Salis' Story

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: The Imaginarium


First chapter of the Toa Mirr arc. Unlike the previous arcs there will be chapters dedicated to three different groups,Pali, Helnion, and Salis.

Chapter 14 (v.1) - A false family, to an old enemy

Submitted: September 02, 2019

Reads: 13

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Submitted: September 02, 2019

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Pali sat, waiting for General Hani to make his decision. He had been asking for the same thing ever since the attack on the school seven months ago. He wanted to rescue Salis from the men who had captured her, if she had been captured, and the girl called Helnion that had disappeared that day as well, but since they could not say for certain who had done it the military could do nothing.

Pali had even done some investigations of his own, with the help of Helnion's family, but could find no evidence of who had attacked. This did not mean he had no ideas of who had done it. With how close Kein was to the border of Toa Mirr it went without saying that they were the most likely suspects, especially if they had found out Salis had been supplying Flaern with Terran knowledge.

Still, Pali did not even know if Salis had been at the school when it was attacked in the first place. The girl had apparently been traveling in disguise the whole time she had been away from the school so he could find no concrete proof of where she had been. So he thought she could have just used the opportunity as an excuse to disappear. He knew with how much money she had saved that she could live comfortably in hiding for years, especially when Pali saw how much interest she had put into learning survival skills.

"Pali, the General has made his decision. Please enter." Said the General's assistant.

"Thank you." Pali said to the man as he headed into the room.

"Have a seat." General Hani said and Pali sat down. "I have good news and bad news."

"Sir?"

"Your request to recieve help in search of the Terran girl has been denied, but because of Toa Mirr's recent invasion of Koa Flaer an opportunity has arisen that you can take advantage of."

"What would that be Sir?"

"While we cannot assist Koa Flaer directly because it would mean war with Toa Mir, the King and his advidsors have devised a way to help."

"And what is this help?"

"We will be sending groups of men and women into Toa Mirr to disrupt their supply line. If we were to send you I do not think that anyone would object to you keeping an eye out for a missing friend…"

"I see." Said Pali, smiling.

Pali had no love for Toa Mirr and its ruthless rulers. If he could do damage and search for Salis at the same time then even if he could not find her the trip would not have been a complete waste. Unfortunately this meant the search would be much more dangerous because he would be attacking caravans and store houses and he had never been a good fighter.

"I take that smile as a confirmation of your willingness to participate in this plan." The General said.

"Yes Sir."

"Good. Now I will go over the details of your assignment." The General picked up a piece of paper. "Because of the nature of your career it has been decided that the safest way for you to travel through Toa Mirr will be as a traveling merchant." He stopped and looked at Pali.

"Is there a problem Sir?"

"You have never been married have you Pali?"

"No Sir. Why would you ask…" Then it hit Pali. "Does this mean…"

"Yes Pali. You will be a merchant traveling with his family. Because of your position and familiarity with children trained in combat we felt that this was the best way to use you."

"I cannot risk putting children in danger."

"I do not expect you to force any children to come with you, and if you do not like this plan you can always decline."

Pali had to think about this. Was Salis worth risking some of his pupils? He knew that many of the older children were extremely capable of fighting in both magic and with bow and sword, most much better than he.

But who could he ask? Were there any children that would be willing to risk their lives for Salis? The girl had done a horrible job making friends in the year she had been at the school, and the one friend she had made was missing as well.

There were a few he could ask. The girl Ferra seemed to have a strange attachment to Salis, despite the obvious fact that Salis seemed to do her best to avoid her. Ferra was also very good with a sword so that would help too.

There were also the two boys that Salis had tutored in math, Calren and Dario. Pali was not familiar with these boy's relations to Salis but Dario seemed to be the type that supported his friends so he might help. As for Calren, he also seemed to be a good honest child but his dark hair and skin would not go well with the family theme, although he was good with magic and his skills there would help too.

As for who he would make his wife… Pali had never had a great interest in getting married or having children and it had been years since he had considered courting a woman, but if this was a mission his "marriage" would not be permenant. In this case he would just look for a single woman his age or a little younger that could add fighting strength to the "family."

"Your decision?" General Hani said.

"I still do not like the idea of taking children into such a dangerous situation, but this might be my only chance so I will take it."

"Good. You have one week. If you have trouble finding members for your team I can prepare a list of some that have volunteered."

"I will let you know Sir."

"One last thing before you leave."

"Yes Sir?"

"Make sure to keep this plan quiet. It will make your job, and every other team's job, much more difficult if the wrong people find out."

"I completely understand."

Pali stood up and left the room.

 



 

* * *


 

Now that Pali had permission to go to Toa Mirr and search for Salis, alongside his "real" reason for going, he just had to prepare and for the last few months he had been doing just that. He had known the biggest hurdle for going through Toa Mirr undetected was that of speech. While the language spoken in Flaern and Toa Mirr were much the same because of their past, he would be easily spotted as from Flaern due to his accent.

While he had considered just not talking to anyone he knew this would probably lead to suspicion, especially since he would be a merchant, so he had been spending much of his free time conversing to merchants and refugees from the other country. In these months he thought he had picked the accent quite well.

As for all the other preparations he had made, getting help from the military had made them a waste of time since they would be supplying him with what he needed to complete the mission. He had gathered supplies and even a carriage just in case he was going to have to take matters into his own hands if he had not gotten support by summer. Thankfully the military had gone with his plans and would even reinbursed him the costs of the supplies he had bought.

The only bad thing about getting support from the military was their idea of how he should go about his business. This was for him to bring a "family" with him. He had been planning on going alone as a traveling merchant but that idea had been ruined.

Pali would not have minded being in a group of men and women, but traveling with children did not rest well with him. The only reason he had gone with the decision was because he saw the reasoning behind it. While Toa Mirr was fully aware that children were trained from a young age in Flaern they knew that only children from the more wealthy families could afford it and, from the point of view of the nobility in that country, no well respected family would allow their child to go on a mission with so little glory to earn than the one he was going on.

This led to his next problem. Could he find any children that would be willing to go and also their parents let them? He was pretty certain the girl called Ferra would go because she too had offered to help look for Salis despite the latter's cold treatment towards the former. He just needed to convince her family to let her go.

Pali was not so certain who he could ask next. Everyone else either ignored her, disliked her, were scared of her thanks to the many stunts she liked to pull, or had a simple but distant fascination with her.

There were only three other people, aside from teachers, that Pali knew Salis ever talked to. These were her room mate Artua, Artua's brother Calren that Salis tutored in math, and Dario, whom Salis also tutored. Of these three only Dario would work. This was a simple matter of the two siblings not looking a little like Pali with their black hair and darker skin.

Pali supposed that he could simply find a "wife," his biggest problem, that was from the same country that the two were from, but he did not know of any women like that other than their own mother. He also could not go to their country as it was far to the north and the west.

For now Pali would just have to see how things would work out and then go from there. He also wondered how exactly big he wanted his "family" to be.

 



 

* * *


 

The next day, as soon as the students had finished their studies, Pali had sent word to Instructor Benc to send Ferra to his classroom as soon as she was done. He had also sent for Dario.

"Instructor Pali?" Ferra said entering the room. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes Ferra, I have something important to ask of you."

"Does this involve the search for Salis?"

"Actually it does."

Ferra brightened up. "Did you finally get permission to search for her?"

"Yes, but there is a condition that requires your help."

"What kind of condition? What help could I be?"

"For some reason the military wants me to take a "family" with me when I go and search for Salis."

Ferra's eyes grew wide. "You do not mean…"

"Yes, Ferra. I called you here to ask you to accompany me as part of this "family."

Pali saw a mixture of feelings on Ferra's face. To him it looked as if she was not sure if she wanted to be excited, surprised, or uncertain.

"What will we be doing?" Ferra said after a minute.

"We will be going through Toa Mirr disguised as a family of traveling merchants, but our official mission is to sabotage their supply lines whenever possible and to gather information. When we are not doing these things we can use our time however we wish."

"Like searching for someone?"

"Yes, like searching for someone."

The look on Ferra's face showed that she was definetly interested in going, but Pali had expected as much.

"Forgive me for being late." Dario said, coming into the room, followed by Calren.

When Dario saw Ferra he stopped for an instant.

"No…" Ferra said, then looked at Pali. "You are not going to ask him too are you?"

For the moment Pali ignored Ferra's comment.

"What is it that you want to ask me Instructor Pali?" Dario said.

"I am sorry Calren, but I need to discuss somthing in private with these to so I must ask you to leave."

"If it is about Helnion and Salis I want to help too." Calren said, making Pali wonder how many people knew what he was trying to do.

Pali thought for a minute about if he could accept Calren's help. He knew he could not pass him as a family member but was there another way? Maybe he should let Calren know too and then he might have some ideas Pali had not thought of.

"Alright, you can stay as long as you promise to not tell anyone about what we talk about." He turned to Ferra and Dario. "That goes for the both of you too."

"Yes Instructor Pali." The all said.

With the two boys now here Pali told them what he had told Ferra.

"So you want me to go into Toa Mirr and help sabotage them while looking for Salis?" Dario said. He looked a bit skeptical at the idea. "And you want me to go with you?"

"Yes Dario."

"If I may ask a question?"

"Go ahead."

"Why me?"

"Because you knew Salis. I hope that having those close to her will make it easier to find her."

"I am sorry to say this Instructor but other than Helnion no one was close to her and having Ferra with us might actually make it harder for us to find her."

"I will not!" Ferra said angrily to Dario.

"She always seemed to run from you whenever she saw you while she was still here."

"She is just shy."

"Ha! I would not call Salis shy. If anything I would say she actually hates people, especially the noisy ones that will not leave her alone."

"Enough." Pali said. "If you keep arguing like this I really will think you are siblings."

"Thank the Deity we are not!" Ferra said.

"Um, can I say something?" Calren said.

"Go ahead."

"I know because of my ancestry that I could not pass as a family member, but I still want to go."

"Why do you want to go so badly?" Pali asked.

Calren blushed. "I… Do I have to say?"

"He has a crush on Helnion." Dario said.

Ferra gasped.

"I do not know what to say about that…" Pali said.

"Dario! I told you not to say that to anyone!" Calren said to Dario through clenched teeth.

"It is decided!" Ferra said loudly. "Calren is coming."

Pali and Calren looked at Ferra surprised. Dario shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"As much as I would like to take him we still have the problem of his appearance." Pali said.

"You could always make him your slave." Dario said with a smirk. "Lots of people in Toa Mirr have slaves."

Pali frowned at this. "I do not think that would be appropriate."

"I think it would work." Calren said. "I will not really be a slave so it should not be too big of a problem."

"I pride myself in being extra nice to slaves." Ferra said.

Dario laughed. "I just might have to go with you guys if I get my own personal slave."

"I will never call you "Master" Dario." Calren said.

"But if you do not then it will give you away."

"I think it would be for the better if Dario did not come." Ferra said.

"I agree." Dario said. "Being called Ferra's brother makes me want to vomit."

"It is not like you have anything to contribute." Ferra said. "Except maybe drooling over and kissing the feet of any guards or nobles that we would need to get by and making them let us go by because they want to get away from you so badly."

"I DO NOT drool over people to get my way." Dario said, getting angrier.

"Enough." Pali said. "Keep the fighting between yourselves for when we actually become a family."

"Huh?" The three children said at the same time.

Pali smirked. "If people see you two arguing like that nobody would expect that our family were spies."

"You forget that I do not want to go." Dario said.

Pali had not ever expected Dario to be easy to convince, but he had made arrangements that, being the Dugin born that Dario was, might change his mind.

"You do not want to come even if you are compensated?"

This sentence had the exact effect on Dario that Pali had wanted as he perked up at the words.

"What kind of compensation?" Dario said.

"Everyone that chooses to participate in this mission will get paid for every target that we destroy. What we get paid depends on the target."

"Can you guess how much?"

"At least five gold for the small objectives and I hear there is a particularly hard one that whoever takes it out will be paid one thousand gold."

"Wow." Ferra said. "Five gold. My parents never let me handle that much."

"That is because you parents are poor." Dario said.

"If my family was poor I would not be here. Besides, I would rather be poor than have a family that steals money from the peasants that live off of their land."

"My family does not steal. It is our right as land owners to take a percentage of the crops…"

"Please stop." Pali said.

Ferra and Dario glared at each other but then turned their attention back to Pali.

"Aside from your monetary payment." Pali said, continuing from where Ferra and Dario had interrupted him. "I have been told that anybody choosing to join the military after the mission will be granted one higher rank than one would recieve upon enrollment."

At the mention of this Dario smiled. "Maybe I should give this job some consideration." He said. "Though five gold is not very much."

Pali shook his head at Dario's last remark. "Dario, if you and Salis had only one thing in common it would be your views on money."

"I do admit." Dario said. "That was one of her good points."

"I should add one more thing." Pali said. "We will be leaving within the next week so you will be missing school until we return."

What surprised Pali was that all three of the children looked pleased about this.

"Alright. I will go, even if I do have to be near Ferra much more than I would like." Dario said, now excited.

Pali shook his head again. He had never expected that the prospect of missing school would be the thing that convinced Dario to come. It was a good thing he had not mentioned that he would be tutoring them.

Pali was about to tell them their plans for the week when Ferra spoke. "Can I ask some questions?"

"Yes Ferra, go ahead."

"How many people are we going to be taking?"

It was a good question and one that Pali was still not sure of.

"I want to take as few as possible. Considering my age it would be strange to have any children older than you and Dario but I also feel that taking any younger children would only make our job harder."

"So just the three of us?" Calren asked.

"For now." Pali said.

"Next question!" Ferra said, Pali not liking the grin on her face. "Who is going to be our mom?"

Calren and Dario looked interested in this too.

"I have not decided yet."

"Ask Instructor Meric." Calren said.

"Why her?" Pali said. He was actually considering her because they were close to the same age.

"Because she has really nice legs." Calren said grinning.

"You noticed that too?" Dario said.

Pali heard a disgusted noise from Ferra and sworn he heard her mutter 'boys' but was not sure. As for the discussion The two boys were having, to his emberessment, he actually agreed with them. She did have nice legs, among other assets.

"So what do you say?" Calren said to Pali. "She is not married so she should not be a problem."

"Aside from the opinion of some perverts." Ferra said. "I think Instructor Meric would be a good choice."

"Yes." Pali said. "I had been considering her because of the advantage her skill with the bow would give us as well as our similiar ages."

"When are you going to ask her?" Ferra said.

"I think now is a good time."

"Can we come?" Calren asked.

"Cheating on Helnion already?" Dario asked.

Calren punched Dario in the arm hard and then ran off. "I told you not to talk about that!"

Dario took off after Calren, rubbing his arm. "I never promised not to!"

"Idiots." Ferra said to herself.

"If you two want to come I am leaving now." He turned to Ferra. "Are you coming?"

"I would never miss a marriage." Ferra said, grinning at him.

"We are not getting married." He said, flustered.

Ferra laughed as they left the room.

 



 

* * *


 

It was not yet time for Meric to be done with with her last group of trainees but all she did was watch them or yell at them so Pali did not think it would hurt to take her away from them for a few minutes.

"Instructor Meric." Pali called out to her when he had gotten close.

Meric looked at him, then at the three children following him, before she came to meet him.

"Yes Instructor Pali. Do you need something from me?"

Pali looked at the children behind her, making sure none of them would be able to hear their conversation.

"I have a rather large favor to ask." He said.

"A favor? Does it involve these children?" She said glancing at the three behind him.

"Yes, but they are only a part of it."

"Go on."

"I need your help on a mission for the military."

Meric looked intersted now. "What kind of mission would the military give to two teachers and three children?"

Pali told her.

"So we are to be going as a family?"

Pali could not tell what she thought about this because nothing showed on her face.

"And these will be our children?"

"Yes."

"And I will be your wife and their mother?"

"Yes."

Meric said nothing for a while.

"Please help us." Ferra said. "We will also be looking for Salis and you know how skilled each of us is in archery so your skill will help greatly."

Good job Ferra! Pali thought.

Meric looked at Pali and each of the children. "I see what you mean." She then looked at Calren. "What of him? A slave seems hardly an appropriate reason to take him along."

"I do not mind, and I am confident my magic skills will make taking me worth it." Calren told her.

"What of my position here at the school?" She said, looking back to Pali.

"I have already spoken about this to Headmaster Ury and he has told me he can make arrangements to have the other instructors take care of our students while we are gone."

"I see. That makes things much easier."

"So do you accept?" Ferra said, looking eager to find her new mother.

"It is quite sudden. How long until we would leave?"

"Within the week." Pali said.

Meric looked back to her still practicing students for a minute then turned back to Pali.

"There is no way I could refuse the chance to put my skills to use against an enemy of Flaern, especially one such as Toa Mirr." She said.

With Meric's approval Ferra bounced up and down in excitement and the two boys grinned.

"There are some things I would like to go over now that we have our family." Pali said. Everyone turned their attention to him. "The first is the matter of accent."

"Accent?" Ferra said.

"Yes." Pali said. "If we are to blend into the people of Toa Mirr we will need to speak like them."

"And you will be teaching us?" Meric said.

"Yes. I have spent the last few months with some people from Toa Mirr and am confident that I have a knack for it now."

"Will you be able to teach us before we leave?"

"The dialect spoken in Toa Mirr is much like Flaern. It is just a matter of learning its peculiarities."

"When do you plan on teaching us?" Meric said.

"As soon as you are done with your training for the day, Instructor Meric." Pali said and then looked at the three children. "I expect the three of you there too, and on time."

"Yes Instructor Pali." All three said, though the two boys looked much less enthusiastic than Ferra did.

"I will also be teaching you some things I have learned that everyone in Toa Mirr would be expected to know."

"Oh!" Ferra said excitedly.

"Yes Ferra?"

"Do you have any books that have songs from Toa Mirr?"

"Of course." Pali said.

"Are we finished?" Meric said. "I should get back to my students."

"Yes, I believe I have nothing else I need to speak about for the moment."

Meric nodded and left.

"You three can leave as well."

"Yes Instructor Pali." The two boys said.

"Yes Papa." Ferra said.

The two boys snickered, but instead of copying Ferra they yelled to Meric. "Bye Mamma."

Meric actually stopped for a moment but then kept on walking as if nothing had actually happened.

"That was easier than I though it would be." Pali said to himself when he was alone.



 

* * *


 

Pali had no idea going into his lessons the next day how hard of a time he was going to have. If he had realized how much Ferra and Dario were going to argue he might not have considered inviting both of them to go with him and it had been Meric who had finally gotten them to cooperate. Even though Pali was used to dealing with roudy children he could not instill fear into them the same way she did.

Thankfully with the two under control the rest of that day had gone by easily. Ferra had even gotten a knack for the Toa Mirr accent, with Calren close behind. Surprisingly it was Meric that appeared to have the hardest time and not Dario as Ferra had predicted. Pali actually found it cute listening to Meric fumble with the Toa Mirr accent, as did Ferra, who let Meric know many times elliciting a few blushes from the archery teacher. A thing he had never thought Meric capable of.

When the group finished with their attempts at learning the accent for the day Pali went over general information he thought would help them blend in to the citizenry of Toa Mirr. This time it was Calren who did the best even if it looked like he was terribly bored the whole time.

The other three did not fare well. Ferra looked like she was trying her best but the look of frustration on her face that appeared as she scanned the paper that Pali had prepared showed that she was not doing as well as she wanted. Dario looked bored and irritated. Pali even had to prod him a few times to stop bothering Calren.

As for Meric, she looked as if she did not want anything to do with the piece of paper. When Pali asked her if she had any problems he could help her with she just said that it had just been a while since she had done any studying and she just needed to get used to it again.

When it was time for the last thing Pali had planned for the day he was not sure if the group wanted to stay any longer. He was planning on using the last bit of time just to let everyone get to know each other better because he knew that if they were going to pass as a family then they at least needed to know each other's likes and dislikes.

He decided that they should at least try. He also knew that if he did not bring it up no one would know any better but he was not one to go easy on his students just because they were feeling a little tired, frustrated, or irritated. He did know one thing. He would be doing it first the next day when everyone was in better moods.

It turned out just as he expected. Even the friendly Ferra did not try hard. Only Meric attempted any kind of conversation but she was awkward with her questions and often stopped to rephrase them.

In time Pali decided that they were not going anywhere and told everyone that they could leave. Even Pali himself was tired, but after a full day of work on top of the after class instructions it made sense.

Fortunately the next day worked out much better. Ferra had mastered the accent during the time between lessons and had even learned a few folk songs on her hand harp, which she played occasionally throughout the night when they stopped for an occasional break.

This night the time spent getting to know each other went much better too. While Ferra and Dario did some more arguing Pali learned a lot about his new family.

Ferra was from a fairly successful merchant family located in the town of Darro, which was just a bit west of Stutra near the bottom of the mountains where it refined ore from its own mining vilage. There her family operated a few smelters and shipped it down the nearby Alh river.

Since her brothers were expected to continue the family business Ferra was the one that had been sent to school with the expectations of handling the money side of things. She had no intention of doing that and wanted to become a trainer of swordsmanship and also teach children how to play the hand harp.

To be honest, Pali had already found out a lot about Ferra's tastes in the many arguments she hard with Dario so many of the other things he heard were not new to him.

As for Dario. He was from a family of wealthy land owners that lived near the village of Herth, which was to the south of Kein near the border of Toa Mirr and the Howling Forest. While his family were not nobles his life's dream was to become just that.

Calren was the most interesting to Pali. While he had been born and raised in Flaern his family was from a country called Ye. When Pali asked him how much he knew about Ye he was disappointed to hear that Calren had actually never been there and that his parents had stopped taking him with them on their journies as soon as he had been old enough to attend school.

Finally he had come to Meric. She was from a large agricultural city on the Eastern side of Flaern called Nem. There her family made a living running a prestigious archery dojo that was associated with the Temples of Learning there. As an heir to the dojo she had been expected to stay there and become a teacher but she had wanted to get away from the stuffy nobles that sent their children there from Flae and their rediculous demands so she came to Kein where people were not as full of themselves.

As for Pali himself, he told them he was from the city of Bo, a tradinging town on the opposite side of Flaern on the boarder of Amirr and next to the Sea of Gil. While the city was a large and prosperous one Pali had been from one of the many poor families, but because of him being Candrar born he had had a love of learning his whole life and he had even taught himself to read by sneaking into the Temple of Candrar in the city and spied on the lessons being taught within.

When the instructors had finally caught him, instead of punishing him or kicking him out, they had invited him to stay and learn after seeing his desire but because of his lack of money and status he had been unable to learn any of the military arts or magic, although he had tried his hand at both just to see what they were like. It was after he had finished his studies that he had decided to become an instructor and found himself in Kein.

He then told how it was the kindness of the instructors that had allowed him to learn despite his family's poverty that had led him to travel about the eastern side of Flaern each summer in search of exemplary students, which had led him to finding not only Salis but several other children that would not have ever gotten the chance to have a good education.

Now that everyone had told some things about themselves they did their best to ask each other questions for the next half hour. What Pali meant by they did their best was that Ferra and Dario did not get along well and often criticized whatever they said about themselves. It had not taken them long to be silenced and were not allowed to talk about the other. Meric did better than the night before but was still awkward.

Pali was actually grateful when the group had finished their "get to know each other" session. Not only was he not used to talking about himself like this it looked like Meric was not either. Only Calren had been comfortable. He did not want to think about Ferra and Dario, though Ferra was pleasant and asked lots of good questions when she was not fighting with the Dario. Pali almost wanted to dismiss them and choose some other children to come with him on his assignment but knew that he would not find replacements that would be as effective as they would. At least he hoped i did. He also hoped they would learn to get along better in time.

Thankfully the rest of the night ended up being much more peaceful than it had started, especially when Pali said he just wanted everyone to speak in the Toa Mirr accent whenever they spoke, with him correcting and helping them as necessary, and since he would not be dedicating a specific time for them to learn it they would not have to stay as late as they had the night before.

The rest of the week was hit and miss. Aside from the Ferra and Dario's problems with each other the added lessons that everyone was taking began to add up, even making Pali more tired than he liked. Even Meric was looking drained by the end.



 

* * *


 

When the day had finally come to leave Pali found himself standing in front of one of the school's larger levitating carriages that would be taking the new family to Fort Kein. Thankfully all the children had somehow convinced their parents to let them go on this dangerous assignment, alleviating his last big concern.

Because the military was going to provide most of the supplies that they would need on their mission, including trade goods for them to sell, no one needed to pack much other than a change of clothes and some food for the journey.

"What is taking her so long?" Dario said, noting Ferra's absence. "Everyone else got here just fine…"

"Do you have to complain about Ferra even when she is not here?" Calren said, having gotten sick of the constant fighting the two older children had been doing for who knows how long.

"If she were not so slow and stupid…"

"Enough Dario." Meric said, also having had her patience worn thin from the previous week.

"Yes Mother." He replied irritably.

The four waiting family members were silent for the next few minutes before they started hearing signs of Ferra's arrival.

"I hear a flock of geese." Dario said with a bored look.

"It does sound a bit like geese does it not?" Pali said, actually agreeing with one of Dario's insults.

"I bet Fer's friends held a good bye party for her."

"If they had good food I am going to be mad I was not invited." Calren said.

"And be trapped with all of those girls?" Pali said with a shiver.

"And be trapped with all those girls." Calren said dreamily.

"If they were not Fer's crazy friends I would agree with you." Dario said. "Besides, you would break poor Helnion's heart if she saw you cheating on her like that…" He added, trying to sound disappointed.

Calren huffed at Dario but had long since stopped fighting back after an entire week of Dario making fun of him.

"There they are." A girl said, coming out of the girl's dorm.

Soon after Ferra and a gagle of thirteen girls flooded out after the first. Each gave Ferra a hug and said good bye.

"I am sorry for being late." Ferra told Pali when she had finally torn herself away from her friends. "They held a surprise party for me and we lost track of time."

"If you even knew how to keep track of it in the first place." Dario said.

"Shush." Meric said.

"Yes Mother."

Some of the girls heard this and giggled. Meric blushed.

"Why did you not invite me?" Calren said.

"I had no idea my friends had planned this."

"Did you have good food?"

"Food? No the maids would not part with any. We just sang and danced. I even played some of the Toa Mirr songs I learned, though they are too depressing for my tastes."

"Do you have everything?" Pali said, wanting to leave.

"Oh, yes Papa." Ferra said.

Pali still shivered whenever one of the children called him that.

He just hoped the long journey to Fort Kein would be a quiet one.



 

* * *


 

One would think that a fort named after a city would be close to it this was not the case for Fort Kein. While Fort Soli to the north and Fort Herth to the south were close to their respective cities this was not true for their destination. In fact, it was almost as far of a journey to Stutra from Kein as it was to the fort.

Pali was just thankful he did not have to ride there in a normal carriage or even worse, walk. This was especially true now that he was riding with two children that seemed to hate each other. If it had not been for the fact that everyone slept most of the trip he imagined that he would have gone insane if there had been a lot of fighting.

One thing was becoming apparent through all of this. Meric had slowly been becoming more accepting of her role as mother and had begun to curb a lot of the fighting before it got too bad, though he supposed that as teachers they should have been diciplining them properly the whole time to begin with. It was just the whole family thing had made everything feel different than what he was used to.

"We have arrived." The driver said.

"Finally." Dario said. "I have slept so much sleeping is making me tired."

"Me too." Calren said with a yawn.

Ferra was still asleep, as well as Meric.

"Get used to it boys." Pali said. "For tomorrow we will most likely doing this every day, just with a regular carriage."

"Are you sure we cannot convince someone to get us a levitating carriage?" Dario said, returning Calren's yawn.

"Only the high nobility can own levitating carriages in Toa Mirr. If we had one we would get arrested."

"I would rather be a slave in a Flaern mine than be imprisoned in a Toa Mirr jail." Calren said with a shiver. "Daily beatings and little food…"

"Maybe we should rethink this…" Dario said.

"Better to fight and die today trying to stop Toa Mirr and their corrupt King Sembre than let them execute you in your house after they invade." Meric said, now awake.

"I know that. There is no way I have not realized that considering how close my home is to the border." Dario looked at Ferra as if expecting her to say something. She was still asleep.

"So you finally admit to your reason for coming." Pali said.

"Even I am not so stupid to pass up a chance to protect my family's lands when I see one." Dario said.

"So you do not want any money or glory now? I will have to tell…"

"Of course I am doing it for those too." Dario said, cutting Pali off.

"Greedy greedy Dario." Ferra mumbled, still mostly asleep.

"Ferra even can argue in her sleep…" Meric said, almost looking amused.

Pali felt the carriage thump as it settled on the ground.

"Looks like it is time to get out." Pali said, standing up. "Meric, if you will wake Ferra up."

"Yes Pali." Meric said.

Pali opened the door, jumped out onto the ground, and stretched.

"Finally." Dario said when he and Calren jumped out. "That was almost as bad as sitting through math lectures."

"Especially after those two left." Calren added.

"Those two certainly did make things interesting." Dario said.

"Out." Meric said from the direction of the carriage.

Pali then heard a loud THUMP and looked over to see that Ferra had fallen out of the carriage.

"If you are going to be my daughter you are going to need to be much more motivated about waking up than that." Meric said, jumping down after Ferra.

Dario laughed. "Go Mom!"

"Ouch... Momma. You did not need to push me out." Ferra said, getting up and rubbing some nice new scratches on her hands and face.

"I do not know how soft Instructor Benc was on you but do not think I will be soft just because I teach archery." Meric then turned to Dario and Calren. "The same goes for you two as well."

The two boys gulped and looked at each other fearfully.

"As for my husband." Meric said, looking Pali over. "You too will need a bit more toughening up." She poked Pali in the stomach. "At least you are not as soft as the two boys."

Merac looked over everyone one last time. "Come. We have a briefing to attend to."

"I think she was looking forward to that moment." Pali said, rubbing the spot Meric had poked him.

"Yeah…" Everyone else said in agreement.

"But who would have thought it was the girls in the group that are the toughest." Ferra said, and then quickly jumped away and ran to catch up to Meric before anyone could react. She looked back when she was with the safety of Meric and giggled when she saw the dumfounded looks the boys were giving her.

"I am so glad right now that I started some mild training for this mission." Pali said.

"Is it too late to go back now?" Calren said.

"Yes. Is it too late?" Dario said, looking at Pali hopefully.

"Go ask Meric. I think she is in charge now…" Pali said.

"I think I will take my chances in Toa Mirr." Dario said.

"There is no way she is as bad as what we will find in Toa Mirr." Calren said.

"We better not let them get too far ahead." Pali said, starting into a jog.

Dario and Calren looked at each other uncertainly and then followed after Pali.



 

* * *


 

No matter how many times Pali had come to Fort Kein he was never got used to the sight. Not only was the fortress as old as Kein itself but its size and scope were even more impressive. This was because the nobility knew what kind of beast they lived next to.

The massive walls were build from large stones hewn in a quarry in the mountains to the north and had been levitated here by countless mages because no machine or crystal had been big enough to carry them. They had built three layers of walls despite this.

Outside each of these walls was a moat. Not only were the moats extremely wide but were also extremely deep so that no matter how tall a person was they had no hope of touching the bottom. At one point a commander had even attemped to fill the waters with all manners of carnivorous beasts, common and exotic, but they had either been too hard to take care of or to effective and had gone after anyone and everything.

As Pali stepped onto the stone and metal bridge, it being the only entrance, that allowed them cross over that long drop into the water and gain access to the fortress he once again found himself in awe. The bridge he was now on was another marvel. It, like the walls of the fort was made of large pieces of stone. Unlike the walls the stone bridges had been reinforced with iron beams. When the fort was attacked this bridge would be levitated into place, adding to the wall, by thirty or so of the strongest mages.

These mages were not hard to come by considering that the three border forts contained roughly half of Kein's standing army at any one time and also held a large Temple of Sorris. The sight inside the fortress, as well as outside, confirmed this. Men were everywhere and Pali could see no place that did not contain some sort of activity or another. From the men on top of the walls either patrolling or at lookout, to more men on patrol or simply training on the large grounds outside or between the walls.

In the center of the fortress Pali saw what looked like a small town. Aside from the two large structures that dominated the very center there were several large barracks for the troops for use in case of a seige. There were also several large warehouses and granaries each with several guards near each entrance.

It was the largest of the two central buildings that Pali and his group were heading to, the smaller being the Temple of Sorris. This building was the where the command of the fortess took place and was a fortress in of itself just without the triple walls and moats.

Inside this building was where the wonders of construction were much less noticable. Since the military types were never know for their love of beautifying things the walls, ceiling, and floor were barren of any type of decoration. Aside from windows, lamps, and guards there was nothing to be seen.



 

* * *


 

"Welcome Pali." Said the general's assistent when the group arrived at their destination. "General Hani wants you to meet him straight away."

"Thank you Major." Pali said to the man and motioned for everyone to follow him inside the room where the General was waiting.

"Welcome back Pali." General Hani said as soon as everyone had entered the room. "I must say I have been looking forward to see what kind of family you put together."

"I did the best I could in the time given, Sir." Pali said and then introduced everyone.

General Hani approached the group and looked over each person. "I hope you do not intend to pass off the younger boy for your son." He said and motioned towards Calren.

"I am the family slave. Um, Sir." Calren said nervously.

"I see." The general said, raising an eyebrow. "Going out of your way to show you are a somewhat succesful Toa Mirr family, Pali?"

"I did not intend to bring the boy because of his appearence but he insisted on coming."

"And you are fine with this… Calren?"

"Sir, I would not have come if I did not want to." Calren said.

"And what about you two?" The General said to Dario and Ferra.

"I have a friend I want to help Pali look for." Ferra said.

The General nodded at Ferra.

"And I want to help my country." Dario said, puffing his chest out. Ferra rolled her eyes at this and Calren looked as if he wanted to snicker.

"And what about you Instructor Meric?"

"Sir! It is an honor to serve the country." Meric said, sounding much much much more sincere than Dario had.

"Good. That is what I like to hear." General Hani said and then looked over the group again. "Your family is not perfect but I believe you did well in the time given."

"Thank you, Sir." Pali said. "I have even taken the opportunity to brief them on all of the mission details given to me."

"Good. That will save us some time." General Hani turned towards a large table in the middle of the room with an equally large map on it. "Since your group has a secondary objective I have prepared a list of targets in places that you will most likely find your… friend." He pointed to several cities, including Toa Mirr's capital Eto. "Considering most of these are in more populated areas your risk of being discovered will be much greater."

"We understand, Sir." Pali said, the rest of the group nodding in support.

"Good. Since you already understand your mission I will not keep you and as soon as night falls you will cross the border into Toa Mirr and head for Millis, where an agent will be waiting with your supplies."

"Understood, Sir." Pali said.

"I hope you are well rested. It is a long walk to Millis." General Hani said.

"We had plenty of rest on the way here, Sir."

The General nodded. "Dismissed."



 

* * *


 

"How far is it to Millis?" Ferra asked as soon as they left the room.

"It is a bit farther than it is from here to Kein." Pali said.

"Aaagh!" Dario said. "Can we not get a ride?"

"The only wagons heading from the border on the other side will be full of soldiers, but if you want to stop one and ask for a ride…"

"I think I would rather not."

No one spoke again until they exited the building.

"Do you really think we can find Salis?" Ferra said.

"I could not say. I can only hope that she never got captured in the first place and is simply hiding away somewhere with Helnion." Pali said.

"At least we are getting paid." Dario said.

Ferra looked like she wanted to say something but Meric put her hand on her head and the girl's face reddened.

"I would be lying if I said that I too was not looking forward to getting paid as well." Pali said and noticed that Meric nodded her agreement.

"Let us focus on the here and now." Meric said. "If we find the girls then all the better, but our safety should be a bigger concern."

"Yes, we have to be alive if we want to be able to find her." Pali said.

And with that said, everyone looked to Toa Mirr, even Dario, and promised to do their best to stay alive.



 

* * *


 

As Pali's group left Fort Kein a certain man watched them from one of its many towers. No one from this country aside from the Terran girl Salis or the "Lady" Helnion would have known any better that he was someone more than a major in the Flaern army assigned as the General's assistant, but it had been nescessary for his experiments.

He wanted Salis to be reunited with those close to her even if their reunion would not be exactly the way they were hoping it was going to be. The girl's emotions were just too hard to shake than what he needed so he hoped her seeing them would provoke some reactions.

Even if things did not work out and his subjects got themselves killed a bit earlier than expected he at least had the satisfaction of the look that simple teacher had given when he heard he had such a rediculous requirements for the mission, but it had been the best way to assemble such a group. The look that stupid general had given him when he had suggested the idea had almost make him lose his composure and laugh.

The man just hoped this little side experiment was worth it. He decided it would not hurt to help things along, at least for this group.

Salis on the other hand would be on her own and he did not envy what she would be going through. He almost wanted to spare her, she had already been through more than any one person deserved, but the experiment needed to go on. His master's unconcious wish would be fulfilled.

 


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