The Darkfordian Chronicles: Wind - Part One
Somewhere, in a dark corner of the Haunted Woods, sits a Lupe huddling in fear; not fear of neopets or beasts, but of what the consequences of his actions might be. Should he make but one slip of his quill, the glorious history of his family could be besmirched forever.
You simply must start, he told himself. One way or another it must be done.
Reluctantly, he gave in to his own demands; setting his quill to the parchment, his thoughts flowed into words, words flowed into life ...
A young wind blew through the Eastern Gate of Sakhmet, in the heat of the day it was welcomed by the city dwellers. But the wind was seeking someone in particular and so headed for the practice arena of the Sakhmetian Army.
In the arena a young Moehog was being taught by an older Sergeant. In the heat, beads of sweat rolled down her neck and claimed her shoulders. But the heat had never stopped Kaseem from doing her job and doing it well, today would be no exception.
"No, no. Toby, you hold it like this," she said, adjusting the red Moehog's grip on the standard Sakhmetian army issue scimitar... for the eleventh time in as many minutes. The Moehog complied, saying "Oh, r-right. Sorry, Sergeant Kaseem. I'll remember this time for sure."
Toby was known officially as Tobias the Bold, son of one of the most respected and revered generals in the Sakhmetian army, General Tobias the Forceful. Unfortunately, Toby seemed to have inherited all of his Elephante father's largeness and strength, but not his reflexes and agility. This had caused many problems for Toby, who had come to be known as Tobias the Blundering by his many peers. Toby had broken the record for "Most Mentors in the First Week of Training," not an accomplishment. The army's last hope of getting him trained (and not having to inform the famed general about his son's complete ineptness) was to hand him over to Kaseem.
To date Kaseem had never failed them. She had managed to teach the thickest skulled, laziest and least talented Sakhmet had to offer. But there were stirrings...
Had never failed them... until a few days earlier when she had handed in her official letter of resignation, a full forty years ahead of the acceptable time. Of course, it was possible to resign without fifty years of service, but no one had expected this from Kaseem. She was loyal, bright, swift all the things a young Sergeant could hope to be if they wished to move up in the army. With so much potential, what had made her chose to leave after only ten years of service? It was known that she had been speaking to the Sakhmetian Council more than usual as of late, but no one really knew what was going on. And they wanted to.
Toby was as curious as the next neopets, and so on one of their many (many, many) water breaks, Toby broached the subject.
"Go on. I don't bite."
"Well, ma'am. Some of us got to talking last night and ... it came to pass that your name came up and... Are you really leaving? Ma'am."
He added hastily, "Because I'm only just scraping by with your help and father and I'm sorry you have to deal with me and if it's me I can tell him and it's not your fault I'm the failure and you shouldn't have to leave because I'm untrainable and-"
"Hush!" the older Aisha rebuked. "You most certainly are trainable, why just think of all we have accomplished today!" Her smile warmed him in a way the sin could not. She had that way with others.
"Then... Why ARE you going?"
A deep, gusty sigh.
"Toby... I – I'm facing a," she floundered for the right word, "a transition. Yes, that's it. A very difficult transition in my life just now. And I'm beginning to realize that I may not be able to stay here, in Sakhmet, any longer."
Her weak smile was met with a dumbfounded stare.
"Toby, you know how the mages are always chosen at only years of age?"
He nodded slowly, not really sure where this was going.
"Well, when... someone, develops magical abilities later on in their lives it can... present a danger to others."
She knew the instant it was out of her mouth and onto the Moehog's face that all of Sakhmet would know of her secret by tomorrow afternoon.
"You're a mage? But, no way! You're way too old to develop magical abilities now!"
He was thinking of everyone he had to tell, she could see it by the look on his face. Maybe he really isn't Sakhmetian army material after all, she thought grimly.
"Well, I agree. But reality is unyielding. And my reality is very dangerous to myself and others. That is why I'm leaving."
The next day she discovered she had been wrong about Toby.
Everyone knew by the next morning.
Well, at least it caused the board to accept my resignation more swiftly than they may have, she thought to herself as she hurried through the once friendly streets. Now there were whispered conversations around every corner she turned.
Besides, she tried to console herself, they were nice enough to give me my earned pay PLUS a generous bonus!
If only the bonus had been given less like a bribe to leave the city. But she was in no position to refuse it, and so she trudged toward the North Gate of the whirlwinded city.
The whispers felt like sandpaper on her worn soul. How could the entire city be turned against her in only one night? And for something that wasn't even under her conscious control.
Kaseem knew the answer. She was not a native, had not been born in Sakhmet or even in the desert. And so she had always been an outcast to them. No matter how many battles she won for them, no matter how many recruits she trained, and no matter how many times she put herself at risk to save them, she was always an outcast.
And so when she had needed them most, needed the love and support of the community she thought she had become a part of, they had turned on her, the outcast, without a second thought.
At least now I know, she thought, trying to remain positive.
There were many options for where she could go now, but as she exited the city, finally making it past the last clinging scraps of gossip, she continued to head due north. The closest, easiest to tread road to the Haunted Woods was a day's travel away. When she reached the edge of the desert she would find the small little know camp where she could rest and change into sturdier clothing before heading into the Border Lands, the immense wasteland that stretched between the Wood and the desert. She wondered if there would be a similar camp at the other end of the little used trail. Attempting to summon some of her old memories, she thought back to her childhood.
Growing up in Darkford was an... interesting experience, to say the least. Very much the center of commerce and politics in the Woods, she had seen if not met some of the most fearsome creatures of the Woods. The Darkfordian's kept to themselves and the other woodsmen kept mum about the metropolis, which was probably the only reason other areas of Neopia did not send emissaries there. If they knew the sway that the Darkfordian Council had over the goings on in the rest of the Wood, it would have been nothing but wise for them to stay in close contact.
She had traveled through the Woods and the Border Lands before, when she had first come to the Lost Desert. Unfortunately, she had missed the camp the first time and only learned of its existence later, when she was in the army.
As a result of missing this all important rest point, Kaseem had stumbled into Sakhmet completely threadbare and exhausted. The journey was a long one by foot, and she couldn't afford the price of an eyrie cab that might make the arduous length much easier.
It would be weeks, if not closer to a month before she made it to the center of the Wood, Darkford. But once there, Kaseem would be able to locate just about anyone in the entire Haunted Woods. The vast web of connections was familiar to her, despite years of absence, she was sure that she could tap into it to find what she was after.
If only I knew what I was looking for, she inwardly groaned.
The wind picked up, and she had to pull her scarf more securely around her face as well as concentrate more on her footing.
At least you left the rumors behind, she tried to think positively. But that small, persistent voice in the very back of her skull murmured, And everything else you've known for the last seven years...
Unknown to Kaseem, the wind that had found her in the arena followed her still, merrily gusting along next to her as she exited the city. Ready for adventure.
To be continued...