"Dark Stag" - Chapter 7


The days that followed Kijus’s departure were rather surreal. The family simply didn’t function the same. Brija was distant, studying the journal full of information Kijus wrote for her like it was a holy book full of salvation. Roi and Jon were having their problems due to Roi taking the training of Silver far more seriously than their relationship. Roi was never present, always gone with Silver. It may have been for the best though. Father had taken his antics to a newer extreme.
It was the thursday, two days after Kijus had left the upper ring. I went to the middle lounge of the citadel, simply to get something to eat. My father was sitting in a sectional receiving oral sex from some slave girl he bought. It wasn’t out of the normal for him to do this but to do it blatantly in the open… in our home where all could see? Something wasn’t right about him. He had become foreign to us all.
It caught me by surprise, his gall. It’s like he lost all respect for his marriage. Just as I stood, jaw hanging from shock, mother came down the stairs. As soon as she saw this detesting act, she turned and went back up the stairs. I left too, heading out of the palace completely. Just to think of how this made my mother feel just made me wish I had to courage to confront my father. The man was just as wicked as they come.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I couldn’t bare to be in the house after seeing such an act from my father. It was late in the evening with virtually not a single thing to be done. If days like this were going to be common, then Kijus would be dearly missed. I went to the stables, hoping there was something there to do. Rejon’s stall was empty, being the only one on the north end of the stable due to his temperament. I just missed seeing him there.
At least Bazahra was here though. She often spent her days circling high above the upper ring, damn near invisible due to her metallic plumage and translucent wings. I remember seeing how Kijus would rub her down and speak to her in Illsian. She’d respond back in some comical way, often surprising him with her level of intellect.
All of this pondering simply became a little too much for me. I went back into the palace, careful to take the rear stairway, not wanting to see my the disgusting father. I entered my room, ready to unwind. Looking at my sectional pieces, I remembering when Kijus and I spent nights up having conversations.   
Going through the confusing maze which was my room, I grabbed a pair of night johns and walked through my archive. To my surprise, Bazahra was perched on the mantle of the great window, grooming herself.
“Hey girl!” I said. She looked at me, not knowing English. I sighed as I walked over to the pouch on her back. Opening it, I was hopeful there was a letter to be found… nothing. It was discouraging to say the least. It meant that Kijus hadn’t written me and it’s been close to three days now. I even put pen and paper in Bazahra’s back pouch because I knew she wouldn’t be allowed to get it in the brothels. Now that I think about it, could Bazahra even sneak her way into the brothels? If not, the sanctity of this mission was utterly doomed. I’d need to bail Kijus out immediately. That place was too horrible for someone of Kijus’s intellect to be allowed to sit and simply fester within.
Continuing through the archive to the bath suite, I ran me some bath water. I made sure it was nice and hot as I poured coconut powder into it. The rushing water began to foam, the sweet smell of coconut filling the walls of the bath suite with it’s glorious scent. I stripped out of my clothes, and climbed into the bath tub. I slid down into the scalding water, hoping the heat would allow me to unwind, relax like steam on wrinkled fabric.
“Richard?” I heard a voice call out. I leaned up, it was Roi. He entered from his side of the bath suite. He came over, surprised that I decided to take a bath for a change, “I didn’t know you still take bath’s.”
“I don’t but…”
“Move over!” He said, stripping off his clothes. He hopped into the massive tub, instantly unwinding upon feeling the soothing heat, “I need this…”
“Something wrong?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Roi said, “Jon broke up with me.” It caught me by surprise.
“What, why?” I asked, startled.
“I finally found something that means more to me than ya know, sex and it isn’t him. It’s falconry. I can do that for all eternity and be happy. He got tired of following me around while I trained Silver….gave me a fucking ultimatum. I can see if he would have said ‘sorry, but I just can’t do it anymore. I see you care for your raptor dearly so I think we need to break it off.’ No, instead he was like , ‘I see you and your little bird spend more time together than we do. I’m tired of having to compete with it...it’s either him or me!’ It pissed me off so bad, I chose Silver.” Roi sighed.
“So you ready for this breakfast tomorrow? We got to make it since it’s friday…” Roi asked.
“I don’t give a fuck man…”
“What? Why?” Roi asked.
“Dad just is becoming something I detest. He was sodomizing a slave’s face in plain sight, amongst servants, amongst palace noblemen, amongst us children and amongst his wife...our..fucking...MOTHER!” I hissed. Even Roi was disgusted.
“Well, we need to be at the breakfast tomorrow. We don’t need him drawing suspicions over us. He also might say some...things that may be important.” Roi hinted.
“You definitely have a point.” I sighed, “So later tomorrow, what do you want to do?”
“I want to lure course Silver because it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. Then after that, you can show me the ropes to the tournament fling games.” Roi suggested.
“Sounds like a busy day… That’s what I need to clear my fucking mind.” I sighed, resting my head on the rim of the tub.
“I know right…” Roi responded, doing the same.


The next day had arrived. We woke up nice and early, both entering the bath suite simultaneously. Roi went straight to the mirror, looking at his hair.
“You don’t think I look creepy with this much hair?” He asked.
“Of course you look creepy… But what’s wrong, you finally want to cut it?” I responded.
“Yeah, it’s about time I cut it.” He sighed, pulling a thin pair of scissors from the drawer. He reached for the rack, grabbing a towel. The skilled boy began snipping his hair, cutting in defined layers. The hair, dropped to the towel to make sure the mess was minimal. He then left a thin long bang that seamlessly went from the layers of hair he had left on his head. The cut looked pretty damn awesome!
“You know you’re a bad brother when you forget that your only brother has amazing barber skills.” I chuckled.
“I hadn’t cut my hair in a year… Things also have been so crazy I’m not surprised you forgot.” He smiled. He rolled up the towel and tossed it to his side of the bathroom. He stood looking in the mirror, obviously a lot on his mind. He parted the asymmetrical bang down the middle, grabbing a bottle of setting conditioners.
“What’s bothering you brother?” I asked.
“Sometimes, I just think about my past and… You know, I grew my hair out to hide behind it… It was like a security blanket and what I could shield myself with whenever I got hurt, rejected or anything… It was all because of that night a few years ago,” He said, still haunted by his childhood memories, “When...he touched… I just don’t know man. It feels like even with this...cutting my hair, in a style I like it’s not good enough. I’ll still be that boy that got touched by his father’s best nobleman. Nothing is good enough to escape from it...Not even this hair change. It feels like the only ounce of security I once had...is gone.” He massaged the milky conditioner into his hair.
“Is that why you kept it longer in the front?” I asked. He stood there, thinking on it.
“I guess so.” He responded, looking down at his scissors.
“Well, I’m your brother. I’m not here to ridicule you or judge you over your past. I know I haven’t been much of a brother in the past but I’m trying with all my might now and whatever hardships you are facing now, we’ll face them together.” I said, hoping to reassure him.
“Yeah,” Roi said, drawn to tears, “It’s kind of nice having someone to talk to!” He embraced me in a tight hug, balling intensely.
I felt terrible. I had no idea my brother’s past had such a hold on him. He tried opressing it for so long but now, for some reason he had gained the strength to face it. Though I was glad to see him growing past his issues, I wondered where this strength came from because he surely needed to share it! It was beyond invigorating to witness this! I wasn’t much of a spiritual person but there was something, a definitive change in Roi. It radiated off of him like light off of a polished falchion.
“So, you never had anyone to talk to?” I asked him.
“No, one day I told father and he beat me senseless. I’ve been scared to open up to anyone ever since. In fact the nobleman even confirmed he did those things to me and father still came after me, as if I’ve brought dishonor to him. For a long time I thought I did something wrong, cursed my existence but didn’t have the strength to kill myself…”
“Strength?” I interrupted, halting our embrace simply to make eye contact with him, “There is no strength in suicide, only weakness! Killing yourself is never the solution to your emotional torment and I want you to remember that! Never, ever again dare contemplate taking your own life! You are a strong boy, Roi too gifted to let this world get inside your head and bring you down! Kijus! He’s a prime example of someone of unparalleled strength.”
“I know… When you told me what he was doing and why he was doing it, the lengths he went to to get to doing it, I began modeling myself after him. The fact that he was going to go about it alone, has went through so much torment and turmoil as a child alone, just on an entirely different magnitude than what I experienced…. Yes, his strength is what drives me! If he can be so driven as to save his sister, I can be so driven as to get over my past and stop hiding behind it….” He said.
It was quite the epiphany. I turned to brush my teeth and wash my face, the whole way thinking about Kijus’s affect on us both. Kijus was the driving force behind Roi’s new found confidence. If Roi could completely come out his shell, become more sociable and less of a recluse, then it’d be my turn. I’d step up to the plate and get rid of my father. That man means this place no good and I already knew that he was going to do something to ruin us all.
Roi and I got ready, dressing up for a casual day of horseback riding and raptor training. We left our rooms at the exact same time. As we walked down the hall to the stairs, we couldn’t help but stare at Kijus’s old guest room. We had gotten so used to him being there, we halfway expected his door to swing open and his beautiful face and long flowing hair to stun us both.
We continued down the hall, to the balcony, taking our respective seats at the brunch table. The Easterner servants stood with their massive fans, blowing away any insect not strong enough to fight off the gentle breeze. Brija came out just after us, instantly looking at where Kijus used to sit. She sighed, taking a seat next to me.
“Hey.” I said, smiling at her. She reached over to hug me before looking at Roi in shocked.
“You cut your hair?” She asked.
“Yeah...wanted to do something different.” He said, retreating into himself. The other noblemen took their seats at the table, all silent as usual. Three rare visitors came to the table...my old entourage: Snare, Miles and Robin….
I couldn’t say I was excited to see them...in fact, I didn’t want them here at the table at all. They eyed me confrontationally but no words were said. A few minutes later, mother came through the door, smiling taking her seat. As she sat down, I saw glimpses of treacherous hate through her soft honey eyes. She looked at everyone with a warm grin.
“Good day to you all. I hope all are having a blessed day…” She said. We nodded in acknowledgement.
Lastly the emperor came, taking his throne with such a pretentious grin.
“I hope everyone’s having a glorious morning because I know I am…” The King said, as he took his seat. He grabbed my mother’s hand. She gave him a fearsome glare before bowing her head. It was very noticeable, Everyone catching it. He then grabbed his noblest man’s hand, Roi giving an eyeroll as well. The tension at this table was charged and heated.
Everyone held hands as prayers were said. We soon were eating...silently but, still eating nonetheless, all except my mother. She just sat there, obviously far more angered than she was willing to lead on. Pa looked at us as he cut through his omelet, smiling.  
“How are you boys this morning?” He asked. Roi and I looked at each other, unsure what way this would turn.
“I’m fine…” Roi responded.
“...Me too.” I finally said back.
“So…” He said as he put a bit of the omelet in his mouth, “Heard from Kijus?” I shook my head, being...truthful.
“See, I know you know where he is. I know he’s still in this city because Kijus wouldn’t leave his his two most prized possessions behind. I’m going to find him...and kill him.”
“It’s funny.” I began.
“What?” The king asked, startled by my response.
“You wanted him to be your raptor trainor, tried to keep him confined here but the extent of his work caused him to have to commonly leave the border to fetch supplies. Either way, you were prohibiting him from doing the job you so instilled and forced upon him.” I said.
“You don’t get it do you? My word is what goes, and if I tell him or anyone for that matter what to do, they will do it! His disobeyal of my word will cause him to be made a clean example of. Doyle, I want scent hounds all over the city… Go to his room, and fetch his rags. Let the dogs get familiar with his scent and wherever he is, bring him back… alive though.”  
Doyle, the emperor’s noblest man got up from his seat, bowing before entering the palace. Several other noblemen, further down the table got up as well, following him.
“What are you going to do now? There’s only going to be a matter of time before we find him.” Pa said.
“What happened to you?” Brija asked. All eyes fell upon her as she slammed the journal shut, starring at father in shock, “You...you weren’t this man a year ago… You weren’t this out to prove yourself, to show your prowess as a ruler...Have you forgotten?”
“No what happened to you?” Pa interrupted, “I remember you being a respectful little girl who knew place.” Brija exchanged heated glares with him for several intense seconds. She picked up her journal and walked away.
“I’ve had my fill.” She hissed.
“Brija!” Mother called out. She looked at both Roi and I, “Go get her!”
By no chance did mother want us to bring her back. She wanted us to leave the table just for our own sanctity We did so, catching up with the teary eyed girl.
“You ok?” I asked.
“Yeah but…” She began, unable to find the right words.
“Dude, they are going after Kijus in a full on man hunt. You think they’ll find him?” Roi asked.
“No but we got to give Mercury a heads up… It’s early, he’s still home! We need to go!” I said.
“How? We can’t sneak out of here! They have the entire upper ring on lock.” Roi  countered.
“There’s another way…” I said, “Come on!” I led, them around the front entrance of the palace and we made our way to the cellar.
The cellar was filled with automated pins which rotated casks of wine by numerous levers. Roi looked at me in confusion.
“Why’d you lead us here?” He asked.
“This is how Kijus got out…” I responded. I walked to the northward rear wall and cranked a lever for the cask. Instead of the flat pin rotating to move the cask. It rotated revealing a secret tunnel. “Hurry, it closes back in a few seconds.” I rushed them forward, following after them.
The long brick corridor was dark but I knew it thoroughly. These service tunnels lead to secret passages under the stable, the aviary, the homes of the noblest chaps on the north end of the upper ring and to the middle ring. The middle ring was where we were trying to get to. I led them for several miles until we had to climb up through the catacombs. It was a strange place. For so many dead to be stocked here,  it had no odor.
“What is this place?” Brija asked.
“It’s a catacomb.” I answered.
“A who?” She asked.
“It’s a place where they stock the dead.” Roi said. Brija looked at us both in horror.
“Why are we down here?!” She asked, stopping in her tracks. The girl was utterly mortified.
“We’re exiting through the mausoleum in the middle of the Jule District.” I said, to her.
“So we’re going through a graveyard?” She asked.
“Yeah,” I said grabbing her arm, “Come on!”
We continued on, ascending a huge flight of stairs. We entered the mausoleum, dead bodies on the concrete slabs as far as the eye could see. Light rained in from the rafter windows in the most unsettling way. I got bad feelings in this portion of the masque. None of us wanted to linger in the mausoleum for long. We exited, glad to see daylight again. We stood in the graveyard, tombstones going on for miles.
“Come on!” I said, leading them south.
“I thought we were going to the Bolt district.” Roi noted.
“There’s a stable… We wouldn’t make it in time. We need horses.” I said.
The stable was maybe a horsing field away from our current location. It was a five minute run. We reached the cemetery stables. The only horses they had were black plowing horses, big slow horses with a very low top speed. However, their top speeds were nearly twice that of any human and despite their mass, were extremely agile and great jumpers. I picked up one of the saddles, throwing it onto the back of a horse.
“Wait you’re just going to steal them?” Brija asked.
“Hell yeah!” I said. Roi grabbed a saddle, putting it on another horse. Brija just looked on, completely lost.
“What?” I asked.
“I don’t know anything about horses!” She said.
“Ugh, come on…” I sighed, tightening the strange saddle to the horses midsection. I reached for Brija, “Put your foot in the holes.” She climbed up, full of uncertainty.
“Scoot back.” I said, hopping on just in front of her, “Roi open the doors!”
“Ok he said,” Running towards the front of the stable. He pulled the latch up and rolled the door back. He then ran to his horse, hopping on it. We galloped out, heading northeast to the Bolt district. We hopped over the eastern fence of the masque, entering the city. We continued our path, reaching the central circuit. Brija was wrapped tightly around my waist as the two plowing horses galloped at full tilt. We were probably barely touching thirty miles an hour but the girl had never ridden a horse before. This was the fastest she had ever moved.
A few minutes later, we reached the Bolt district, detouring to reach the rear. We leapt over the Ion Subdivision fencing and dashed across Black Pastures. Swooping just in front of us was, Bazahra, followed by Silver. She began to circle around the slow moving horses, swooping low and high as she battled with the wind. Something wasn’t right.
We reached Mercury’s apartment, tying our horses on his outward post. Upon opening his stable door, I was shocked to see two black stags there. Mercury turned to us in surprise. He held a journal in his hand, the same leather journals Kijus was notorious for writing.
“Yes?” Mercury asked.
“I’m so sorry to bother you but you may be in trouble…” I warned. He looked on completely lost.
“Why?” He asked, rather defensively.
“They have scent hounds tracking Kijus down and I know the scent hounds will end up here. If you have anything that will let them know that Kijus was here I’d recommend you hand it to us before they come.” I said. Mercury looked around, perplexed and frustrated by the news. He clenched his head, sighing heavily.
“So…?” He asked, unsure what this all meant.
“I’m going to an outpost just outside the walls of the city. Rejon and your other stag will be there… Canyon Miran.” I said.
“Canyon Miran?” He asked.
“Yeah… have you heard from Kijus?” I asked.
“No, I’ve been waiting for him to write me but..I haven’t gotten anything…”
“Me either.”
“Well that isn’t too good of a sign. Can Bazahra even sneak into the brothel?”
“I would ask her if I knew Illisian.” I sighed.
“Yeah this is becoming difficult…” Mercury said, obviously having his issues with the plan.
“Yeah, but we’ll take the two stags and bring them back to you when the coast is clear.” I said.
“Well, Bastion has barely any training yet so you can’t ride him out. Rejon is very unpredictable around horses.” Mercury advised.
“I know how to handle Rejon.” Roi chimed in. Mercury looked at him for a long while before responding.
“I hope so…  I’m not having the best of luck with him…” Mercury sighed, full of disappointment.
“Things are pretty bad a home but I’ll try to help you if I can… We’re all in pretty hot water as is but… This needs to be done.” I said. Mercury looked at me with a bit of skepticism and dislike. His honey colored eyes just could see through you, see your insides, what you were about. All and all, he was terrifying. I didn’t know how I was able to maintain eye contact with him.
“If you can…” He responded, his tone dry and confrontational.
I untied Rejon and led him out of the stables. As soon as he saw the much larger plowing horse, he grew tense. However, this wasn’t the same animal that it was a few months ago. That Rejon would have dug his horns right into the flank of this horse. This Rejon was...cautious and full of reluctance but not at all hostile.
Taking a risk, I released his reins. This creature could have charged the horse then and there, trampling over me in the process but he simply chuffed and turned his head. It was a testament to his level of understanding. Roi exited the stable after me, leading Bastion through the doors. Rejon, completely turned away at the sight of the younger stag. All it did was made me wonder...how did Rejon truly feel about these creatures? I’d never know…
Roi looked at me, utterly confused.
“How the hell are we going to get not only these two antelope to Canyon Miran, but these horses as well?”
“We can let my horse go. He’ll go right back to the stable like we weren’t even there. I’m mounting up Rejon. You will lead the young antelope by horseback and reins.” I told him.
Mercury came out of the door, overhearing us.
“You don’t have to do that. Whistle a quartet down scales and he’ll follow. He’s wired that way.” He chimed in, holding Rejon’s saddle. He handed it to me.
“Thanks.” I responded before turning to Roi, “You heard him?”
“Yeah, whistle quartets and both stags ‘ll follow.” He said. He extend out his hand to Brija, pulling her up on the back of the horse. As he began to ride forward, he turned to me, “Hey Ricky…”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea… Let the two stags follow us. Take the horse with you incase something goes wrong.” He said.
“You may be right...but Mercury…” I said, turning to him, “Is there anything here that would get you caught? I need you to think long and hard. We’re in some pretty steep shit.”
“OH!” He said, rushing back up the stairs. A few seconds later, he returned with Kijus’s satchel, “All of his journals and all of his money is in this.”
“That’s all?” I asked. He thought long and hard on it.
“That’s all, really.” He said, unable to remember much of anything. As for why he didn’t go and look for certain was beyond me. The man obviously had a lot on his plate, was beyond stressed, and I didn’t want to bother him any further. I nodded with a grin as I placed the small saddle on Rejon. I untied my horse, getting back on it, heading towards Roi. He faced the the antelope, whistling the quartet of down scales repetitiously.
The young stag gave a flat bugle in return, shaking its head, eager to follow. Rejon followed after him, holding his head parallel to the ground. I knew little of anything about these creatures but I was certain of one thing. Rejon was not very happy at this moment and it was rather terrifying having a creature around us we were rather ignorant about. It made him all the more unpredictable.
Nonetheless, we galloped out as fast as the horses could run. The antelopes were barely breaking a trot, let alone putting forth any effort to maintain these thirty mile and hour speeds. In fact it appeared Rejon and Bastion were enjoying themselves, obviously the first time they got to extend their legs in a good long while. Both shook their heads, leapt and kicked, a sign of joy amongst bovines, cervines and equines. For these creatures, it was clear now. Running meant freedom. I could tell these dark stags were creatures of a lot of promise, far more intelligent than any bovine I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
The only thing was that, Rejon was trained in Illisian, not English. In fact, half the time, Kijus would whistle at Rejon and Rejon would do something. From what I’ve seen, Bastion also responded to these whistles and as Mercury stated, these creatures are simply wired to do so. So maybe, if I could tap into this language of whistles, I’d have a better chance of understanding how these creatures worked. Surely Mercury would need as much help as he could get.
We reached the rear fence of Black Pastures and exited the Ion Sub Division. The Route we took was discreet, down alleys and back roads until we reached the main corridor. We passed into the lower ring without incident, only to see the streets were too jammed to maintain pace. I was not very familiar with these parts but I did know how to get out of here. We’d have to count on the incredibly powerful rear quarters of the plowing horse to get us up on the roof tops. We knew already the stags could make the distance.
I took the lead, veering around the congested streets looking for the shortest building.
“What are you doing?” Roi asked.
“Follow me!” I said as I saw an open trolley with several crates parked on the side of a vending stand. The horse galloped forward, people leaping out of the way, risking the brunt of those fearsome hooves. It ran up the open trolley, using the crates as steps to get on top of the vending stand. From there, the horse was able to make the forty feet of distance to the roof tops of the countless warehouses that lined these streets.
I stopped the horse as I stood on the roof top. The fact that a two thousand pound creature could leap nearly forty feet vertically was just super uncanny. Roi and Brija were close behind as well as the two antelope. From that point on, it was a straight shot to the the outermost perimeter. We ran the rooftops straight south, leaping from building to building.  The outermost perimeter was getting closer and closer.
After a few minutes later, we reached it.  We leapt the twenty feet of distance and before I could react, we were over the eighty feet of wall. I braced for the impact of the ground, fearing our end but the horses kept running. It went to show that compared to the normal quarter horses we rode, these giant plowing horses were extremely durable.
Roi, Brija and the two stags were close behind, Brija screaming the entire way to the ground.We continued to run as fast as the horses legs could carry for the next hour, eventually reaching Canyon Miran. It was a grand outpost in the middle of the White Badlands built into the valleyside. There, I had friends I knew could be trusted.
We entered the small town. It had one central road, cobbled with strange stones, ending at a sheer cliff face within the small canyon. On each side, were clay and tin buildings, some of them warehouses, some homes, some trading outposts. They ran up all throughout the height of the canyon, recessing more into the gorge wall the higher up the buildings got. It made this entire town, built in the smallest gulley within a massive canyon, look like the steps of a amphitheater. The entire town of Miran was so recessed that if one did not know this canyon well, they’d never find it.
In our discussion, Kijus and I decided that if things went wrong, this would be our junction. It was the safest place to interact with one another considering it was only twenty minutes from Temptation City. I doubt my father would want to venture into the Emerald Canyon Network. Creatures of your worst nightmares called the porous caves and deep cracks in the valleys home.
These thoughts were all on my mind as I led everyone to the rear of the Canyon to a long time trader I knew. He was our age, standing about five foot ten, and had a physique I’d kill or die for. However, you’d never know because all he’d wear were eastern robes that covered him from head to toe. His hair was black, slicked back into a neat low slung ponytail, showing off his bronzed skin and chiseled cheekbones. I couldn’t say he was remarkably handsome but he was definitely...pretty… not to my taste though. Oh, and he was straight….
He came out of his outpost with a broad smile, both hands behind his back. He glided across the ground on the most airy of footsteps as we came near.
“Ricky!” He said. Roi who was right beside me, looked in confusion.
“You two know each other?”
“Yeah, he’d get my shipments for falconry equipment and ride them into town, handing them to me personally.” I said, “He, Gou.”
“What brings you to my parts?” He asked, seeming to float across the ground. His fluid movements caught both Roi and Brija off guard. They watched his feet, wondering how in this barren Earth, this boy could switch between both feet without his shoulders jostling in the slightest. It was all very funny but still, we had important matters at hand.
“I need your help.” I said. Gou looked at the stags, growing interest.
“Want me to sell them?” He asked.
“No, I want you to keep them for a while...If...if it won’t be too big of a deal.” I said. Gou looked at us all for a long time, assessing us from head to toe. The concerns were growing as the boy stood, void of any emotion. Even Rejon and Bastion could pick up on the uncertainty, tensions riding completely on Gou.
The Boy turned and walked straight towards the outcrop he stood in front of. He looked around before kicking the clay wall. The wall began to split as though there was a small earthquake. it continued to do so, revealing a tall metal door. He turned to us.
“Come on…” He said, walking in. Roi and I looked at each other before following him in. Roi whistled, the stags following after us.
This secret tunnel was strange, carved out by giant drilling machines and supported by woven titanium mesh. He led us through this expansive compound to an underground pin. He opened the gate, letting me and Roi pass through with the horses and stags.  He then closed the gate behind him.
“Now tell me,” He said turning to face us all, “How the hell did you manage to get two black stags?”
“They are not mine… I’m holding them for someone but don’t have anywhere to put them. This is the first place that came to mine...you..know what they are?” I asked.
“Of course I know what they are. I used to live in the Lower Blessed Lands by Tanzania. Black Stag are all the African’s ride there. You’ll get laughed at if you ride in town with a horse..” He said, “How’d whoever you’re holding these things for get ahold of them?”
“They are Illisians…” I explained.
“Wow,” Gou chuckled, “And what exactly have you gotten yourself in…” He stopped mid sentence as two silver bolts shot into the pin. It was Bazahra and Silver.
“They are with us too.” I laughed, “Do you know what these are?”
“I have no idea… Never saw a raptor that sized before except Haast Eagle’s from New Zealand...but Haast Eagles are not really...silver.” He said, mesmerized by the beauty of Bazahra and Silver, “Anyways, what’s going on?”
“My father is searching for someone I’m trying to hide and these stags have a crucial tie into the situation so I’m...I’ve been given the duty to protect them...as well as the raptor.” I said, trying to be as vague as possible.
“The smaller raptor is mine…” Roi said.
“Well don’t you all look exhausted… Come up stairs so we can sort this matter out more.”  Gou said, pitying us. I hopped off of the plowing hose, the creature wincing in pain. Inspecting it, seeing that it wasn’t completely unscathed from the eighty foot drop. It’s leg was injured, but I couldn’t tell how serious it was. I led the horse through the caral to a tie up post, noticing the slightest limp to it. This was by no means a good sign.
Roi and Brija did the same, their horse limping even more than mine. Roi looked at his horse’s knee, seeing that it’s left knee was swollen badly.
“Fuck…” He sighed.
“Let’s...let’s rally up Rejon and Bastion…” I sighed, this being an unsuspected thorn in the mission’s side. As I approached Rejon, he whistled and trotted away.
“Rejon!” I called out. The stag continued to be evasive.
“I’m going after Bastion.” Roi said, as he approached the young antelope. Bastion shook his head wildly kicking into the air. He fled from Roi, obviosuly thinking this was a game. Roi simply stopped not even bothering. The speedy animal, then burst out into a sprint, stopping just in front of Rejon. The dissipation of momentum was so great Bastion skidded across the ground, rolling onto his side with a huge thud. Rejon stood in full alert.
The playful Bastion, got onto his wrists and ankles crawling towards Rejon in a wriggling fashion. He acted like an antelope fawn, ridiculously cute and playful. He continued inching towards the powerful Rejon, before the two reared up onto their hind legs, trading powerful blows with their hooves. The scuffle looked rather serious and considering their size and strength I did not want to be near it. I backed away as Rejon began to dominate the slightly smaller and less vicious Bastion.
“This isn’t good…” I said, unsure how to break up the two from fighting. All I could do was hope that Rejon wouldn’t drop those five foot long horns and skewer the poor Bastion.
Just as Rejon began to plow through Bastion with his powerful hoof blows, he stopped. His hind legs kicked high into the air, almost flipping over entirely. He began shaking his head wildly, as Bastion took advantage of the added leverage he gained against Rejon. Bastion reared up, kicking wildly, not as precise as Rejon’s deliberate blows. Still though, Rejon took off in a sprint, in the opposite direction to the scuffle. Bastion was close behind. The opposite direction was directly at us. Roi, Brija and I had to run to avoid the three thousand pounds of sheer muscle careening towards us. Just as we got ready to brace for the impact, the two stags changed direction running tight circles around the carel, both kicking joyfully, leaping and bounding with loud bugles and head shakes. This was all just a game, a dangerous game…
We followed Gou up the stairs to his accommodations. He took off his silent slippers placing them just at the door way. We did the same. He opened his door letting us in first. His grandmother sat in the center of the living space on pillows, siping scalding tea. His home was very open from the kitchen, to the living space, to the dining room. The floors were eastern bamboo and the walls were a gorgeous matte plaster. There were water color trims on the wall as well as intricate vertical artwork, again an Eastern thing.
Gou led us up the stairs to his room. He slid open his door, waiting for us to venture in. His room traded the gorgeous bamboo flooring for ebony flooring. He also had West African prints on his wall, prints from thousands of years ago. His room layout was open, just like the downstairs living space.  His bed was made of ebony, his comforter set orange and black, painting this gorgeous mural of some kind.   
His bed though, was so far away. Also, his bathroom was combined with his room, having no walls separating it. It took up the entire left side of his room. His wardrobe also wasn’t a disjointed room. They were modular closets, swiveling victorian themed storages on the far right edge of the room, still a considerable distance from his bed. They had a panoramic vanity illuminated with sun lamps.  Just in front of us though, were very modern and sophisticated lounge sectionals and something rare in these times… television. Roi flocked to the seat.
“Your room is awesome…” Brija said, looking at how well his wardrobe was integrated into his vanity. Gou looked at Brija from head to toe, taken aback by her beauty.
She wore a simple dress that stopped above the knee and ankle boots. It showed off her girly frame well enough, I guess. Her long auburn hair was pulled back into a loose low slung ponytail.  Gou locked onto her face, seeing her delicate rounded head, light freckles, small bulbous nose and green eyes obviously stricken by her. He suddenly looked away, walking towards the lounging set.
“Thank you.” He responded. Brija herself, was oblivious to the fact that Gou had thoroughly checked her out. I couldn’t help but smile. Brija continued to stand, looking at every square inch of the room.
“So,” Gou began.
“How’d you get ahold of one of these?” Roi interrupted, warranting a displeased reaction from Gou, “Oh, sorry.”
“So,” Gou sighed, “What exactly did you get yourself involved with?”
“A nobleman brought us a slave, this slave was rather brilliant, too brilliant to be treated as anything less than what he was. So I took it upon myself to help him out no matter the cost...turns out, he has a family member in the brothels and he plans on busting her out so… I’m covering from him no matter how far I have to go…” I explained.
“You trusted a slave… Richard, you can’t fall for that type of bullshit. Sounds like to me you’re dealing with a sex fanatic…” Gou sighed.
“You have to meet him to understand him. He was the sole reason my family got along for the first time in years. Now that he’s left we all fell apart.” Roi chimed in.
“Damn all of you got in on the action?” Gou laughed.
“No, he was an animal trainer…” I said, trying to hide my building agitation.
“Well, explain the dynamic…” Gou said, obviously confused.
“He helped us without asking for help in return...I poked and prodded a bit too much and saw that he needed help of his own and considering the lengths he went to help us given the choices he had, because to be honest… A person like him, he could have escaped without incident but...he chose to stay. I’m just saying, if I wouldn’t have insisted on helping him, things would have taken a different turn.” I explained.
“Well he sounds like an interesting person but I’m still not getting where things went wrong.”
“Things went wrong when,” Roi started, “When my father found out that Kijus would leave the upper wall to do...whatever and banned him from leaving. It was the final thing that sent him over the edge. That same night he was gone…”
“Kijus?” Gou jumped, “A five foot nineish Illisian, very long hair…. kind of banal?” Everyone looked at each other.
“You know him?” I asked.
“How the fuck did he manage to get captured by slavers. Do his uncles know? They are Tanzanian Warlords… My grandmother and I used to trade with both his father and his uncles when we stayed in The Rift! That boy is royalty!” Gou said, completely shocked.
“Royalty? As in, he’s a prince and he didn’t tell us? Why? God, this is too much.” I said, getting to me feet, clenching my head.
“We’re the one’s who sold his father the black antelope!” Gou laughed.
“Oh my..” Roi said. I was left speechless.
“So, like...you knew him knew him, not just knew him but like...you got to know him?” Gou asked.
“Yeah.. He was with us for four months.”
“FOUR MONTHS???” Gou said out, shocked, “I mean I don’t know him well at all. I just have heard of his heroism.”
“Heroism?” Roi and I asked simultaneously.
“I don’t know if it’s true but he single handedly took down a slaver caravan in some ruins in Illisia….saved a whole bunch of lives.” Gou said.
“You know, Kijus always said he had to do some pretty horrific things just to stay alive back in his homelands. I wouldn’t put anything past him… I just hope and pray that somehow he won’t have to reveal this side of him. I went this long without seeing it and I really don’t want it unleashed.” I said, full of worry.
“Should I tell his uncles? They can have an army here in the Caucuses within the matter of a week.” Gou said.
“Kijus said he could handle this on his own. I wouldn’t put that past him either. He’s done some pretty impressive stuff by himself as is such as train that black antelope, my and his raptor, countless other raptors and build a coursing pylon set with thousands of feet of retract.” Roi added.
“I’m sorry but I wouldn’t have this much faith in him...does he know how nasty Temptation City can be? I think we should call his uncles.” Gou responded.
“That would be a war on the lands of my home… That would be a war on my hands, a war against my father...A war over two people… I might be a little stupid for having so much faith in Kijus but it definitely beats having a war…”
“I don’t want to intrude on your conversation, because it seems quite serious,” Brija said, coming over finally taking a seat next to us, “But whoever his uncle’s are...they need to be the absolute last option available...not because of Kijus but because of our father. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with that man, but my gut is telling me that he’s going to be the bigger issue, all things considered and there won’t be any stopping him. I’m scared to say it, but we might need to use Kijus for leverage on getting that army to aid in taking down pa.”
Everyone looked on in shock. It actually was a very feasible idea.
“So your Pa is that out of control?” Gou asked us all.
“Yes, and I need to write Kijus to update him on the turn of events… He needs to know Pa is tracking him.”
“They let him get mail in the brothel? And wouldn’t it be days too late then?”
“We’re sending it by Bazahra. She can get there in a handful of minutes. But we don’t know if Kijus even can find access to Bazahra since he hasn’t written back.” I sighed.
“Well… it depends on the brothels. Most of the brothels are renovated warehouses with segregated chambers for the types of sex slaves. At the end of the day, they still have large metal rafters, crates and catwalks. If he can make it to the windows on the roof then maybe he can get access to the the letters.” Gou explained.
“So it’s that damn secure? You think I should buy him out before it’s too late?” I asked, full of concern.
“I say give it until Sunday and if we don’t hear from him then we got to get him out of there.” Roi sighed.
“Then what? Where are we going to keep him? What about his sister? She isn’t for sale which is why he’s there to begin with… I mean… Kijus said he can handle himself...The best we can do is warn him.” Brija said. It was strange hearing such speech come from this girl considering how superficial she often came across. The sad part about it was that we knew so little about her. We wouldn’t interact with each other on any level before Kijus came.   
“This is one of those things where you just have to hope and pray that luck is on our side.” I said. It made Brija realize that there was very little solidity with what was going on. Everything was not concrete and would require swift thinking so things could succeed.
Gou handed me some paper and a pen as I began to write. Roi and Brija stood over me, wanting to be a part of this too.
I’ve written you several times but haven’t gotten a response. I’m just hoping that things are Ok. After putting thought into it, we made the realization that it could be hard for you to get access to Bazahra. If you do manage to get access, we just want to say this. This simply isn’t about helping your sister anymore. This is about stopping a Tyrant who hurts many! My father has sent dogs to follow your trail and I don’t know if he may find you. However, I knew he would eventually have found the two Black Stags so we relocated them to an outpost in the canyons. We couldn’t let Mercury get into trouble like that since he is a very important part of the plan. However, we’re pretty sure the dogs will lead to his home and since he’s Illisian, it’ll immediately draw suspicion. I’m terribly afraid for his safety because my father is really taking things very far. I really don’t know why he’s changed so much but I have a terrible feeling that worse things have yet to come. I hope and pray they don’t but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s completely and utterly inevitable.
I still want to know about your wellbeing. I know it’s going to be tough, for you having to do such demeaning things in there but at this point you have a lot riding on you. I just want to know are they feeding you well, are you getting enough rest, do they have it sanitary… I just want to know if you’re safe. We miss you terribly and hope that you can respond to us in time. By Sunday, if we get no response, we’re buying you back because the risk is simply too great. We have several minds together now and we more than likely can formulate a plan effective enough to foil my father’s efforts. One of those minds is a trader I’m not sure you know. His name is Gou and he said he met you years back when he used to live in Africa and know’s your uncles. Why didn’t you tell us that your were of royal blood? This could really benefit you in the long run, Kijus!
Anyways, as was stated, we’re willing to go to extreme lengths to help! Since you didn’t tell us about your uncles, we’re not using them as an option...yet! If things turn dire, we’ll definitely inform them but this requires your input, Kiju!. Just please write us back!
Yours truly,

He folded the letter neatly, placing it into Bazhara’s breast pouch along with additional pen and paper. They all led the bird down stairs, through the home, out of the tunnels and back to the desert. Within an instant, she was gone. So much was riding on this bird it made my stomach numb. I couldn’t shake the feeling but I just knew this plan was busted.
All there was to do now was return home. We did so, discreetly entering through the low gate and taking the hour ride back to the upper ring. We all were in the aviary, having little words to exchange. Brija was first to get to training her kestrel. Roi and I watched as the little bird was making a hell of a lot of progress. The bird had now imprinted on her and with every passing moment, growing more and more fond over her.
She often had to revert back to the journal Kijus made for her, but...we all did. Training animals was no easy feat, at least not as easy as Kijus made it look. One thing I was grateful for was the handbook Gou gave me before we left, the handbook on training stags. It’d be the perfect favor for Mercury since he was having obvious scheduling troubles with the stag. I skimmed through it to see the process was far more intimate than training a horse. There was a complex language you had to learn as well as knowing body postures and the slightest of movements. I looked at Roi.
“Tomorrow we have our work cut out for us…” I said. He looked at me, unsure why I’d say that.
“Why?” He asked.
“Because we’re going to train Bastion.” I said. His stare eventually diminished into a ocular wonder.
“Ok.” He responded, devoid of life. It was obvious that he was still aching over his break up. I placed my hand on his shoulder.
“Look brother…” I began, “You have the rest of your life to live. Don’t be upset over that idiot…” He looked at me.
“I’m fine Ricky…” He said, obviously not fine, extending out his hand, “Let me see that handbook.”
“Sure,” I responded, reaching into my bag handing him the journal, “You seem mighty interested in those stags.”
“I really want to try my hand at training them…” Roi said.
“Don’t you think that’s a big undertaking for you considering you still have to train Bastion?” I asked, unsure if Roi could do such a task.
“I just want something to do…” Roi sighed.
It bothered me a great deal to see my brother behaving so distantly. Unsure what could be done to aid the boy, we continued watching Brijia train her cute little kestrel. After a while, I got bored, heading to the long wing sector of the Aviary. Roi followed, truly just looking for something to free his mind. We entered, Rage’s pin.
Rage, my red breasted falcon, had great temperament and was well trained. He has five and a half feet of wings, was just over twenty six inches in length and had a fiery red plumage. His flying weight was about two and a half pounds. It was a bit light considering he hadn’t eaten in two days. Today was his feeding day but since it was the middle of the day, I wouldn’t fly him. I’d have to wait until the air was cooler because heat exhaustion is a big killer for falcons.
All and all, I was very exhausted. I could surely use a nap but I was not going back into the palace, not with my father lurking around.
“You ok?” Roi asked.
“Yeah, just didn’t realize how exhausted I am until I came in here…” I said.
“You wanna call it a day or?” Roi asked, unsure what I wanted to do.
“No, I just need a bit of a nap.” I said, “I honestly don’t know how Brija is continuing on right now…”
“You know that girl has the energy of a vitriol canister.” Roi teased, “And just so you know...you’re not the only one who’s tired. Riding on the back of those horses for that many hours, stealing them, making sure we were not followed or caught… Not only was it physically draining but it was both mentally and emotionally draining. I think we both need to recharge.”
“Eh, it’s just one day. We can push through it… We got a few hours to waste… Let’s lure course Silver for a good bit. We can use a horse to turn the wrench.” I suggested.
“Yeah, let me just run and get some lambsquarters. You get the horse.” Roi responded.
“Good, because I do not want to go back in the palace…”  I said. Roi chuckled, heading out of the pin. As he did, he was frozen in his tracks.  Roi stood eye to eye with Robin, accompanied by Jon.
“...Well, these odds….” Robin smiled malevolently. Roi rolled his eyes, walking towards the exit.
“Enjoy each other.” He said.
“What? I’m only helping Jon get on on some long wing action… He says he got tired of the short wings, says it does nothing for him…” Robin teased.
“Wow…” Jon chuckled, hating how Robin spinned the words.
“Shouldn’t you be like in the lower rings, trying to find Kijus and shit?” I asked.
“Oh that’s gonna get resolved. The little archers you hired to shoot our dogs won’t stop us…” Robin smiled.
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, I know… You’re working some angles aren’t you?” Robin prodded.
“Not that angle…” I said back.
“Why all of this for some little Cush boy…” Robin asked, genuinely confused.
“You know what,” I said, my patience for him waning, “I really am having a bad day, and I’ll be more than glad to ruins yous.” I stepped towards him, both my fists clenched.
“Man...fighting over some little Cush boy… You can’t be serious, Ricky…” Robin asked.
“Call him that again, and you’ll see how serious I am…” I smiled, edging forward towards him.
“This is why no one likes you, Richard…,” Jon chimmed in,  “You treat everyone as though you’re better than them, always have! Leaving your friends for Kijus when Kijus left you as is…? I just think you need to be honest with yourself…”
I was reduced to staring at them both. This attack seemed so odd, as though it was planned… I’m pretty sure it was, an effort to provoke me into an altercation to induce results.
“RICKY!!!!” I heard someone shout from the exit.
Coming from down the corridor was Brija, shaking her head. It was then I knew she was aware of what was going on. As she came closer, it was clear this girl was enraged.
“You two pieces of shit, if you don’t get from near my brother so help me I’ll,” She said, reaching into her bag pulling out a flask, “I’ll burn you both! I’m not above it and I sure as hell had a day that makes me want to sink my claws into something…”
“Easy,” Robin said, throwing up both hands in surrender.
“And if you ever approach my brother again, I’ll ruin you…LEAVE!!!” She hissed, threateningly.
“You, lot are crazy…” Jon said, shaking his head. He followed Robin out of the Aviary.
Brija turned to me, concern written all over her face.
“This is gonna get bad…” She said. I snatched the flask from her.
“Where the hell did you get this!” I snarled.
“It’s not acid, it’s mango juice. I had to think of something. I overheard father talking to a few of his noblemen and they want us down on lock!” She responded, her voice diminishing to a whisper, “They’ll be watching us…”
“I just don’t get it… Why all of this over one boy? He just wants to go home!” I said, growing beyond  frustrated.
“I don’t know… I just want it all to be over…” Brija sighed.
“But seriously though,” I began, looking at the flask, “Where the hell did you get this?”
“I found it a few weeks ago in the lounge. I thought one of the clients left it or something...I kept it.”
“OK,” I began, “Acid flasks are super rare. They cost a fortune. Your pour the acid on lithium citrate crystals to make Lithium opioids rock. Now Lithium Citrate is used to calm you down. Lithium opioid on the other hand...Man, it’ll change who you are.”
“You don’t think?” Brija asked.
“Yeah, pa might be on it… He’s the only one here who can afford it…” I sighed.             



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