Rise of the Dawn


Shanza's clothes lay strewn across the floor in crumpled heaps as if they'd been flung down in haste and carelessness. His jewelry, beaded necklaces and bracelets, hair scarves and ornaments, anklets, earrings, all had been tossed about the room and were sprawled in a scattered mess. Many had shattered or unraveled; lone beads were rolling about in masses with the ships rocking movement. The cabin floor was covered with Shanza's bright, colorful possessions, a carpet of gauzy cotton and silk. Shanza couldn't breath as he stood aghast, his breathe pushed from his lungs the moment his eyes had fallen on the sight. He was frozen, numbed with horror, and as he surveyed the rest of the room he nearly collapsed in disbelief. Had it not been for Zethus supporting him, he probably would have.

"Lord Chazarle Halaire. Whatever is the meaning of this?" Zethus demanded darkly, right hand straying to his sword hilt, his eyes piercing the bent figure. Caught in mid action, Halaire had petrified and now resembled a thieving statue, his motionless right hand clutching a handful of Shanza's bed covers, the pillows already tossed to the floor, his left hand paused in its searching. Snapped from his shocked state by Zethus's growled words, Chazarle jerked into a straight position, dropping the blankets. Shanza swayed beside Zethus, who kept a sturdy grip around his waist, holding him up, his other hand resting on his sword. The Methrian was stunned speechless and could only stare at the aged Thanobian noble in shock.

"Thea. If you would kindly step out of my way-" Chazarle spoke briskly, hurriedly tucking something into his vest as he moved, hoping to mask the action. Shanza's keen eyes however, had caught sight of glinting silver just before it disappeared behind folds of cloth. And he had a good idea of what it was. "I was searching for something of mine… I'm finished now."

"I'm sure you are." Zethus glowered, thoroughly unimpressed. "But you didn't find what you were looking for, did you?" He snarled menacingly and remained in front of the doorway.

Meanwhile, Shanza regained his senses and was looking about in dismay. So many of his belongings had been ruined. Utterly destroyed. Those thoughts continued, fear shot through Shanza so strongly that his stomach clenched in a knot and he went white with fright. His eyes darted around the jumbled cabin franticly before resting on a round-edged, rectangular box, shimmering black in color with gold edging. There were no apparent openings, making it look like a tiny stand or stool, only the length of one forearm across and the span of a hand for the width. Relief flooded him and once again, Shanza had to steady himself against Zethus. Halaire hadn't managed to open it, nor had he even recognized it for what it was. The case may have received a few bumps, as it was now tilted askew on a pile of clothes, but its contents would have remained undamaged.

"The least you could do is try and make up an excuse. It's obvious you've been ransacking. And don't give me that crock about looking for something of yours. What'd Shanza do, steal it from you?" Zethus queried sarcastically.

Chazarle, who seemed to lack the smallest inkling of an imagination, gaped like a dying fish and declared, "That's exactly it, he stole something from me!"

Zethus's face remained impassive and he let his eyes sweep the room coldly, noticeably eyeing the gold jewelry spread everywhere, his actions speaking for him. Shanza had no reason to steal, let alone from an old, washed up Thanobian.

Sliding past Zethus, Shanza entered the small cabin and carefully tread to the black case. Stooping as they both watched him warily, Zethus protectively and Halaire nervously, he rose and cradled the box gently, as if it was a child in his arms.

"Is this what you were looking for, Lord Halaire?" Shanza questioned softly, his voice inquisitive. He then let his right hand trail along the top while he whispered an incantation inaudibly, murmured words that billowed and blurred like the smoke of a smothered candle twisting and dissipating into nothingness. Lifting his hand and falling silent, Shanza locked eyes with Halaire.

A line stretched along the middle of the box, dividing it into two halves, then as if it had always been in two pieces, Shanza effortlessly lifted the top away. Within it rested two matching gloves made from solid silver, which when worn would stretch from the knuckles to elbows. Set into each palm was a great sapphire stone, surrounded by small alabaster gems.

To Zethus, they were the simplest evira he had ever glimpsed. Many who held the Gift decorated their weapons from fingers to elbows in extravagant jewels, showcasing their prowess. In comparison they made Shanza's look plain and bare. Chazarle's reaction was much different, his gaze became rooted to the box's contents and licking his dry lips, he rubbed sweaty palms down his thighs.

"I-I don't know what you're talking about." Halaire stammered, his voice hoarse and cracking.

Standing amid his thoughtlessly damaged things, Shanza felt anger stirring behind his curiosity. He began to think that it didn't matter at the moment why Chazarle had broken in, what mattered was that he had harmed his possessions without even apologizing. In fact, the old scab was trying to blame his actions on Shanza, accusing him of stealing something! Perhaps it was the proximity of his evira, but Shanza's fingers began to itch and burn.

"What did I steal from you, Lord Halaire?" He challenged calmly. Sweat was trickling down the side of Chazarle's face and running down his temples, making the old man's wrinkled skin glisten.

His throat bobbing as he replied, the noble choked out, "A-A trinket- a family heirloom, it was passed down from my father. Now if you don't mind, I'll be leaving." The old man faltered as he told his story, sounding as though he was creating the tale as he went.

Zethus snorted in disbelief and irritation, then folding his arms across his chest and straightening his back, filled the entire doorway. He had no intention of budging for the sniveling liar.

"Really?" Shanza inquired with mock curiosity, eyes widening innocently, "But you must wait for a moment." Flicking his head to emphasize his point as he spoke, Shanza continued, "I'm afraid I haven't seen this treasure, nor did I steal it. I would never dream of doing such a thing. Perhaps it was misplaced?" Sharp green eyes shifted to steal Zethus's gaze for a conniving moment before they flickered back to Chazarle. "If it has gone missing, I'm certain Zethus and myself won't mind helping you search for it."

Following a sudden thought, Shanza absentmindedly pulled his evira on, balancing their box under his arms while fitting the cool metal against his skin. He watched Halaire's reaction from beneath lowered lashes; the Thanobian had caught his breath and froze, his wrinkled face twisting into a mask of loathing and contempt, fear burning in his dark, beady eyes. The fright and agitation that had been tensing Shanza's muscles and swarming his thoughts vanished immediately, as if caught by a gusty breeze and carried away. He felt only his anger and power. Masses of power.

If it so pleased him, he could paint the cabin's north wall with Chazarle's innards in the time it would take the gray husk of a man to blink. Rage rising for a moment, Shanza mulled over the thought. If he were a Gifted with little conscience his only argument against the action would be that it would make a hideous mess. Fighting down his vengeful musings, Shanza refused to give way to the somewhat desirable but reckless idea. He would not let his power get the better of him, as sometimes, such things had a mind of their own.

He did relent minimally however, and satisfied his anger a little by drawling out flatly, "There is the question, however, of my destroyed belongings." He dropped the glimmering black case, letting one piece hit the floor and the other tumble down a pile of torn clothing to then scatter loose beads, which rolled noisily along the floorboards. Gaze following the spinning remains of his jewelry, Shanza watched the last of the beads still before slowly gazing at the shorter Halaire.

Chazarle's expression was drawn and rigid, terror stirring behind his resolute demeanor. And he appeared to be too frightened to speak. A cold edge sneaking into his voice, Shanza stated, "I have not even received an apology." He waited expectantly for several moments, eyeing the silent Thanobian lord as he swallowed and sweated wordlessly.

Zethus watched as well, and although he was struggling to stifle blazing anger, he was beginning to find things amusing in a sickening sort of way. Relaxing a notch, he allowed himself to lean one shoulder against the doorframe. Chazarle was extremely exasperating, and had it been up to him, the lying scum would have been thrown off the ship's deck a long time ago. But it was Shanza's decision and he respected the young man's remarkable composure. Speaking of the Methrian, he was still patiently eyeing Halaire, arms crossed over his chest, the evira glinting dully.

"At the very least an apology is in order. Personally, if I were him," Zethus jerked his chin at Shanza, "you'd be sniveling and polishing my boots with your tongue just about now."

Those gruff words seemed to wake the noble from his stupor and Chazarle rebuffed in a shrill, depthless voice, "I have nothing to say!" Turning to glower at Zethus he snarled, "And don't think you'll get away with those words!"

Then on top of all his atrocities he swiveled back to face Shanza, stepped towards him and spat on the blond.

Chaos erupted immediately after: Zethus roared and threw himself at the gnarled lord as Chazarle shrieked at Shanza, spewing more spit as he screeched out, "That's what I think of you and your godforsaken Methron! That's exactly what you are, you-" He didn't get to finish, as Captain Thea's strong arms caught him and hurled him to the ground just as he was pulling a shimmering knife from his vest. The two of them toppled to the ground, Halaire's spindly arms snaking around Zethus, hands clawing, trying in vain to tear at Shanza, the dagger still clasped in his knobby, age spotted hand.

Shanza, who had been wiping the spittle from his cheek with the side of his palm before Chazarle leaped at him, gripped Zethus with his power and wrenched the heavy man back, off of the scrawny Thanobian while yelling, "Zethus, No!" Zethus fought against his power valiantly, wriggling and twisting, but got little reward for his struggles, as he didn't move an inch.

During the scuffle the warrior had managed to free his sword and was still trying to strike the wheezing, collapsed Chazarle.

"Shanza, he just tried to kill you! And for mercy's sake, he SPIT ON YOU!" Hollered the enraged Captain. "RELEASE ME THIS INSTANT!"

Expression pained, Shanza pleaded, "Zethus, I can't, I really-" Breaking off, he pointed at his recovering attacker and ordered firmly, "You, get out." Then deciding to hurry the old mans exit, he gathered his power and hurled the Thanobian from the room, slamming the door behind him and sealing it. Let Halaire crawl away on his own. Freeing Zethus immediately, Shanza slumped to the bed and let his head rest in his palm, listening while the furious warrior wrestled with his locked door.

"Open it, Shanza!" He demanded, wrenching on the handle.

"No, Zethus. Please calm down." Shanza refused tiredly, feeling drained.

"Shanza." Zethus growled, stressing the syllables of his name.

"I won't open it until you've cooled." Shanza stated decisively. In response, Zethus gave the wood a final thundering kick before turning to examine Shanza carefully. Face set crossly, thick brows furrowed, he once again crossed his arms over his chest and glared down at the younger man as if a father displeased with his son.

"You should have let me kill him." Zethus spoke after a pause.

Shanza shook his head and returned, "No. You know you can't kill him. It would mean your death if you harmed him, he's far too high on the political ladder." Zethus knew it. He was a mere soldier, far less important than Halaire, a noble close to the king. "Even if you did plead that he had been trying to attack me it would be a precarious thing. I am an outsider with menacing abilities and you are a warrior, whereas he is a known, respected man of wealth."

Faced with the raw truth, Zethus relented and sheathed his sword, grumbling inaudibly. Shanza took the time to pull his arms out from the evira and placing the weapons in his lap, rubbed at his cheek while grimacing faintly.

"He's going to get away with this dirty business, then." Zethus scowled after a few seconds.

Looking up at the pacing man, Shanza's face lightened, not quite a smile and he retorted, "I'm not always going to be an outsider." Zethus glanced at Shanza sharply, then gave a soft breath of a laugh. He was exhausted as well.

"Put it on your list of things to do." The larger man advised, smirking.

"I plan to. Right after my wooing of Ikeda, in fact." Shanza admitted then scrubbed his forehead wearily. He scanned his room despondently, trying to access the damage and realized dejectedly that it would take him hours to clean the shambled mess.

Zethus seemed to reflect his thoughts, as the tall warrior advised, "Let's wait 'til morning to deal with this."

"Oh, Zethus, it just about is morning." Shanza moaned, then blinked and jolted into a straight position, his evira tumbling from his lap. "My goodness, I didn't even think about it! You must be sleeping on your feet by now." Fingers groping to catch the silver gloves as they slipped past his legs, Shanza tried reassuring Zethus distractedly, "I'm fine, don't even think about worrying- you should get some sleep, I think I've kept you up long enough already." He waved one hand along with his words to try and emphasize what he was saying, but he only succeeded in dropping his weapons again.

"Fine, hm?" Zethus speculated sarcastically, his eyes trailing Shanza's efforts.

Blushing from the remark, Shanza stood up, his gloves in hand and faced Zethus silently. The Captain scowled at him and declared, "I don't think you should be left alone. Especially after that bastard Chazarle tried to kill you."

"I'm not sure he was trying to murder me, that's quite an extreme…" Shanza belittled weakly.

But he was countered fervently by Zethus swiftly, "That is exactly what he came in here to do, don't you dare think that murder wasn't his intent! If I hadn't tagged along he would have attacked you the second you stepped in." Pausing to point accusingly at the evira, he continued, "And with you not wearing those, he most certainly would've succeeded in causing some damage, if not killing you!" Whirling, Zethus spread his arms, indicating the jumbled cabin as he fumed, "Why do you think he was skulking about in here in the first place? He was obviously waiting and I imagine he was looking for those-" Zethus nodded at Shanza's gloves, "to make sure you couldn't fight back! Not only that, but the place looks like its been looted by pirates! No doubt he meant to blame your death on one of us soldiers. It could have been all too convenient." Taking a deep breath, he finished, "He's not the only one behind this either, don't trust any of those ambassadors."

Wide-eyed and aghast, Shanza stared at Zethus quietly, absorbing the harsh truth. Sinking back down to the bed he dropped his head into his hands and whispered, his voice muffled, "Is everyone against it? Things seems so futile already."

Sighing and softening, Zethus sat beside Shanza and awkwardly placed one battle-scarred hand on the other's slim back. It was peculiar: he could vaguely feel the curve of the younger man's spine through his thin shirt, the cotton garb loose against smooth skin.

"You're tired and you're in no position to be thinking straight. I promise you, things aren't as hopeless as they seem. Arcanus may very well be a pleasant surprise for you." Zethus comforted and was relieved as Shanza twisted his neck to glance up at him trustingly.

"Did you say 'pleasant?'" He inquired playfully, a slow grin sliding across his lips. Retracting his arm, Zethus used the same hand to rub his wiry beard while he pretended to think.

"Why I believe I did!" He exclaimed with a smile.

"That's the best news I've heard since I was told about the peace plans." Shanza admitted, rising to his feet, having recovered some of his composure. Smoothing his wild hair from his face, Shanza closed his eyes to give them a rest, as they were growing sore and tired from lack of sleep, along with glaring into the water's winds all day. "I'm feeling much better." Turning, he treated Zethus with a determined glower. "You are not going to stand guard all night-morning." He corrected himself while declining the Captains unspoken thoughts. Zethus, however, didn't think much of that idea.

"You shouldn't be left alone, what if he returns to finish the job? I'll sleep on the floor, that way if he tries to sneak across the room he'll bump into me first." Zethus smirked at the thought, unconsciously gripping his sword hilt.

Shanza's mouth dropped open slightly and he retorted indignantly, "You are not sleeping on the floor!"

"I've slept on worse." Zethus stated derisively, but Shanza was adamant.

"I will not have you sleeping on the floor-nor in this room! It won't be comfortable at all." Placing his hands on his hips, Shanza met the others glare head on. "You ought to go to the sleeping quarters and get some rest before everyone on the ship starts their morning routines."

"I don't want to leave you defenseless." Zethus retorted in a grudging tone. A little more needling and he would yield.

"Defenseless?" Shanza repeated, brows lifting in incredulity. Hands still perched on his hips he queried, "Shall I toss you out the door like I did Lord Halaire?" Allowing a shadow of a smirk to lighten his expression he teased, "Or perhaps you'd like to open that door yourself?" Imitating Shanza's posture, fists against his sides, Zethus stared him down before quivering with soft laughter.

"Alright, alright." He caved reluctantly. "I'll let you get some sleep, I'll leave. But you listen here, you had better lock this door good and tight after I leave, or you'll have more to fear then those wimpy nobles!"

Nodding in acknowledgement, Shanza twisted his arms back into the evira and cautiously treaded his way to the door. Stopping a step from it, he raised his right hand and let the sapphire stone swirl to an icy color briefly. He then lowered his arm, the gem once again a brilliant blue. Zethus watched him in quiet curiosity before striding to stand beside him.

Grasping the door handle, he glanced at Shanza and spoke seriously, "I'll get some of the boys to come round later and help you clean up your things. I expect to see you well rested and healthy tomorrow…well, later today." Scratching his chin again, Zethus smiled slightly, stating, "It's been an interesting evening. Sleep tight and don't dream of withered Thanobian nobles." Chuckling weakly, Shanza shook his head.

"I'll try not to. Good night, Zethus." He didn't bother trying to get the time of morning-night-whatever straight. "You have my thanks for very possibly saving my life."

Grinning, Zethus yanked on the handle and stepped forward, answering, "All in a day's work my young friend, all in a day's work." Now that he was out in the hallway, Zethus surveyed the area critically, tired eyes narrowed. "It seems the worm managed to slink off." He commented flippantly and turned his searching gaze on Shanza.

"You know, in Thanobia we have a name for those that have the Gift. It's numa, and it's a respectable title, one worthy of admiration." Shanza stilled as Zethus met his eyes thoughtfully, "I think you will be an exceptional model of what a numa can be." With a final farewell nod, Zethus quietly pulled the door shut behind him, leaving Shanza to stare blankly ahead in stunned bewilderment. Zethus had said both 'respectable' and 'admirable,' referring to someone who had the Gift… a numa. Thanobia must be quite different from Methron. In his homeland, the vast majority of people detested and feared the Gift: they thought it to be an abomination.

With a shake of his head, Shanza locked the door once again and mournfully looked at his strewn belongings. Stooping, he grasped a long nightshirt and lifting it from the floor, shook it halfheartedly, trying to shake out the wrinkles. Folding the thin cloth over his arm he began to make a path to the bed, gently pushing clothes and trinkets aside with his feet. Plucking the pillows up he tossed them back onto the bed, then unclasped Kaezik's cloak and hung it on a convenient hook to his right. Stepping out of his creased day clothes, Shanza yanked the nightshirt over his head and kicked his sandals off, shivering as his feet met the cool floor. Folding his soiled clothes he placed them by his feet then tucked back the bed covers and climbed in, sighing as his back hit the sheets.

Curling onto his side, head turned away from the muddled cabin, he drew the blankets to his chinand shuddered.

Zethus had been right. If the warrior captain hadn't been with him Lord Halaire would have attacked and although Chazarle was a gnarled old man, Shanza wasn't skilled at all in hand to hand combat. He would likely have been injured or worse. He didn't carry any weapons and the only protection he had was the Gift. If he didn't wear the evira he was helpless, he hadn't the faintest idea how to use any other kind of weapon. Few people who had the Gift ever had any amount of skill with blades or other defenses. They spent most of their efforts cultivating their immense powers. Shanza's stature alone was enough to determine that he would make a poor swordsman, too slim and lacking the solidity of great warriors.

Tucking his knuckles into the base of his neck, the metal evira cold against his chest, Shanza let out a shaky breath as he absently stroked the jewels on his palms with his thumbs, mindful of the torn skin beneath.

He had been a damned fool. He had put so much at risk and it was all because he was an ignorant, brainless twit. He had wanted so badly to believe that even the worst characters had some good in them, but in the end he was just disappointed by his ridiculous dreams.

Hiding his face in his arms, fingers clenched in his hair, eyes squeezed shut, Shanza willed himself to sleep and welcomed the merciful darkness.

Shanza had awakened late into the morning, nearly the afternoon in fact, and so he consequently missed breakfast. But no matter, it left him with plenty of time to spruce up his appearance before lunch was served. As one would imagine, there was neither space nor means for a full bath on the ship, so the passengers and crew had to make due with a tiny closet of a washing area. Not that Shanza thought the sailors used it, as their hair was greased enough to slick the entire deck.

The cramped space made scrubbing his own locks extremely difficult, being fairly tall it was a marvel he managed to wet his mane at all, soaking it in the shallow bowl which sat at waist height took a good deal of maneuvering and elbow bumping. However Shanza was clean and feeling wonderfully refreshed, although he may have obtained several bruises that morning alone.

Padding quietly down the rocking hallway, wet locks tucked into a loose braid, he decided to search out the warriors. Hidden beneath the deep sea blue sleeves of his shirt, the evira hugged his forearms snuggly, chafing against water-softened skin, reminding him of their presence constantly. There hadn't been any further disturbances that night, not that Shanza was aware of in any case, but he didn't feel confident enough to roam around defenseless. As Zethus had warned, Halaire might be crazed enough to try again.

First knocking on the soldiers quarters and receiving no reply, Shanza waited silently for several seconds before gently pushing the door open. The long, narrow room within was lit dimly by only a few candles spotting the walls, revealing swaying hammocks. Occupied hammocks. Treading closer to the sleepers, Shanza paused in confusion, eyes trailing up the row of beds. Why they weren't sleeping at all!

Miyaz was slumped limply and groaning lowly, her eyes shut tightly. Beside her Kinfe and Zan looked much the same, slung flaccidly across their hammocks, oblivious to their surroundings. At the end were Kaezik and Zethus, the latter snoring peacefully while Kaezik gripped his head, expression pained. Just as he was about to rush to his soon-to-be brother-in-law's side, Kazethe and Tovah strode through the doorway, light illuminating them before the door swung shut. Kazethe raised an eyebrow at him, eyes squinting as they adjusted to the darker room. Tovah gave him a polite nod in greeting. They both seemed perfectly healthy.

"What's happened to them?" Shanza inquired worriedly and was met by Kazethe's wry chuckle.

"They've got no sea-legs, that's what's wrong with them." He explained.

Tovah embellished, "They are ill from the ship's movements."

His eyebrow's lifting, Shanza was quiet as he surveyed the bed-ridden warriors before responding, eyes bright, "Why I didn't even think of that, how foolish! I've got just the remedy for them."

Features skeptical, Kazethe retorted, "Have you? What is it?"

Opening his mouth to answer, Shanza was beaten by Tovah, who chided, "He is not going to poison them, Kazethe. Have a little respect." Kazethe scowled at the larger man but had no response.

Pulling on a dangling silver earring of which he had been lucky enough to discover the pair, Shanza confirmed, "It's perfectly safe. In truth it's just a herb drink made to ease the stomach." He didn't mention that he'd added a bit of his own touch to it to ward off dizziness and headaches as he doubted Kazethe wouldn't like the sound of tampering, so he conveniently 'forgot' about that little factor.

"How long will it take you to brew it?" Tovah asked, his deep voice rumbling like thunder overhead.

"Oh, not long at all! The powder's already prepared. With some hot water it should only take a few minutes." Nodding again, Tovah glanced at his still grimacing comrade, face neutral.

"Thank you for your offer, I believe we'll take you up on it." Tovah decided solemn as always.

Smiling at the two, Shanza cheered, "Alright then, I'll go and find it."

Biting his cheeks momentarily, Kazethe glanced between the taller men before stating, "I'll go with you."

Shanza flushed, remembering the state of his room with a wave of embarrassment and tried to dissuade him, "That's not necessary, don't trouble yourself." This merely prompted Kazethe to narrow his eyes suspiciously and harden his resolve. Beside them, Tovah shifted and ordered, "Let's go."

Shuffling into the corridor, Shanza led them reluctantly to his cabin and releasing the lock with a masked breath of power, he let his door swing open. Kazethe stopped short, completely appalled, causing Tovah to nearly clobber him, the large man not expecting the others sudden halt.

"What in the name of the Gods happened here?!" Kazethe demanded, gaping as he surveyed the mess. Tovah hadn't viewed the room yet, seeing as he was still stuck outside in the hall. Lowering his head to poke it past Kazethe he peered in, his eyes widening a notch.

"Um, there was an ah- an incident late last night. Zethus- he um, he didn't say anything?" Shanza stuttered, blushing furiously.

Snorting at him, Kazethe countered sarcastically, "No, he didn't say anything."

Tovah somehow managed to squeeze his way past Kazethe into the room and he carefully placed his feet down, mindful not to step on anything precious.

"We have not spoken to him since yesterday evening. He returned while we were asleep."

"Yes, of course. " Shanza agreed, shaking his head. Flicking his damp braid over one shoulder he gazed about uncertainly, remembering that he had to find the remedy and not having the faintest idea where it might lie. With a soft sigh, Shanza began sorting through the scattered mess of what may have been his herb collection.

"So what exactly happened last night?" Kazethe demanded, leaning against the doorframe, twiddling with a long knife. Shanza was in the midst of inspecting a small glass bottle of crushed roots for cracks and finding it satisfactory he tucked it safely away into a near box.

Lifting a tiny bag of fine white sand he placed it beside the roots with care before answering vaguely, "Oh, well, there was just a little bit of an intrusion, one of the nobles found himself in a place he shouldn't have been in, you know how those things happen." Shanza waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, not wanting to create a ruckus. Kazethe stopped his fiddling, the knife still between his skilled fingers, expression severe and serious. There was no use trying to skim over the facts with this particular warrior.

"One of the nobles did this? What were they doing mucking about in your room?" Kazethe's eyes widened as he realized the implications, not needing an answer, his battle-skewed mind making the connections. "And Zethus, the bastard, he didn't even say anything! We should have posted a guard, dammit! What if this noble had come back?" Kazethe paused and after a moment to consider inquired shortly "This man, is he still alive?"

Shanza nodded honestly, "Oh yes, he's probably strolling around the ship as we speak."

His grip on the dagger slipping in incredulous bafflement, Kazethe exclaimed, "You must be lucky to be alive! What in the name of the Gods is wrong with Zethus? He's been an idiot!"

Shanza smiled to himself and speculated calmly, "Oh, I'm not too sure about that…"

Kazethe huffed and eyed Shanza critically before snorting derisively, his face painted with disbelief. Thankfully he held his tongue for once and did not add further comment, contenting himself with weaving the knife through his fingers in exaggerated boredom.

Running his fingertips along the floorboards, Shanza brought them to his nose and sniffed experimentally, coughing as an overpowering scent flooded his nostrils and choked his throat. Dusting the chalky brown specks away, Shanza momentarily mourned the loss of his spices, now spread crushed across the room. Getting back to the task at hand, he scooped visible wreckage away, wary of the glass shards and smiled in triumph as he spotted his quarry. Setting his load aside, he carefully pulled the elongated bottle from the floor and rotated the glimmering green glass, light dancing along its smooth sides.

"It looks to be unharmed." Shanza announced, brushing grainy crumbs from his clothes as he stood.

Tovah nodded and moved from the cabin, inquiring, "How do you plan to clean your things?"

Grasping his herbs, Shanza stepped into the hall and locked the door behind him, responding humorously, "Very slowly. Although, hopefully, I'll think of something."

Kazethe scowled and offered grudgingly, "If it's too big a job you'd better get us to help. No one will mind."

Shanza chuckled at that, and Kazethe's face darkened at his response, the warrior adding, "It's not that I won't 'mind,' per say, it's more of an obligation you see, with you about to be a king and all."

"Of course." Shanza agreed, still smiling knowingly.

Slipping back into the warrior's sleeping quarters, the stomach-churning smell of the sick accosted their senses and Kaezik immediately jerked back, clasping a hand over his mouth as he gagged in reflex.

"It's worse than a sty!" He exclaimed in a muffled voice, refusing to breathe through his nose, as he was thoroughly disgusted. Kazethe then volunteered hastily, "I'll get the water." Without waiting for a reply he swiveled and escaped out the door. Shanza coughed into his hand and fluttered his fingers, releasing a spell that cleared the room of the revolting stench. Tovah, noticing the odor difference sent Shanza a curious side glance but said nothing, leaving the Methrian to wonder whether he guessed of his power or not.

"Someone must have been sick while we were gone." Shanza concluded nervously. He then made his way to Kaezik, who was sitting up and rubbing his temples. He smiled weakly as Shanza approached and sat opposite him, welcoming in a faint, hoarse voice.

"Hello, Shanza."

Speaking slowly and quietly, Shanza returned, "Good afternoon, Kaezik. I have a drink that could have you feeling hale and hearty again, if you are willing to take it." Smiling graciously, Shanza added, "I promise not to poison you."

Kaezik's eyes cleared from their glazed state, attentive with interest. He straightened and eagerly agreed, "I will adore you for the rest of my life if you can save me from the danger of expelling my supper all over my feet, thank you ever so much. I'm not worried you'll poison me, I'll leave that to the Thanobians on board."

"Sick and still witty." Shanza noted, laughing softly while stroking his chin.

Kaezik offered him a drained grin and continued jesting, "You know, I probably have been poisoned and that's why I'm here moping, worried about vomiting all over myself."

"You can stop worrying. Kazethe has gone to get the water."

Kaezik huffed and mused, "Likely he'll poison me."

Laughing again, Shanza glanced at Zethus, who was snoring contentedly, his face peaceful.

"Perhaps we should wake him?" Shanza inquired, leaning closer to the Captain.

Gripping his aching head, Kaezik muttered lowly, "Alright, but I'm not going to do it."

Eyebrows furrowing in puzzlement, Shanza rose to his feet and crept to the Captain's hammock. Just as Kaezik had turned and opened his mouth to warn him, Shanza placed a hand on Zethus's shoulder and called, "Zethus?"

But no sooner had the word been spoken then his wrist was abruptly grabbed and twisted, his back suddenly pressed against the ship's frame, a sharp sword tip kissing his slim neck. Green eyes wide in surprise, Shanza concentrated on not swallowing before meeting Zethus's sleep tinged gaze.

"Whoops, sorry bout that." Zethus apologized, lowering his sword immediately, the fog of drowsiness lifting away.

Rubbing his throat in relief, Shanza smiled shakily and returned, "It was entirely my fault. I suppose I learned my lesson. Never tap a sleeping warrior, they're much more dangerous asleep then awake."

Chuckling, Zethus ran a hand through his ruffled hair while taking a look about the room and sighed, announcing, "That was a great snooze. Now what's gotten into these sorry excuses for soldiers? They're sprawled all about like a bunch of potato sacks." Sniffing in mock disgust, Zethus eyed Kaezik, who was white from fright, standing rigidly, and slightly green from seasickness.

"Well? What's your excuse?"

"By the Gods, Zethus! Be more careful!" Kaezik reproached angrily, "You just about chopped Shanza's head!" Shanza gave a choked cough at that while Zethus rolled his eyes and huffed out an annoyed expel of breath.

Ignoring Kaezik for the moment, Zethus turned to Shanza and commented, "It's a good thing you're wearing those, or I might've snapped your skinny wrist." Indicating Shanza's evira, hidden beneath his sleeves.

"What are you talking about?" Kaezik demanded in perplexity, completely oblivious. Shanza tensed a little, wary of revealing his abnormality. But Zethus didn't seem concerned in the least, in fact the older man was quite relaxed.

"He means these." Shanza rolled his sleeves up, allowing Kaezik to gaze upon the evira. Kaezik was quiet, his attention rooted to the dully-glimmering metal. His throat suddenly gone dry, he had to clear it before responding.

"You're not what I expected a …numa to be like." Shanza's eyebrows lifted and Zethus's sharp eyes watched them from beneath bushy brows.

Shaking his head ruefully, Kaezik admitted, "It was foolish to think that you were without a weapon. After all, you were chosen to be a king."

Shanza pulled his sleeves back down in anxious discomfort, as if covering a terrible scar and tried to smile lightheartedly. However both the revealing of his Gift and the reminder of his future were extremely sobering subjects.

Noticing his distress, Zethus clapped him on the back forcefully, nearly pitching him into Kaezik while he declared, "Well, whether he's a kitchen maid or a numa, he's got my confidence. He's an awful good chap, Kaezik. Why just in the past day I've nearly killed him twice and you don't see a mark on me, do you?"

Scowling, Kaezik retorted smartly, "Then you probably deserve a bruise or two." Zethus shrugged hopelessly and agreed with a smirk and a nod. "Besides," Kaezik continued, "just because you're a numa, it doesn't mean you're out to do harm. Actually, I'm having a hard time picturing you using the Gift, let alone attacking someone. It seems odd." After his decisive speech, Kaezik's color grew greener yet and he sat down abruptly.

Watching him swallow tentatively, Shanza rubbed his hands together unconsciously, wondering if he had heard his soon-to-be brother-in-law correctly. Finally deciding his ears hadn't made things up, he glanced curiously between Zethus and the sickly Kaezik.

"You two Thanobians are unlike anyone I have ever met." Shanza marveled aloud.

"Thank you." Zethus answered readily.

"That had better be a compliment." Threatened Kaezik, massaging his cheeks.

"It is." Pausing, Shanza heard the door swoosh open and clasping his hands in delight, fought the urge to pat Kaezik in reassurance. Kazethe had returned with the water and was sniffing the air as he treaded cautiously to Shanza. "Excellent, has it been boiled?"

"It's still steaming." Kazethe retorted, wrinkling his nose at smelling nothing while handing Shanza the kettle and pulling cups out from under his arm. Noticing Zethus, he greeted roughly, "I see you're awake, Captain."

Zethus nodded at him and spoke to Tovah as the dark man approached from the other side of the room, "Why I didn't even see you over there. Should have said something." Tovah shrugged and pretended not to notice as Shanza blushed furiously. He had forgotten all about the other warrior. Clumsy in his embarrassment, Shanza reached for the herbs and missed his pocket before landing his fingers around the smooth glass.

"Right. If you could fill a cup with water that would be…" Zethus obeyed instantly and was finished before Shanza could complete his sentence. "Ah. Thank you."

Accepting the cup, Shanza deftly uncorked the bottle and proceeded to cautiously shake finely ground, dun colored grains into the water. Zethus handed him a spoon to stir with, and after several seconds to let it dissolve, Shanza lowered the mug to Kaezik, instructing, "You'll have to drink all of that, but not in one gulp. Be careful not to scald yourself." He warned, and waited as Kaezik peered at the murky contents before sipping experimentally.

All four of the surrounding men watched him silently. Kazethe's fingers clenched one of the cups at a near shattering strength, expecting to see Kaezik keel over at any second.

Puckering his lips before grinning at them, Kaezik announced, "Tastes a lot like mint tea." The cup Kazethe had been strangling nearly smashed to the floor as his muscles relaxed, the tension releasing like a cracked whip. Repeating the process for the remaining three ill warriors, Shanza let Kazethe and Tovah have the honor of treating them, not wanting to face a sick, snappy Miyaz.

Ten minutes later had Kaezik on his feet with his skin back to its normal darkly tanned state and a satisfied grin plastered across his face. Zethus and Shanza then accompanied Kaezik back above deck at his request, as the youngest Keftalar had claimed he'd turn into a troll if he spent anymore time in the dingy dark.

"By this time tomorrow we'll be in Thanobia." Kaezik confirmed with a sigh of contentment, the wind fluffing his blond hair. "We're lucky we've had such excellent time." Grinning wickedly he added, "Fortunate also that pirates didn't decide to ambush the Majestic and make off with my brothers betrothed."

Zethus snorted at the idea. "Forgive the boy, Shanza, Kaezik has had a fixation on pirates for as long as I've known him, which is an entirely too lengthy space of time." He remarked wisely, receiving a light laugh from the Methrian.

"I don't mind. It might be exciting to sight pirates." Shanza speculated.

In response, Kaezik cackled, "Yes, I wouldn't mind seeing a few of these nobles thrown overboard." Still grinning wickedly, Kaezik rested his elbows on the rail and peered into the sea. Shanza was certain he was picturing Halaire and Gruhaniv sinking down into the depths of the icy waters, weighed down by their thick cloaks and heavy ornaments.

"The problem about any sea travelling is the dead time. There's absolutely nothing to do. I've spent the most boring hours of my life aboard ships." Zethus exclaimed, scratching his short beard.

Slipping an escaped lock of hair back into his braid, which was whipping about like an attacking snake, Shanza suggested, "I've something to do and it's not going to be fun, but it must be done." Zethus squinted at him.

"Eh? What's that- Oh yes, your things are still be strewn across that cabin."

Swiveling to rest his back against the rail, Kaezik sent them a perplexed look and asked, "What are you talking about now?"

Frowning in the realization that Kaezik hadn't been told and would likely be angry, Shanza began to explain once again, "Well, you see, last night one of the nobles seem to have-er, lost himself and ended up in my room. My things also, somehow, seemed to jump out and attack him, so naturally he was forced to defend himself and destroy half my belongings."

Laughing grimly, Zethus nodded his agreement and continued, "And who was found amid the wreckage? Chazarle Halaire." He stressed the noble's name, scowling harshly.

Kaezik was suspiciously quiet and Shanza saw him bite the inside of his cheeks, his fingers curling inwards to form fists. He opened his mouth several times to speak, but at each attempt he would clamp his lips down in anger. Relenting and shaking his head, knowing he was powerless to do anything, Kaezik could only grind out, "My father will hear of this."

Shanza's fingers fluttered nervously and he was about to object when Zethus cut him off, suggesting, "Why don't we go organize that war site of yours, hm?" Caught in mid action, Shanza relaxed and gave him a thankful grin.

The rest of the afternoon was spent clearing his room with the help of the gratefully healthy warriors. It went relatively uneventfully, if one ignored Kaezik's roars of rage upon entering and occasional snarls of anger as they discovered ruined belongings. After a quick supper, which had unfortunately been served in the same quarters as the nobles they returned to their task. However during the tense meal Kazethe had bent three knifes, stabbing them into the table and then twisting unconsciously, and Kaezik had barely eaten half his plate he was so distracted with glaring at Lord Halaire, who coincidentally also hardly touched his food.

At last, late that evening after Zethus had sent Shanza to bed on strict orders, the room swept up and spotless, the Captain met Kaezik up on deck.

The warriors fit form was silhouetted in the bright moonlight, a gentle breeze sporadically catching his shirt and making it balloon out.

"Kaezik." Zethus greeted, stepping up beside him and following the young man's gaze across black waters.

"It's strange." Kaezik stated, then embellished, "With Shanza."

Zethus hummed in understanding and inquired, "What did you expect him to be like?"

With a short burst of a laugh, Kaezik admitted boldly, "I'm not sure, but not what he is."

Zethus was silent for several seconds then commented off handedly, "I was worried before I met him."

Kaezik glanced at him and sighed, "So was I. Mostly for my brother, though, I think." Zethus nodded gravely, folding his hands into his pockets.

"They must be so scared." At Kaezik's questioning glance he continued, "Ikeda and Shanza. They may not seem it, but they must be positively terrified. Huge responsibility will rest on their shoulders. Not only do they have to work out peace and keep it, but manage this arranged marriage business as well. They have my most profound sympathy." Kaezik listened attentively and gave a dry, bitter laugh when Zethus was done.

"I used to be jealous of him, you know." Kaezik sighed, "He seems so perfect, especially to everyone else. I always felt as if I was scorned and then ridiculed after the mess with my mother… I thought I should be ashamed that I wasn't a 'hero' like he was." Zethus looped an arm over his shoulders and squeezed comfortingly. He sometimes forgot how young Kaezik really was.

"You, Kaezik, have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. And as for your brother, he's not perfect. He's probably got more issues then even you. He just buries them, which is no solution at all. That's why I'm glad Shanza's come. There's something about that Methrian, and it's not for me to trust so readily, but…" Zethus trailed off, unable to explain. Kaezik let his silence agree for him and they stood quietly, deep in thought until Kaezik sent Zethus a grave look.

"Ikeda's not going to be happy about Shanza being a numa. And that's a mild way of putting it." Zethus sighed heavily, knowing he was right.

"He'll have to see past the Gift. It'll be tricky." Mulling hopefully, Zethus concluded, "I'm sure things will work out, he'll accept it eventually."

Reflecting, Kaezik shook his head and whispered in complete disbelief, "I can't believe he's a numa!" Zethus chuckled and once again stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"Believe it. I was witness to it last night and let me tell you, he's not wearing those evira for decoration." Kaezik shook his head, still not able to fathom the idea.

"I can't believe it, he's so…not what I expected a numa to be like. Obviously I've never met one, but they're supposed to be real nasty people who'll do anything for power. Shanza doesn't really rub off on you that way. I half expect if someone asked to take his power he'd step aside and let them have it."

Zethus chuckled, then grew serious and warned, "Don't underestimate him, Kaezik. When you've got the power you're either dead, or you're the biggest, badest, most powerful Gifted around."

Kaezik peered at him from the corner of his eye, "Shanza?" He demanded simply in answer.

"Perhaps Shanza is an exception, I've heard myth of decent ones. In my own experience, though? They'll kill children just to steal power from them. It should be called 'the Curse' instead of 'the Gift.' What kind of gift makes you a slave to power, to killing and greed? I've seen niekh that needed power like they needed air to breathe, it's all they could see, smell or taste. By the Gods, parents are so horrified when they discover their children have the Gift that they leave them out to fend for themselves and so be it if the body should rot on its own without even a burial. Shanza is unlike any numa or niekh I have ever encountered, but his life has not been without hardship, I can tell you that." Zethus looked down at Kaezik, "And he is powerful, make no mistake. I could smell it on him the Gift was so strong when he pulled me off of Chazarle last night." Kaezik's eyes were wide in shock and horror.

"You don't think… children…not Shan…" Kaezik stuttered unsteadily.

Zethus shook his head confidently, saying, "No. He wouldn't even touch me and I'm an experience warrior twice as large as he is." Coughing discreetly into his hand Zethus began vaguely, "Do you remember when I said I'd nearly killed him twice? Well, knowing you'd be furious if I did it, I had to be certain of his character."

"Zethus, you didn't!" Kaezik growled angrily, but was shushed by Zethus.

"I did, and I was awfully cruel. It hurt me to say those things to him. It was horrible. Anyway, he didn't once threaten to attack me or show any anger. He was really quite polite in a cold way. He wasn't even wearing the evira and only started putting them on because of Halaire's visit. He's quite remarkable, that Shanza, so don't get any ideas that he's got shady intentions."

Kaezik huffed indignantly, "I haven't changed my mind, I'm still impressed. Maybe more so." Laughing suddenly, Kaezik speculated, "I can hardly wait until my brother meets him, he's in for a shock. I bet he's real worried about his unknown partner, at least Shanza could hear rumors about Ikeda. Shanza's pretty much unknown to Thanobians."

"Yes, you're brother's very lucky he isn't getting hitched to a real masculine man, I think that would add insult to injury."

Kaezik smirked at the thought and clarified, "Injury being the fact that he's going to be married to a man?"

"Yes, that." Zethus prompted.

"I wonder how much he actually minds. He's never shown much interest in anyone, male or female." Smoothing his shirt, Kaezik decided, "Ikeda probably just planned on ignoring his betrothed either way." Zethus nodded his agreement.

"That sounds like him. Your brother's too detached."

Shrugging, Kaezik returned, "It makes people think he's arrogant, too good for them. That's really not it at all. Maybe he just gets sick of all those fawning admirers."

Shaking his head, Zethus determined, "Well, whatever he thinks he's going to do, he's in for a surprise. Shanza's going to be the best thing that ever happened to him." Kaezik smirked wickedly in response and began making his way towards the stairs.

"I can't wait." He laughed aloud, imaging who knew what. Zethus watched him disappear down the stairs with a flippant wave of his hand and sighed in amusement. Turning back to the open waters, he peered into the distance, wondering whether he would be able to spot the approaching Thanobian coast.

"Home, here we come." He muttered, eyes flitting to the glowing moon, "Hopefully all will go well, because in the name of the Dragon, we need some luck."

He was going to be sick, oh Gods, he was going to be sick! Clamping a trembling hand to his mouth as bile rose in his throat, Shanza sat hunched on the bed, his whole body shaking. He'd never been more nervous in his life. Pulling his hand away once he felt the immediate danger had passed, Shanza curled quivering fingers around his cheeks and stayed where he was, concentrating on breathing deeply and calmly.

He couldn't move, couldn't go up aboard deck, which meant he would have to go on land soon. He wasn't ready. He'd just stay in the safe, familiar cabin. That was what he'd do. Shanza shook his head vehemently. He couldn't do that! He had to do his duty, had to respect his responsibility to Methron. Oh, but he didn't want to. He felt like a child again, alone and lost, fear of the future eating away at him.

Sitting straight suddenly, Shanza expelled his breath slowly and rose to his feet resolutely. He was a coward. What type of king was so frightened of the future that he'd hide from it? He was being a fool again. Weaving his fingers together in a last nervous action, Shanza took a look at himself in the cabin's small mirror and turned away in satisfaction. He had to make a decent first impression.

The cabin had been cleared and his things were packed and piled in the middle of the room, ready to be unloaded. Striding to the door he pushed it open and swept out, gauzy cotton pants flowing gracefully about his long legs.

Dressed entirely in loose soft blues and purples, feet covered with sandals, neck and ears adorned with silver jewelry, Shanza felt prepared to make his first appearance in Thanobia.

Miyaz was the first to spot him and perching her hands on her hips jested, "My, my, aren't we handsome? You wouldn't mind if I took you home with me, would you?"

Standing beside her was Zethus, who answered for Shanza humorously, "Forget it, he's got a date with destiny."

Laughing at the truth in the statement, Shanza went to meet them but stopped in his tracks, breathe frozen in his lungs. Sprawled endlessly in front of them was Arcanus, robust and giant with buildings rising out of the ground, looking as if they had to compete for space. Below the vast city was its equally grand harbor, cramped with ships, merchant and otherwise, their bright flags whipping in the breeze.

"A little overwhelming?" Zethus sympathized. "Just wait until you hit the streets. Arcanus is busy on normal days, and as for today, everyone will be out to welcome you."

"They'll do anything for a celebration." Miyaz rolled her eyes and raised an eyebrow at the approaching Zan and Kinfe.

Ogling Shanza, Zan inquired earnestly, "Should we be calling you, uh, 'Your Majesty' and stuff now?"

Cheeks flaming, Shanza protested hurriedly, "Oh, no-no-no." Zan was still gawking at him, so he explained reasonably, "I haven't been made a king, why I'm just the same as you." The warrior thought this over skeptically, still not entirely reassured, but didn't argue further.

"I don' know bout that, you look awful good to be on the same level as slum-bug Zan, here." Kinfe teased maliciously, sending Zan a crooked grin from the side of his mouth.

"Shut yer hole, you rat-sucking piece of crud." The shorter of the two rebuked angrily.

"Now, now, boys, cool your tempers. It's too darn early to start that already. Besides, we're just about home." Miyaz patronized them wearily.

With an indignant huff, Kinfe sulked, "Sure it's good if you've got a nice home to return to. Hell, I've got to go back to my mother and she's bloody terrifying."

"Stop the whining." Miyaz ordered finally, treating the back of his head to a smack.

Kaezik chose that moment to appear, and at Miyaz's low, impressed whistle, Shanza swiveled to spot the object of their attention. Without armor, dressed in snug, perfectly fitted black leathers and a crisp red shirt with billowy sleeves, his boots shining and blond hair combed into what almost resembled neatness, Shanza hardly recognized Kaezik. "Cleans up nice, doesn't he?" Miyaz commented just as Shanza noticed a glimmering thumb sized ruby clasped against his throat with a sparkling gold chain.

"Alright, now that we lowly soldiers have all felt sufficiently outclassed, are the royal highnesses ready to disembark?" Zethus asked, mocking sincerity.

"You shouldn't tease, you know. It makes people dislike you." Kaezik informed him frankly.

"Does it? Well I'll slot that away for further consideration."

Sighing, Kaezik shook his head and murmured to Shanza, "It's no use with him, his ultimate weapon is that twisted sense of humor. We royal highnesses are defenseless against it." Laughing into his hand, Shanza watched a smirk pull at Kaezik's lips.

"Eh? What are you muttering about over there?" Zethus demanded, deaf to their whispering.

"Nothing, Captain." Then swiftly changing the topic, Kaezik gestured to the approaching shore. "Look at that. I can just about see my father from here." Raising his voice so that the clustered group of nobles several feet away could hear him, he added, "Do I ever have interesting things to tell him, especially concerning this short ship journey." All eyes watched the nobles, who as a whole went white as the sails and started talking loudly.

Snickering, Miyaz suggested, "We ought to toss 'em over board and let 'em swim to shore."

"Yes, yes, Miyaz, we all know how murderous you are, but the rest of us might prefer to not be executed the moment we step on Thanobian sands." Zethus advised with humorous wisdom, then turned to Shanza and questioned, "Are you ready? The boats are being lowered." Shanza wondered what exactly it was Zethus was asking him he was ready for, as the Captain's eyes seemed to hold more meaning.

"I'm ready." He answered with a short nod, gaze drifting to the shoreline, which was lined with a throng of people extending from the harbor back into the streets. He was leaving one ocean to jump headlong into another, only he doubted the blue waters were as vicious as the mob.

Kaezik thumped him on the back comfortingly, declaring, "I'm your charming escort, so don't sweat it, just stick close. My father ought to be waiting for us with horses and so we'll be home- my home sorry, in no time."

"Alright, they're giving me the signal," Zethus indicated a waving seaman, "time to disembark."

"Right, let's pack it up, boys." Miyaz ordered, then with a firm nod to Shanza added, "we'll see you soon, and if you get anything thrown at you I'm not responsible for my actions." Shanza didn't have time to question, as Miyaz, Kinfe, and Zan had already vanished, presumably gone below deck.

"…Thrown at me?" He repeated softly.

Kaezik wavered anxiously at his side, but submitted and explained, "Some people are a little… wary of this arrangement. You know how those brainless radicals can get. I doubt anything will happen, though, as even their blind stupidity has limits." He knew exactly what Kaezik meant and hoped the younger man was right. Then he was whisked off as Zethus pushed them to the side of the ship where a precarious looking rope ladder had been slung over the side, leading to a small, bobbing boat which was nearly full, sailors organizing themselves along the sides, oars in hand.

Seeing Shanza's tentative look, Kaezik volunteered readily, "Guess I'll be going first, then."

Zethus couldn't resist the opportunity to tease, "The rope's there for a reason! Remember what happened last time you just pitched yourself off the side?" Kaezik didn't even have time to shake his fist at the Captain, as he was already climbing down, his head disappearing from view. Shanza leaned over the edge and gulped as Kaezik swung wildly, his knees clashing against the ship roughly as he descended swiftly. Sailors grabbed him as he neared the bottom, lowering him to a bench and congratulating him, obviously impressed with his speedy skill, especially considering he was a soldier.

"Must be a talent." Shanza mused awkwardly, eyeing the rope, which although it was steadied at the bottom and top, was twisting about fiercely.

"Well he's only done it about two dozen times." Zethus rationalized sarcastically, then advised, "Go slowly, they'll catch ya at the bottom."

"Right." Shanza nodded distractedly, watching the water swell against the boat, which looked to be an incredible distance away. He'd felt safe enough on the ship, as it was huge and felt solid against your feet. But that little bobbing speck and the huge masses of water surging around it boundlessly…

His fingers clenched the rail in a death grip, his nails digging into the wood like talons. Zethus watched him curiously, thinking it odd that even for a desert person, Shanza was a little too nervous. And something about numas and water kept dancing around in his head. Honestly, the boat wasn't that far away…

"Oh Gods!" He breathed in horror, finally remembering. He'd been told once that the safest place to protect yourself from a numa was to be surrounded by water, as they were deathly afraid of it. Although Shanza had seemed fine on the ship… Zethus decided he had to do something and opened his mouth to call out to the Methrian, but gaped instead when Shanza suddenly flung himself over the side in one fluid twirl, disappearing from view. He jerked forward and peered over the edge to see Shanza swinging treacherously from side to side. And yet he was making his way down just fine. Zethus relaxed, smirking at the younger man.

Shanza was shaking from head to toe, his trembling so violent that he worried he'd jolt himself right off the rope. Lowering his leg he floundered for a foothold, found one, and shifted his hands to move when his sandal clad foot slipped. Pulling against the ladder he closed his eyes and stayed tensely rigid before sighing and continuing downward. It felt like a blink of the eye and it seemed to be an entire year by the time he felt strong hands clasp his legs and arms, helping him down. Hoping they didn't feel the furious shaking of his body, he smiled at the blurred faces as he was patted on the back and helped to a seat. His breathing was deep and shaky in immense relief. He only came back to awareness when a fuming voice hissed in his ear,"Why didn't you say anything?!"

The boat was pulling away, the securing ties were released and the sailors paddling. Zethus, it was Zethus who was talking to him. He hadn't noticed the Captain's decent.

"Shanza! Why didn't you say anything?" Zethus repeated urgently. Kaezik was hovering overhead, somewhere to his left, Zethus closing in on his right.

"What's wrong with him?" Kaezik asked over his head to Zethus, worry coloring his tone.

"It's the damn water." Zethus growled.




"Shanza, snap out of it!"

It was all around him, waves closing in, suffocating, cold and infinite, deep and dark…

Then he was surrounded by a fog. Images and sounds, movement outside, they were all kept out by a cloud of blank whiteness. Nothing filtered through. But there was something there, across the water. It grew sharp into focus while the haze blotted out all else. It coiled through the sky, weaving and flowing, pearly scales shimmering like an ocean of jewels. Its body stretched as long as the shore, its width thicker then a ship's and yet it drew closer, a creature of gold and ice and power. Ancient and elegant, magnificent and mighty: it was The Serpent.

"Shanza!" He rocked back into awareness as if snapped awake from a nightmare. Or maybe that was just because Zethus was shaking him. The sailors, Kaezik, and Zethus were all clustered around him, talking needlessly loud and sending frantic looks at each other. Peeking through a gap, Shanza peered at Arcanus, which was nearly upon them. There was nothing there, the skies clear.

"Zethus, Zethus, you can stop that now." He reassured, turning to the Captain, who was still gripping his shoulder.

"Thank the Gods, he's alive!" Someone declared behind him and the frowns turned to grins. Zethus slumped in exhaustion and eyed Shanza tiredly.

"What just happened, hm?" Shanza paused uneasily, then smiled in embarrassment.

"I probably should have told you. I'm not very comfortable with huge, endless oceans and I can't swim, either. I think I must have panicked a little." He couldn't tell Zethus what had truly happened, it was strange enough to him and he was the one who had experienced it. He'd sort things out later.

"You probably should have told me?!" Zethus shook his head in disbelief, while Kaezik rubbed his face in relief.

"Panicked a little, huh?" Shanza sent Kaezik a sheepish look of apology.

"You gave us quite the scare." He was feeling more horrible about it by the second.

"I'm really very sorry. I didn't mean to cause trouble." Shanza tried to pacify meekly. Zethus huffed and shook his head, the shoreline catching his attention.

"We've got seconds before we're off this godforsaken thing! Shanza, I forgot to mention it to you, what with all the trouble- there's going to be people lining the streets trying to get a glimpse of you." Oh, he was not looking forward to this. Shanza didn't appreciate, nor crave being the complete center of interest and gossip. He had no choice, however.

They pulled up alongside the foremost dock and as the crew hurried about securing the boat, an officer leaned over to inquire, "Are you feeling well enough go ashore, sir?"

Laughing lightly and grinning at him, Shanza assured, "I'm fine. No need to worry." With a curt nod the seaman turned away and hopped out of the boat. Zethus and Kaezik stepped out beside him and as Shanza looked down to watch where he was stepping in the hopes that he wouldn't pitch headfirst into the water, a hand presented itself in front of him. Accepting the aid without question, Shanza climbed out with the help of a gentle pull and glancing up at the owner, froze in surprise.

It was not a grubby sailor that met his inspection, but an immaculately dressed, perfectly trimmed, genially smiling, gracious noble. He had aged with poise, as his blond hair, which at one time must have been as brilliant as Kaezik's was streaked with graying strands while lines of care were etched into the corners of his eyes and mouth. He had a broad frame, which in his prime must have been gloriously muscular and strong. Age may have impacted, although it had not given him a round belly and flabby limbs as happened so often. He was still a figure to be taken quite seriously.

The soft, callused grip on Shanza's hand released and with a smooth incline of his head, the man greeted warmly, voice deep and rich, "Welcome to Thanobia. We are honored."

Shanza returned the gesture and responded, "The honor is all Methron's."

A slow smile graced the man's features and he stepped back to allow Shanza more room. Extending his arm to Kaezik, he introduced, "You have met my son, Kaezik?" Turning to Zethus he added, "And the valiant Captain Zethus Thea?" Shanza didn't fail to notice the faint twitch at the tip of Lord Keftalar's lips as he and Zethus connected eyes.

Inclining his head to them formally, Shanza agreed, "We have met." Kaezik looked to be getting impatient with the formal niceties.

"Shanza, this is my father, Hakida Keftalar." He paused, then added as an after thought, "or Lord Keftalar."

Hakida noticed the familiar exchange with pleasure and turned to Shanza, apologizing humorously, "Forgive my son, he does away with formalities as he pleases." Poor Kaezik, it seemed everyone enjoyed teasing him.

Ignoring the jest, Kaezik nodded at Shanza and began, "Father, meet Shanza Shilari of Methron." Facing Shanza, he extended his hand once again and clasped Shanza's in a firm, warm hold.

"I am honored." He declared, and a loud sigh was heard from behind them. Glancing past the small knot of people, Shanza nearly keeled over. He'd been concentration so singularly on Hakida that he hadn't noticed the masses of people that were barely contained behind several horses and armed men. They were whispering, staring, and pointing. Shifting his nervousness away from them, he pinpointed the sigh.

"Fara!" Kaezik cried in delight and in four long strides was at the girl's side, swinging her down from the horse and hugging her tightly. Laughing in joy, she returned the hold just as powerfully, the two of them teetering about completely off balance.

"He's gorgeous, he's gorgeous!" She whispered in his ear ecstatically, the words meant for his ears alone. Dark curls bounced against her neck as they staggered, her skirts crushed against his boots. Releasing him and then wobbling back a few steps she laughed gleefully again before approaching Hakida, Kaezik's hand gripped in hers as she pulled him over. Her figure may have been petite and her height lacking, but her personality certainly wasn't. Bright gray eyes burned with spirit while high cheekbones and a pronounced nose shaped her face. If her skirts were a little wrinkled, her hair mussed and her breath puffing, she paid no heed to it.

"You really ought to introduce your dear cousin, Kaezik." She scolded him frivolously. Laughing at her, Kaezik took a deep breath to collect his wits and obeyed.

"Shanza, meet Miss Fara Kaiten." Shanza was nearly speechless after being thoroughly bowled over by her personality.

Extending his hand he graciously kissed her fingers and murmured, "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." Retracting her hand he stifled a smile as she blushed hotly. Kaezik had no such inhibitions however and chuckled openly at her.

"Shush, you." She ordered, waving a hand flippantly at him before breaking down into a wide grin and slinging her arm across his shoulders.

Hakida watched them with a faint smile then suggested politely to Shanza, "You must be exhausted after all of your traveling. There is a horse awaiting you. Do you wish to leave immediately?" Closed in by the watchful, surrounding eyes, Shanza had to remind himself not to appear too desperate.

"That would be greatly appreciated." Shanza answered gratefully. Hakida nodded and with a glance to Zethus, slipped past them to speak with one of the guards.

Zethus stepped forward and moving in close, walked alongside him to the horses, whispering, "Don't mind the crowd, they'll be happy if all you do is look at them and smile. Or look period. But don't stare." No staring, just smiling. Shanza felt too tired to smile and yet there was so much he would have to go through before he'd have a chance to rest.

"Don't worry." Zethus spoke quietly to him, sympathizing with his predicament. Arcanus was nothing like any part of Methron.

Face to face with his dappled-gray mare, Shanza stroked the back of his hand down its mane softly before perching a foot in the saddle and swinging up. Zethus and Hakida rode on either side of him, their swords clinking against their boots. Behind, Shanza could hear Fara whispering furiously to Kaezik, leaning nearly off her mount while he chatted back energetically.

As they passed, one might have expected cheering, but the masses watched in quiet curiosity, dubious and hopeful. Once the entourage of soldiers and ambassadors trailing behind had gone by, the crowd burst into rapid chattering, hungry for gossip. Shanza straightened his shoulders and rode on.

Inkslinger: Chapter two completed! Now I know it kind've seems like, "holy crap this girl keeps on blabbing and hasn't even introduced the second main character!" But really, I promise, Ikeda will not only make an appearance in the next chapter, but will finally meet Shanza!(Believe it or not..) *sigh* I apologize, this chapter also went a little slow… .

Thanks so much to Lunar Wulf Gemini, Lorelei and Warui Warui Neko for reviewing! ^_^ The encouragement is great!

Lorelei: You are completely right about the -er- dialogue tags! I think what happened was on Microsoft Word I only go down to the next line and indent. (You know, start a new line for every new speaker…?) But when it's converted to .HTML document that little indent is suddenly this huge gap, and that does look confusing. Uhm, I'm very sorry but there are probably still some more of those thrown in this chapter… *winces* or a lot… In any case, I figured I'd just post this for now and experiment a little in the mean time! What might help, is when someone's being described and then it ends with a comma leading onto the dialogue, that's the same person talking. *groans* I am a terrible explainer. Example:

Chazarle, who seemed to lack the smallest inkling of an imagination, gaped like a dying fish and declared,

"That's exactly it, he stole something from me!"

Okay, that's what I mean, the comma just before the dialogue instead of a period. But that ones fairly obvious anyway… oh well.. ^_^ Thank you so much again for the wonderful review!

Warui Warui Neko: Whoops, hope this chapter wasn't too slow! *sheepish grin* Things will speed up by the next one, I promise! Thanks for the lovely comment about my characters!