Today was the day. The day Ariela finalised her victory over her beloved Belind, the day the would-be rescuers Sky and Cadance, whoever they were, would be lured into her not so sweet embrace.
Ariela felt her confidence swell within her, sure in the security Avery had given her and secure in the knowledge Atrin's plan would succeed.
The preparations had been made and the streets filled with people. Despite the Princes very public humiliation during her coronation, he remained a popular figure among the clueless masses and, even if they only caught a glimpse of the coach he was supposed to be riding in, they would feel, Atrin thought, reassured.
The Palace was left with its servants and a skeleton crew of guards, literally, the boned mindless shamblers summoned by Ariela so the Palace’s less conspicuous human Guards could line the route and blend into the crowd, ready to act at a moments notice.
In the courtyard of the Palace, out of sight of the rabble of the city and with one foot up on the steps to the carriage Ariela cast a look back towards the royal building, glancing briefly at both Atrin and Avery, who weren’t joining her for the journey and were stood at the steps. Avery looked on with a blank expression but Atrin nodded subtly.
With a smirk Ariela lifted herself into the carriage, her dress more modest than usual, to keep the cold off of her more than anything else.
A servant closed the carriage door and she sat down on the padded cushions within, leaning back and crossing one leg over the other. Patience was a virtue, but it had never been one that came to her easily but for this one occasion she would persevere.
She drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to help the time pass by imagining how it would go down, the road blocked perhaps? Two unfamiliar faces, the mysterious Skye and Cadance flinging open her door, perhaps crying Belind’s name in delight, only to find their doom in her instead?
She smiled subtly as the carriage began to move, rocking her gently forward and back, her thoughts on what she would do to the mysterious pair. Kill them on the spot? Perhaps. Maybe one then the other, letting one suffer the moment of dread. Or maybe she would take them both back to the Palace. It would be fun, after all, to be able to show Belind the demise of the pair.
The journey she knew would be an hour in total, a round trip of the inner city, with the fun supposed to occur about halfway through. A gentle knock by the driver would indicate when they were entering the area they had purposefully left thinly guarded, then once again when and if they left.
She waited, fingers drumming on her thigh, forcing herself to resist playing with her magic to pass the time, knowing an emerald glow from the carriage would make any observing it suspicious.
She waited still, feeling her impatience grow when a light rhythmic tap on the carriage drew her attention. She sat up straight, she could feel adrenaline pulsing, like a coiled spring she was waiting to unleash herself on the unsuspecting pair. This was, after all, their only opportunity to rescue Belind, and they had been sure to give them a good one.
The seconds ticked by, the carriage becoming a bumpy ride in this less well-maintained part of the city. She felt rocked more violently back and forth and she soon found herself gritting her teeth at the indignity of it.
She could feel her magic pulsing inside, begging to be released, matched only by her growing fury. At an unexpected sound she almost unleashed herself in a burst of untempered rage, but it was merely another tap on the carriage from the driver.
“No…” she growled to herself.
They had passed without issue through the area, no commotion, only the wretched cheering of the crowds.
She grit her teeth but steeled herself, they could’ve seen the trap and prepared an attack further along, there was, she was sure, no way they knew of their plan.
Time passed. Her fury grew. More time passed.
The carriage rolled to a stop and, with her fury masking all sense of time or location, Ariela stiffened her back feeling her anticipation rise as the handle of her door turned.
The door swung open and a servant met her eyes, quickly taking several steps back, retreating from her in a moment of absolute wisdom.
Ariela growled and stepped into the sun, stretching her back and feeling her sore tensed muscles strain, cramped from the uncomfortable journey. With a single glance towards the Palace she knew, It was in absolute disarray and she just knew.
With a roar she cast a hand out her side, releasing an uncontrolled stream of her emerald power. It tore through the cobbled courtyard, sending a hail of fist-sized rocks tumbling through the air in all directions.
Windows shattered and people cried out, ducking and making for cover as, through the fresh destruction and swirling dust Ariela stalked, her eyes ablaze, her fingers trailing green, burning the air at her fingertips.
Once within the Palace with each step she left a smouldering scorch mark on the stone floors, her rage so unbridled as she knew what she was going to find. Guards, servants, everyone cleared her path. The palace was on high alert and it wasn’t just because of her return. Though perhaps it should’ve been.
In an attempt to relieve her stress as she walked through the palace several shambling skeletal fiends were reduced to so much ash in flashes of emerald brilliance.
She came to Belind's open door and she swept into the room trailing her dress as if it was caught in a gale, her hair whipping about, trails of emerald power arcing up her skin like electric currents.
“Where. Is. My. Prince.”
The room's sole occupants, Atrin and Avery both looked towards her and their silence spoke volumes.
“You.” Ariela hissed through clenched teeth, holding her hand out.
Her rage focused on Avery, who stood still, her black eyes wide and Avery felt a heat well in her chest. In a moment of clarity she wondered, just for a second, if all of Ariela’s victims felt the heat… Before the pink mist.
She shut her eyes and accepted it, what else was there to do?
Avery felt the heat subside and after a moment, unsure of her existence, she gasped audibly, seemingly haven forgotten to breathe there as she had tensed waiting for death, suddenly she was surprised to find herself alive! Shaking, she slumped to the floor, adrenaline coursing through her veins as she looked up, her view of Ariela blocked, by Atrin.
Atrin stood between the two, getting between Ariela and her victim. Suicide, Avery thought.
“What did you say?” Ariela asked, voice incredulous.
“I said, no. My Queen.” Atrin said, voice unwavering, “If anyone should be struck down it should be me. I sensed something was wrong yet I allowed the plan to proceed. And Avery… Can still be of use to you.”
Ariela held her hand towards Atrin and Avery watched disbelievingly as green sparks crackled on the man's armour.
Ariela stared into the determined eyes of her General, “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you both right here.” Her voice was barely controlled, her expression like a storm and Avery cowered. She had heard stories of Ariela at her worst, but she had never seen it. Something about the sheer power and cruelty she exuded made her cower like a child behind the protective form of Atrin, who starred unblinking into the eye of the storm.
Now was not the time to avoid risk, Atrin thought as he held the gaze of death and oblivion, the fury of a dark Queen with the ambition and power to rend the world to her will levelled solely on him. But it wasn’t this monster he needed to address. He straightened his back and took a single step towards her, fearless.
“Because, Ariela, you needed him to escape.”
She laughed and Avery held her hands to her ears, she could practically hear the screaming souls of the slaughtered woven into her laughter, “And people call me mad! I hope you have made peace with your life.”
“What if we had caught his friends!” He said, suddenly.
“Then I would have broken the Prince, finally, destroyed every vestige of hope he held within him, I would have won, Atrin. And you have robbed me of this.” She said grimly.
“And then where would be the fun in him? With nothing more to break, what would he be to you? He has escaped you, yes, but he has hope now, hope of freedom, hope, maybe even, to build a rebellion against you. Imagine that, Ariela, that boy leading a rebellion, he could build up so much for you to strip him of again, won't that be wonderful?”
Ariela stared at him for several long moments, the room lit by her emerald glow which, to Avery’s stunned amazement, began to subside. Atrin stood still, facing Ariela who watched him studiously as if judging him in a new light.
“I want to know by sunset tomorrow who betrayed us, or I will level this Palace and every single person in it. Just to be sure. Am I clear?”
Atrin nodded once and Ariela narrowed her eyes slightly, glancing down to Avery then back to Atrin, “And I’m revoking your wife, the Princess Sophia. She’s mine now. To keep me entertained.”
Atrin nodded once and without sparing Avery so much as a glance Ariela spun on her heel and left the two of them alone.
Avery stared at the doorway in bafflement, before something caught her attention, a gauntleted hand extending down to her.
She looked up at Atrin and he smiled, meeting her eyes. She took his hand and he pulled her slowly to her feet, “That wasn’t so bad hm?”
“Wasn’t so bad?” Avery gasped, “She almost killed me, she almost killed you!”
“But she didn’t,” Atrin smirked.
“How can you be so infuriatingly calm?” She said, almost shouting, her dark cheeks flushed with colour and he smiled and shrugged, "And how did you do that?!"
She stared at him blankly for several long moments and let out a long deep sigh, “I do not understand you, Atrin!”
With that slight smile of his he shrugged and turned towards the door, but she stepped quickly, pushing it closed before he could reach it, leaving the two of them very close, her looking up at him a searching expression in her eyes, though she didn’t attempt to look into his mind.
“Why did you do it? Why did you step between her and me?” She asked, voice flat.
He looked down at her, curious, not averting her gaze, if anything he seemed to be studying her tattoo’s up close, “Seemed like… The right thing to do at the time, I suppose.”
She shook her head, “No, not here in this life, in this life you can only look out for yourself.”
“Maybe I was?” He offered.
She sighed, frustrated, “I… I do not understand you!” She repeated the exasperation plain in her voice.
He hesitated, letting the silence grow for a few long seconds before he spoke, voice searching, “Do you want to?”
"I... I don't know! I... Ugh! You are a dense fool!" She all but shouted before grabbing him by the collar and dragging him down, leaning up to press her lips to his.
He tensed for a moment, surprised by the suddenness, but quickly relaxed, his hands moving to rest on her waist, feeling her slender figure through her robes as he was pulled down against her.
The kiss lasted for a moment, but for Avery, it felt like a lifetime. Here was a man not afraid of her, who not only looked upon her without fear but with kindness, she couldn't let him just pass her by. She broke the kiss and looked up at him, admiring the beauty of his strong, kind features and wondered, not for the first time, how he had ended up here at Ariela’s beck and call.
As she searched his eyes he smiled softly, meeting her gaze, his hand reaching up to rest against the warm skin of her cheek.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re beautiful?” He asked softly.
She knew it was a cliche thing to say, but damn if she didn’t just melt into his embrace.
She didn’t reply, she just kissed him again, more urgently, her hands moving to the ties of his armour and while she didn’t especially know what tie held what piece in place, she made up for her lack of armourer’s knowledge is a desperate urge to get to the man beneath the steel, she had never felt like this in her life, felt wanted.
He kept finding her lips with his own as pieces of his tough exterior fell away and though he helped where he could, it still took a fair while to free him of his armour.
When she was finished she took a step back, Atrin left now only in a pair of shorts, even his shirt laying amongst the pool of metal at his feet.
"Oooh..." Was all she said.
The man stood before here was a pinacle of perfection, though her opinion may have been biased. She hadn't been sure what to expect under the armour and it was only then that she considered the sheer weight of the armour she had removed from him. To bare such a weight so casually as he did, she shouldn't have been surprised by the broad muscled figure that now greeted her.
He smirked a little, letting her take a moment to admire him, "Never seen a shirtless man before?" He asked, his voice so like and jovial it was hard to believe he had so recently squared off against Ariela.
"Not one I was about to sleep with." She retorted, biting her lip as she stepped forward, placing a hand on his chest, tracing her fingers across the definition of his muscle.
Atrin smiled and looked down at the Inquisitor, the beautiful woman just trying to survive in a world hard-wired to want her dead. He saw her loneliness, her singularity in existence, no one quite like her and maybe he saw a little bit of himself.
"I don't know about you, but I'm not planning on doing much in the way of sleeping tonight."
"Mm, promises General," she poked him in the chest, nudging him towards the bed, forcing him to sit down on the silks, making him look up at her, "at least I am still in charge."
He grinned and reached up, placing his hands on her waist, "Oh, I wouldn't say that."
She gasped in surprise as he pulled her towards him, twisting as she fell, rolling to straddle her now prone form, his face above hers, his grin wide and cheeky.
She blushed as he smirked leaning up on one arm, his hand pressed to her cheek, his thumb, rough yet delicate, tracing across her dark skin as he looked down admiringly, hesitating only for a moment before he met her in a kiss, pressing his lips tight to hers.
She arched her back against him, pressing her small breasts to his chest, and he moved a hand lower down her body, slow and testing, as if waiting for her to push him off, but she didn't, she raised her hand and took his in her own, guiding it faster to the swell of her breast, squeezing it through his hand, a moan escaping her lips as she felt him cup her.
"Mm..." She whimpered softly and he broke the kiss, her breath notably quickened as he felt the softness under his hand.
Emboldened by her keenness he reached down, starting to disrobe her, finding the ties and buttons that held her loose robes in check and parting them until, after wriggling her arms free, he felt the smooth skin of her body pressed against his, smooth and silky, her slim thigh pressing up against the growing bulge in his trousers.
She shivered a little as he kissed at her neck, so unused to the sensation of having someone pleased to be with her that despite the suddenness of it all she found herself in a state of euphoria.
"Atrin," she breathed softly and he grinned up at her before leaning down, kissing across her collarbone to the softness of her breast, her fingers reaching up to curl into the locks of his hair, letting the grey flecks run through her fingertips.
He hesitated at her breast for a second before kissing lower, across the dark tightness of her stomach that tensed and relaxed at each brush of his lips.
Lower and lower he kissed and Avery stared up at the ceiling, unblinking, her lips parted, her chest rising and falling quickly with her breath.
She gasped suddenly and arched her back, biting her lip as he kissed her between her thighs, stars dancing in her vision as she shivered and wriggled, her feet pushing against the bed, unable to find any traction on the smoothness of the silken sheets, her mind lost to the realities of pleasure.
She did little to stifle her noises, her moans coming free as she gyrated her hips, pressing herself tighter to him, eager to feel more.
As time went by, her hands moved from his hair to the bedsheets, bunching them in her fingers as his own hands gripped her thighs, holding her in place, She could feel pleasure like she had never felt before mounting within her, each time she expected it to recede, it only grew more powerful.
"A-Atrin, oh gods, don't stop, please, just, ah! Just like that! Yes! Yes!" Avery cried out, writhing in pace with the sensations perverting her body.
She looked up at the ceiling but saw nothing but the stars, pleasure lancing through her as she came, hard and powerful, her thighs wrapping tight around the generals head, holding him in place as she pushed gyrated her hips, pushing herself up eagerly against him.
"Yessss!!" She gasped, her whole body shuddering with the force of the climax before, finally, she relaxed, her breath coming hot and fast as every nerve ending in her body seemed to tingle with delight.
"Ah, wow, you liked that huh?" Atrin's voice came and it sounded like he was a little out of breath himself, she wondered if he'd even been able to breathe in the vice of her thighs.
"T-that, that was amazing Atrin... Oh, oh my..." she panted softly, relaxing against the bed, "I've never... Not like that before... Gods..."
He laughed a little and crawled up to lay beside her, laying on his side to face her, "Glad you enjoyed it... We're going to have a busy day tomorrow, want to get some sleep?"
She blinked and swallowed, moving to lay on her side, facing him, noting with satisfaction the way his eyes glanced down, taking in the details of her naked form, lingering on the swell of her breasts.
"Sleep?" She asked after his eyes had returned to her own, "Why, is something wrong?"
She pursed her lips and pressed a hand to his chest, trailing it down over his skin, feeling the definition of his muscles and the occasional roughness of a scar, "You know is it not working?"
He smirked a little and didn't reply, he simply waited for her hand which slipped down the front of his pants, to grip the steely length of his not too subtle erection.
"...Oh wow... Definitely not wrong." She said and he grinned, leaning up on his elbow, placing a hand on her shoulder and pushing softly, aiming to push her back onto her back.
"Ah ah!" She chastised and he hesitated, watching as she moved her hand up, pushing it against his shoulder instead, pushing him unresisting onto his back where he lay.
After pursing her lips for a moment she sat up and swung her leg over him, straddling his waist, "You would not be gentle with me I think..."
"Is that so bad?" He asked with a wry smile.
"...Well, no, but let's just say it's been a while and I want to be in control." She smiled a little, biting her lip as she once more gripped his cock through the confines of his shorts, "Now, help me get these off."
Eagerly Atrin raised his hips, easily lifting the light weight of her body as he shimmied his shorts down his body to his thighs, his hard, thick cock springing free to greet her.
"Oh my," she said in a low voice, impressed by the casual display of his strength and the reality of his size. As he settled down once again on the bed, his legs still kicking a little as he worked his shorts off completely she reached down, gripping his length in an overhanded grip, stroking it slowly.
"You might want to get it a little wet first..." Atrin suggested as she raised herself higher, so her core was above the tip of his cock and she blushed a little, raising her hand to her lips.
He let out a little sigh of pleasure as he felt her hand massaging her spit into the sensitive head of her cock before again lining herself up.
She hesitated and he moved his hands to her thighs, not asserting control, but giving her a reassuring squeeze, his thumb tracing idly over the silkiness of her dark skin.
"You ready?" She asked, voice low, eyes down as she rubbed herself against the tip of his erect cock, feeling it throb against her, a little intimidating in her size.
He nodded simply and she nodded too, letting out a long slow breath as she, ever so slowly, began to lower herself down onto him.
She tilted her head back, her hand moving from his length, letting both of her hands rest on his as she felt the thick tip spread her open, pressing inside her with an intensity she hadn't expected.
"O-oh, oh god Atrin, I didn't, ah, I didn’t know it could feel like, mm, like this..." She whimpered softly, her voice quivering as she hesitated, gyrating her hips, feeling the light friction of his tip moving within her.
"Feels good, right?" He chuckled a little, his voice betraying his own pleasure and she had to admire his patience with her, not that she was planning on making him wait long.
Once again she started to move downward and felt more of his length slide into the welcoming embrace of her body, her pussy, tight and hot squeezed down on him like a vice and she had to move slow. It didn't hurt, on the contrary, it felt amazing, but she wanted to savour the moment, taking someone inside of her who not only didn't fear what she was, but could look into her eyes and smile.
Rising and falling, slow and steady she began to ride him, the room quiet around them, no loud groans or the slapping of flesh on flesh as these walls were used to with their usual occupants, but something entirely more unique.
She gasped and he squeezed her thighs on reflex as pleasure began to curl through their bodies, a single wonderful experience with two points of view, the General on his back, watching the exotic skinned woman with her slender physique, bald tattoo'd head and eyes like the night sky, her expression one of bliss as his thick shaft delved deep into the heat of her core, and the Inquisitor, looking down upon a body of strength, experience written on his chest in a network of scars, each, she was sure, with a story behind that she couldn't wait to hear about.
She met his eyes and didn't need to soul gaze to know what he was thinking, it was written so plainly on his face, his affection, his desire, his lust, here and now with Atrin, all her worries seemed to melt away.
She quickened her pace, his hands moving up, guided by her own to rest on her hips, his grip tightening slightly as he began to help her, lifting her up and letting gravity sink her back down.
With that her moans again began to pick up, mixed this time by his own, rougher and quieter, but it was music to her ears all the same as they moved together as one, perfectly in sync with each others rhythm, the pleasure of his size in her tightness bringing them both to new heights.
Finally, as their tempo built the sound of their bodies coming together started to sound out around the room, her hot wet core taking every inch of his hard length, the pleasure incredible, building and mounting within her far quicker than before.
"A-Atrin! It feels so good! O-oh, oh!" The sync faltered as she shuddered in a burst of pleasure, unable to support herself as, yet again, her body was wracked by a climax that shook her to her very core.
Collapsing forward she panted hard as their movements, for a single moment ground to a halt, her head resting on his chest, her breasts pressed snugly to the firmness of his muscle, the pleasure and closeness an intensely intimate mix.
Atrin, not able to stand their pause for more than a second moved his hands around her, his strong rough hands gripping and squeezing her ass as, from below, he finally got to put his great strength to use, something that, as a result of the sudden burst of stars in Avery’s vision, she did not object to.
His hips moved rapidly, slamming himself home time and time again into her tightness, the sensations gripping his cock surreal as she rode her seemingly endless climax, expecting at any second the flame that had been lit within her to dwindle, but only feeling it swell.
Atrin too was feeling the mounting pleasure build within him and he knew that his soon to be climax wouldn’t last nearly so long as hers, so he fought, tried to make the experience last as long as he could while not slowing his pace for her benefit, the bed creaking and groaning under them, more used to this sort of punishment.
He felt his toes curl as pleasure overwhelmed him from within, seeking an out, and, as he felt the first tinder sparks of his inevitable orgasm rush towards him, the stupidest, most brilliant idea he’d ever had sprung into his mind and in a moment of pure curiosity, he just had to know.
Swallowing hard he moved one hand from the the dark cheek of Avery’s tight butt to her shoulder, pushing her up slightly, her head above his.
Confused at the sudden change when everything was feeling so wonderful, she looked down into Atrin’s eyes…. And he let her in.
She gasped and he tensed, his back arching, his eyes wide as they came in unison, their bodies individually thrusting and grinding against one another in what to an observer would seem a typical climax, but in their minds, their souls mingled, mixing somewhere else as one.
In the future Avery and Atrin both would think back to that first time, when she had soulgazed him as they both came and they both looked back on it with the same feeling, like neither one of them had been there in that moment but something entirely different, a being of pure bliss, an existence as long as eternity squeezed into just a few seconds, no knowledge of time, the five senses gone to be replaced by a single thought, a single feeling, euphoria.
It could have been five seconds later, it could have been fifty years, but Atrin’s body, independent from whatever his mind had become, on instinct alone, blinked.
Avery collapsed atop of him, the pair of them laying limp, his cock spent, all strength drained from the General as he stared upwards, his eyes focused on a single point among the confines of the Palace walls, as if watching something retreat away to nothing more than a dot, then nothing more than a memory.
Avery for her part, despite her vast experience at soulgazing, was struggling herself to come to terms with what had just happened, to wrap her mind around it, when, suddenly, she felt a shaking beneath her, Atrin’s chest rising and falling erratically.
Startled she tried to push herself up and it took two grueling attempts before, on unsteady hands, she managed to raise herself a couple of inches. She could see tears streaming down the man's cheeks and for a second she felt a panic rise, but then she saw his smile and realised he was laughing.
There was nothing she could do, nothing she could say, but laugh along with him, in the arms of the man whose soul she had stared into and seen only love and affection for her. Her General. Her Atrin.
In the morning Atrin lay in bed, a protective arm wrapped around Avery who lay nestled against him, a dark slender leg draped lazily over his, her hand resting on his chest, tracing idle circles in her half sleep.
Both awake they lay together, knowing full well that if they had not solved their mystery of the Palace's leak by that coming evening they would have to once more face Ariela’s wrath, yet, despite this, they lingered, not eager to leave the warmth of the bed and the newfound embrace of one another, knowing to do so would be to end an experience that had likely changed them both in some way.
As the final minutes of peace ebbed away a light scratching at the door became apparent and Avery, knowing their time was near an end let out a frustrated little sigh, “Ooh what on earth is that noise…”
Atrin murred a little and half opened his eyes, reaching out to light a candle beside the bed, a trick he accomplished one-handed, his other arm still wrapped around Avery, fingertips tracing across her exotic skin, “I haven’t the faintest…”
The scratching continued and Avery poked him none too subtly in the chest, “Mm, go find out…”
Atrin smirked a little, “I’d need my other arm back for that…”
Avery opened her eyes ever so slightly, eying him with an oddly playful gaze before, with a little smirk of her own she rolled off of him, taking the bed sheets with her and exposing Atrin to the otherwise cold of the room.
“Ack…” He complained as the cold bit at his skin, but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. After taking a deep breath he sat up, placing his feet on the floor and stretching out his back, a routine action and habit at this point.
Avery lay there, sneakily glancing over one shoulder, watching him intently, eyes fixed on the shifting of his muscles, his body strong and scarred. He may be a General, but to have acquired such an array of marks he must have once been a great warrior.
Slowly he stood and her smirk spread into a grin as she watched his ass.
Not noticing her attention he took the candle and lit several others, the rooms central location in the palace depriving it of any windows, making it difficult to tell the time.
With a fuzzy mind he stepped towards the door, grabbing a cloth as he did so and wrapping it around his waist, covering himself to the bare minimum required.
As the scratching at the door continued he opened it inwards and one of the Palaces many cats flopped inside gracefully, it looked up to him indignantly and stepped inside, Atrin letting out a little laugh, “Ah, the Good General, good morning.”
Avery watched, baffled as the all grey cat stepped into the room, raising her eyebrow as Atrin cast the cat a mock salute, “What are you doing…” she said, almost embarrassed for him.
Atrin chuckled a little and shut the door, “This is the Good General… I think he’s the oldest mousing cat in the Palace.”
Avery watched the cat with suspicion as it wandered around the room, sniffing her clothing and Atrin's armour, curious as to the odd additions to its patrol route.
“He’s set in his ways a bit though,” Atrin smirked moving back towards the bed, “you could practically set your watch by his route.”
“Is he someone's pet?” Avery asked.
Atrin shrugged as he sat back down, “They aren’t really anyone's pets, they just keep the mice and rats in check.”
Avery sat up on her elbows and tilted her head, curious as she watched the cat poke about.
“What?” Atrin asked, watching her with a smirk.
“Why does it have a collar on if it’s no ones pet?”
Atrin laughed a little, “Well, I… Uh.” He hesitated and furrowed his brow, “I uh, I don’t know.”
The Good General stepped towards the bed and looked up at the two of them expectantly.
“...Could you like, soul gaze it and find out?”
Avery shook her head, “I don’t soul gaze cats.”
Atrin chuckled a little, “I guess they don’t like it huh?”
“No no, it freaks me out. They’re so sure in their disdain for us lesser creatures.”
Atrin laughed again and reached down, scratching the cat behind the ears.
It leaned into his hand for a moment before turning and making for the door again, sitting by it and looking expectantly towards Atrin.
With a sigh he stood and stepped towards the door, opening it for the cat, who, plaintively, padded out.
Atrin shut the door behind it and turned back to Avery, “So, where were…” He tilted his head, “...What’s that look for.”
“Where exactly do the cat’s roam?”
Atrin shrugged and folded his arms across his broad chest, “Wherever they please, I wonder.”
“Even outside the Palace’s walls?”
“Well… I…” Atrin's mind went blank.
“And you said he keeps a consistent route?”
Atrin stared at her.
“...And you could keep your time by the cat?”
Atrin realised he'd forgotten to breathe and gasped suddenly.
Ariela walked through the halls of the palace, feeling less enraged than she had the night before, having taken a significant amount of her frustrations out on that wench of a girl, Sophia, who wouldn’t be walking for at least a few days.
Although her precious Belind had escaped, she had to admit the prospect of the hunt was incredibly alluring and she was quite looking forward to it, though she wondered what she would do to Atrin and Avery if they failed, yet again, to turn up any trace of the traitor.
Maybe she would split them up again. She had been uncharacteristically kind the night before, perhaps after what she expected had been a heated night of their own she would send Atrin out on the hunt personally, tearing them apart. She smiled at the thought. It would be a fitting punishment given everything that had occurred the last few days.
A scrabble of claws drew her attention and she glanced down, a grey streak lancing past her and she raised her eyebrows, halting in her tracks, one of the usually demure cat’s was running at a dead sprint, it’s hackles raised, its tail fluffed up.
She opened her mouth to let out a curious hum, when a fresh sound drew her attention, the padding of bare feet.
At an equally dead sprint, wearing little more than a glorified washcloth around his waist blurred none other than Atrin, one hand reaching out towards the cat, the other wrapped around his cloth in an increasingly vain attempt to hold it in place.
Ariela’s opened mouth stayed that way, then it drew to a line, her brows knitting together, not able to even begin comprehending as she watched her General chasing a grey cat down the corridor in a severe state of undress.
As they rounded a corner and vanished from sight she simply stood still for several long moments before speaking to herself, her voice exasperated, “I should’ve killed him. I should’ve just killed him.”
After another moment had passed Avery rounded the corner Atrin had first appeared from and was unfortunate enough to make eye contact with Ariela and despite Avery’s usually stoic demeanour and poise, she, for her part, dressed in one of Ariela's own robes she had found in Belind's room, looked somewhat sheepish.
“Er.” Avery ventured.
“Do I want to know?” Ariela asked her, her voice conveying just how done with the day she already was.
“The er, cat, my Queen. We suspect it to be the traitor.”
Ariela could feel a headache coming on.
Atrin’s single-mindedness gave him a tunnel vision that allowed him to stay focused on his quarry, he hadn’t even seen Ariela as he had hurtled passed her, after all, his life probably depended on him catching this damned cat. Why was it so bloody fast for its age?
He winced as the sun hit his eyes, the texture beneath his feet changing from one of wood and stone to one of grass and dirt, his bare skin soaking in the sun as he realised he had been led out into the Palace's gardens. Gritting his teeth he focused on the streaking grey blur ahead, watching as it weaved through the hedges and fountains, following its usual route, albeit it with a much faster pace.
“Bloody hell!” He swore loudly as he watched the cat jump off a post and a pillar, hopping atop the Palace wall and vanishing over it in a mad scrabble of claws.
With a scowl, his veins fueled by adrenaline he kicked off the ground, leaping as high as he could.
With a grunt he slammed into the wall, the breath being driven from his lungs, but his fingertips at least gripping the edge at the top.
With an undignified scrabble of his own he pulled himself up, the towel now forgotten as it floated with a grace he couldn't match to the ground.
Vaulting the wall he landed outside the palace on the surrounding streets, several peasants turning their heads to watch him, eyes wide, recognition in several of them.
“Er, did you see a grey cat? Got a collar on?” He asked, panting hard.
A young girl pointed towards a windowsill just a few doors down from where he had appeared over the wall.
"Thank you ma'am, about your business!" He said as he started to run again, his authoritative voice conveying less of its usual gravitas with all he had on display.
He sprinted towards the sill and skidded to a halt in something he didn’t want to think about, leaning in through the open window and peered inside.
“So…” Ariela said, sitting in the war room, eyes flickering between the two, Avery standing as she often did in her usual attire, Atrin sat with muddy feet, a cat in his lap sleeping and Ariela's robe pulled tight around his chest, “...To clarify, this Skye and Cadance were using a cat to communicate with Belind. That’s what you’re telling me. Genuinely.”
Atrin cleared his throat and nodded, “Yes, my Queen. They put scraps of paper and pencil lead into a small metal tube on the cat’s collar." He waved a hand to the objects laid out on the table, "It would walk its route to Belinds room, where he would read their messages and write his own, then in time the cat would find its way outside the Palace, where they would read and respond. They could’ve sent at least one message a day each way this way, I think. They didn’t leave much behind in the house they used, but the Landlord has at least provided us with a deion of the pair who rented out the rooms. I’ve already spoken to the gate masters and yesterday, during the royal parade, three figures made from the cities south gate on three white coursers, two were matching the deion of the pair, the third was hooded and cloaked.”
Ariela rubbed at her head and let out a sigh, “Fine. Alright, send out riders, Atrin. Find where my Belind has gone. Then I will recover him myself.”
"Yes, my Queen." Atrin nodded, standing slowly and bowing low having to adjust the tie of the ill-fitting robe as he did so, keen to interpret her orders as a dismissal.
As he and Avery both made for the door she spoke, her voice low, "Oh, and Atrin?"
They stopped in their tracks by the door and turned to look at her, his voice coming out hesitant, "...Yes, my Queen?"
She eyed him flatly, "...Burn the robe."
He cleared his throat a little and nodded once, "...Yes, my Queen."