Children of the Tiger Part 1a

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Literature Text

Part 1

Much like all the other days so far that spring, this one was unseasonably hot. it wasn't very far into the season and yet it already boded to be an unseasonably hot and dry one, much to the dismay of the farmers. The days were hot and dry with cloudless, perfectly blue skies. Kinrou sighed as he stared out his bedroom window, staring up at the empty sky. Like everyone else in Telvan, he spent his days hoping that it would rain soon. Unlike everyone else, he knew full well that there wouldn't be any for quite a while. one of the skills he'd learned in his time as a ShadowHawk Bandit was that of reading the weather. His skill at it wasn't as good as Nahiro's, but it was still quite accurate.

And anyway, Nahiro agrees with me.

He moved away from the window. There was no breeze, so there wasn't much point in staying there. More to the point, there was no real reason to stay indoors. It was stiflingly hot in the palace.

I wonder what everyone else is doing today? he wondered as he left his room. I wonder if they're all as bored as I am. Although I swear if Nalshen tries to take me swimming again I'll roast him.

* * *

After leaving his room, Kinrou went across the hallway to Nahiro's room and knocked twice on the door. He waited for a minute before knocking again. Knowing full well that if Nahiro was there, he would have answered.

This time of day, he's not sleeping. He's just not there.

Shrugging, he walked off down the hall. After living in the palace for a year he knew his way around fairly well, so finding his way to the small shrine inside the palace complex wasn't difficult. He made a right turn into the main section of the palace and went out the front door. The pair of soldiers standing watch at the door paid him no mind. He cut right across the courtyard, heading to the long, single story rectangular building. He put his hand on the red painted wooden door and slid it open. He took one step in to look inside.

There was Nahiro.

The older grey haired man was kneeling in front of the massive statue of Kal Kiterr the Fire Lord, his eyes closed in meditation. As usual, he wore a high collared shirt and loose black pants. Around his waist was a golden belt that held his sacred gem. As he was currently indoors, he was barefoot, but would put on a light pair of leather sandals and a black broad brimmed, pointed hat trimmed with gold colored ribbon before going out doors.

Kinrou rolled his eyes. Pff. Meditating. It's too hot to meditate. He closed the door and turned around. There was no sound coming from the stable located at the far end of the courtyard.

No surprise there. if I was a horse this weather wouldn't make me happy either. I sure wouldn't want to go for a run with some stupid human on my back.

He went back into the palace, wandering the halls, looking for any of the other Dragon Warriors. He paused outside of the massive doors to the throne room, debating whether or not he wanted to go in or not. After a minute of thinking, he shook his head.

No, I'm not bored enough to bug Sahiren. Besides, it sounds like he's got someone in there. Maybe his advisors?

He turned around and decided to head out to the Empress' private garden, the garden she'd given the Dragon warriors free reign to use. It's got to be cooler out there than it is inside.

He slid open the door and walked out, taking a deep breath as he walked down the stone steps to the garden. It was nearly silent. He could hear the fountain at the center of the garden as it bubbled, could hear some faint voices, but there were no birds singing and he couldn't hear or see any insects.

That's fine with me. Don't much care for bugs anyway.

A few feet into the garden, he turned his head and saw Nalshen sitting in the grass. Kinrou rather liked Nalshen though he'd never admit it out loud. He was the rash one, the expert fighter. His gem, worn in a belt around his waist, granted him a supernatural strength. He was dressed as he usually was in red trousers with a loose shirt that left his right arm completely bare, covering his left only down to elbow. Today's shirt was a light tan color. Kinrou was about to go over and say hello but then he say the red silk spread out beside him.


He shook his head and walked away, disgusted. Then again, maybe i should have stayed inside. Do those to have to act like that in public? Makes me want to gag. I wonder who'd over there by the fountain?

Even though he was perfectly safe on palace grounds, he crept towards the garden's heart. Sitting nearby was Chouen, the aristocrat's daughter. She was playing with Toef, her oddly intelligent white pawed black cat. Her dark brown hair looked slightly damp from the fountain spray. Her green eyes sparkled merrily as talked to Toef in the typical baby tones that he'd learned that people often used when talking to animals. Toef, for her part, didn't seem to mind, her white ears perked up, listening to whatever it was that Chounen was saying. Her black and white ringed tail swished lazily.

Kinrou couldn't quite make it out, but then he wasn't really trying. It annoyed him that people did that. He knew full well that Toef was the exception rather than the rule, but generally animals didn't understand words. it was possible to train them to associate certain sounds with certain objects, activities, or things, but they didn't really understand. Mostly, in his experience, they understood vocal tones and body language.

Nope, definitely not that bored. The day I stoop to sitting around Chounen and that pesky cat of hers is the day I let Sahiren run me through with his sword.

He sat down in the grass on the far side of the garden, staring at the other three people for a little while before burying his face in his hands.

Maybe I should have just stayed in my room. There's nothing to do out here, no on to do nothing with. At least back home... Back home I had Jiken.

A light went on in his mind. Now that's an idea, he thought, getting to his feet. He climbed the stairs, went back inside, and headed straight for his room.

Now, where did I put that? Ah, there it is!

From a basket on top of the small chest of drawers he kept his clothing in he picked up a small brown leather ball that Jiken had given him as a present years ago. He held it in his hand, squeezing it experimentally. Good old Jiken. Even from as far away as Mt. Dorayen he's still entertaining me.

Ball in hand, he headed back out into the garden and sat down in the shade of a tree.

* * *

Kinrou leaned his back against a tall tree. It was the only tree in that particular garden. This garden was private, reserved for use by the royal family. Shinjaloye, the current Empress, had little use for a garden, so she allowed Chief Priestess Mienna free use of it and where she went, so did her five protecting Warriors. The garden was covered in soft green grass and edged on three sides by tall, well-manicured hedges. The fourth side was taken up by one part of the Palace. The sliding door led inside to the hallway where the Empress' personal chambers were located as well as those of her son, the Crown Prince. The rooms assigned to the Chief Priestess were nearby, surrounded by those of her protectors.

A mild breeze tousled his terra cotta red hair, though it did little to cool the air; it was an unseasonably hot afternoon for early spring. There were a few clouds here and there and it was a beautiful day, but even the birds found the heat oppressive and weren't singing at all.

He tossed the ball up in the air, catching it deftly in one black gloved hand before it could fall to the ground. He looked at it carefully before throwing it back up into the air.

I'm still bored. Really, really bored. Thinking about it, a bit homesick, too. It's been…three months since I've been home. The last I heard, our old leader had been killed and Jiken replaced him. I wish I could have been there to wish him luck, Kinrou mused, looking up at the sky. I haven't spent much time with him since our failed attempt to steal the Empress' crown last year. It was just my luck that the crown was stored in the same room as the Sacred Gems. We wouldn't have been caught if I hadn't let my curiosity get the better of me and if Eladan and Sahiren hadn't picked that moment to come and get the Dragon Crown.

He looked at the deep red gem nestled in its gold edged holder on the back of his right hand. There are days when I wish things had turned out differently, but at least Jiken was let go as a result. It was either accept the calling or face execution. Now, I'm no stranger to being in jail, but I strongly object to being killed. Jiken is my best friend--I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Fingering the gem, he sighed. I suppose that's really my problem more than boredom. I miss my friends--Jiken and the rest of the gang back at Mt. Dorayen. My new friends here are nice and all, but it's not the same. They're too…civilized. I miss the roughness of my old life. It wasn't always good, but the good moments more than made up for it. Never mind that pretty much all of the things we got into were highly illegal.

He set the ball down in the grass beside him and studied the gem carefully, watching it gleam in the sunlight. The light reflected off it, tinting the two small gold hoops he wore in his left ear red. There was a small collection of the smooth, oval shaped Sacred Gems kept in a golden box in the treasury. Each one reacted differently to each bearer and all were in various shades of red. Only five were let out into the world at any given time as only five Warriors were required to protect the Chief to the laws set down in the Beginning of Days Priestess according and agreed upon by all five of the Sky Lords and the First Emperors and Empresses of each country.

The one he carried was a dark blood red. He was told that it had given Shanye, its previous bearer, the ability to become invisible. Then again, from what Sahiren had told him about her, Shanye had been a very shy woman up until she was killed in battle while protecting the border from Zalite raids, thus opening her position. To Kin rou, it granted the ability to summon and manipulate fire. All of the Sacred Gems could be fitted into weapons made specifically to carry them or into belts, gloves like the ones Kinrou himself wore, or into necklaces. If he had chosen a weapon instead of the hand holder, he would be able to channel fire though the weapon.

A sharp crack fom behind him startled him out of his reverie. He spun around, immediately crouching down into a defensive position. Seeing the source of the noise, he felt rather silly. It was only Chounen's cat, Toef. She sat at his feet and looked up at him questioningly, her yellow eyes blinking. Beneath her front paws was a twig that she's accidentally snapped while walking around. She didn't stick around long, walking off with her tail gently waving in the air.

He hid his face in one hand. Toef, you stupid cat. No point in hunting birds today. There aren't any around! Good luck anyways. You'll need it.

"Kinrou? Are you alright?"

Kinrou turned towards to voice, spotting a tall, thin woman with brown hair, wearing a long, loose two layered red silk dress with gold trim along the hem and at her neckline. Her feet were clad in thin red silk slippers. Her light brown hair was left loose today. She walked over to him from where she'd been sitting and talking quietly with Nalshen.

Mienna was the Chief Priestess of Kal Sharash and leader of the Dragon Warriors. She didn't often take charge of them, as she'd only attained her calling last year and had none of the training she would have had if she'd been selected later in her life as was the norm. As such, knew very little about combat and tactics and tended to leave the actual leading of the warriors to Nalshen, the Dragon Warrior who was also her lover.

"Sure, fine. Why?" He really hoped that she'd go away. She had this annoying tendency of prying things out of people with her large golden brown eyes and innocent manners even though anyone who knew her at all knew that she wasn't as innocent as she seemed.

"Something's come up and we all have to leave tomorrow. Sahiren will explain better when everyone's together in his throne room. He wants us to meet him in his throne room immediately. It sounds rather important."

Kinrou nodded. "I'll be there." He leaned back against the tree as Mienna walked away. I wonder what this is about. Sahiren, despite being the Crown Prince of Telvan, had been called to be a Dragon Warrior around his fourteenth birthday. By all accounts, it had come as a bit of a shock to both Eladan--who had been Chief Priest before Mienna--and his mother the empress. His bright red gem granted him expert weapons skill. He would be able to use any weapon he chose if it was worn on a belt or in a pair of gloves, but he preferred to leave the gem in a sword that had been designed specifically to house Sacred Gems. The difference in strength and ability between the gem in the sword and in his belt was phenomenal.

Mienna said that we're all going. That's a little strange. Sahiren rarely leaves the palace, especially when the Empress is away. It must be serious if he's going to leave the running of the kingdom entirely in the hands of his councilors. That means it's probably going to be a short trip.

* * *

Soon after talking to Mienna, the Dragon Warriors gathered in the throne room as requested. Kinrou was the last one to arrive. Even Mienna had made it before him. Standing to either side of the large, sliding wooden door painted with a dragon on either side were two men with dark skin and black hair dressed from head to toe in unrelieved black. They gazed at the Warriors, their faces void of all expression. Up on the raised dais that held the country's thrones stood Sahiren, Telvan's Crown Prince, and a strange man dressed in silk robes that were similar in design to the ones that Sahiren wore when he was being official. It was a privilege to stand up on that dais, a privilege enjoyed only by a members of the royal family, visiting royalty, or a Chief Priest or Priestess. The large red and gold throne was vacant as the Empress Shinjaloye was away touring her country as she did every six months. She'd left Sahiren behind to govern in her place as he would be Emperor one day and could use the experience in dealing with the often fractious courtiers on his own.

Where Sahiren's robes were a dark crimson under a beaten gold pectoral collar, a white sash with gold trim and long, flowing transparent gold sleeves, the stranger's robes were pitch black with silver and long white transparent sleeves. He had the dark brown skin tone of the Kasheran people of Shanshiire. It stood out in sharp contrast to the Caucasian skin tone of the Telvanites. He had black hair pulled up into a bun and deep brown eyes as opposed to Sahiren's dark brown hair and golden brown eyes. He looked very anxious, wringing his hands constantly, the silver ornaments he wore winking in the light with his movements. The Dragon Warriors needed no introduction to know who this man was.

While Telvan and Shanshiire, their western neighbor, were technically at peace, the Dragon Warriors had reason to be wary of the Tiger Warriors, the protectors of the Chief Priest of Kal Berash. Fierce and proud, they were a force to be reckoned with and were even considered to be more deadly than the Wolf Warriors from the eastern country of Doval.

Sahiren looked down from the dais as Kinrou entered. He rolled his eyes. "I should have known you would be the last to arrive."

"Sorry. Had to stop by my room for a minute," Kinrou replied.

"What was so important in your room that you felt it was a necessary stop?" Sahiren growled.

"Didn't think your throne room was the place to be tossing a ball around in." Kinrou shrugged. "This sounded important and not just some fancy get together."

"If you please," the dark skinned man said, exasperated. "This business is most urgent."

"My apologies, Honored Majesty," Sahiren said, turning back to the other man briefly. They both descended from the dais to join the others on the floor. "Though he needs no introduction, I would like to make known to you his Honorable Majesty Emperor Kenjariyo of Shanshiire. He has come to me to ask for our help. He tells me that his youngest daughter and her bodyguards have vanished some time after crossing the border into Telvan," he said, getting right to the point. He wasn't one to beat around the proverbial bush when the subject at hand was important. He enjoyed being obtuse in order to watch his councilors squirm, but when dealing with his fellow Warriors he preferred to be more direct. 

Internally, Kinrou snickered. Well, preference and the fact that Mienna threatened to do something unspecified yet nasty to him if he didn't get to the point the one time he tried the obtuse thing with her.

"Telvan is a large place to loose someone in," Nalshen said thoughtfully. He ran his hand through his short brown hair; his sea green eyes were pensive, a very unusual expression for him. "Where should we start?"

"The Shadaran Mountains," Nahiro said, his gravelly voice startling everyone. The grey haired and intensely blue eyed Nahiro was the son of a former warrior-a woman called Tanare and was by far the most relaxed in his calling. He didn't often say much, but when he did, he was usually right. He was a thaumaturge, a master of the greater magic, and often spent time communing with elemental spirits, generally those belonging to the fire element, but he also spoke with the others so as not to offend anyone. Of all the warriors, he knew best what the other four Sky Lords were like, having spoken to each one at least once.

"That's a logical place to start looking," Chounen nodded, her dark brown hair falling into her left eye as it always did. She had been called at the tender age of six, the youngest to be called since Kal Sharash founded Telvan and the order of the Dragon Warriors. It had come as a shock to her family, but she had nevertheless been put through the training. Unfortunately, it had caused a rift to form between her and her brother as he'd very much hoped to be chosen as a Dragon Warrior. Through her gem, Chounen had the ability to communicate with animals. With a little bit of effort, she could temporarily join with them and see through their eyes, controlling their movements, but she couldn't do it more than once or twice a week. With practice, she'd be able to more often but it wasn't a skill she was often called upon to use. She held her cat, Toef, in her arms, not really trusting the cat to resist the urge to go play with the sash of Sahiren's robes or get into some similar sort of mischief. She was, after all, still a cat if an overly intelligent one. Toef was always with her, refusing to leave her side unless she told her to. Typically, Chounen was dressed in a loose tunic made of richly dyed purple fabric with a lighter purple front panel. She was an aristocrat's daughter, but rather than dressing as the court flowers did, she chose tunics and pants as befitted her calling.

Kinrou smacked his forehead with one black gloved hand. "I'm embarrassed that I didn't think of it."

Beside him, Nalshen smirked. "Yes, Kinrou, you should have."

Kinrou narrowed his eyes and made like he was going to hit the other man. Nalshen simply laughed and moved out of the way.

Mienna put her hands on her hips. "Could we save the teasing for a more appropriate time, please? His Honored Majesty has come seeking our help and you two aren't giving a very good impression, nor are you instilling him with confidence in our ability to successfully retrieve his daughter."

Kinrou and Nalshen both looked a little sheepish.

"My thanks to you, Priestess," said Kenjariyo, bowing slightly. "I am curious. Why look in the mountains? Are they not quite far from our mutual border?"

"They are," Sahiren confirmed. "Nahiro brings them up as they are the known hideout for the ShadowHawk Bandits." Seeing Kenjariyo blanch at the name, he said, "I see their reputation has made it as far as Shanshiire."

"Would not these bandits be deterred by her bodyguard?"

Sahiren looked at Kinrou inquisitively.

Kinrou in turn shook his head. "Not necessarily. A princess is a rare target, too rare and too tempting for bandits to pass up on, bodyguards or no bodyguards. As much as I hate to admit to it, their new leader will want to cut his teeth on something big. Trust me. I've known him since we were little."

With his red hair and light blue eyes, Kinrou was a very unusual sight in Telvan. Although red heads were considered lucky in the country of the Fire Lord, one hadn't been born in Telvan in a very long time according to the census records stored in the palace vaults. There was some speculation that he was from Zalityu, which was entirely possible. The ShadowHawk Bandits attracted people from all over Zalityu, Telvan, and Doval and they had been known on occasion to take prisoners, keeping small children to train as bandits and women to use as breeding stock. With his black pants, gloves, short medium brown tunic with some gold trim, and his wide red belt he looked fairly somber. He had two earrings in his left ear, but they and his gem were his only ornaments.

Kenjariyo's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "How is it that you have such knowledge?"

"The Dragon Warrior Kinrou is a former bandit," Mienna said simply, gesturing to Kinrou. "Worry not, Honored Majesty. We'll find her for you." Mienna had only been a priestess for a short time before Kal Sharash himself had selected her to succeed the dying Chief Priest Eladan. It had come as a shock to everyone. There had been some debate as to whether or not she was ready and whether Nalshen should remain as one of the Dragon Warriors, since it was frowned on for a Warrior to be involved with the Chief Priest or Priestess. it wasn't often that one was selected young as Mienna had been, but it was known to happen on occasion. The rule had been put into place to prevent any further tragedies from occurring after the first time a Chief Priest had fallen in love with one of his protectors who had soon afterwards died to save his life.

After trying and failing to take Nalshen's gem away from him, they'd decided to leave things as they were. They'd taken it as a sign from the Fire Lord that he wanted this Warrior and wouldn't allow them to remove his status.

Kenjariyo glanced at Kinrou, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Thank you, Priestess," he said, turning a grateful face towards Mienna. "I have many words of kindness from my Chief Priest on your behalf. I am pleased that he was not exaggerating."

Chounen nodded. "We'll be in no condition to travel tomorrow if we don't get rest while we can."

Kenjariyo nodded sagely at this. "I do have one request to make before departing, however. I wish to accompany you in your search." He held up one hand to silence their protests. "I am aware that this journey may be dangerous; however, I am the Emperor of Shanshiire and none of you have sufficient rank to deny me my right both as her Emperor and as her father. Do not worry for my safety. I will bring one of my bodyguards with me." He gestured at the taller of the two men in black beside the door. "Dalshan should be more than sufficient for my needs."

Sahiren bowed to the will of the older man. "We will be happy to have your Honored Majesty with us."

Kenjariyo's shoulders relaxed. "Good. I will make ready to leave at first light tomorrow. Until then." He gave them a formal bow and left the room. The two bodyguards followed him out.

* * *

Stretching his arms above his head as he walked, Kinrou headed for the courtyard just outside the main entrance to the palace. He yawned. His sleep hadn't been all that good the night before and he wasn't looking forward to spending the day on horse back. He heard the jumble of voices before he saw the people speaking. The guards opened the main doors for him, though one narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Kinrou as he left the palace.

He couldn't help but grin as he walked down the short flight of steps to the courtyard. There were some in the guard that still didn't trust him, even after everything he'd done as a Dragon Warrior. Some still saw him as a Shadowhawk Bandit rather than a Warrior even after having been a Warrior for a little more than a year.

His grin faded as he got a look at Emperor Kenjariyo's bodyguard. He'd come to Karath with many men acting in that capacity, but he'd elected to take only one of them on this journey, feeling that the company of Dragon Warriors would more than make up for a lack of soldiers. The man beside him was dressed from head to toe in black that was relieved only by the silver chain around its neck. Suspended from that chain was a glistening black teardrop shaped gemstone set into a silver holder.

Oh lovely. Not only do we get to spend the next few days in the company of an Emperor but with a Tiger Warrior as well. That's just perfect.

Kinrou took little comfort in the fact that his friends were also giving the Tiger Warrior cautious looks. The servants avoided going near him if they could help it as they finished their preparations, bringing out the horses, and making sure that everything was secure and ready to go.

The day so far was cooler than the previous day had been, which made them all feel better about spending the majority of the day in the saddle. Not including Emperor Kenjariyo and his bodyguard, it was just Mienna and the Dragon Warriors on this journey. Sahiren wasn't going to bring any of his servants or courtiers with him, much to the dismay of his councilors. Without his servants, how would the Crown Prince care for his royal self? Never mind the simple fact that spending time away from his courtiers was counter productive in the making of alliances. Sahiren simply laughed at them all, saying that it was his will that he would do so and it was his duty as a Dragon Warrior to accompany the Chief Priestess. Besides, he could always pave the way towards further peace between Telvan and Shanshiire by speaking with Kenjariyo while they were traveling, even though the older man was frantic with worry about his daughter.

Kinrou had become familiar with Sahiren's councilors in the last year and he frowned as he mounted his horse, an unremarkable grey gelding. Strange… They usually complain a lot more when Sahiren tries to leave the palace. I wonder what's going on? I doubt they've finally gotten it into their heads that he has other responsibilities. Mienna knows them better than I do and she thinks that they let it drop so easily because of Emperor Kenjariyo. She also thinks that it has something to do with the fact that we're riding out in search of a lost princess. His mother and his councilors have been trying to get him to choose a bride for a while now. He shook his head and urged his mount after the others. It makes a little sense, but there's still something very strange about this.

* * *

As the day progressed, the temperature rapidly rose, becoming as unseasonably hot as it had been the day before. Kinrou was so busy dividing his thoughts between how hot it was and how strange their travelling party was that he almost didn't notice when the group began to slow down, leaving the trail.

Wait, why are we stopping?

He glanced at the shadows on the ground. They were small, so he guessed it was around noon. He watched as everyone dismounted, leading their horsses into the shade of a stand of medium sized trees on the banks of the Dragon River, just an hour shy of the bridge they'd need to use to cross over to the other side and onto the trail that would take them the rest of the way north to the Shadaran Mountains.

He rode up beside Chounen. Toef was draped over her left shoulder, her long striped tail barely twitcheng at all. "Chounen, what's going on?"

She looked up at him. "It's simply too hot to continue on. We're taking a break for a few hours to give the horses some time to rest."

Shrugging, Kinrou dismounted and led his horse over to the bank of the river to let the animal get a drink. A few of the others were refilling their water skins so he did the same. Kenjariyo paced the entire time, frantic to be back on the road in search of his daughter. Neither he nor his bodyguard appeared to be bothered by the heat. From their perspective, it was a relatively mild day.

With those tasks accomplished, Kinrou led his horse into the shade and sat down in the grass.

This doesn't make sense. Sure, it's hot out, but Kenjariyo is from Shanshiire. That place is just one big desert. it's not to hot for him or his bodyguard. We're likely stopping because its too hot for us Telvanites to keep going.

Once the day cooled off enough to make travel bearable, they remounted and continued on, crossing the bridge, and traveling until it was nearly too dark to go any further. In the gloam of the evening they set up a simple camp. Kinrou lit a fire to cook their evening meal with, startling the Tiger Warrior into reaching for his dagger. once he realized what Kinrou's intentions were, he relaxed somewhat, but continued to glare at Kinrou for the rest of the evening.

Kinrou retired to the tent he shared with Nahiro earlier than he normally would have. Even if the Emperor's presence is why the councilors agreed to let Sahiren go so easily, he's really killing the mood. Our campfires are usually more lively than that. Even when we're all stressed out, Nahiro can generally be counted on to tell a story if his voice isn't hurting too badly. He stripped down to his underclothes and crawled into his bedroll. Of course, that Tiger Warrior being here isn't helping much. All those jokes about Tigers having no sense of humor are looking less funny and truer the longer I'm around that guy, whatever his name is. I hope we find this princess of theirs soon so that they can just pack up and go back to Shanshiire. It all makes me glad that I've never been fond of women.

He lay down, snorting. Hopefully, tomorrow won't be as hot as the last few days have been.

* * *

Much to Kinrou's irritation, the second day on the road started off much hotter than the previous one. The heat woke him out of a deep but restless sleep. He crawled blurry eyed out of his tent. He wasn't the only one awake. Nahiro was waiting impatiently for him to get up so the tent could be collapsed. Chounen, her things already packed up, was dividing up portions of fruit and bread. Sahiren and Kenjariyo were deep in discussion about something while the Tiger Warrior stood near by his Emperor in case he was needed.

Shortly after Kinrou woke up, Nalshen and Mienna joined them. To make the most of the day, they all decided it would be more efficient to eat in the saddle.

As they set off again, Kinrou shook his head, munching on a portion of bread. We'd probably have been able to leave sooner if Sahiren and Kenjariyo hadn't needed to discuss every little thing first. He sighed. Hopefully, we won't have to stop for as long today.

Unfortunately for him, his luck just wasn't that good. At around noon, Chounen urged her horse up to walk beside Sahiren's mount. "We should stop soon. it's too hot for the horses to continue."

Reluctantly, Sahiren nodded. "Agreed. We'll rest here for a time."

Kenjariyo looked angry. "If we have many more of these delays, we will not find my daughter in time."

"With respect, Honored Majesty, Chounen is correct. In matters regarding animals I trust her implicitly as it is her gem given gift to speak with them. If she says it is too hot for them, then it is and nothing can be done about it. Our horses simply aren't bred to deal with this kind of heat as your animals are. If we do not rest, there is a high probability that they will become useless to us and we will have to proceed towards the Shadaran mountains on foot, which I assure you would be even more of a delay than taking an hour or two to rest would be. You are, of course, welcome to go on ahead, but I doubt the bandits would let you get very far."

Frustration was quite clear on the older man's face, but he dismounted with the others to rest the horses.

From that vantage point, it was possible to see into the southern part of Zalityu. The rolling hills and clumps of trees that dominated the southern part of the central country of An'katerr was a pleasant sight, but one ruined by the Emperor's foul mood. Kenjariyo paced as he had the day before, muttering under his breath. He stopped every so often to stare off into Zalityu, shake his head, and resume his pacing.

Kinrou watched as the black clad Tiger Warrior approached his Emperor, speaking to him. Whatever he said enraged Kenjariyo as he spun, knocking the other man to the ground, shocking everyone else into silence.

"How dare you speak so to your Emperor?" Kenjariyo demanded.

"Forgive me, Honored Majesty. I simply think that you might benefit from cooling down. I meant no disrespect. Perhaps you would care to go to the river and cool off in the water if that is preferable to changing clothes."

"Hmm…" Kenjariyo looked thoughtful. "You're forgiven, Dalshen. This time, you are correct; it is rather hot out. The river sounds refreshing."

Kinrou watched the pair head down to the river. Nalshen and Sahiren elected to join them soon after they'd vanished from sight. He shook his head. Huh…that was unexpected. It's not every day you see an Emperor punch his own bodyguard. That was far more entertaining that it had any right to be.

When it was time to leave again, the four men returned. Kenjariyo looked a little less tense than he had when he'd left, but not by much. They mounted their horses without saying a word.

* * *

Evening camp went much as it had the night before. They stopped at approximately the same time and put their tents up while Nahiro prepared a basic meal. Mienna, who was generally a cheerful person, was oddly subdued. She looked uncomfortable with the tension present in their group. She and Nalshen retired to their tent not long before Kinrou did. The others trickled into their respective tents much quicker than they had the previous night.

The positive side to their earlier bed time was that the group was up earlier and covered more ground before the heat became unbearable. Unlike their previous stopping points, there were no trees large enough to use for shelter, so a couple of tents and their poles were set up as makeshift awnings. As he had the previous two days, the Emperor paced restlessly in the shade.

With his hat serving as a fan in an attempt to keep cool, Nahiro walked over to where Kinrou was sitting on a rock and sat down beside him. The older man had an uncharacteristically irritated look on his face. He glared over at Kenjariyo and then turned to Kinrou. "So, how much farther is it? I haven't been this way in a long time."

Kinrou couldn't help but grin at his friend's barely disguised impatience. "It shouldn't be too much farther. We'll get there by nightfall I think."

The thaumaturge looked relieved and scooted off to try and soothe the Emperor's nerves with that information, leaving Kinrou to his own restlessness. If you ask me, if we didn't have his Honored Majesty around, we wouldn't have had to stop for four hours every day because of this heat. If it was just us, we'd have gotten there by now. Nobles. You just can't live with them.

* * *

As Kinrou predicted, by nightfall after two days of traveling, the split peak of Mt. Dorayen--the largest peak in the Shadaran mountain range--came into view. Kinrou sat straighter in his saddle, leaning forward to get a better view as the mountain and its companions came into view.

"You'd think that Kinrou was homesick," Nalshen commented.

Kinrou casually extended his right hand, the Sacred Gem flaring slightly as a tongue of flame erupted onto the trailing ends of Nalshen's sash, searing it.

"It had been a little too quiet on the road," Sahiren said, sighing as Nalshen dismounted, trying frantically to put out the fire. Dalshen, the Tiger Warrior, laughed quietly, amused despite himself.

Just in front of the moss covered pillar that marked the edge of the territory claimed by the Shadowhawk Bandits, they were met by a single man dressed in black with a few dark blue accents. He stood there patiently, a long unsheathed blade in his right hand, resting easily over his shoulder. His long brown hair obscured most of his face.

"Kinrou! So nice to see you again," he said amiably.

"Jiken!" Kinrou shouted in delight. He dismounted and walked over to his friend. They embraced, tussling for a brief moment.

"What are you doing back?" Jiken asked.

"I heard that they made you their leader. They must all be suffering from some sort of mental illness to have picked you."

Jiken punched Kinrou in the shoulder and then shook his head. "Come in and tell me over dinner. Your friends are welcome as well, especially since some of them are such pretty ladies," he said winking at Mienna, who flushed. Chounen simply looked away, embarrassed.

* * *

Jiken led them up the sandy path to the mountain known as Dorayen. As they walked, they spotted silvery flashes up in the tree tops where bandits were posted on watch duty. That was how Jiken had known they were coming. Every bandit knew who Kinrou was either by sight or by description and reputation and would have known to alert Jiken as soon as he was spotted.

The entrance to the bandit's lair looked no different from any other cave entrance. A lack of guards could be attributed either to a complete confidence in the sentry's ability to warn them or to their need to keep the location of their main entrance a secret. The bandits certainly weren't going to tell you one way or the other. There were so many caves in the Shadaran Mountains that a person could quite easily get lost forever if they weren't careful.

The group was led into a room decorated with silky green curtains. Large, fluffy cushions were strewn haphazardly around the floor. Jiken took a seat on a large blue one, reclining back. He knew some of the Warriors from his previous encounters with them, but Emperor Kenjariyo and his bodyguard weren't known to him. Sahiren made a point of carefully introducing them, emphasizing their respective ranks.

"So, Kinrou. I'm assuming that this isn't a social call. Why did you come back?" Jiken asked, getting straight to business once the introductions were over with.

Sahiren cleared his throat. Kinrou nodded to Jiken, indicating that it was alright for Sahiren to answer. "The Princess of Shanshiire, daughter of his Honored Majesty Emperor Kenjariyo, has gone missing along with her bodyguards. We were hoping that you'd know something."

"Are you implying that we have her?" Jiken sat up, looking pensive. "A princess; I almost wish we had seen her. That's too much of an opportunity to pass up on." He shook his head. "Sorry."

Kenjariyo dug his nails into the red fabric of the cushion he was sitting on, looking straight at Jiken. "If you've done anything to her, I swear I'll kill you with my own sword and hang your miserable corpse from the walls of Tanjihad as a warning to all those who dare harm my family!" he shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at the bandit leader.

"And I told you I haven't seen her!" Jiken said, doing the same thing. He paused, thinking. "Out of curiosity, what does she look like?"

Before the flustered Kenjariyo could answer, a young bandit burst into the room. "Chief! One of our patrols has come back early. They found a wounded girl on their route and they brought her back. She's been badly hurt. The doctor's looking at her right now in the sick room, but you know how limited he is."

Jiken stood. "Take us to her."

* * *

Mixed feelings of relief and disappointment flooded through Kenjariyo as he laid eyes on the wounded woman the bandits had found. The young woman lying on the bed was not the one he was so frantically searching for. She was dark skinned as all Kasheran people were, but this was not his missing daughter. He knelt beside the pallet she was stretched out on. She had long, messy black hair that was matted with blood. Some of it was likely her own judging by the large gash on her forehead. She was covered in old and new scars. Dazed charcoal coloured eyes looked around her. He knew her, even with her extensive injuries, and would have recognized her even without the badly torn up black and red uniform with its silver piping and the snarling tiger badge on her left breast. The doctor was dabbing her forehead with a damp cloth in an attempt to clean off some of the blood. The water in the dish beside him had been turned a deep red from his efforts.

"Kishandren, what happened? Where is she?" he demanded, shaking her shoulder.

"Careful!" cautioned the bandit doctor sitting beside her. "She's badly hurt."

"I can see that!" he snapped.

"I respectfully suggest, Honored Majesty, that you don't shake her like that. It will only make her injuries worse at this point. If you would wait until she's recovered a bit before doing so, it would be in your best interests. The dead can't talk after all."

From the expression on Kenjariyo's face, he looked as though he were about to reprimand the bandit for speaking to him like that, but then remembered that the man was a doctor and did ostensibly know what he was talking about. He let go of the young woman's shoulders and sat down on a stool beside her. "Kishandren, are you alright? What happened out there?" he continued in a softer tone of voice.

She turned to look at him. "Honored Majesty?" Kishandren propped herself up on her elbows. "You should be at home in Shanshiire. It's dangerous here."

"Answer my question, girl! What happened out there? Where is she?"

"I'm fine," she said in a soft, yet oddly strong voice. "I just can't see properly is all." Kishandren winced. "I don't know where the Princess is."

"Excuse me, woman, but could you tell us who you are?" Jiken asked. "The honorable Emperor of Shanshiire seems to be forgetting that there are those of us who don't know you."

"If it'll get me some peace, certainly." Kishandren took a deep breath, pulling herself into some semblance of a sitting position. "My name is Kishandren and I am the captain of the Princess's bodyguards. She was on her way to Karath to visit the Empress of Telvan. We were aware that she is not there at the moment, but our travel plans would have us intercept the Empress and her party in the town of Amuliaren and we would have then ridden into Karath together; however, an army of men ambushed us before we could get there. I could be wrong as we don't have much contact with that country, but I highly suspect that they were Dovalian. In the fight, one of the soldiers spooked my mount. I fell and hit my head on a rock.

"When I came to, the ground was covered by blood and littered with bodies. Those of us that weren't killed must have been taken captive. I would guess that they have your daughter, Honored Majesty, because she wasn't among the dead." Kishandren shuddered and then continued. "After burying the dead, my friends and comrades of several years, I headed off, not knowing where I was, geographically. Somehow, Kal Berash be praised, I ended up here. I'm not sure how, as I was trying to get back home. I must have been disoriented by the blow to my head."

Emperor Kenjariyo covered his face with his long sleeves, quietly sobbing. Mienna sat down on the bed beside Kishandren. "You'll be all right now," she said, smiling reassuringly.

Kishandren made a face. "That's not really comforting."

"What is it with warriors and scars?" Kinrou asked suddenly; he'd been staring at her legs. There wasn't much fabric left on the front of her grey pants so much of her dark skinned legs showed through.

"They're there so that people ask me stupid questions," Kishandren retorted.

The bandit's doctor shook his head. "I'll do my best help you get back on your feet. Here, drink this; it should ease the pain."

Kishandren sniffed experimentally at the cup he offered her. Making a face, she downed it, making a grunt of distaste as she handed the cup back to him and lay back down. Shortly afterwards, she was sound asleep. To let her get some rest, they all left the room.

* * *

Jiken closed the door softly behind them. "Now you have proof that we don't have her. We haven't seen anyone around here in a while. You never did answer my question. What does your daughter look like?"

"She would stand at roughly Sahiren's chest height with long blond hair and light brown eyes."

"Blond?" Kinrou asked, shuddering. "Like General Nuren of Doval?"

He nodded glumly. "Yes, like that. It's very rare in Shanshiire and but completely unheard of in Doval. It's strange that he has hair that color."

"I heard that Nuren is actually from the southernmost region of Jiinal," Chounen offered helpfully. "He's a little on the pale side, but it's possible, especially if one of his parents was from another country."

Kenjariyo nodded, thoughtfully. "To continue, her hair is very long and trails nearly to the ground when it isn't bound up. The last time I saw her, she was wearing a white robe, hooded to hide her hair color, riding a black mare, and surrounded by her bodyguards. All were mounted on matching black horses." He paused, looking at the entrance to the sick room. "There's something not quite right with her story. Kishandren is who she says she is, but something's not right. There's something that she's not telling us."

"Maybe she has a good reason to hide things," Chounen suggested.

"Perhaps when she feels well enough, we should get her to show us the place where they were ambushed. There may be clues as to your daughter's whereabouts there," Nahiro suggested. "That is, if it's all right with you, Honored Majesty." Kenjariyo nodded.

"We can't have her around here," Jiken told them. "She's of no use to us and would only get in the way. You know how it is, Kinrou. I'll have rooms made ready for you and your friends tonight, but I'd appreciate it if you were all out of here in the morning. I know your one of them, but I still feel jumpy having the Warriors around here."

Kinrou nodded, distracted. Jiken could have told him that he was really a woman or something equally as shocking and it still wouldn't have fazed him.

"I understand," Kenjariyo replied sympathetically. "I'm not entirely comfortable with being here myself. It's better now that I know you had nothing to do with what happened to my daughter. I think it would be best if we continued on our search at any rate."

Sahiren stopped and turned to face Kenjariyo. "With all due respect, Honored Majesty, I think it would be best if we continue the search without you. You've been a valuable asset, and I'm grateful for your assistance thus far. I would be even more grateful if you would return to Karath to make certain that all is well. This journey is taking far longer than I anticipated. My mother won't return to Karath for another seven days and I worry about the sate of things. If my advisors had someone to assure them that all is well until either I or my mother returns, then I would not be so concerned."

"I understand. While I want to be with you when you find my daughter, I know you will do all you can to bring her safely back to Karath. Dalshen and I will leave at first light."

"My thanks, Honored Majesty," Sahiren said with a sigh of relief. "Your assitance is appreciated. I swear to you that we will do all we can to bring your daughter back to you safely."

* * *

For some reason, Kinrou couldn't get the image of the bleeding bodyguard captain out of his mind and that bothered him. He lay on his cot, staring up at the familiar rough rock ceiling of his old room. No one had wanted it after he'd become a Dragon Warrior. Bandits as a general rule were a superstitious lot and none wanted Kinrou's ill luck rubbing off on them. It suited him just fine as he was guaranteed to have that room whenever he came back to visit. Although, he hadn't realized just how large the room was. When he'd still lived there, the room had been occupied by himself, Jiken, and three other young men. It had seemed horribly cramped at the time but that was just the way things were.

I don't like the sight of blood, or even women, so why can't I get rid of that image? She's not even remotely pretty. Torn and bloodstained clothing, cuts and bruises all over her skin, and a couple scars that I could see. No. Not pretty at all. She's not even good tempered from what I could tell. He shook his head. I'm just going to go get some sleep now.
I thought I would post the first part of 'Children of the Tiger', the novella that my webcomic of the same name is based on. My art really doesn't do this story justice at all.

This isn't the entirety of part 1. DA has a file size limit and part 1 exceeds that. I'll post the rest of it in a minute and link it here for easier reading.

Next: [link]
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clemon's avatar
I'm starting to read it and find it a bit more interesting/involving the comic and plan to read more.

Would you like me to give a critique/look-over to little nitty-gritty things? If you don't have the time, it's totally fine.
blue-impurity's avatar
Since posting this, I went over it again and removed a bunch of things that aren't necessary. See, this (and the comic) pretty much started half way through the real story. I later went back and wrote the beginning (Children of the Dragon), so when I went to go put that story up for sale, the written material for the comic was added in to finish the story.

I wouldn't mind hearing your thoughts on what there is here, however. I'm really glad to hear that you're liking this, especially knowing that you're a fan of the comic. It confirms my long held suspicion that the written work is far better than the comic and that makes me really happy.