survive in the Conclave. “Listen, girl,” he sneered, eyes narrowed as he advanced towards her. Her eyes flickered with fear as she watched him approach, but she didn’t move. “Do you know who I am?”


She nodded quickly. “Malik, rider of Stella, one of the Conclave’s best and most loyal riders.” Her face and voice were full of nothing but admiration, but it did nothing but stir his anger. “Why would you assume, just because I’m loyal to the Conclave, that I should be loyal to you?” At this, the light in her eyes faltered, but he continued, not done yet. “Your lack of suspicion is going to get you killed some day. You give your trust away too easily, a trait I’m sure your teachers have already noticed. Likely, even with my training, you’ll be kicked out of the Conclave, or, if deemed untrustworthy, killed. Giving my precious time to train someone who is already doomed would be stupid.” He snarled at her. Her eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to say something but he interrupted.


“You want to know the biggest thing I’ve learned from the Conclave?” He said to her, watching as she squirmed under his iron gaze. “If you can’t do something on your own,” he jabbed a finger at her for emphasis, “you won’t survive out there.” He jerked a thumb towards the window, indicating the world, and, more relevant, missions.


In his head, Stella laughed. You’re a boy, she spit in his head, and he could tell she was still angry about their argument earlier. What would you know about surviving in the world?


“I could learn,” he snapped back. “I’m independent, unlike this defenseless mouse of a girl,” he snarled, before realizing, with shock and a bit of amusement, that he had said it aloud.


Maya backed up, eyes full of tears that she was furiously trying to hide. Stella chuckled in his mind. Good job Malik, she sneered. You’ve made the mouse cry. Her voice was dripping with fake sympathy.


Maya was staring at the ground, and he watched as a tear slid down her cheek. It seemed as if she wanted an apology, but she knew better than to expect one from him. “I… um…” She said, her voice thick with tears. “I’ll be going. Thank you for allowing me to talk with you. It was a true honor, sir.”


With that, she left the room just as Elder Wintercloud walked in. His stern eyes scanned over her face, an expression of disapproval settling as he saw the tears she hastily tried to wipe away. Elder Wintercloud, half Fey’ri and half elf, was a hybrid mix, just like Malik. It was why Malik had always felt closest to him out of all the Elders. Elder Wintercloud’s gray hair attested to his old age, though no one knew exactly how old he was save himself. Some of the students thought him only to be around 70, while others claimed their grandparents, once students of the Conclave, mentioned him in different stories they told. Because of his elvish heritage, he aged incredibly slowly, so it was hard to tell just by his outer appearance his actual age.


“Rider Malik,” he said to him, a tone of authority sweeping through the room.


“My Elder? What brings you to the training center?” He asked, sheathing his sword and grabbing his t-shirt from the ground to cover his bare chest, slick with sweat.


“You, young one,” he said, staring at him with piercing eyes. “You have been called upon by the Circle of Elders.”


Malik’s eyes widened, but it was the only sign he gave that showed just how surprised he was. It was rare to be called upon by a single Elder. The entire Circle? What could be so important that Malik was to see the entire Circle of Elders?


The Circle? Stella asked in his mind, her consciousness filing into his brain. He felt her accessing his senses so she could hear and see everything he was seeing. Although most dragons could not see through their riders’ eyes, it was one of Stella’s special abilities, and she made sure to use it to her advantage any time she could. What does the Circle want you for? Her thoughts echoed his, distracting him from what Elder Wintercloud was currently saying to him.


I don’t know, he replied impatiently, trying to concentrate on what Elder Wintercloud was saying.


“--infiltrate a group of Council riders on a mission to find the Litch-King.” He knew he missed the first half of the Elder’s sentence but dared not ask him about it for fear of annoying him. Although Malik could remind the Elder that it could just as well be the Litch-Queen, he decided not to. Elder Wintercloud, probably due to his old age, tended to have more conservative views on certain issues. In his mind, it would not be possible for a woman to inflict the damage the Litch-King or Queen had inflicted. In fact, according to the rumors, he was opposed to female riders in the first place. Before the other Elders became more open to the idea of female riders, he would perform the separation ritual himself if a girl bonded with an egg. Once the dragon hatched, he would kill the girl and quickly bond a boy in her place. It was only within the last century or so that the Conclave had allowed female riders, a mistake they had paid for dearly. It allowed the Council, their sworn enemy, to build their ranks with all the females the Conclave turned away.


“And when am I to go before the Circle of Elders?” Malik asked, glancing at Elder Wintercloud.


“Now, boy,” he grunted, clearly annoyed. With that, he walked out the door, leaving Malik to follow.


Once they reached the Circle of Elders, a vast chamber carved out of the stone of the mountain they lived in, he left Malik to take his seat with the other Elders. “Malik,” one said, their voice booming through the chamber and bouncing off the walls. “We trust you know why you are here.”


He bowed. “I know the cause for which I serve, but I don’t know the mission I am to be sent on.”


“In that case,” Elder Wintercloud said, “I shall explain it to you. A group of riders have been recruited by the Council to investigate the Litch-King--”


“--or Queen,” one of the newer elders, a woman, interjected.


“Yes, yes, or Queen,” Elder Wintercloud said, dismissing it with his hand, a movement that showed he actually didn’t believe it could be a girl, “and your job is to drop off a new spy into the group and keep a close eye on him. He will leave a trail for you to follow as they continue to travel. Your job is to make sure his lips remain sealed.” Malik frowned, confused. Any one of their warriors were trained to not speak of anything that may compromise their mission. Why would they need him just to watch this one person?


“I sense you have a question,” said another Elder, the same woman Elder Wintercloud had just interrupted.


“Yes, if you don’t mind my asking. Who is this spy to need my supervision?”


A door to Malik’s right opened as he spoke, and he watched as two guards dragged in a man, who, judging by his appearance, was a Tabaxi. He had red-golden fur covering his body, with black spotted through his coat. He had a long, sweeping tail covered in fur which widened at the end. Instead of feet and hands, he had paws that resembled a cat’s, and Malik couldn’t tell if his lack of shoes was a decision on his part or a forceful decision by one of the guards. The Tabaxi looked at Malik before his head dropped down, his ears folding back.


The Elder’s voice was amused as she replied, “It seems as if you are about to see for yourself.” Malik recoiled with revulsion, his nose wrinkling up in distaste. In the back of his mind, he wondered if this man in front of him was civilized or not.


“And how will this…” he paused for a moment, searching for the right word, “creature help us spy on the Council? Can it even speak?” A few of the Elders laughed at his question. The creature, a male, Malik decided, looked up, an indignant expression on his face, before the guard shoved his head down again with a force that could break his neck. Malik spared a glance at him before turning to look back at the Elders. Although his question got a few laughs out of them, it was a genuine question. Why would they want to send something like him when they could send someone like Malik, especially when Malik would be going anyway?


“Actually,” Elder Wintercloud grinned, “he spoke quite a lot when he was begging for the lives of his children.”


At that Malik saw the Tabaxi clench his fists, but he gave no other signs that he understood anything they were saying. Malik turned towards Elder Wintercloud, a smirk touching his lips. “Really?” He said, a mock frown featured on his face. “He doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of talking now.” The Tabaxi glared at him, but said nothing, his fists only tightening.


“Yes, well,” Elder Wintercloud said with distaste, standing from his chair to walk over to the Tabaxi. “He talks when we want him to, and no other time.” The Tabaxi did nothing in response, his arms pulled behind his back at an awkward angle as the guards continued to stand but forced him on his knees. “Isn’t that right, Autumn?” Elder Wintercloud sneered, pulling his leg back to kick the Tabaxi with surprising force.


The Tabaxi doubled over, his lips pulled back in a snarl, but he made no noise, as if trying desperately to hold back his pain. Malik’s eyes narrowed, and he walked towards the Tabaxi, crouching to his level. The Tabaxi’s eyes remained cast downward, refusing to meet Malik’s gaze. Malik stood back up, and gestured towards a guard. “May I?” He asked, but she knew as well as he did that it wasn’t actually a question because without hesitation she stepped away, allowing him to pull the Tabaxi to his… paws.


He winced as Malik tightened the hold on his arm, and Malik noticed throughout his coat several stains of dried blood, one of which Malik happened to be holding his arm by. It seemed the guards were not the nicest to him. Malik pulled him towards the center of the room, away from where the guards were, and watched out of the corner of his eye as they left from the door they came from. “What’s your name, boy?” Malik asked, watching as the Tabaxi squirmed uncomfortably at the nickname. Malik knew he was probably older than him, but the nickname undermined the Tabaxi, which was why Malik used it.


“Autumn Sunlight,” he whispered quietly, so softly Malik almost didn’t hear it. Autumn still didn’t look up, turning his face away from Malik.


“Respect those above you!” Elder Wintercloud yelled at him, and Autumn flinched away from the noise. His ears must’ve been more sensitive to noise because of their size. “Now, tell him your name properly. Address him with the respect he deserves.”


Autumn swallowed as if trying to press down his anger, before he whispered harshly, “Autumn Sunlight, sir.” Malik quirked an eyebrow at the anger clearly shining through Autumn’s voice, but said nothing. They would work on that later. Best not to get the Elders involved.


“And why are you here, Autumn Sunlight?” Malik asked, eyes narrowed.


Autumn swallowed, but didn’t respond. “He asked you a question!” Elder Wintercloud seethed from his chair.


At this, Autumn looked directly at Malik, making eye contact, before replying in a steady voice, “I’m here to stop the Conclave from killing my family. Because that’s what the Conclave does. They kill innocent people who have done nothing against them.” His words were harsh, and before Malik realized what he was doing, he had backhanded him. Malik’s hands were shaking at his sides after he lowered them, anger flaring inside of him.


Is that really the best you could do? Stella mused inside his head. You looked like a toddler trying to hit a bear. Did you see that? He didn’t even flinch! She sounded amused, and it made Malik even more angry to realize she was right, and it hadn’t affected Autumn at all.


“You will learn,” Malik hissed, “to respect those better than you. It is the horses who serve the men, not the other way around, and you would be wise to learn it. And the Conclave doesn’t kill innocent people who have done nothing against them. They only do that to animals.” A hint of satisfaction went through him as he watched the anger writhe inside Autumn at his words, and it urged him on to continue speaking. “After all, what is a lamb’s purpose but to be raised for the slaughter? Animals have no purpose but to serve the people around them.”


“Good thing I’m not an animal then.”


Malik cocked his head to the side in mock contemplation. “Aren’t you though?”


This time, Autumn looked him dead in the eye. “Only a fool would get it confused.”


“Good thing I’m not confusing the two, only defining them as the same,” Malik snarled back. “I am going to be the only thing standing in-between you and a gruesome death for the next couple of months, so I suggest you start showing a little more respect.”


“And that starts now,” Elder Wintercloud’s voice boomed through the chamber, and it took Malik a moment to remember they were still in front of the Circle of Elders. “If I wasn’t fully confident in Malik’s abilities to put you in your place, I would whip you here and now. But alas,” he smiled a dark smile, “I am old. My arms are weak. I’m sure Malik’s blows will be far more… effective.”


In Malik’s mind, Stella snorted. Yeah, right. Malik’s blows are weak as a--


Finish that thought, he warned, and I’ll be taking a horse on this mission instead of you.


He could almost see her eyes narrowing from her small stall where she was constantly cooped up. Because of the Conclave’s location, there wasn’t a lot of room for the dragons that lived there, and they couldn’t just fly around freely unless they wanted to risk being seen, so for her to miss out on an entire mission of being outside would be devastating. You wouldn’t dare… she growled.


Try me, he shot back. At this, she fell silent, knowing if she continued, she wouldn’t get to go outside for however long this mission would take, and, by the sound of it, it would take months. After the short conversation with Stella, Malik glanced over at Autumn, still keeping a firm hold on his arm. Autumn had lost every shred of the defiance Malik had seen in him only moments ago, and was now standing like he was trying to fold in on himself and vanish.


“Now,” Elder Wintercloud continued as if nothing happened, “take Autumn back with you to your room, Malik. There, you will pack. You are leaving tonight under the cover of darkness.”


“But sir--” Malik interjected.


The Elder raised a hand, and Malik fell silent. “On your bed, there will be all the information on your mission you need, Malik. Now go.” The rest of the Elders had been silent the whole time and none of them seemed inclined to add anything to what Elder Wintercloud had said, so Malik started to leave, pulling Autumn after him, fury boiling within him at the thought of having to let Autumn be in his room. What if he shed, and his fur got everywhere?


“And Autumn?” Elder Wintercloud called to them as they left, “You are being watched. Constantly. I would hate to take my anger for you out on your family, but I’m afraid it will happen. Best not to anger me, then.” In Malik’s grip, Autumn’s arm stiffened. In Malik’s mind, Stella started to laugh.


What’s so funny? He growled at her as she continued laughing.


Her laughs died down to chuckles, until she was simply speaking in an amused tone. Best not to anger me, she mocked. What does it matter if he angers him or not? Elder Wintercloud is going to do it anyway. What’s the point of him helping us along the way? If he’s really only doing this to save his family, he might as well give up. That’ll give him the same results, she snorted. Malik was about to object, but she pulled away, her consciousness breaking away from his as she went back to whatever she had been doing. The feeling left Malik empty, wanting answers on what she meant. Why did she believe Elder Wintercloud would still do it anyway? Why would she think it would be better for Autumn to give up? And for the first time in a long time, Malik wished his head wasn’t so quiet.
  








If you don't know where you're going, any road'll take you there.
— George Harrison