Wandering Eyes

Before she was to meet the Ascendant again, Shalia took it upon herself to venture into the Holy City. Despite feeling rather secure in this place, she advised herself to interrupt Lerek’s rest and drag him along.
Any of her guards would have been perfectly fine, but this one had been brotherly toward Ryul--one of the fallen. The Aghul didn’t often show any sadness or remorse, but that didn’t mean they were incapable either. Taking him on a clueless tour of the city with her would be a personal interaction that he, whether he realized it or not, needed. A distraction. A moment to feel some comfort. And although the average mountain dweller didn’t think too deeply about emotional matters, giving someone too much quiet time to mull over their grief was a gamble. She knew it all too well.
Lerek was easy to speak with. A younger, energetic guard with a passion for Koshnem as the Odonine’s leader. The one who revered Shalia as the witch who danced in Noraura’s light. He was always the first choice. A friend…maybe, but that was a term she hadn’t thought much of in Fang. Devout follower was more like it.

The two walked side by side through the streets admiring what stood before them and making conversation where it fit.

Gra’akast was cast into shadow by its former glory. Lovely as it was to look upon, she wondered what it was that drove people away, what maimed it. Loss of interest in the old ways? Unlikely. Lack of resources to sustain expanding civilization? Also unlikely. A plague? Hard to imagine a plague surviving long in such an arid environment, though in those days, a bustling city would have been a breeding ground regardless with closer quarters and sitting water sources…but the priests could move water wherever they pleased. Hmm...
Even Qinres, in its removal from urban life, low population, and position near a river, was said to have been nearly wiped out by illness some time in its history. It wasn’t impossible here, either. She would ask Tamazzalt about the city’s history when he showed her the Reliquary if it didn’t reveal the truth on its own. Helian history, though told by the pious victors, was rich and intriguing, but this place was an entirely new territory.

For the time being, Shalia observed the city with an artistic and scholarly eye. The structure of the city was like art on its own; the rounded roof of one tall house to the draped, billowing fabrics in a vendor tent, to the narrow shock of foliage up the side of a mud-brown building. Shalia slowly approached this plant, the growth of which reminded her of something like ivy, though this had teal blooms and stems forming into spirals. A few of the blooms were wrinkled and browning; she heard the soft crunch of one beneath her sandal as she moved in closer. Beautiful and archaic like the city she was examining.

One of the last few blooms her hand reached out toward to stroke--to feel what she imagined was a silky sensation on the small petals--but her pleased expression fell poisoned quickly after. Under her cold fingertips, she watched the dainty plant take on a grey tone that rippled across the central vines it was connected to, fading into green just on the outside of the area. Another portion of the flowering plant withered and dead.
Shalia jerked her hand away and stepped back, a subtle look of horror playing on her face. Unexpected in her current mindset, but similar incidents had happened before with flora. A shame. Such a lovely little flower…
The city had disarmed her more than she realized. Her body immediately tensed up to combat it and she drew a deep breath. The ice flowing through her veins meant a great many things, but preserving life was not one of them. A thinly-veiled reminder that she could not lose sight of her purpose or the future. Stay the course.

‘Remember who you are,’ Shalia heard Koshnem say in her ear, a low echo by another voice following. Then, a brief chuckle. All so soft you could mistake it for a whispering breeze.

But there was no breeze here and now. Shalia knew exactly who was speaking; She had been so distant here in the desert that the witch knew Her whispering anywhere.

"...and remember what I am. What you made of me. Winter, the obstruction of blossoming life, bringer of natural decay. Death, the ending of the cycle, the reaping of souls. My entire being." She spoke hushed, fingers touching to her chest where the odd symbols sat on her skin beneath the robe.

Shalia looked to Lerek, her demeanor having visibly shifted. “The Aghul taken by the desert will not be lost. I marked them with the banner, and through my touch, Noraura will guide their spirits home to rest. We must never forget their sacrifice. Never forget their purpose to you.”

Out of nowhere something else rolled across her tongue, a chill steadily rising over her body.
“Eyes watch us...” she blurted at him with brows furrowing above faintly illuminated eyes. The glow soon dissipated as did the internal voice. Lerek rested his palm on a blade but did not question why her expression twisted in sudden confusion. He knew the witch was a bit eccentric and beyond his understanding, but he also knew when danger was sensed. To be on alert. He would serve the Voice of Winter until his dying breath. He was likewise grateful for her words earlier and was aware of the extra time she spent with the dead.

It was then that Shalia realized goosebumps covered her skin and the hairs raised on her neck. Whatever came over her saw something she could not. The pressure of a gaze tucked away from sight, watching her. Closing in. Stalking her every move. Shalia could feel it now that she wasn't distracted by pretty new things. The origin could not be placed in the endless cloaked alleyways and unfamiliar layout as they gazed around.
She took this as a warning. From who or what she cared little to investigate about with such vulnerable exposure. Islana had been with a guard in a new location and that went in a very poor direction fast. Grabbing Lerek’s wrist, she practically dragged him away in a hasty retreat...

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