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 Over the Hills & Far Away, tag: zaman (escovi plains)
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 4 2011, 06:42 AM


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Inland assignments had a strong tendency to fill Galia with dismay. There was nothing charming to be found in the flatlands on the northern range of Escova; in fact, there was almost nothing to be found, at all. Nothing but long stretches of blank sky and static waves of tall grass, that made her crave jagged outcroppings and sea spray.

Being sent to scout in the plains was a compliment to her skill, not an insult. It was harder to hide in scrub and low boulders along a road than camp out among rocks on a rugged cliff. But given her level of skill, it wasn't too much of a challenge to find a path out of obvious sight while tracking a target. Following the route of a troupe of road bandits would have been a stupidly easy task.

If she were alone, anyway.

But she wasn't, and that only made these circumstances seem bleaker. The details had changed at the last moment: Galia wasn't just observing the outlaw activity, she was also meant to assist another army officer in apprehending suspects for questioning. It was thought that they might lead to a larger ring of criminals, hidden away in some cave or village. Try as she did to insist that she could have achieved that goal alone, it wasn't really her mission to lead; no, she was merely assigned as support. A glorified guide dog for an otherwise lost and clueless soldier.

Said soldier was now trailing behind her with the subtlety and swiftness of a lame ox. To be fair, most people were of that speed in comparison to how quickly Galia could travel. But she wasn't in a fair mood; they were losing light and still hadn't caught up to the trail left by the last band of raiders.

The scout stopped at the crest of the next low hill, surveyed their surroundings (which looked just as empty as they had half a mile ago), and turned around, frowning. It took some restraint not to snap too crudely at him. "Yar Zaman!" she called impatiently, "Would you mind not dragging your feet?"
Zaman Jaraei
Posted: May 4 2011, 07:32 AM


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The grass was tall. It grew defiant all around him, shooting for the distant sky. It was thick and dry, with patches of bramble and thistle tucked into its heart. These pulled at him endlessly, sticking to him, leaving barbs and thorns on his vest, his tunic, and his trousers.

It was a nightmare.

Yar Zaman Jaraei was not built to scout. He was a soldier. There was nothing subtle or quiet about him at all. He went in, broke faces, and came home. He drank too much, talked to loudly, and had little in the way of decorum.

Which was why this was so hard for him.

He stumbled along after her, clearing grass and swatting at flies. He would mutter and complain. He would ask for water. Out here, in the flat, static plains, he felt lost. There were no mountains, no sea. There was no craggy shoreline which smelt of fish and surf. He was far from home, and he was more or less miserable. At first, it had seemed easy. He kept pace with her, and he was confident this would be a short mission. Just a few bandits. Just a few men to kill.

He was wrong.

The days stretched out, became multiple days. He wasn’t at all unfit, but for every mile he could sprint, she could sprint two. For every ounce of stamina he had, she had a dozen ounces. She was impossible to stop. And she never paused.

He crested the hill after her, his hands falling to his knees as he struggled to catch his breath. His sides hurt. Sucking in a lungful of air, he listened to her chastise him. “I’m trying,” he insisted, shutting his eyes and letting the breeze touch his face.

He opened his eyes to look at her. “Don’t they have breaks where you come from?”

Or was that word not a part of her vocabulary...
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 4 2011, 08:31 AM


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Where Galia came from was no more like this place than where he came from. Grassy knolls and verdant hills had been foreign to her eyes until the first time she'd set foot on the big island. She'd often been told by her nan that she could swim before she could even walk, yet walking had come to feel just as easy as diving in the sea. Her muscles burned at times, but it was a good ache, one that kept her alert and made her feel alive.

She rolled her eyes at him, replying dryly, "Is that your way of asking for one?" And just to answer his inquiry: "Where I come from, my cousins would laugh in your face for even saying the word."

For the most part, she actually liked Zaman -- which was a lot more than she could say about most people she knew -- he was a good soldier, had a good head and heart. He just complained far too much by her standards. Maybe the men and women of her village weren't going on miles long jaunts with pounds of gear on their backs, but they worked on their feet from the first rays of dawn until last light, hauling in several hundred pound catches day after day. This excursion was nothing compared to the life she might have otherwise led.

Still, it wasn't any use wearing him out before they even got to the hard part. She relented, sighing loudly, "Fine. If you need to sit, sit. Drink water if you must." With a hand, she gestured toward a cluster of rocks nearby, though taking one herself would have been too great a concession. Galia waited for him to settle, hands on her hips.

"The longer we stop, the further they get," she warned, as if he didn't know the obvious. Her pale eyes turned away from him and up to the sky, "But...it's almost dusk. They may be unwise enough to come to their own halt."

There was a beat as she observed the landscape again, then she looked back at him, "How good is your sight in the dark?"
Zaman Jaraei
Posted: May 4 2011, 08:43 AM


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Well then.

Where she came from, people probably walked around until they keeled over and died. He wasn’t bitter about not getting breaks (well, he sort of was), but having one every dozen or so hours would be nice. He was sure the bandits couldn’t travel any faster than them. If they could, they were probably relatives of hers.

...unless they had horses—which was a stupid, jolting thought. Horses were too expensive and far too conspicuous on the Islands.

He threw himself onto the boulders, more lying down that sitting. His eyes instinctively turned to the purple sky, and he realized she was right. They had maybe thirty minutes of daylight—probably less. While she spoke, he reached for his water skin and began to squeeze out water, drinking it down greedily.

Her question surprised him. With his cheeks swollen with water, he shrugged. “About normal,” he said, swallowing. “Why?”

She wasn’t going to make him walk all night too, was she?
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 4 2011, 09:00 AM


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Watching him pour water down his gullet made her look away again. Not that she cared one bit about manners, but he just looked absolutely silly. A landlocked puffer fish. She considered taking a drink of her own, but she didn't need it yet, and conservation was key until they reached a fresh water source. At this rate, she didn't know when that would be.

He really shouldn't have sounded so surprised, or suspicious. Their next move seemed incredibly transparent to her, but that probably went back to their difference in mentality.

It was difficult not to come off as patronizing in her explanation, though she was subconsciously slowing her speech, as if conversing with a small child, or one of the refugees at the capital. That never really helped with their understanding, but it happened, anyway. "If you can keep from tripping over yourself or falling on your sword in the twilight, we might be able to overtake them while they sleep."

He would probably balk at that, think her madder than he already did. Galia continued a little more sympathetically, before he could respond, "It's not ideal, I know. But how much longer would you like to drag out our journey?"

She shrugged, again sardonic, "Not that it hasn't been fun and all..."
Zaman Jaraei
Posted: May 5 2011, 07:15 AM


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He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and flashed her a grin. “I’m having fun,” he lied. Who didn’t enjoy long, torturous expeditions into the wild plains?

You know, except for her.

He pushed himself to his weary feet and wrapped the strings of his water skin around his belt. He was still tired, but he could do this. And really, anything was better than walking around aimlessly in the plains. All this scouting had him itching for a fight—real soldier’s work. In that moment, he could fight an army of bandits if it meant going home in the morning. Two armies. A thousand.

He rubbed his beard with a damp hand and then joined her near the edge of the low escarpment. Twilight might have been a visually impressive sight but it was also misleading. His eyes couldn’t adjust to the fading light fast enough.

“Alright,” he said, tugging out some inner steel. “I’m ready. How far do you think they are?”

In that moment, he prayed she say something like, ‘close’ or ‘not far’...
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 5 2011, 09:19 AM


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She arched a brow at his grin, though said nothing further. To her relief, he agreed with her more readily than she anticipated, given his languid pose. Her attention had already gone back to scanning the terrain ahead. Bands of red were bleeding to a deep violet where the sky met the ground. It was almost a beautiful, romantic view, if one had any interest in either.

She didn't. Sunset was just getting in her way.

The scout couldn't answer him with complete certainty; she was unfamiliar with this region, but employing a little logic often went a decent way. "If they've paused as we have, I'd estimate another ten minutes, or less, from here." Galia leaned toward him to make sure their sights were in line, lifting a hand to point out a jagged array of boulders silhouetted on the horizon, "There. See those rocks? Shelter from the wind."

While the plains had proven to be drier than most parts of the island at this season, the chill of early spring still blew strong in the evening. The thought of spending another night of trying to stay warm in these conditions was incredibly unpalatable. Movement, and a little fighting, would certainly keep their body temperatures up.

Without another word, she started down the other side of the hill. Her gait was brisk, voice low and slightly breathless, "I doubt they suspect they've been followed this far. They might even be stupid enough to light a fire."
Zaman Jaraei
Posted: May 6 2011, 06:26 AM


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Ten minutes.

Or less.

If he was smiling before, Yar Zaman Jaraei was practically grinning now. He could do ten minutes. Heck, he could be generous and give her fifteen minutes. As long as they found these bastards and took care of them. As long as the Bandits had stopped for the night, which, if they were human, they had to.

He followed her down the gentle slope of the hill, his bad mood brightening with every step. He wasn’t a violent person, but there was something about the prospect of battle that stirred his blood. His father once told him it was an Escovan trait; battle was programmed into him. It ran like thunder through every citizen. It was why his remote, rocky village sent out a small batch of boy every few years to join the army.

He tightened his arm guards as he walked, fully anticipating a fight. Checking the straps, he then moved on to his leather vest, securing it against him. Finally, he checked his sword strapped to his back.

He was ready.

They hadn’t walked five minutes when his hand snapped forward to grab her arm. “Wait,” he whispered, his head cocked at an angle. “Do you smell that?” He sniffed the air. Smoke. Burning. His eyes almost shone in the fading sunlight.

Food.
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 6 2011, 06:52 AM


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Her jaw was set into a grim, thin line, eyes focused straight ahead on the point she had speculated to be the location of their target. She was a huntress prowling after her unwitting prey, ignorant to whatever it was that her companion was doing behind her. Fiddling with straps and gear could go on for a few minutes longer; they weren't close enough to the camp yet that she would have to hush him. Not that he was, in reality, all that noisy by most standards -- but if she could hear him, she didn't want to take any chances that anyone else could, either.

Galia's mind was busy drawing up scenarios and plans of attack. If the merchants who'd been victimized were accurate, there would be six bandits waiting ahead, outnumbering them three to one. Even so, the odds weren't against their favor; at least one would be on perimeter patrol, apart from the group, and the rest could be divided between them. They had a few options.

All of which were being seriously contemplated when she felt him grab her. Instinct kicked in, and her opposite hand flew to the dagger at her waist, but she had enough sense not to draw. Not all the way, at least. Ludicrous as it sounded, had he somehow managed to spot a danger that she hadn't noticed? Inconceivable.

Still, her head whipped back, looking around him first, then settling on his face. But she couldn't quite read his expression, features blurring together in shade. There was nothing else around them, either. Her eyes narrowed. He still had a hold of her arm.

"What?" she whispered back, though it was more of a hiss. Of course she could smell the smoke. She could even smell a trace of rosemary and peppercorn in the mix. But what did that matter? "They've made camp. Your point?"
Zaman Jaraei
Posted: May 7 2011, 10:09 AM


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For a few seconds he was confident that this information—this superior sense of smell—was going to win him points. He was confident she would find the news valuable.

But no. She already knew.

His smile faded and Zaman seemed to deflate a little. He let go of her arm, returning his hand to his side. “Oh,” he said, the corner of his mouth quirking to something not-happy. “I just...” Just what? She was a tracker. Of course she could smell smoke. She’d probably smelt it from the hill back there. She could probably smell what was cooking too. Meat. Potatoes. Man food. Bandit food. Yar Zaman Jaraei was practically working with a bloodhound.

“Nothing,” he shook his head. “Now we kill them and go home, right?” To make his point, he drew his sword and returned his gaze to her. This was her call now. This was her mission. He was just a sidekick. A dangerous accessory she could use to kill people.

And then he heard a rustle. The parting of tall grass. Footfalls on dry shrubs.

Something was coming their way.

Someone was coming their way.
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 7 2011, 10:58 AM


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Yar Zaman Jaraei had an entire menagerie of expressions.

He looked like a kicked puppy after she'd dismissed his keen observation.

And here she thought they'd given her a man to help her slaughter some bandits and pressure one into giving up the rest. Galia almost wanted to say as much, but held her tongue for a change. No point in demoralizing him any further when they were so close to their goal. Besides, she almost -- for one brief millisecond -- felt bad for snapping. He was trying to be helpful, after all.

Failing miserably at it. But trying.

He couldn't count on an apology of any sort, though. She didn't feel as if her response was inappropriate, given that he'd broken her acute concentration on their surroundings. Had he simply left her to use her senses, she would have been able to anticipate the motion stirring just behind her. She would have seen the shift in the stalks, heard the crunch of plant debris underfoot.

But he hadn't, and she didn't, not until the person making their approach was far too close for her liking. Galia ducked, locking her hand around her partner's wrist and dragging him down with her. The grass reached about waist high standing; from down here, it barely covered their heads. Slowly, she dared to peer over at the figure.

A man -- probably the one on guard duty -- stopped about ten feet from where they'd been standing. There was no way that he hadn't seen them. After a moment's silence, he called out, "Oi, Ed? Izat you? 'oo's wit' ya?"

So much for the element of surprise.
Zaman Jaraei
Posted: May 7 2011, 11:40 AM


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And then it was time for secrecy.

She tugged him down, deeper into the grass, until they were crouching in the darkness.

A figure emerged seconds later, pushing against the grass and peering nervously into the distance. He was searching for something: a friend. Zaman made a mental note that there was another Bandit out there, and that he was also patrolling. His name was Ed and he was probably close by...

He ran his tongue against the back of his teeth. For a second he wondered if he could just lull the bandit closer by pretending to be Ed. It was a stupid thought, and the moment he dismissed it, he knew what he had to do. This was his job now. She’d been brought here to guide, to track Bandits through the plains...

Zaman had been brought here to fight.

He didn’t give her much of a warning. He just sprang from his crouch, throwing himself at the man. It was one fluid move. Cat-like. Precise.

To Zaman’s credit, he was built for this. Knocking the wind out of the man, he tumbled with the Bandit for a few seconds, rustling the grass and cupping a hand over the now frenetic Bandit’s mouth. Eventually, he managed to slam the hilt of his blade into the man's head, knocking the man out. He could have killed the Bandit--and maybe he should have--but on the off chance that this was a poor farmer and not a criminal, Zaman would rather the man suffer a terrible headache than a quick death.

He spun to face her then, seeking her out amongst the grass. He lifted a hand to signal something.

All clear.
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 7 2011, 12:11 PM


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It would have been a lie to say she wasn't holding her breath the entire time, from the moment Zaman shifted to when he was back in her sight.

Was she worried about him? Not exactly. He hadn't attained his rank through incompetence; surely he would emerge victorious in the fight. But she should have given him more credit for executing the motion with as much discretion as possible. The suspected bandit went down quietly, with none from his party the wiser. The sound was no louder than a heavy breeze shuddering across the field. Galia was actually impressed.

Careful not to stir the vegetation further, she made haste to where he stood, keeping an eye out for any additions as she went. Sidling up to the corporal, Galia nudged the unconscious man with her foot, then pushed hard enough to roll him onto his face. She shouldered her bow again and kneeled on the man's back, drawing a short rope from a pouch at her waist. Two lengths were cut. There was nothing to tie him to, so both hands and feet had to be bound with the tightest of knots.

Soundlessly, she rose to her feet when she was done, tucking her short blade back into its sheath. Her hands would be of better use on her bow. He could tackle and swing at as many combatants as he liked.

"So," she whispered, tone slightly warmer than it had been before. "I think we should probably make a plan before we try something like that again, yeah?"
Zaman Jaraei
Posted: May 9 2011, 08:56 AM


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Okay; so that was one Bandit down.

While she wrapped and tied, Zaman surveyed the area around them. There was no sign of movement nearby, so he assumed Ed was a ways off, probably scouting the other side of the Bandit’s camp. If that was the case, they had time—maybe even enough to plot their next move.

She seemed to be having similar thoughts.

He shot her a grin and nodded. “Good idea,” he said, turning away from her to look out over the grass. The sun had set just minutes ago and the night’s darkness was almost complete. With the moon yet to rise, they were working almost blind. In fact, he could barely make out her shape next to him. She was just a dark object next to him. A dangerous object with endless stamina.

He turned back to her. “I’ll go in from the front and you stay in the grass to cover me. Deal?” It was a simple tactic. He approached the camp head on and she stayed in the shadows, shooting down any threat he could not handle. Maybe she could make it look like there were more soldiers. Maybe then the Bandits would surrender without bloodshed.

It sounded like a solid plan—or at least it to did to Zaman.
Galia Baryk
Posted: May 9 2011, 08:52 PM


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"Fair enough," she nodded. His suggestion wasn't a far cry from anything she had already considered, even before they downed their first enemy. "Allow me to set a distraction up first, though. Entertaining as it would be to see you go charging in with a battle cry, I'd rather not have to clean up any potential disembowelment and explain to your captain what happened later."

She was smirking, but he probably couldn't see, just as she had no idea that he looked so jovial. He, too, was little more than an outlined shadow. But once he was in the light of the campfire, she would be able to distinguish him easily. That was fortunate. Her eyes were sharper than most, but even she didn't have the vision of an owl.

"Circle 'round to the other side. Count to three-hundred as you go. The first shot will be your signal," whispered the scout. She glanced at him once more, "Ready? Go."

Off she went to their right. In the darkness, she bent low and hurried through the grass, keeping track of numbers in her head. Sixty-seven, sixty-eight... If all went accordingly, she would be able to draw attention in her direction, while he ambushed them. One-hundred-twelve... Given his displayed prowess only moments ago, she was fairly confident that he could get to them before they had time to figure out where she was hiding, or that she was a lone sniper.

It should have been ample time for both of them to reach suitable hiding spaces. Two-twenty-four... She finally stopped and settled herself. The layer of clouds had parted, giving way to the cool glow of moonlight. Roughly ten paces away sat the group of Bandits, circled around a fire, a border of craning rocks at their back sides. Two-ninety-nine...

She drew an arrow, pulled back the string, and let loose. Three hundred. The bit landed squarely in the flank of meat roasting on the spit.
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