Der Spiegel-Anklang des dysfunktionellen Heldentats fährt mit fort...

Kapitel neun!

Hören Sie auf Ihre Mutter. Sie liebt die Erbsen!

"I can wash myself! I can wash myself!"

The maid chased Ashe around the bubbling pool of water, shreiking in the desert dweller's tongue with a towel and a rough, sadistic looking sponge. As Ashe ran, dodged a bench, and began running around the circular bath house again, the knight left a trail of green stench behind her in the air.

"Mieh teng! Mieh teng!" The determined bath house maid shouted, keeping up with her young prey.

"Stay away from me!" Ashe kept running, making a hasty hex symbol with outstretched arms. When the old women saw this she scowled, muttered something nasty under her breath, and threw the sponge at Ashe. It struck her in the head, as Ashe wasn't quick enough to duck, and left a nasty scrap along her temple. She shuddered to think what kind of damage it could have done in that scary little old lady's hands.

Archer, seemingly ignoring all good sense, stuck his head in the door to see what was going on. The maid threw a metal basin that struck him in the face.

"Cour mai teng!" The woman spat, and with that the wrinkled old lady pushed rudely past the ambassador and stormed down the hall.

Ashe, with hands on her knees, panted to try and regain her breath. Archer raised an eyebrow and took in the state of the room.

"I thought we were going to try and stay under the radar." Archer said sternly, rubbing a welt that was rising angrily on his forehead.

"She was going to scrub my skin off!"

"You could use it. Hurry up and get clean, okay? We haven't much time." Archer said the last sentence curtly and withdrew, the curtains over the door swishing in his wake.

Ashe made a hmph noise. She looked around cautiously, to be sure there were no more old women crouched under the benches, sponges held menacing in their claws. Satisfied, the exhausted knight began to peel away her armor. The chest piece was caked on with grime, and Ashe made a pained face when, finally wrestled off, it clattered to the ground. Archer had found her some new clothing, which was sitting innocently where it had fallen from a bench, and she wondered how long it would be before she could safely don the armor of a Ganja knight again.

Ashe slid into the water with her undergarments still on. With a final cursory glance, she sunk under the water and disrobed completely. If only such modesty were applied to other aspects of her life, Ashe might actually be less of an annoyance. It was odd too, as Ganja Knights were known to be quite relaxed in all aspects of their lives, especially in matters of the flesh. Perhaps because of her lineage, Ashe was a little...unbalanced. No one knew but for the Captain of her company, and perhaps the late King, that Ashe was descended from a Wrath line.

The pool bubbled gently as steam rose from it. Submerged in the ground, the bath looked almost like a portal to another dimension when viewed from the door. Five feet deep and clear, Ashe found it more than accomadating. She took a soft cloth from the edge of the pool, ignoring a pyramid of round sponges, and began to lather up. After weeks on the road it felt good to clean up, but she felt uncomfortable in such a clearly oppulent setting. She missed the training grounds in her home lands, and the scratchy yet thick mattresses she and her kin slept on until daybreak. Then there was the morning stretches, tending the horses, breakfast...

She bumped gently on the side of the tub but did not notice, so lost in thoughts of her old life. She'd been so thrilled to be recruited for the King's entourage. The other knights were gracious to her, and she hoped a little proud, as she was the youngest to be going on the mission to Mecanora. To her, it seemed she was one step closer to her dream. Asheless Reprieve, His Revered Diamond Knight! She thought of the ceremonial armor that would go with such a position, shined black and set with patterns of pure diamond from head to toe. Priceless, crafted before the dawn of time it was said. But that dream had been cut short, and as she reflected on this her face became bitter.

Dead. Rotting, poked through with acid from a demon's belly. Her King.

Ashe ducked under the water, letting it work through her long blonde hair and dislodge the grime. It must have been luck that allowed her to survive. She hadn't even fought during the skirmish, which was to her the biggest shame. In the rear of the company, she hadn't had been able to get to the action until those before her were killed. She shook slightly, suddenly cold.

The way the beast had looked at her, calculating. Her reckless charge as soon as she saw the limp King, squeezed in the demon's hand like a rag doll. She had been so easily, painfully cast aside. And when she woke, through the hazy fog of pain, it was gone.

The demon. The King. Her whole entire life, destroyed.

The soap was spiced. Ashe inhaled deep and long, suddenly unable to enjoy the scent of ginger. Thoughts bounced around in her mind, flitting from memory to memory. Eden's face swam to focus, with his dark eyes and cool exterior. He was interesting to her, she had to admit. At first loathsome, because of what he was and what he associated with. She snifted derisively. Solstice.

Ashe shook her head and walked the few steps out of the pool until she was level with ground, instead of beneath it. She wrapped a soft towel around her body, where it exteneded until just past her knees. Across from the door was a dressing stand. She had seen one once before, in the Saphire Palace where the royalty of her country resided. This one reached to the ceiling, inlaid with pearls, rubies, and some kind of yellow stone she was unfamiliar with. A big mirror was placed at a low height, for when she sat on the bench it lined up with her head and upper chest perfectly.

Ashe ran deft fingers through her hair, trying to untangle it with as little pain as possible. The soft lighting provided by spheres along the wall gave her an almost ethereal glow. She looked into her own eyes and wondered who it was that now stared back at her. The same tan skin and wide amber eyes, small lips and delicate nose. But there was a crease on her brow that altered her whole face, so different from the optimistic girl who had left her land on a ship.

The girl sighed and stood up, ignoring the precious oils, perfumes, hair combs, and luminescent powders set out before her. She had no use for such adornment, and they slipped easily from her mind as she shrugged into a new set of undergarments. They fit her well, better even then her old ones. She wondered how closely Archer must have been regarding her to match up her size so well. Next came a simple white dress, almost formless. She slipped it over her head and felt blissfully cool as it touched her skin. Ashe looked at the last piece of her outfit where it lay crumpled on the ground. The long silk dress was blue and green, beautifully made with patterns of golden butterflies and crimson sparrows that chased eachother endlessly. But it was not something she could have ever seen herself wearing, though it fit so well when she put it on.

Archer took his own bath, though he lavished while an attractive young girl scrubbed his back, his hair, his temples. As the girl left he gave her rump a playful grab. The young lady went, "Oh!" before he ushered her out of the room. Grinning, Archer ignored the stack of towels and went, quite naked, to a dressing stand similar to Ashe's, though made of black stone with glittering splinters of white gems throughout. He regarded each oil carefully before deciding on a small bottle of Hyrulian Petal Dance. Though it was a flowery scent, Archer though it was slightly masculine and very enticing. Why else would they put it in a men's bathing house?

After smothering himself in the sweet smelling oil, Archer leaned forward to look into the polished mirror. Full lips and high cheekbones caught the dim light, shining where he had dabbed his face with oil. Thick, striking eyebrows came to rest over piercing green eyes. The family eyes. He, his brother, and their sister all had a similar shade of emerald green eyes. River's eyes has been the most dazzling though. She could look at any man, raise a brow, and have him in her lap easily. One of those men became her husband, who helped her create a son. Ever Ransom had those eyes too, but one had flecks of purple in it. Beautiful, but chilling at the same time.

Archer mused, seeing not himself in the mirror but his ill-fated sister. She had passed her condition onto her son, but it would not have been so tragic if she had not-

He didn't want to go into that territory, not with his brother's death so fresh in his mind. Ever Ransom would live, thanks to that strange boy currently passed out on Archer's bed. For now, Ever was asleep in the guest bedroom; alive, it seemed, though Archer couldn't understand how. The bruises had immediately started to fade, except for the mottled array clustered aorund the boy's wrist. That would take longer to heal, Archer figured. He shook his head, revisiting the odd sensations that had wracked his body when his nephew was brought back to life. Like a cold, negative electricity. Alien, from somewhere beyond his realm of concepion.

Archer dressed quickly, pulling on blue and black robes once the oil was fully absorbed into his skin. He left the bathing room and met the young knight in the hallway. She seemed out of place and uncomfortable, clutching the silk dress tightly. Her brilliant, wavy blonde hair stood out against the sandy stone of the wall.

"You look nice," Archer purred, grinning shamelessly. Ashe grew stiff, looking at him with wide eyes. Alright, maybe he should back off a little. "I mean to say," he continued. "That you look nice in a platonic sense. I'm not going to eat you. Stop looking at me like that!"

They walked down the hallway, Ashe a few paces behind him for safety reasons. Archer stiffled his annoyance and led her through the bath lobby, where a gnarled old women waved a ahnd and winked. Archer hid his grin at the old woman's assumption and opened the door, holding it ajar for the young lady who slipped by him as quickly as possible.

Archer unlocked the door to his rooms and let Ashe in before him. The parlor was pristine. Light filtered in from the glass doors that led to his bedroom, balcony light pouring into the lavish space. He dropped the oranges he had collected from a servant two floors below into a bowl near one of the arm chairs. The painting above the fireplace caught his attention, as it invariably always did. He was so proud of Thades, of what it had become. His eyes traced the painting affectionately, every brushtroke and burst of desert color. Two hundreds years ago, Thades looked like the city in the painting. It was sparse in comparison to what the capitol was like now.

His thoughts invariably touched on Ignacio, registering as a threat to his city's health. Ignacio would bleed her dry, rape her.

"Why do you look so angry all of a sudden?"

Ashe's question caught him by surprise. There was sorrow in her eyes, but it was burried deep.

Archer sighed and sat in his favorite chair, in view of the painting. "My city is in danger."

"Because of that Ignacio guy?"

Archer nodded as Ashe cautiously took a seat. He felt he needed someone to confide in. He trusted no one in the court with small talk, let alone an emotional outpouring. He supposed this poor girl would have to do.

"My brother was the President up until a few days ago," Archer said solemnly. He looked at the girl, whose face softened slightly. "He's dead now."

"My father died two weeks past," Ashe spoke beneath her breath. True, the King wasn't her father, but he may as well have been. Archer nodded, feeling a sort of empathy, though he had no idea that Ashe was talking about the King of Ganja. They both looked wistfully at the painting.

"I'm going to check on my nephew," Archer stood, once the silence became too thick. Ashe nodded and stayed still, looking at the painting.

Archer opened the door quietly and closed it, feeling a palpable difference in the atmosphere. That girl was kind of a downer.

Ever lay on the bed in semi darkness. His chest rose and fell softly, moving gently with the rythm of his breathing. The dark circles under his eyes were begining to soften, and Archer was struck with the resemblance between mother and son. He did feel a certain fondness for the boy. He was his only blood relative left, so there was certainly a connection there. But he pitied him, fearing for him that same fate River had succombed too. It might have been a mercy, had the boy died.

Archer shook those terrible thoughts from his head and went back to the parlor. Ashe was asleep in one of the chairs, head nestled in her arm. He shook her awake gently and led her to his study. Ashe saw the couch beneath the window and immediately sunk into it. She was asleep again before her head hit the pillow.

Archer ended up back in the parlor, wondering what the hell he was doing. Why was he housing these people? Who were the two strangers? It piqued his interest that they were from two lands whose people were now outlawed from Thades: no Ganjian knights, and no Conscis Acolytes to be admitted at the gates. Those currently residing were to be expelled if they didn't leave within the two week grace period. Ignacio's decree had included other alienating measures, bringing back laws that had been dismantled centuries ago.

What was Ignacio planning? What was he afraid of? Archer paced the parlor and when his energies became too much, left his apartment. There was someone he needed to go see.

A/N: Wheeee! Alright, chappy nine! I'm really enjoying these characters. I hope the story isn't moving too slow, but I want this to be character oriented instead of action action action. I also believe in having an 'exhale' chapter every so often, where the characters can unwind and rest. So this was pretty much Unwind 101, but I thought it was necessary.

The next chapter will be a conference between the characters and possibly a hurried flight on something that yes, FLIES. I won't say much more than that, you'll just have to read to find out!

Dellarose, Sunshine Pipeline, Tawny Owl, and Gold Against the Soul. What light through yonder window breaks! IDK my BBF Jill? (Too much New Year's 'celebration' for me too make sense right now. Don't ask. )

Have a lovely New Year everyone!