Dagger Of Kija
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2003-06-09

The sun beat against the city of Buya like a forge hammer, making the air waver over the dusty streets. Even though it was still early, most citizens hid indoors. Only a few unlucky guards remained outside, eyeing the dwindling shade more than the roads into town. Without knowing it, the guards moved in unison, almost like clockwork, taking steps together one at a time, always following the shadow of the wall.

The Buyan city guards widely believed that no one would be traveling in this heat, anyway, so unless dragons attacked the town, the guards might as well be comfortable. Preferably, in a cool tavern.

At the south gate one unlucky guard eyed worriedly the pace-wide shade. In a few minutes he would be forced to make a decision, to bake or abandon his post. Figuring that a half-baked guard was rather useless, he stepped sidewise around the corner of the gate wall into the deeper shadows, blundering right into a woman, toppling the lady into the hot dust.

"Hey!" The startled guard shouted, hoping he hadn't hurt the lady. He helped her back to her feet, apologizing profusely, but the lady ignored him, quickly drawing her cool hand away from his sweaty one as if disgusted to touch him.

The guard thought she seemed familiar, yet it was unlikely that he would be unable to recall such an elegant lady. She was dressed all in black- clothes freshly dyed, too, the guard noticed and when she straightened up, he saw that she was surprisingly tall. Her short-cropped salt and pepper hair tugged at his memory, too.

"Something about a dedication ceremony," he thought, remembering mostly that he had to work during the ceremony, not recalling what was being dedicated.

He shook his head and watched the silent lady stride quickly down the southern road to Kugnae.

"Who would dress all in black in this heat?" He asked aloud. "She must be crazy!"

The guard looked at his hand, remembering that as he helped her to her feet, her hand was cool in his. She should have been soaked in perspiration wearing that black dress, yet her hand was cool and dry!

He shook his head, puzzled.

"Must be a new mage spell," he decided, wishing he had the time to learn it. "Clever mages."

Suddenly the memory clicked.

The dedication was for the Magic Research Center and that lady was going to be running it.

"Clever mage, indeed," the guard smiled, dusting himself off and backing against the wall of the city. "I wonder where she is headed?"

Throughout Buya, people sought the shelter of cool basements. Some adventurous souls even wandered into the Ice Caves of Sute, where they had to fight to remain, but most agreed, it was better than the heat!

One spot that the sun beat down in vain on was a dense grove of trees surrounded by a low stonewall. Nestled in the middle of the grove was the Phoenix compound, where several buildings joined together made up the Phoenix Clan Hall. Carved into the lintel of the Hall were the names of the Primogens: Steihl the Founder, Wildhair, Cassie, Kimpo, Mythril, Liatris and Araias.

The sprawling shape of the Clan Hall came from the more than fifteen Yuri reign of Kimpo the Builder, who had taken a Clan impoverished by the Great Shift and guided it to its place as the richest and most powerful Clan in the Kingdoms. His additions to the Clan Hall were still being finished, even though the tough old Barbarian had long since retired. Now, three Primogens later, Kimpo's era was becoming known as The Rebuilding and Kimpo as simply "The Builder".

Sitting in a quiet corner of the Hall's main room, Assistant Events Coordinator Greyshadow scratched a few notes onto a scroll, trying to look busy. Mostly, though, she was thinking about the past. Greyshadow had been a Phoenix Kinswoman for many Yuris, but she had been born in Nagnang and was even trained as an assassin by Master Tomas himself. She remembered emigrating... or getting exiled, she smiled as she tried to decide which was closer to the truth, after an adventure involving Gareth and Pteri. Since then, she had been granted Buyan citizenship and had given her Oath to Kimpo and the Phoenix Clan.

In those days the personality of the Clan was different. Kimpo's open, gregarious style influenced his council and the whole Clan. With his constantly adding on rooms, allowing a Nagnang Assassin into the Clan didn't seem like such a novelty. The Hall quickly became her home.

Now, some years later, with Kimpo retired and rarely seen in the Hall, and his magnificent additions being taken for granted, some of the younger Kin were wondering what a Nangen girl was doing in a Buyan Clan? After all, they whispered, wasn't Nagnang the hereditary enemy of Buya?

These days her only real pleasure was in training and reminiscing. She remembered her first meeting with Kimpo in his private office. Gareth had introduced them, then explained about her unusual nationality. The old Barbarian, fresh from his conflict with Blight and the Forsaken Clan of Nagnang, was not amused at having a Nangese Kin. In typical Barbarian fashion, he had exploded at the quiet Do, shouting and stomping. Greyshadow had wondered if this burly bear of a man was going to throw her out of the Hall himself. Then, when Gareth finally got a chance to speak, Kimpo seemed to completely ignore his chief advisor, instead, serving tea to his guest himself and making sure she was comfortable all while never raising his voice to her even once. When Gareth finished his seemingly unheeded monologue, explaining how he had found Greyshadow in the Clan garden, hiding, Kimpo exploded again, this time demanding to know why she hadn't been found sooner and rescued.

Greyshadow had noticed that Gareth had taken Kimpo's outbursts in stride and later, when the hirsute Primogen with his nigh infinite zeal had made arrangements for her inclusion into the Clan, he had arranged for her to make the Hall her home, promising that she would always be welcome.

Now, it seemed the Hall was no longer Gareth and Kimpo's home at all, and the welcome of one young Nangen girl was wearing a bit thin.

As if her thoughts had summoned them, a loud crash announced the arrival of Kimpo, as the Hall's main door flew open. The nearly round shape of his long-time friend Gareth, who managed somehow to catch the door on the rebound and silently close it, all without leaving Kimpo's side, closely followed him.

"Let's speak in Araias' office," Kimpo announced, at his usual volume, stomping in that direction.

Gareth's glance quickly took in the entire room, including a heartbeat's pause at an invisible spot near the door. Greyshadow had heard him speak of that many times, the place where he had died trying to protect the Clan Hall during the Shattering. He often admitted that he was insufficiently vigilant, allowing a Slayer, one of the worse of the beasts from that time, to gain entry into the Hall and threaten everyone. Still, Greyshadow thought, other Kin destroyed the Slayer and perhaps Gareth's sacrifice delayed it enough to mount an effective defense. He claimed to be able to see the bloodstain even now.

When the unusually somber looking Do spotted Greyshadow, he raised an eyebrow and indicated with a slight tilt of his head the office towards which Kimpo was heading.

Greyshadow smiled and gave a tiny shake of her head.

"Sorry, Boss," Gareth interrupted Kimpo. "Araias is in his office. We will have to find another spot."

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