Fate - First Reply Trapped in the Rain

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Aelita

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Maybe…” was all Aelita could say in response.

The sun remained obscured by the clouds. No road could be seen from the cave’s entrance. They were more or less northwest of the ambush site.

Stay close,” Aelita whispered to Soleil, “Keep your eyes peeled.

Aelita moved forward. Her head keep scanning side to side, up and down. Sometimes, she would stop or make a turn without warning – still going in the same general direction as before.

Rain continued to drizzle down.

Birds howled in the distance.

The sound of leaves could be heard as the wind rolled through the forest.

Then, the sudden, sharp jostling of a branch could be heard.

Aelita stopped and turned her gaze toward the source of the sound. Staff raised…
 
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Soleil Verdane

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That sharp jostling of the branch was intentional.

From all around Aelita and Soleil, they emerged. Perhaps the Fellowship's most deadly attribute was that they were one with the forest, able to effectively appear and disappear as though each shared a common sorcery, making fighting (or evading) them on their own ground a highly dangerous proposition. It made for little surprise then that the since the Fellowship's recent emergence, they had quickly become the leading cause of death for Anirian Guardsmen unfortunate enough to be in the Army of the East or the Army of the South.

Yes, they emerged. Where in one moment Aelita and Soleil were ostensibly alone, in the next they were completely surrounded by overwhelming force, the total number of elves present—with their weapons drawn, bows readied, and spells prepared—beyond what the eye could immediately and intuitively reckon precisely. Though it was certainly dozens and dozens of them, capable fighters all.

From behind Aelita and Soleil, the three Fellowship elves from earlier dropped down out of the trees. Curiously, they too looked surprised at the sheer number of their comrades which had sprung up in ambush—none of the three had any idea of their allies' presence. But the surprise was brief, and they quickly became part of the ranks of the ambushers.

Soleil looked around warily. The overwhelming force of Fellowship elves did not frighten her. Couldn't, for she was incapable of fear in any other context save the threat of rain or water. The rain was indeed the only reason why that small look of fright was upon her expression, but inwardly she was calculating what could be done.

One among the elves stepped forward calmly. He was beautiful to behold, ageless and handsome in that angular elven way, his long hair a brilliant blond not unlike Aelita's own, but his eyes were of a striking gold hue instead.

His tone was pleasant. Amiable, even. "Greetings, Anirians. I am Othellian Clear Sky."

He smiled. Pleasant, again.

"The Seer has ordained your presence before him." Neither of them was to have their blood be spilled, but this Othellian kept to himself. Instead, in his overbearingly warm and cordial way, he said, "What say you? The weather is quite foul out here, is it not?"

With the sheer odds stacked against them, Aelita and Soleil were hardly given much choice, and Othellian knew it.

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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When the first elf emerged, Aelita raised her staff as if to cast a spell. Yet more rapidly continued to appear. Aelita’s eyes widened with concern as the number surrounding Soleil and her became too great to even think about fighting them.

A glance to Soleil. The apparent fear on Soleil’s face reflected off Aelita’s eyes. She took a step closer to her ally.

Aelita clinched her jaws. Eyes bounced around as Othellian spoke. With their numbers and stealth skills, Aelita and Soleil likely would have been dead or captured if these elves wished such an outcome.

Yet, instead their received an invitation.

Still tightly clutching her weapon, Aelita tersely replied to Othellian, “We’ll follow.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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"Splendid!" Othellian said, dangerously affable.

Another Fellowship elf came up behind him and slipped a pair of cuffs into his waiting hand. Soleil recognized the design of the cuffs (and likely Aelita might as well) and eyed them warily. They were nullification cuffs, albeit of elven make, but serving the same purpose as any other of their kind. Cuffs of this sort had been used in the torture sessions Soleil endured back in the old way, for when she was affected by anything which nulled her magic her Sandform body returned to one of flesh and blood. And yes, she knew what it was like to bleed. She knew it well.

Othellian stepped forward. Offering the cuffs to them as if they were gifts of fine jewelry.

"And here you are. Might you each be agreeable and put these on? I will apologize here and now for any discomfort, of course."

"Why?" Soleil asked. "Why cuffs?"

Not used to Soleil's manner of speaking, Othellian nevertheless got the gist of her question. "We want to keep things civil between us, yes?"

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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Aelita eyed the anti-magic cuffs. Soleil was not the only Initiate subjected to these types of restraints. They served as a surefire way to handicap an Initiate and drive them to act without using magic as a crutch.

After hearing Soleil question the need for the restraints, Aelita took another step toward her ally. She leaned over.

In an almost mumbling whisper, Aelita asked, “Any other ideas?

Soleil saw a bit of Aelita’s magical repertoire already. However, the two hardly interacted with each other prior to this day. Aelita’s knowledge of Soleil would have been limited to rumors.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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"Us? Bad times," Soleil said in response.

In her case, the rain was an incredible impediment. Dispersing into Sandform would only see her constituent parts all waterlogged and pinned to the ground. Worse, Soleil knew implicitly that being soaked in water, whether dispersed as a cloud of sand or in her imitation body, for too long would have a fatal consequence. And this was to say nothing of all the Fellowship warriors, archers, and mages staring them down.

There was only one option: awaiting their turn.

Soleil reached out, a suppressed groan of pain rumbling in her throat as the rain sprinkled on the thin sleeves of her jacket and through, and she took one of the pairs of cuffs from Othellian. She clamped them on, staggering back as they took effect, fidgeting and convulsing for a moment as her Sandform body transformed back into one wholly human, one comprised of flesh and blood. Gone was the pain of the water, but in its place came that nauseating and disorienting sense of withdrawal.

"Wonderful," said Othellian. And to Aelita, "And you?"

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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As Soleil visibly shuddered after donning the cuffs, Aelita frowned out of concern. She watched the transformation through the end.

And then when it was her turn, Aelita silently strapped her staff upon her back and accepted the restraints. Just as Soleil had done, she secured them on herself. Her reaction was far more muted compared to her ally. Aelita opened and closed her hands several times. Nothing happened beyond that.

Looking back to Othellian, Aelita asked, “What now?
 
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Soleil Verdane

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"Now we get out of the rain," Othellian said cheerfully.

The tension lowered somewhat among the ambushing company of Fellowship elves as they emerged from their spots of cover and their spots of vantage. They were not lax, but with the cuffs on the Dreadlords and the situation under control they made ready for travel. Othellian, Soleil, and Aelita were all at the center of their formation.

Soleil did as prompted, following along after Othellian. It was hard to think, hard to focus, when her magic was disabled and she was back in her flesh and blood body. She could feel the pulsing of blood throughout her veins, the weight of her muscles on her bones, each breath invading actual lungs, feeling more acutely all of the little things which normal people with their normal bodies hardly noticed. To them it was nothing. To Soleil it was alien.

So with this, it would be difficult indeed to spot opportunities for escape. She would be relying on Aelita heavily. And this made her even more uncomfortable.

"Indulge me, if you would," Othellian said. "I have always wondered what they say of us, our merry Fellowship, at your...what is it called?...Academy. Anything interesting? Anything fun?"

"Y-You? Elf. N-Not much d-d-different. All the s-same." Soleil's speech was shivering and sloppy, as if she were both cold and drunken. Of the former, yes, she very much was cold—something while in her Sandform body she didn't have to worry about all that much.

"Really? But we've been trying so very hard to garner your special attention." He seemed to be enjoying talking to them, unlike the three other Fellowship elves from earlier. To Aelita he said, "What about you, hmm? Maybe you've been a butterfly on the wall at just the right times in just the places, hearing some colorful profanity cursing our names? Something of the like?"

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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Aelita followed along with Othellian and the Fellowship elves. She kept close to Soleil. She offered a glance every once and a while to gauge her ally’s condition. Soleil’s discomfort failed to remain hidden from her view.

Meanwhile, Aelita attempted to discretely examine the cuffs she wore. She never maintained the career of an escape artist, but she looked for anything obviously weak in the build or runes to scratch out to disable the anti-magic function.

After that, Aelita’s eyes began wandering. She looked at the other elves, the trees, the way water flowed on the ground down and down.

When asked about how Anirians viewed the Fellowship, Aelita looked up toward Othellian. Soleil answered first. A direct response. It fell in line with the usual rhetoric in the Academy: Falwood elves are the enemy, and the Fellowship is just more of those elves. Initiates need not know a more complicated narrative.

But what Aelita latched onto was, “What do you know of the Academy?

Neither Soleil or Aelita had previously introduced themselves as initiates.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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Othellian smiled and cocked his head. "A little this for that? Oh, I'll oblige. Now, what do we know of the Academy? Well, firstly, we know where it is. But don't look too shocked, this has been known for a long, long time. The real problem is figuring out what goes on inside those walls."

Othellian shivered for effect, showing off his enthusiasm. "I'd love to have a peek one day. Maybe when we liberate it I will. I've always wondered: just what exactly do they do to you in there to rob you of your souls? I suppose that whatever it is, it must be very effective on children. It would explain why you...Initiates, yes, that's the word you use...are all so young."

Othellian walked in front of Soleil and Aelita, backpedaled so he could face them, and he rubbed his hands together vigorously. "Are you as excited as I am?"

"F-For what?"

"Why, to see how much you're valued by your own people!"

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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Othellian talked. A lot.

Aelita’s eyes continued to glance about in between the enthusiastic elf’s sentences. Occasionally, a raindrop would land in her eye. She would break away from her observations to awkwardly wipe her face.

During all of Orthellian’s words, Aelita kept a rather calm demeanor. Though, her jaw would appear to tense up every once and a while. An eye twitch here and there. Furrowing of the brows. Especially after Orthellian’s most recent sentence.

Is it ransom you seek?” Aelita asked.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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"The ransom is merely a byproduct," Othellian said cheerfully. "While the gold will go far to supplying our cause, we've always wondered just how much Vel Anir values its Dreadlords. I even have a friendly wager going with an esteemed friend of mine. He's a big softie, thinking your overlords care enough to see you saved. I, on the other hand, think the powers that be in Vel Anir care not one jot nor tittle about you. There certainly seems to be an endless supply of Dreadlords, so why should they? That's how you Anirians tend to think: ruthless pragmatism to a fault. So you're nothing to them, really. Slop in the trough."

Othellian flung his arms out wide. "But! I don't want to dismay you too much. We've a few hours of walking ahead of us. Do holler if you need anything."

And with that, Othellian stepped off toward the front-center of the Fellowship formation.

Soleil, disoriented and woozy as she was, nevertheless glanced left and right at the elves around them. No escape in sight.

To Aelita she said lowly, "Y-You? See o-other surv-v-viors?"

She didn't know just how many Guardsmen or Dreadlords or Initiates made it out of the ambush.

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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Othellian’s answer, if even somewhat truthful, gave Aelita crucial information: a clear reason for why their lives remained valuable to the Fellowship.

And an opportunity to maintain that value should the Dreadlords not entertain the demands for ransom. A possibility for sure, but even two Dreadlord Initiates were an expensive loss in both sunk costs and future potential.

One question lingered, though.

Why does their sage care about hostages?

Yet Aelita asked no more questions as Othellian walked away.

Looking over to Soleil, Aelita saw her appearing nauseous. She eyed her ally’s footsteps – watching out for any slips due to the recent rainfall.

Then a question about the other survivors. Aelita’s eyebrows furrowed.

Extending her arms, Aelita first quietly told Soleil, “Use me as support.

Regardless of Soleil’s response, Aelita took a few more seconds before answering her question.

I saw others,” a low voice told Soleil, “Initiates, too. We couldn’t stick together. If one made it back... reinforcements may come soon...

A hopeful guess.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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Soleil did not hesitate to use Aelita for support when prompted. Perhaps she would have even without such prompting, yet the fogginess in her mind precluded many a coherent thought. Aelita's warmth, even with their rain-soaked garments on, had a pull all its own, for in it was the relief to Soleil's shivering hypothermia.

"G-Good," Soleil said of the possible reinforcements, her voice kept equally low. "Want k-kill elves. But r-run if c-c-can't."

She kept up the effort to walk, and furthermore to walk in a straight line. On several occasions her feet found awkward purchase on the forest floor, or her legs crossed haphazardly in front of one another, but with her arm around Aelita and Aelita's arm around her she was kept mostly steady.

"N-Normal body? Don't like. F-Feels weak," Soleil said, voicing her vexation over the flesh and blood body she had with her magic disabled. "You? How s-s-stand it?"

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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As Aelita offered, she acted as support for her ally. Arm wrapped around Soleil as well. Aelita occasionally shivered as well. She struggled to even have a slight grin when speaking to Soleil.

When she could make the conscious choice, she frequently made extra movements – the lifting of an arm, twist of the torso, and more – just in the hopes of maintaining some heat.

To answer Soleil’s question, Aelita quietly told her, “This... is the only body I have.

Not many in Arethil could have malleable body compositions such as Soleil’s.

No choice but to live with it,” she said between her heavy, tired breathing.

A crack of thunder slowly rolled above. No flash preceded it. Since they left the cave, the rain softened significantly. Maybe if the two Initiates had remained quieter, the cave would have been fine, and the Fellowship trackers would have missed them.

The hike continued. Aelita would converse with Soleil to keep her ally occupied if needed. Even if Soleil remained quiet Aelita would keep an eye out for any sudden changes in her ally’s behavior. Hypothermia could set in unexpectedly.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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THE HIDDEN ENCAMPMENT


The sky above was still gray, though the rain had at last ceased. The dimness of early evening was beginning to settle in among the myriad trees and undulating landscape of the Falwood.

And, whether it was this dimness of the fading day or the denseness of vegetation or both, it seemed as though the formation was walking along in a tract of wood much like they had been for hours...until they weren't. The Fellowship encampment, all of its tents, were covered in camouflage made meticulously from the available materials of the forest surroundings, making each difficult to spot until one was nearly right on top of them. No fires could be seen, for all of them were concealed in clever holes in the ground to hide their light whether they were inside or outside the tents.

To Soleil it was much like a dream, how it one moment the dream is in one setting, and in the next it shifts indescribably to another. The disorientation, the wooziness, in her flesh and blood body was unrelenting.

The formation dispersed among the other Fellowship elves already at the camp. Othellian led Aelita and Soleil over to the camp's center. He turned over a chopped log, making a crude seat for them, and gestured down to it, "Please! Make yourselves comfortable. It will be but a moment. The Seer will be delighted to see you, and I'm sure will waste no time."

Othellian left, presumably to fetch this "Seer" or perhaps for some other reason. Regardless, with so many elves among the camp, so many eyes, there was little choice.

Soleil gingerly went to sit on the log. And to Aelita she said conspicuously, "I'm c-cold," and leaned into her, snuggling her head into the other girl's shoulder.

And her mouth close to Aelita's ear.

Mustering all of the available focus she could in her disconcerted state, Soleil whispered as quietly as she could while trying mightily to not move her lips: "If g-good chance...bite off my thumbs. M-Me? Slip out of cuffs."

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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As dusk settled, Aelita and Soleil finally arrived at the hidden Fellowship camp. Aelita’s eyes widened at the sudden change in scenery – with tents and elves surrounding them as if they just materialized.

As they approached the camp’s center, Aelita took the time to do a quick scan of her surroundings. How many tents? How many elves? At least, as far as she could see.

In addition, Aelita attempted to gain any information she could from the forest. What side of the trees did moss grow? Now that the rain had stopped, there any sounds of water that could be a stream? Hills or mountains within sight?

If they happened to escape, this information would be useful to report.

At Othellian’s gesture, Aelita took a seat at on the log with Soleil. When Soleil leaned over and said she was cold, Aelita was about to wrap her arm around her shivering ally before she heard her whisper.

Wha-“ Aelita started.

Live thumbs are difficult to bite off.

I-is that fine?” Aelita asked.

For a normal body, the blood loss from such an act could be deadly with how rough the weather and journey has been.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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"Yes. No c-cuffs? Sandform. Get thumbs b-b-back."

There were dangers. Aelita might not be able to bite through the bone, even with the strength of adrenaline; she might not have time to do both thumbs. Soleil, in this weak body of flesh and blood, might pass out from the pain before she regained her Sandform.

"You? Do your b-best."

But they had to try.

Soleil, with her eyes only, glanced about the Fellowship encampment.

"All timing," she observed. A lesson she had derived from careful observation of the world, one not just applicable here but all throughout her life. Consequences could be negated with careful timing. And you could get what you want with little to no resistance.

They might be surrounded now, but they just needed to wait for that perfect time.

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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Silence answered Soleil. Aelita closed her eyes. She took a deep breath.

After a few seconds, Aelita’s reopened her eyes and took her arm away from Soleil. She awkwardly reached down to check her pouches.

Within one, Aelita carried a knife. It fulfilled the purpose of a hunting knife – meant to quarter prey Aelita may need for sustenance on the journey into the Falwood.

For whatever reason, the Fellowship declined the opportunity to deprive Aelita and Soleil of their physical weapons. Her staff remained upon her back and the elves never searched their pockets.

Of course, that could change at their will with the approach of the seer. The hunting knife would be trivial to find if the search happened.

Okay,” Aelita whispered, “I’ll try to warn you.

Now, with both of them in the center of the camp, would be a case of poor timing for Aelita to attempt this plan. She had no choice but to wait – for the seer and a chance to attempt this gamble.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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At last, the Seer came.

From around a few of the camouflaged tents did this preeminent elf approach, a large procession of Fellowship warriors (Othellian among them) flocking around him. The Seer was taller than every elf in the entourage surrounding him, easily standing at over seven feet in height. His eyes were hidden behind an ornate blindfold, yet if they were available to be seen there would be no doubt that they would be as majestic as the rest of his presentation. His robes, white and with golden trim, had depths of intricate design which seemed endless to the eye; his hair, bright silver, shined like the metal itself in the glow of the sun; the very air around him seemed to hum with power, to subtly warp to his will, as if to be in his presence Arethil itself bowed before him. Such was the unworldly aura he exuded.

A vanguard of Fellowship warriors broke off from the procession and went toward Aelita and Soleil. They roughly forced the two Dreadlord Initiates down to their knees and held them firmly there as the Seer approached.

Soleil looked up as the Seer stood before her first. She wanted to kill him. She wanted to kill every elf in this camp. The impulse beat in her chest to the rhythm of her heart, urging her to do it. But she did not. Keen awareness of consequences is what allowed her to prosper, even if her impulses could be strong.

The Seer reached down and touched a large hand with slender, beautiful fingers to her forehead. His palm was delightfully warm.

The Seer spoke purposefully in Common, his voice enchanting in its allure. "Thy birth was flawed, yet see how this flaw became perfection; the clay has molded itself before the potter could ever lay hands upon it."

All of the elves, in unison, chanted a brief response in Elvish, Fellowship dialect.

Then the Seer lifted his hand from Soleil's head and moved then to Aelita. He placed his hand similarly upon her forehead.

And this is what he said:

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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Aelita’s eyes turned to the giant Seer as he emerged. Eyes widened at the sight of the freakishly tall elf. Likely only a handful of Anirian warriors could match the Seer’s height.

Then, some Fellowship elves stepped forth to force Soleil and Aelita to their knees. Adrenaline coursed through Aelita’s blood. Her heartrate quickened. It would have been noticeable to the warrior keeping her down.

No one still informed the two Initiates what their Seer wanted from them.

With a confused look on her face, Aelita watched the Seer place a hand upon Soleil’s face. Then the Seer spoke. The Fellowship followed up with some of their own.

And then the Seer turned to Aelita and placed a warm hand upon the cold, shivering Initiate.

And this was what he said:

Thou art more than light. Wield the gravity in thine heart, or live in a future of one of the most dark ones.
 
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Soleil Verdane

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Again, the elves in that same unison chanted their brief response in Elvish. The Seer turned from Aelita and Soleil, said something in Elvish to Othellian, and then with a large portion of the entourage began to walk back from whence he came. Soon he was gone.

Othellian faced the two Initiates. Clapped his hands together in that cheerful way. Said, "Splendid, wasn't it? The Seer is always interested in individuals, be they friend or foe. All part of a greater mosaic; the most intriguing part of said mosaic is, of course, in the deciphering of how each of the pieces fit together. Many things have a shape, but lack definition, you see."

He nodded to the Fellowship elves holding down Aelita and Soleil, and they raised the two Initiates up to their feet. "You will have plenty of time to ruminate on all of that. We must wait for the response from your precious Republic, you see. But! You won't be lonely. Let us go and meet your friends, hmm?"

Soleil's head cocked slightly. Friends? Even in her woozy state she had a portion of her mind to spare for confusion.

* * * * *​

A few minutes worth of navigating through the large Fellowship encampment, and Aelita and Soleil were brought into a long tent. The inside was dim with the scarce light of the pitfire, and, to Soleil's surprise, three other Initiates were all being similarly held inside: Hargrave Numor, Gianni Hemlocke, and Joel Schmidt, all of whom having been on the ill-fated mission along with her and Aelita, Gianni and Joel both from the class lower than them. They were cuffed as well, and Fellowship elves stood behind the three as they sat.

Othellian greeted the three elves in Fellowship dialect. A brief conversation was had, and then Othellian, with a beaming smile and final glance to Aelita and Soleil, turned and departed from the tent. The two elves guiding Aelita and Soleil along sat them down next to Hargrave, Gianni, and Joel.

"Y-You too?" Soleil said.

"They got me in the battle," said Joel. Surprising. He was known for being weaselly, an escape artist who could get out of any harrowing situation.

Gianni tried hiding it, tried to seem nonchalant, but that wasn't rain dotting her brow. It was sweat. "I was...tracked down. I didn't have a chance."

The elves minding them didn't seem all too concerned with their small talk.

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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A bewildered look took over Aelita’s face in response to the Seer’s words.

No words answered Othellian as Fellowship elves took Soleil and Aelita away.

Once brought inside the tent, Aelita felt the warmth of the pit fire. She took a deep breath in relief. Then, she spotted three familiar faces. She did nothing until the elves sat Soleil and her down in front of the fellow Initiates.

With a tired smile, Aelita told the three other Initiates, “It’s good to see you’re all alive.

Aelita attempted to recall their specialties, if possible, such as how Joel could escape with relative ease.

With there being five initiates for ransom now, the value of Vel Anir accepting the ransom grew. But, Soleil and Aelita had no control over the decision.

Aelita’s eyelids grew heavy now. She still maintained enough consciousness to ask, “How... how long have you been here?
 
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Soleil Verdane

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Joel, as it so happened, was good at escaping not from his magic—an unimpressive level of sensory distortion—but from the mundane fact that he was a contortionist and quite light on his feet. Hargrave could shut down someone else's magic and paralyze them by locking eyes with them. And Gianni was a standard elementalist in lightning magic.

"Four days," Joel said, he of course having been captured during the battle itself. The mousy Initiate sounded disappointed.

"Two days," Gianni said. And then she nibbled on her bottom lip.

"One day," Hargrave said. He out of the three seemed irritated, either that he got caught or that he had to wait for the Fellowship to do what they were going to do. Or both.

Soleil glanced over to Aelita. "Us? W-Waiting."

She did not think often of the workings of the Republic. Some of it occasionally was pertinent to her interests, but often it was a distant factor. Now it was central. And Soleil thought official deliberations over what would be done would take a long while.

Soleil again nestled her head into Aelita's shoulder. Remarked, "Waiting is d-d-dull."

At least it was warm inside the tent. Warm and dry. Tempting rest.

Aelita
 
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Aelita

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Three initiates of average ability. One caught by tracking.

Aelita gave a glance over at their elven minders.

Then looking back at Joel, Aelita replied with a tired, “Four days... I’d lost track...

Soleil rested her head upon Aelita once more. She heard Soleil’s words. But with a look to her hands, Aelita saw and felt that it took great effort just to open and close a fist at the moment.

Not an ideal condition to run.

Weighing the options, Aelita turned her head slightly toward Soleil.

Dull, yeah... But one night’s rest,” Aelita softly told her.

A suggestion for some more waiting.
 
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