Chapter 18 — Registered
Between the mountains and the great eastern forests was a strip of hilly, forested lands. There Jakyra flew to a phoenix outpost Sauda directed her to.
“Nothing close to swollen in terms of population, but it sure looks like a swell place,” The coairse commented as she soared overhead. Simple, adorable dwellings mixed with gravel pathways, situated on gently rolling hills. Trees and bushes spread out all over to complete the homey look.
Phoenixes were present, but here and there Jakyra spotted elves, dryads, lupines, even minotaurs keeping to themselves. Phoenix towns were like that: small, cozy, and open to any myith seeking a place to call home. One of the joys of a race that preferred small, cooperative communities over a concentrated government.
Not that other states would dare trample over them. Disturbing the phoenix network would lead to the loss of conveniences such as an efficient public postal system and libraries’ worth of information.
Jakyra spied a large pond that looked like a centerpiece of the outpost. There was plenty of space for a landing, yet Jakyra kept moving on. “Not a big deal,” Sauda told her.
“Not for you,” Jakyra sourly said, her hatred for flying with passengers intensified. “You’re not the one playing chauffeur here. What if someone sees me like this?”
“You need not be embarrassed.”
“Oh, I think—” the dragon began to say when her eyes met Sauda’s stare. The elf made a gesture to turn back, and with a grumble Jakyra did as she was told. Talk about elves having sharp eyes, why does that stare scare me so much? she thought to herself.
Her knees gave way as her feet touched the ground, Sauda stumbling off from the sudden motion but gracefully landing on all fours. A shared look was enough for Jakyra to communicate her exhaustion and for Sauda to express sympathy, being willing to stay in town until she felt fine again.
With that Jakyra let her body melt into the grass. Flying was stretenous, sure, but it wasn’t a big deal so long as Jakyra took breaks. Yet for a dragon who acted as a punching bag yesterday, this was simply too much exertion.
“Quack,” came a sound.
Jakyra turned to take in the scene of the pond. A few young dryads sat on the far end, talking and giggling in outspoken voices she instantly tuned out. More important were the group of phoenix-sized yellow ducks floating in the pool of water. Say, those weren’t just ducks, they were—
“Lamia,” Sauda said with muted affection.
Jakyra chuckled as she continued observing the cryptid ducks. They looked vaguely humanoid, with black beady eyes, long necks, and an adorable elegance. Sauda nudged a pebble towards their pond, and one of the lamias swam over in typical duck fashion and pushed the pebble back with its round head.
“Quack,” the lamia said.
Jakyra beamed at the duck cryptid. “Only a villain would dare pluck a feather from you,” she said in a tender voice. Sauda pushed the pebble back.
The duck picked it up with a wing, tilted its head, and clumsily tossed the rock.
It bopped Jakyra on the nose. Uh, she thought, confused by the action when another pebble came her way, blinking just in time for it to hit the side of her right eye. Her claw darted towards the spot as she bit back a hiss. That hurt.
And it invoked flashbacks of what happened yesterday. “I take back what I said,” she muttered, throwing a glare when Sauda softly chuckled. Other lamias witnessing the scene quacked along in mimicry, while the dryads themselves were pointing at her with raucous laughter. As for the rock thrower itself, its head was tilted in the cutest way.
Its wing made a clunky tossing motion to send another pebble over. Jakyra huffed and swatted it aside.
A feminine hiss of pain reached her horns.
The color drained from Jakyra’s face as she looked to her right, the stone she had smacked away falling from the leg of a person — an adolescent girl — whose skin and clothing ironically matched the shiny yellow of the cryptid ducks. “Ah! Hey, I’m so sorry,” Jakyra blurted, “I—”
“No worries, I saw. It didn’t hurt much.” The person grinned, the strangest undertone of nervousness cutting into her mature, ladylike demeanor. Then her eyes shifted to an unusually rigid, wide-eyed Sauda, and that nervousness seemed to take over as she raised a finger. “Ah, aah, that’s…” she stammered, and Jakyra had a double-take.
That person was a fey.
An unusually tall fey who was the same height as a very short elf called Sauda. What were the odds?
It was a strange moment for Jakyra, one she spent observing the newcomer. Despite her statuesque, long-limbed form with a skinniness in between slender and lanky, she had a surprisingly straight posture. Her green, star-shaped eyes blinked as she shook herself, a long ponytail jerking behind from shoulder to shoulder and the purse at her hip bouncing along.
Having lived with someone whose height deviated a lot from the racial average, Jakyra quickly overlooked it. Sauda and Alaisa, however, didn’t share that train of thought and good-naturedly laughed.
“Uh, quite a unique circumstance I seem to be in,” Alaisa said, hands clasped and squirming in place. “Well met?”
“The same,” Sauda said in her normal tone, though with a trace of mirth. “Sauda.”
“Lady Alaisa, but please, just call me Alaisa.” The fey turned to Jakyra expectantly.
Huh, a noble of the feys, Jakyra thought. That reminds me, isn’t the career of a messenger popular among their sort? Might explain why she’s out here, away from her homelands west of the mountains.
With that in mind, Jakyra opened her mouth. And then closed it with a frown. For some reason Alaisa was staring, perplexion disrupting her cheerfulness.
Wait a moment.
Jakyra’s mind flashed through a series of thoughts. This was a noble fey messenger. As she understood it, such a fey would likely work for a fey lord or even the monarchy, meaning she would have governmental ties. And the Dragon Crown had to deal with rumors about Ismat before. Chances were that they said a few things to the other nations of Fantasmyth out of necessity, and that those few things reached the very fey in front of her.
And if one of those tidbits happened to be her, body description and association with Ismat included, then she was in for some shenanigans the moment she gave away her name. Was she being too paranoid? Probably, but considering her luck these days, playing it safe sounded wise.
So Jakyra decided to fib. “Sorry, was thinking of something. You can call me—”
“Sauda, right on time!” A dark-red phoenix cut in, darting past a startled Jakyra and Alaisa and giving a nod towards the elf. “Good to see you. The dragon with you is Jakyra, right?”
The fey stepped back at the mention of the name. Her eyes swept over Jakyra’s blemished pink scales and sturdy draconic frame as she put two and two together. Her mouth opened, closed, then opened again with a tiny noise coming out, Sauda confused by the reaction.
“Oh, did I interrupt something?” the phoenix said, noticing the fey at that moment. “My humblest apologies. I hope I haven’t caused any trouble.” He spun around, giving Jakyra a sheepish smile.
Jakyra facepalmed. You have no idea, she thought, exchanging a series of expressions with Sauda to help her understand what was up with the fey.
“Ah,” the elf said once she got the message, muted shock in her eyes, before saying something to the phoenix. The bird nodded, darting away, and Sauda strolled in his wake.
“Hey! Where are you going?” Jakyra asked. Alaisa was now pacing in a circle with gibberish flowing out of her mouth, stealing looks at her every now and then.
“Registration,” Sauda said matter-of-factly, pointing to the fey messenger. “Your problem.”
Jakyra tried to protest when her friend hastened her steps, leaving her on her ownsome against the noble. Great. Sauda of all people had abandoned her to this ridiculous situation. I didn’t sign up for this, so can I resign? She bitterly thought. Really though, it’s like my encounter with Ismat was just the first of signs signaling that someone forged my signature on a list of people to be given horrible luck.
With that she decided to barrel through the awkwardness. “Any chance Dragon King Brimir blabbed to your higher-ups and you overheard my name or something?” she said, forcing a grin.
Alaisa seemed incapable of speech, her words dissolving into mush each time she opened her mouth. Eventually she stopped, floating into the air and raising a finger as she breathed in and out. “Sorry,” she began again, hovering close to her snout and pulling her lips back into a warm smile. “I- this is a little too coincidental.”
If her voice didn’t already sound so regally nervous, her next words increased the effect tenfold. “Perchance you didn’t learn of the occasion, but the Dragon Crown assembled five days prior in discussion of a peculiar revered magic subject to widely spread rumors. They allowed messengers and diplomats to attend under a promise of confidentiality.”
The fey fiddled with her purse. “I, I was present. Is this actually happening?”
Jakyra kept her lips still, unsure how to respond.
No, she knew exactly what to do. First a laugh, then a follow up statement. “So you know of Ismat.”
Fingers rapped against each other. “You’re his intermediary,” Alaisa whispered. Jakyra nodded. “And you’re here registering a ranger team on his behalf.”
A ranger team? Jakyra hesitated at the unfamiliar term, then nodded. Was there a difference between a ranger and a mercenary? She had to ask Sauda.
“And I presume your friend’s in charge of it. Wow, I—” A strangled giggle escaped Alaisa’s throat. “Would you mind if I gushed for a moment? This whole affair, it’s thrown my plans completely off-course. Like, I’m supposed to be flying over to a dryad settlement to deliver a letter, and I just meant to check in with the local ranger establishment to search for the existence of a group that had you and your construct in it, cause I was interested in you guys and all. But to waltz right into you? I’m not even prepared for this, I was hoping to—”
And on she blabbed, Jakyra tuning her voice out as she spoke faster and faster. There’s a fanatical Omniguards fan club, the dragon dryly thought, and its president doesn’t even realize. Fantastic. Totally a fan of this.
But more importantly, it sounded like Alaisa wanted to find her and Ismat. And out of self-interest, maybe curiosity too. Still, it meant one thing.
Jakyra raised her claw, wanting a confirmation. “So what’s your goal here?”
All of Alaisa’s nervousness vanished as she put on a tiny, solemn smile, floating back down to the ground and looking like a girl scout ready to sell cookies. “Well, after that meeting with the Dragon Crown I contacted my lord, she’s given me approval to get in contact with you. There’s nothing finalized yet, but we’re interested in trying to hash out a deal.”
Offers from the head of a fey province, and the Omniguards was still being established at this moment. Other mercenary teams would be jealous, Jakyra betted.
But aloud she voiced an entirely different thought. “And what part does Ismat have in this all?”
“Besides him being your supervisor?” Alaisa carefully said. “Like, we are talking about a powerful piece of magic in your group. Maybe you know this, but reputable mercenaries and rangers do get contracted by government officials. You recognize where I’m going with this?”
Jakyra pushed her snout deep into the grass she was sprawled on, processing the fey’s words. Ismat was revered magic. No, a revered magic construct. So far he didn’t show many powers that made him deserve that status, nothing besides his extraordinary imitation of an actual living dragon, but surely he wasn’t seen as high-level magic for nothing.
And if Ismat had reason to believe bandits would flock to him for his power, what about powerful officials?
After all, Jakyra reminded herself, Brimir was bent on making use of him, even if the means meant that he would be meaning to dismantle Ismat and lose chunks of his underlying magic. Greed, demeaning trait it is.
It was this sentiment that made her cock a narrowed eye at Alaisa. “Woah, hold on,” the young fey said with a raise of her hands, her smile so forced it made her look like a conman. “I seek to reach out to your construct for mutually beneficial purposes on behalf of my kingdom, that is all. No accompanying strings of the sinister kind.”
Jakyra leaned her head against her claw, making Alaisa’s yellow cheeks literally glow out of embarrassment. “Granted, there may be personal boons influencing me.” She shook her head, her long ponytail swishing around. “But still, no plotting here! All I want to do is try and make a bridge early on between you and my lord and her superiors, possibly the queen herself. I’m sure you’ll find them chivalrous.”
Bah, Jakyra would have to see it to believe it. But in any case, governmental forces might start paying attention to the Omniguards at some point. Alaisa was technically speeding up the process.
“We’ll talk it over with Ismat,” she decided. “Anything else you need from the Omniguards?”
Alaisa took notice of the name, briefly shaping her lips into a circle. “That’s one right there, finding the namesake of your ranger team. It’s too much to ask for now, but meeting with your construct is next on my list — my interaction with him will help kickstart cooperation with my lord, who would be delighted to get to know you all. You don’t mind inviting me to his lair in the future? I understand if you desire to keep his location unknown and promise not to share it without express permission.”
Well, no harm in doing so, especially if this worked out in their favor. Jakyra accepted it. “I’ll have Sauda provide her address to keep in touch.”
“Splendid,” Alaisa said. With not much else to say, she sat down on the grass cross-legged, waiting for the elf to return. Splashing noises came from afar, two lamia throwing water at each other while quacking in merriment.
One came to the edge of the pond, near Jakyra, and moved its wing close to a rock. The dragon abruptly brought her whole body up and growled, causing the cryptid duck to flap away in panic and fall into the pond back-first in a great splash. The dryads at the other side pointed again, this time to laugh at the duck, and its brethren joined in with their mocking quacks as it pulled itself together and swam away with its head bent in shame. Sweet revenge.
Eventually Sauda came back, the dark-red phoenix hovering alongside. “Oh, I didn’t introduce myself before, did I?” he said. “Fabian, the head of our local establishment for mercenaries, rangers, or whatever else people call them nowadays. Your friend has been in touch with our branch since a year back.”
Jakyra gave Sauda a look, one that conveyed her annoyance at being abandoned to deal with Alaisa alone, confusion at whether there was some difference between mercenaries and rangers, and slight offense at not being told of Sauda’s status with this phoenix party. “You mean she and you get along well.”
“Fabian’s reliable,” Sauda said, answering Jakyra’s other responses with a shrug. Which essentially wasn’t an answer.
“I’m flattered,” Fabian said with a flourish. “But never mind that, I believe you understand Sauda has spoken with us about creating a ranger team with some very unusual circumstances—” His eye shifted to Alaisa.
“She’s not with us, but she knows,” Jakyra said, explaining what happened for his and Sauda’s sake.
Fabian twisted his beak in the bird equivalent of a frown as she went on. “Uh, wow, that’s quite coincidental,” he said at last. “And here I thought your association with your construct Ismat was strange enough. You ever get the feeling that you’re but one factor in a plot driven by forces beyond you?”
Jakyra put a claw to her chin, not sure why Alaisa was clamping her mouth shut. As in, there might be something more to the events she went through than meets the eye, pun possibly intended?
“Just being rhetorical,” Fabian added. “Funny thing that you and Alaisa discussed working out a deal with a lord of the feys, I meant to say a thing or two about your Omniguards team and governments.
“But first things first, congratulations on your new ranger team! I’m sure you have some questions about your new occupation, so feel free to ask away. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, mercenaries and rangers are pretty much the same thing, just a matter of connotation.”
Well that helped. Jakyra directed Sauda towards Alaisa, and the elf promptly went over to give her address. Good. Now for some clarification about how this whole merc- er, ranger thing worked.
It was pretty simple. There were establishments all over for mercenary and ranger groups, there to keep information about various teams, act as their agent for finding suitable jobs, gather requests within the region, and so on. They also took note if a team possessed magic they didn’t have the right to keep, often something like revered magic or an artifact that a nation claimed ownership over. In the Omniguards’s case, though, Ismat was a concession and was entitled to some form of protection. Maybe that would help with his paranoia of being attacked or stolen?
Nah, Blodoggs don’t care about that nonsense, Jakyra considered.
“Yeah, your team has a special condition with Ismat,” Fabian said. “Which brings me to something I told Sauda that you may have to contend with.”
“Government interests?” Jakyra guessed.
“Having a revered magic construct in your midst does that. I wouldn’t be too surprised if you got officials asking you to do some work for them—” he flashed a half-smile towards Alaisa, who was busy with Sauda “—or at least keeping their eye on you. They’re going to want a piece of the pie, if you know what I mean. I wouldn’t rule out getting some hate from fellow mercenaries either, what with Ismat giving you a boost in your fame and firepower.”
“So be wary.”
“And alert. You probably won’t face much trouble for now, but when those three months pass by and Ismat manages to win the deal he made with the Dragon King, things could get muddy.”
A vague warning, but fair enough. “Anything you have to say about governments being interested in us?” Jakyra asked Alaisa.
The messenger put up her hands with a silly grin. “Oh come on, I think I’ve been put on the spot enough times today. I’ve no clue about their schemes, okay?”
Fabian chuckled. “By the way,” he said, waving Sauda over, “there’s this poor slimeling being sighted, and apparently he’s gotten ahold of some reviled magic. Or quite the opposite, come to think of it — reports say he’s under the control of an unidentified artifact that makes him cause destruction every once in a while before going back into hiding. Last seen in the northern edges of the plains.”
“Dreadful,” Alaisa said. Sauda gave a tiny nod.
Dreadful indeed. A slimeling under the whims of some messed up magic and being compelled to cause mayhem? What a tragic life that must be.
“The phoenix network has placed a reward for whoever takes down this magic.” Fabian clasped his wings together. “Sauda, your new team obviously isn’t as experienced as others in the field, but I recognize your talent. And if your friend Jakyra is as capable as you, then I believe this is something you should look out for.”
Jakyra was already sold. Maybe she was insane, but since that fight with the puppet-doll olitiau a thirst for more challenging battles with magic involved had awakened within her. How could she pass down an opportunity for the Omniguards to make a dramatic debut either?
So when Sauda acknowledged the tip, she couldn’t help but put on a large grin and hedge her bets on a surprise run-in with the slimeling. Why not? With her comedic luck so far, it wouldn’t faze her if the slimeling popped up right now—
Jakyra whipped her head in surprise. Unbelievable.
“Quack,” went the same lamia who threw stones at her, awkwardly standing in an almost upright position a few feet away from her. It almost sounded apologetic.
Jakyra considered it, then sighed, gently stroking the duck-cryptid out of forgiveness. It quacked back blissfully, bowing its head and enjoying the petting. Such a wily, shrewd lamia it was, managing to worm out of its misdeeds like that.
Alaisa made a tiny aww as it waddled back to its pond. “Well, I still have a message to send, and with my purpose here being fulfilled, I best take my leave.” The fey curtsied. “I appreciate meeting with you, Jakyra and Sauda, however impromptu it was.”
The fey sized up Sauda one more time, rubbing her eyes. “Perhaps I can get to know you ladies better someday. I’ll be looking forward to hearing about your exploits! Good fortune to you.” And she stepped back, her feet leaving the earth as she levitated over to the closest pathway and went out of sight at a bend.
“Well, I think my work here is done too,” Fabian said, poking at a blade of grass with his bird feet. “I’ll have to speak with my higher-ups about your situation, but I’m sure they’ll understand the concessions and privacy your construct needs. Maybe I’ll have to get someone in touch with the Dragon King and his Crown as well.”
“You have higher-ups?” Jakyra said. “I thought you were the head of your branch.”
“Well come now, you think there aren’t authorities in control of all the phoenixes’ mercenary establishments?” Fabian snickered at the thought of it. “Anyway, congratulations again — I’ll be expecting good things from the Omniguards. And as the messenger fey said, good fortune to you.”
With that Fabian was off, flapping his wings and darting towards the trees. That left her with Sauda. Oh, and those silly lamias. Even the dryads seemed to have disappeared.
“You holding up?” Sauda asked.
With a groan Jakyra tested out her muscles. Still sore, but she could make do. “I cannot believe you left me alone with her,” she admonished her friend. “You’re supposed to be the leader.”
“And you the intermediary.”
Jakyra hummed in reluctance. Unfortunately, that was a solid point.
“You did fine anyway,” Sauda stated, warmth in her eyes. “Maybe too quick to agree on a meeting with Ismat, but fine.”
“We’re registered. I took up a few simple jobs to get started.”
A few simple jobs, in contrast to many crazy, fun ones. Eh, it’s fair, Jakyra reasoned. Slow and steady wins the race, right? And a few jobs is better than none.
A surge of exhilaration made her aches disappear, an urge to launch herself into the sky building up. “So this means what I think it does, doesn’t it?”
“Hmm?” Amusement pierced the elf’s voice.
“You know it, Sauda. The Omniguards are in business.”
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Peace be upon you.
You've met a madman with a fondness for ducks, striving to write high-quality stories.
Currently writing a Pokemon Mystery Dungeon fanfic on fanfiction.net and AO3 (not posting it on Royal Road just yet). Needs to write more original work sooner or later.