CHAPTER II: SECRETS AND ARROWS

A NYBELMARIAN NARRATION

 
An Inconvenient Nephew   
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Introduction. The party of three Marmarrans continues their journey towards the Zhunite Desert. A secretive Ziron, Aristo appears to guard his past ferociously, before one member of the party becomes the target of a mysterious individual.
 

s day broke the party of three slowly made their way across the plains. Though the first light of this autumn morning had only just surfaced, oozing with reddish luminance as it took its proud place in the sky, the Marmarrans had been riding continuously from the City since the evening. It was almost unimaginable that such pure serenity would exist so close to the morally polluted City of Witches, but it was always the peace of the Zhun that made Marmarra such a disfiguring scar.

The dawn was cold, and it seemed to bring out the crisp reds of leaves that were still falling from the trees as the mellow light of Injera revealed them to ride-weary eyes of the travellers, the clack of their steeds’ hooves being the only sound which had kept some of them awake.

Aristo yawned with an enormous sigh.

‘Aren’t you tired Uncle?’

The scholar looked back in glowing refreshment with a chuckle.

‘What has there been to tire me? All I have been doing for hours is sitting on this fine creature’ he laughed, rubbing his hands through the fine, short fur of the Swiftfoot.

‘Besides, Aristo, despite the various commodities in which I may be considered wealthy, I am very short of time’

The three continued, with Mila still remaining silent, along their path, further toward patches of untamed forest that spiralled out of the tall, majestic grass that danced in the morning breeze

‘Master Decipher?’ Mila spoke, breaking the silence

‘Yes, Mila?’

‘To where are we riding?’

Decipher squinted his eyes as he traced his memory, as though he had almost forgotten his destination.

‘We are to navigate around the Dragon’s Back by a path North of the Broken Woods to the Zhunite Desert. There is a small property there that I maintain, we can stock up there and continue further on the journey’

‘To where, Uncle? Are we to stay in the desert indefinitely?’

‘Haha, no that would be far too simple! From there we approach the Inner Sea for a boat around the Kingdom of Orcal, they can be quite harsh when dealing with intruders! From there we will have a short journey into the Scepteres of Tarshiin and further up even then to the Kaerethi peninsula’

Aristo sat, waving slightly due to the movement of his steed, in shock. He had never left a few close streets in Marmarra’s inner ring that Venraius and Tisare had made his prison, and now he was being thrust from one side of Nybelmar to the other. While his confident façade disguised it well, there as a twinge of nervousness in the youth.

Decipher endeavoured to break the silence and wrestle Aristo from his thoughts.

‘So how old are you, Aristo? I have not seen you since your 5th birthday, and even then I was 15’

‘I’m approaching 18 Unc-‘

‘Hm? Your only 10 years old then your Nephew, Decipher?’ interjected Mila

‘Yes, Mila. He is my eldest sister’s son, who would be approaching 37, were she living’

Mila, in an unusual display of tact, gasped slightly.

‘Im sorry to hear that, what happened to her?’

‘She made an….’

‘Indiscretion’ interrupted Aristo

‘What does that mean?’ Mila continued to enquire

The two Zirons looked at each other, aware of a building tension that Mila was oblivious to. Decipher looked to Aristo.

‘Perhaps it would be best if Mila knew, she is after all, entrusted with my life. Secrets are little in comparison’

‘No!’ retorted Aristo sharply

A thin wooden shaft, tipped with a small, sharp metal head cut through the air as it approached the trio from a well-hidden source in the tall grass, hurtling towards Aristo at a lethal speed.

Mila immediately heard the slice of the air and turned to see the arrow, her mystically honed senses activating along with her protective instincts. Diving deftly off of her Swiftfoot toward Aristo, Mila, with the small Miraje finger blade concealed on her left hand, deflected the missile in one easy swipe. Contorting and rotating her body mid-air, at such a speed neither Decipher nor Aristo had even seen her move yet, Mila landed, crouched and vigilant.

The sun, now high enough to illuminate the entirety of the landscape, acted almost as a spotlight while Mila scanned the surroundings. As though time had suddenly caught up with them, the two Zirons, taken aback by the sudden explosion of movement that the Sanrier had exhibited, gasped as their hearts beat faster as they too tired to make sense of what was occurring.
‘An arrow…was shot’ ejaculated Mila, panting, still preoccupied with locating the would-be assailants.

Before the Zirons could inquire further Mila spotted a rustling as their attacker began to crawl away through the long grass. A small rustling, but detectable to her heightened senses. Sprinting at a speed so incredible it left a small vacuum of space behind as she departed, Mila rocketed towards her foe.

Raising her long, thin throatblade, and slicing aggressively into the long grass in a flurry of strikes, Mila disappeared in the clash. As the clippings of diced grass fluttered away in the light wind and settled elsewhere, Mila was revealed, standing over a dark silhouette, motionless on the floor.

With both men shocked at the speed of what had just transpired, appearing to them as an infinite number of violent movements in a matter of blinks, Decipher looked to his bodyguard, a short distance off the track still standing in the grass.

‘What was it Mila?’

She inhaled deeply.

‘I’m tempted to say an assassin…though his movements were too amateurish to be a professional, or at least a successful one’

‘What?’ he replied, confused

‘Oh. He’s a killer, definitely, but probably not much more skilled than a thug. He doesn’t have any markings of the orders I recognise, so nothing special. But he was hired for the task, it wasn’t of his own accord’

‘How do you know?’

‘He’s dressed in typically lower class attire, yet he has a full coin purse and a well-crafted bow with a full quiver. A poor man does not spend his money on weapons, and his gaunt frame suggests he was underfed as it was. However this raises more questions…’

‘What do you mean, Mila?’

‘Well, the payment for the kill is considerable. It’s a lot more than many would consider a fair sum to pay an untrained killer, probably picked up off of the street somewhere. And these weapons aren’t his; the employer gave them. So what we are left with is quite a wealthy man…or woman of course…who is happy to give large sums of gold and well-crafted arms away without really batting an eyelid.’

She turned from the corpse and walked back towards the others, now still atop their deer as they tried to make sense of the situation.

Decipher, still sat on his Swiftfoot, stared into the distance thoughtfully.

‘Who of us would they want dead?’

‘Well I don’t have any enemies, at least not any living ones’ remarked Mila

‘I don’t think I have a nemesis. I know Iyarii Galuri wanted some compensation for the accidental fire that engulfed his warehouse, but that bounty was set for capture not murder, and this man is a Zhuni-‘

‘But, Master, did you not pay the bounty back to Tarshiin’s guard already?’

‘Yes Mila, but the temper of Iyarii should not be underestimated!’

‘At any rate, Master Decipher, there is a small chance that an order on your capture only valid in a nation on the other side of the continent would be translated to a contract killing by an unrelated tribesman’

Both Marmarrans looked to the third. Aristo, now somewhat pale, perhaps from shock, had been silent since the short bloody interlude. Whether his nervous shiftiness was the result of his first brush with combat or an unresolved guilt, there was no way of knowing, but the youth was obviously absorbed in the situation.

‘Your nephew has no one who would claim his head, does he Decipher?’

Looking disapproving at Mila, whose sharp tongue had done little to sooth Aristo’s anxiety, Decipher answered.

‘His existence is only known to a few people, and they are sworn to secrecy, lest they befall a lethal wrath. It is an impossibility that he has even been introduced to enough people to turn them against him.’

He looked to Aristo.

‘Is this not so?’

The boy, his scared, young eyes set deep in his defined, adult face, stared back at his uncle agreeing.

‘Quite, Uncle…quite’

Mila, displeased by the secretive tone that the relatives shared despite the fact she had single-handedly saved their lives, looked accusingly at the Nephew.

‘Then it remains a mystery…I suppose’
 


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