The Long Road
#85 (In Topic #16)
When a troubled man is ordered banished from the protectorates, a young arbiter's journey towards a grave discovery begins.Kyporus 26th, Year 12 of the Third Era
Glenhold Dungeon, Yvintha’amuni
Kaba'ni Protectorates, Chalcedonia
Ranu'ta closed the cell door with a satisfied nod, perking an ear for the click of the lock before returning the key to his belt. Citrine eyes peered through the bars, hesitant, as if he were searching for something he'd missed. The pale morning light streamed in through the narrow window—barely wide enough to slide a paw through—and split the dark space cleanly in half. Motes of dust and pollen danced in the gentle stream, flitting between the deeper shadows like emberflies. A bucket cowered in one corner beneath an iron cot bolted to the wall. Like all the others, the cells was simple, plain. Whatever secret it might have held did not reveal itself to the gina, and he turned away with the flick of his ear.
The kaba'ni turned and stared down the hall, tucking his thumbs behind his wide swordbelt. Five pairs of similar barred doors marched away from him, perfectly spaced. Between each cell, slender shards of red aethycite cast baleful pools of dim light from their sconces. He could hear the shuffling of feet, a cough, a soft snore. Nothing out of the ordinary. That fact did not ease his mind as it should, however, and Ranu'ta stared still. He stared so long and hard at the farthest wall that blood began to pound in his ears. Hushed tones echoed to him from other parts of the dungeon, armsgina passing their shift in conversation or moving prisoners. Further away he could hear merchants crying their wares in the Amber Markets, the hush of Yvintha'amuni's leaves whispering to one another, the creak of Her boughs. Life beyond the walls of Glenhold bustled, but here…
Here, the air was still. Here, it felt wrong.
"Oi!" came a slurred grunt, shaking him from his thoughts.
Ranu'ta ran a scarred paw through his charcoal crownfur and turned. A bleary-eyed man tried to glare at him with bloodshot eyes, head wobbling a bit as he struggled to focus on the arbiter. He sat crosslegged just behind the bars, arms hanging from the crossbeam and hands dangling lazily. It took him a moment to gather his focus, to firmly fix it on Ranu'ta. The man sneered at him, leaned forward until his forehead pressed against the bars. Matted hair fell across the man's face, obscuring much of his features in shadow. It did not hide the wild glint in the man's eyes, or the jagged teeth he bared as he began to pant.
After a long moment, Ranu'ta barked a laugh. "You're getting quite good at that, Iander. You'd likely have a recruit soiling himself with a look like that, kah. Perhaps try again when you've sobered up?"
The man, Iander, began to growl, curling his fingers into meaty fists around the bars of the cell. Drawing a deep breath, he gave a thunderous roar and shook the bars with all the force he could muster. Ranu'ta flattened his ears against the noise, scrunched his face against the stench of stale ale that roiled over him. An armsgina poked his head around the corner, sword glinting and ready, but he held a paw up dismissively. The bellowing dragged on for quite some time… before dying away into a fit of hacking and wheezing.
"No?" Iander wheezed, collapsing against the cell door. Ranu'ta shook his head, flicked an ear before perking them back up again. The man heaved a sigh. "You're a 'ard one, eh?"
"You've gotten plenty of practice at it," the kaba'ni chuckled, taking a step towards the cell. "This makes, what, the fifth time I've found you sleeping in that copse? Cha, but the grovewardens wouldn't be so harsh with you if you would just stay out of the trees."
Iander grunted, swatted the words aside. "Easier to get to my breakfast when I wake up."
"And if you wouldn't relieve yourself on the vegetables," Ranu'ta added dryly.
"It's good for 'em! Do y' know 'ow much fresh fertilizer goes for at-market? 'Ighway robbery, that!"
The desa flicked an ear again and shook his head. "You and your fellows are guests in our lands, Iander. Sweet Mother, but I wish you would respect that. Were our positions reversed and I in your home disrupting your people, would you not be displeased?"
Iander stood slowly, hunched so that he would not crack his skull—again—on the ceiling. While the cell was considered spacious for a kaba'ni, it was little more than a stone box for the average human. The man turned, slumped against the wall and slid into the corner. Ranu'ta sighed when the man would not meet his gaze. A traveler lost, displaced from his delegation and left to wander kaba'ni lands. There were not many that made it to Yvintha'amuni, forbidden by law, but his kin had not had the heart to leave the starving man to die. The handful that had been allowed to remain rather than promptly being exiled had made themselves useful. Iander was the exception for some reason, choosing vagrancy over the community offered to him.
Ranu'ta saw a kindness in the man, however, and had lobbied for a stay of banishment more than once. He could not exactly explain why, but it was as if he could sense a greater purpose for Iander within the sprawling city. The hope of finding it had finally closed, however—Iander had been sentenced to banishment by the Vinaghi, and as arbiter it was Ranu'ta's duty to see it done. By highsun, they would be on their way to the border. As sad as it was, Iander's fate would be in his own paws—or hands—soon. That was the way of things, as the Mother Tree willed.
But that was two bells away yet, and Ranu'ta was content to let him alone. He did not say what was on his mind, knew it would not do any good.
Flicking his ear again, Ranu'ta turned and walked to the next empty cell and began his daily inspection. The sense of strangeness returned, slithered up his spine like a wayward breeze. He frowned, ignoring it, and began to polish the barred door with a rag. The sensation lingered at the base of his skull, then warmed and faded. Ranu'ta could think of a thousand curses but instead began to organize a list in his mind. After all, it would be quite the walk to the border and he needed to be prepared.
Basket in hand, she moved through the market. Smiling and nodding at vendors as they set up or sold their wares, she made mental notes of things to pick up on her walk back home. The Glenhold Dungeon wasn't exactly a shiny visitor's spot in their area of existance, but it was a place that seemed necessary. And she was proud her man was one of those who worked there. Stepping up to the guard at the gate, she smiled. "Good morning, Nefa'li. I came to bring Ratu food and there is enough for the rest of you as well." She lifted the light blue linen from the basket so he would be able to see it all and inspect if it necessary as they always did. "I hope the new little ones are well and healthy." Her own fur, lighter shaded than Ranu's, was light brown and tawny patched like the creatures that hid in the forest.
Nefa'li smiled and nodded. "They are well. Already almost too much to keep up with. You should come by. Tela will be glad to see you." He glanced at the basket to be sure it was as she said then waved her thru. "He may be making rounds, you can wait in the gather room as usual." He opened the door to let her in.
"I'll come by and see her in the next couple days. Tell her I said hello." Brin nodded once more and headed inside. Once in, she took to one of the side tables to start setting up the food. Smiling up at a couple of the guards that were in the entryway, one ran off to let Ranu know that his mate was here and had brought food.
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