Shadhaven 6

It seemed strange to both youths how they could walk right next to a Scavi, with the only result being it jumping in the opposite direction. These things were far from aggressors, which seemed contrary to what Kobix had described. In fact, it hardly seemed dangerous to be wandering through the tunnels at all.
Another thirty minutes later, Prism stopped abruptly and put his hand up to signal the others to do the same. They were at a small chamber, from which the smell of death was emanating. Around the corner they could see that a large group of Scavis appeared to be gathered around something, and were very quickly ripping into it with their sharp teeth and claws. Prism motioned for the group to move to the opposite side of the chamber and walk very quietly. to which they immediately complied.
As they continued forward, neither In nor Dak could help themselves from looking at what the Scavi’s were eating, but both immediately regretted the sight. From what was left it appeared to be human, though there wasn’t much meat remaining on the bones, and what was there hung in tatters. Tatters which the Scavi were ravenously eating. Some of the others that couldn’t get to the meat were gnawing on bone, the sickening sound of the same bone breaking filling the corridor an instant later.
Once they had left the chamber, Dak waited a moment before voicing his concerns; not only to keep the Scavi from hearing, though that was his main reason, but he also had to wait until he had stopped retching before he could speak.
“Those ones seemed different. I had the feeling they would actually harm us if they noticed us.”

Prism gave a low chuckle before responding. “Same Scavis, I assure you. When they catch the smell of rotting meat, their aggression levels begin to rise. Once they have consumed meat of any kind, their aggression level rises exponentially. Something in most meats acts as a stimulant to them, much like you’ve seen on the streets before with Kosha. Kosha causes humans to let go of all sexual inhibitions. Meat causes Scavis to let go of all of their violent inhibitions.”

“You speak about it almost as if they are like us, having inhibitions and such. Do you think they are intelligent?” In asked, a little taken back by this kind of perspective, from a man legend said was nothing but a cold-hearted bastard.
“Who’s to say they are not? What defines intelligence young Innidrek? For me, I think intelligence is what gives one capability to survive, though by this definition we can live off of others’ intelligence as well, as sometimes it is intelligent to be like a leech, and steal from someone else surviving. I think you both know that quite well, as thievery is certainly this form of survival. The Scavi survive, and even thrive down here. Something the perhaps less “intelligent” humans could learn from, if they ever took the time to observe anything.”
In nodded slowly as they resumed the march. What the older man had said made a lot of sense, though he wasn’t entirely certain how comfortable he was being compared to a leech. The more he thought though, the more it seemed he could grasp the concept that Prism was explaining.
Excitedly, In finally responded into the silence, “Life imitates life. We learn from the leech that we can survive by stealing what others have. We could learn from the Scavi too, if we desire. They scavenge, and wait for food to fall in front of them, but once we get a taste for that which we desire, we get a surge of power and want more of it, so we begin to seek it out with a lot more diligence, and we are also able to convince others that better things could be found by sharing the meal.”
“Now how can that be applied to our current situation?” Prism asked, his tone intrigued, not expecting In to have grasped the concept so quickly.
“If we can show the humans in Shadhaven that which they desire, they will want more, and provided we continue to supply them with it, they will continue to want to follow us. It is the nature of life.”
Dak turned with surprise to his friend, and saw In was practically glowing with the amount of energy, and hope, that the conversation was giving him. He felt a twang of jealousy as he considered Prism, but knew that there was nothing to be jealous of. Just because In was connecting with the assassin on a philosophical level didn’t mean he was starting to side with him. Dak knew that when it came down to it, In would side with him, but to insure that, he figured it would be best to get on the philosophical bandwagon as soon as possible.
“There are other things that the humans could learn too. Understanding the Scavi mentally would help them learn how to coexist with them, without causing any altercations. If they stopped disposing of their corpses in the tunnels for instance, or how if they captured one, knowing how it reacts to different kinds of food, they could train them and understand them better,” Dak said, a little proud that he had been able to bring a new perspective to the discussion.
His pride was hurt a little though when Prism snickered, though once he found the reason behind it, the hurt disappeared. Prism made a sharp whistling sound, and suddenly two Scavi appeared around the corner, bounding toward them. Dak drew his dagger again, while In began doing the same, until Prism motioned for them to stop. The Scavi’s pounced on Prism and began rubbing their heads against him, clearly not aggressive.

“I am way ahead of you Dakidrae, but I am glad you see things my way. These are the first two I have trained, though I intend to train more. If we continue to train them, Scavis should never be a problem. The important thing for now though, is that we have arrived. Welcome to my home,” Prism explained as he stepped around the corner his pets had arrived from.
The chamber wasn’t very large, and indeed it didn’t seem as if it would have to be. There wasn’t much in it. A small pile of cloth, which seemed to have been scrounged from old clothes, sat in one corner, while a couple smaller ones sat on the opposite side. Interestingly enough, a small desk had somehow ended up here, and a few papers were present on it’s surface, next to a nearly dry bottle of ink. The biggest surprise came from behind them as they stepped into the room, and the wall slid closed, cutting them off from the corridor.
“As soon as I found this place, I knew it was where I needed to set up camp. That door was only half open when I discovered it. It took me a week to find the control mechanism in the wall, but now that I know it is there, I can find it every time. I haven’t found any others yet, but I believe there are a lot of secrets to discover in this place. For now though, let’s eat.”
Prism tossed them both a small mushroom. It smelled like rot, and it looked like dirt. They tried not to make anything of it, but they couldn’t keep it completely off their faces. Prism just shrugged and said with as much bluntness as he could, “Sorry boys, not a lot you can do about it, unless you want to eat Scavi, which tastes terrible and just makes them mad. For now, just enjoy the simple pleasures in life when you can get them. Not being hungry would be the one to enjoy now, and we can enjoy the simple pleasure of trying to manipulate the rest of humanity when you’re done.”
In smiled and despite himself Dak did as well. He was surprised that he was actually starting to like the man. It didn’t change anything though. Prism still needed to die.

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Taoist Wednesday, #5 Verse 5: Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang aren’t sentimental. They exist without moralizing. They act regardless of our wishes within the ebb and flow of every pregnant moment.

The space between yin and yang is like a bellows – empty, yet infinitely full. The more it yields, the more it fills.

Countless words count less than the silent balance between yin and yang.

Ah, sweet nature of balance, of that which is all! This is perhaps my favorite verse in the Tao Te Ching. The imagery that this verse captures brings such compelling thought to my mind.

Indeed, it is by becoming empty that we are filled.

There is an old Zen story which tells of a monk filling a cup to the brim, and then continuing to pour liquid in while his students asked him “What he was doing”. He went on to illustrate that a mind that is already filled cannot be filled further, so in order to obtain knowledge one must become an empty vessel.

That being said, I find the bellows analogy to be better, for as it yields it also acts, and helps to strengthen the fires around him, the passion of others. This is very important as we begin to understand that in order to create harmonious life, we must give as much as we take.

Such it is with yin and yang. In order to understand yin, we must give up yang, and in order to understand yang, we must give up yin. In order to keep our progression we must continue in this cycle, until we achieve the perfect balance between the halves.

It is only then that we come to understand the universe.

A Puppet Governor

From Owen at lowenly.wordpress.com

Living in a Lowenly World

And so I continued my journey through the land of dreams, and as I dreamt I saw a queen in the mountains.  She held herself high and straight; in her voice was elegance, and force.  A cunning diplomat, and a powerful sorceress.  And as I travelled through her realm I heard her voice on the chill winds, summoning her people to her side, and beckoning the rest to follow her as well.  She spoke of a time of glory long past, and a time coming soon when glory would be theirs again.  She spoke of rebirth, and renewal.  And I was for a moment entranced.

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Shadhaven Chapter 5

Dak found himself slammed straight into the wall, his dagger arm bracing him against the impact as he was suddenly kicked in the back. In his rage he hadn’t even seen the assassin move, especially considering it had happened fast enough that In had barely followed it.

There was something almost inhuman about the way the man moved. He seemed to glide across the floor and bend in odd ways as he stepped around the flailing form of Dak with the same amused grin on his face. In, though concerned about his friend’s well-being, decided not to approach the battle and instead tried to analyze the imposing figure who was watching him in his peripheral vision.

His skin was dark, almost black, though that was certainly nothing to draw an issue with. Most of the desert nomads were of darker skin. His wasn’t even as dark as some that In had seen, though he certainly was nearer that end of the spectrum. The only part of his skin that was exposed was his face, though In still could not make out the man’s eyes in the darkness. That struck him as strange, considering normally eyes caught the light and stood out, but not so on this figure.

He had no visible weapons, though he seemed to be doing just fine without them as Dak spun back around and made another slash with his dagger. The man simply turned to the side at the last moment, touched his hand slightly to Dak’s wrist, then calmly guided the boy’s arm back and up, using Dak’s own momentum against him as the arm was twisted painfully behind him, causing him to drop the dagger.

Not willing to concede the victory to his sworn enemy, Dak stomped viciously behind him at the man’s booted foot, and the clank of metal told In that his friend had released the trigger mechanism on his boot, which meant that metal spikes were now protruding from Dak’s heel. The assassin, however, had anticipated the move perfectly, and while his victim’s foot was coming down, his own foot was already rising, and he let out a strong kick of his own, straight to the back of Dak’s knee, causing the boy to collapse to lose his footing and collapse, being only held up by the painfully twisted arm the man still held.

Out of nowhere a flash of metal appeared in the man’s hands as he put a short and slender blade to Dak’s throat. He began to whisper in his ear as he leaned close, “My quarrel is not with you, Dakidrae Alsinnon. Neither is it with Innidrek. In fact, if you would let go of your pesky vengeance I will let you live, and even help you. I believe that we can be mutually. . . beneficial.”

“Your words are poison assassin! Why should I trust a man who killed a noble king for a bit of coin? You ruined our lives for the sake of greed. You find my vengeance pesky? Then you’re going to love this!” Dak said triumphantly as he swung his elbow into the man’s side, a small blade sprung from the back of his arm bracer leading the way. To Dak’s horror the blade snapped as his collided with a solid piece of metal as it cut through the outer layers of the man’s clothing. He was rewarded with nothing more than a grunt from his captor. The realization of defeat settled in as he awaited his death for his treachery.

“You’ve got some nice tricks boy, but I’ve seen them all, and I am usually ready for them. If you are going to continue this foolishness, I might just have to kill you, but maybe you should take a moment and realize what Innidrek already has. My blade has still not fallen. Have you ever heard in those legends of me, of a time when I didn’t make my kill quick and efficient? If I intended to kill you, I would have done so before I even spoke to you,” the man replied as he suddenly released Dak and pushed him roughly toward the wall. He gave one last look toward the boy and then turned back to In, his smile no longer as imposing as the one he had given them before, though it still sent chills up In’s spine.

“You are the more reasonable one then? I suppose I didn’t directly kill one of your family members did I. . . No, Kesh was the only one I personally killed, and despite what you think, coin had nothing to do with it. I refused payment, but that is a story for another time I think, when Dakidrae is more open to understanding the world as it is. Do you want to get out of here Innidrek?”

In nodded slowly, though he remained very cautious in his stance as he replied, “Why do you need us? You seem far more capable than either of us in combat, as Dak is a lot better than I am. The Scavi aren’t aggressive, despite what Kobix said, so there must be something else out there, but I don’t see how we could be of any great help to you. Also, I am curious as to how you know exactly who we are.”

Chuckling, the man replied, his voice absent of humor, but still smiling, “I have spent most of my time in the capitol since the king’s death. Believe it or not, I love the city you boys grew up in. I cherished it greatly, especially since I practically grew up there myself. I, like you, was part of the underground, the shadow works. I often heard your names, In and Dak, repeated throughout the thief networks. Unlike most people, I had studied the noble families extensively, and knew of both Dakidrae and Alsinnon, and how they had not numbered among the dead. I have known who you were since practically the day you set foot on the streets, through simple observation. Why do I need you? I am not a thief, I don’t think like one, but the two of you are among the best there are. I don’t know if a thief is what I need to accomplish getting out, but I do know that more clear heads are better than one, and once Dak’s clears we will have three. Two fresh perspectives on figuring out what the hell is going on.”

In thought for a moment before questioning, “If all you were looking for was a fresher perspective, why didn’t you seek it out there among the others? There are thousands of people in that room that could give you more perspective.”

The smile finally faded from his lips as he responded in a flat tone, “You saw them. . . Did they look like they were trying to change their fate? Did it look like they were doing anything!? They were doing nothing but sitting. Nothing but rotting. Those people are dead, and they were dead the moment they gave up and huddled together in their pathetic masses, all listening to the damned fool Kobix, who I swear is there for no reason other than to bring the people down. You are the first two people I have seen venture further than a few feet into one of these tunnels, and I have been here for a few months, if I haven’t completely lost all track of time. You are the only perspective I am going to get that is worth my time. If you don’t want to help me because I killed Kesh Alsinnon, so be it. It will simply take me longer without you, but don’t expect me to help you if I find it.”

The man turned on his heels and started heading back into the tunnel, when suddenly a dagger flew past him and clanked against the wall. Turning around quickly the assassin assumed a combat stance that neither youth had ever seen before but one that earned both of their respects. It resembled a hawk prepared to dive upon it’s prey, as soon as it’s prey made a move. The hawk’s gaze settled on Dak who was slowly rising to his feet.

“I didn’t have to miss you know, now we are even. You spared my life when you could have killed me, and now I spared yours when I had the same opportunity. If we are going to work together, I refuse to be in debt to you. I will accept your alliance on one condition. Once we are free of this place you will face me in fair combat,” Dak stated with a tone that left no room for debate.

As fluidly as he had settled into the stance, the man dropped it as he nodded slightly. “I accept your conditions, though I hope you will reconsider before things are done. I have respect for you, and wouldn’t want to kill you out of your need for vengeance. Nevertheless, these terms are acceptable by me. Now, since I know you don’t want to be calling me Kesh, I will allow you to call me what my people call me. From now on, you may call me Prism.”

In nodded slowly and went to stand by Dak, laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder as he did so. He spoke for both of them as he turned to Prism and said, “Well then, I suppose we should start by you telling us what you know, since you are months ahead of the game.”

“Indeed, young Innidrek. Please follow me, but trust that should I sense malicious intent from either of you I will guarantee your swift death,” Prism replied as he turned back to the tunnel and started walking.

With a sigh from both of them, the boys followed, Dak only stopping for a moment to pick up his dagger and sheath it, knowing that if he didn’t he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from throwing it at the man, and getting them both killed.

Shadhaven Chapter 4

In and Dak found themselves alone again. It was no surprise to either of them, given the unsettling news they had received. They did not fault Daeni for wandering into the huddled masses in search of her children, and though they were disappointed that Joden had once again lost hope, they understood, for the situation was bleaker than either of them had anticipated.

It didn’t matter though, neither of them were the kind to give up, especially since they were working together. They were the team that had successfully pulled off some of the greatest heists in the history of their city. No one beat them when they were in unison, and they were always in unison.

And so began their own journey into the crowds, on a path that would allow them to observe those that were engrossed in their depression, often staring blankly into the glow of the crystals, and rarely speaking. There was no laughter, not even smiles, just despair. On occasion they would catch simple apathy, and as that was the best they came across, they began to mark those as the ones they would approach, once they deemed the time was right.

“I don’t get how people could give up this easily,” In suddenly asked, his voice barely above a whisper. “This many people working together ought to be able to do something!”

“I can’t blame them too much after that Kobix guy,” Dak replied, then hurried and continued as In gave him an incredulous look, “Not because there isn’t hope mind you, but he was less optimistic than a kick in the face.”

In nodded solemnly as he turned his attention back to the crowds. He continued to scan until it dawned on him that they were searching incorrectly. He grabbed Dak’s arm and started running toward one of the side tunnels, his slightly startled friend in tow. When he got to the mouth of the tunnel he abruptly turned around and stared out at the people before him. about two dozen were still watching them, though more than half simply turned back as soon as they realized that the boys had stopped running. Those whose gaze lingered on the duo In made sure to remember their faces as well as he could in the dim light.

“What was that all about?” Dak finally asked, not quite catching up with In’s line of thought this time.

“You see the people that watched us? Those are the ones we keep in mind for later. They are the ones that are awake.”

Dak nodded slowly and then clapped his friend on the shoulder and said, “You are smarter than I give you credit for, and I usually give you a lot. Way to go.”

“Thanks, but I was just following instinct, a trait I learned from you I believe. Now, I think I have another plan though, and this one is probably even crazier,” In replied, a smile slowly growing on his face.

“If it’s what I was thinking, then I am right there with you. Let’s find us a Scavi.” Dak had a smile of his own when he responded, and, knowing his guess was on the mark as he could see it in his friend’s eyes, he started down the tunnel.

In followed right behind, and both he and Dak drew their daggers as soon as they were outside of range of the glowpits. The wall crystals were still present, though the light was certainly dimmer, but it took the boys barely an instant for their eyes to adjust. They were used to stalking targets in varying degrees of shadow, and this was an easy setting for their skills.

They came to a crossroads of sorts, where three tunnels branched off of the initial one. Deciding to take the rightmost one, they continued only until they hit another fork before doubling back. Neither could hear each other move, and both were sure they knew how the other’s footfalls sounded, so when the sound of skittering feet was heard in front of them, it was doubtful it was anything but their prey.

Dak moved first, which was common for the pair, as he settled into a crouch before heading toward the sound. In was careful to keep a slight distance behind his partner, in case the older youth found it necessary to tumble away from whatever was ahead of them. It wasn’t but a few seconds later that they caught sight of what they assumed was a Scavi.

The creature was not much longer than In’s arm from shoulder to wrist, and seemed to have little bulk as well, as it’s entire structure seemed bony and thin, with it’s thickest section being the main body near the forelegs, which was only about as big around as In’s slender thighs. The ribs of the creature were quite visible, almost as if it were starving, though it didn’t appear to be weak due to it if that were the case. It’s hind legs seemed perfectly structured for jumping, and was in a position to do so when they first caught sight of it, though it did not appear to be aware of them yet. The head resembled something between a rat and a crocodile, though neither youth could tell which was a closer cousin, for though it was hairless like a reptile. it didn’t seem to have scales, and seemed to be moving with the energy that mammals were more commonly known for.

It didn’t look menacing at all to either of the youth’s. though they had spent some of their early years hunting sewer rats larger than this, just to survive. The only thing that even seemed threatening at all were the teeth, which definitely fit more with the crocodile theory. The sharp points certainly appeared as if they were perfect for rending flesh from bones.

Dak slowly approached it, and got within a few feet before it suddenly pushed off with it’s hind legs and jumped through the air, right toward his face. On pure instinct Dak ducked and dodged to the side, though the creature simply landed a few feet behind where Dak had been standing, which was right in front of In. It began to sniff the air, as In stood perfectly still, his dagger ready in case the Scavi made any aggressive moves. Neither knew what it was sniffing for, but it apparently didn’t find it as it made to jump again and headed beyond In into the tunnel.

Both boys waited a minute before they moved again and they began heading back the way they came. They didn’t speak, as both was taking the time to analyze their encounter. It had not gone the way they had expected, at least not based off of what Kobix had said.

“You are an interesting pair,” said a voice suddenly from behind them, back toward the Scavi, startling them as they turned, weapons bared. A humanoid form stood leaning against the wall, arms crossed over it’s chest. Most of it’s features were hard to make out, as it was wrapped in layers of cloth that resembled the desert nomads that had sometimes come to the city as merchants. The voice had been male, though they had been fooled before, so no assumptions were made as they made and kept eye contact with the newcomer.

“You are no less interesting yourself,” Dak finally replied, after making sure the man understood through his eyes that they were not afraid of him. “Who are you to sneak up on us? A very impressive feat.”

The newcomer sighed and replied, “Indeed, I was fairly careful with the two of you, though I have yet to see if your skills are impressive yet. You move well though, so at least I have a compliment for you. My name is irrelevant, I am a simple man, with very simple goals. I believe you share these goals, and so I have approached you.”

“What do you know of our goals sir? We have just met you?” In asked incredulously. He was starting to get irritated by the cryptic people he seemed drawn to today.

“I believe you wish to get out. I think that is simple enough. And I learned from observation. You haven’t exactly been keeping your voice down you know,” the man chastised as he stepped away from the wall and bowed toward the two. “For the time being, you may refer to me as Kesh. That was the name a person I once killed, so I might as well use his identity. He’s not using it.”

Recognition crossed both boy’s minds and suddenly fear crept through the cracks in their emotional walls. They only knew of one Kesh, and they knew the legend that surrounded the one that killed him. They had practically lived in the wake of that legend. Kesh Alsinnon was Dakidrae Alsinnon’s uncle, the former High King.

“Bastard!” Dak shouted before he pounced toward the man who had caused the revolution that had left he and In destitute. The revolution that had led to the deaths of everyone he had loved. In almost dove in right beside him, but something stopped him dead in his tracks.

The man called Kesh was smiling at them, and it was the most frightening thing In had ever seen.