The Waters of Dawn Cove
~Story 1~

The caravan on route to the Zandsteen province of Gremyne spiralled down the mountains that bordered the great steppe-like plains. More inward, the province actually turned to desert, but here at it's edges, the climate was still manageable. Still, the caravan consisted of several wagons, pulled by camels. Even the roads in the steppe were sandy and many horses unfamiliar with the terrain got injured because of it.
Around the caravan a small group of riders patrolled. The sun made the edges of their weapons gleam and it was clear to all who saw them that they were not wishy-washy vagabonds who'd work for daily food. These men were highly skilled.
One of them was Gejuisu. He was in fact the owner of this caravan. Together with his wife, Deriaki, they'd travelled all across Gremyne. Sometimes they'd sailed, at times they'd crossed mountains. They took on any job that others rejected. Though dangerous, it was these jobs that paid the most. With the extra money they could hire all the protection they needed.
Furase, a new guard on this mission drove up to Gejuisu and made his report. Though Gejuisu could only guess at the past of the man he felt very certain that Furase had killed before. He was unnoticeable. A small, heavyset man who was stronger than he seemed. His eyes always seemed to smile and he loved kids, but at the same time his ears seemed to pick up the tiniest rumour and his mind seemed to work at double the speed of anyone else. And yet, Gejuisu had not hesitated a minute in hiring the man.
"Gejuisu!" Deriaki called from one of the wagons.
Gejuisu turned to his wife, a very imposing woman with wild blond hair that hung around her head in dozens of loops and braids. She was the light of his life even if the other men on the caravan had called him crazy because of it.
"What is it?"
"We'll reach Rok in half an hour."
"I'll tell the guards to sweep." Gejuisu nodded.
His wife was also a great navigator.

Hanari danced, her long black hair swirling around her. Rok wasn't known for many things, but it did have it's own religion where priestesses danced for the favour of the gods. Hanari was one of those dancers. She'd been apprenticed to the temple when she was 8 and now at the age of 15 her dancing was at the peek of it's splendour. The accent of the rites lay on rhythmic gymnastics where a dancer would surprise a god with her flexibility. Few girls stayed in the temple after the age of 20. Usually they either married and got fat or, more likely, had to work in one of the brothels in town that entertained the few richer citizens.
Hanari did not intend to let it come that far. She'd rather run off now then be thrown out later. The only problem was that the dancers' quarters were well guarded. The walls couldn't be climbed, the windows had bars and there were ample patrols. To ensure their safety and chastity they claimed. To control their treasures everyone else knew. Children were taken in to the temple for very little money. For a simple dance someone would pay at least ten times the amount. The brothel paid even more.
The only way of escape Hanari had found through hours and hours of thinking was to leave while she was dancing in the temple. She'd have to be fast though. Chances were she'd be caught. Hiding was something she shouldn't count on since the religion had a firm lock on it's followers.
Today was the day. She was considered an adult for 3 months now and just last week the temple had sold off a girl only two years older than Hanari. She wanted to act fast. If she danced through the pillars she'd be invisible for seconds each time. If she played it well she'd get to the door. It was morning so the air was still cool. People would most likely be in the street.
Bowing slightly in her dance, Hanari took the first step to freedom...

Nyaka lifted his head and his eyes wandered for a few seconds from the cattle in front of him toward the approaching caravan. Rok seldom attracted traders. The entire village lived of local farming and cattle. They were a small settlement and could manage. But some things they could not make themselves.
Nyaka, being 16 had only once before seen a caravan. He was told there had been another one after he'd just been born, but obviously he had no recollection of that. His mind pondered riding toward it to great the strangers. His mother always told him strangers were dangerous, but traders wouldn't be, would they? The cattle really didn't need him to watch over. they didn't stray from the small patch of grass. Going into the desert was madness, even animals knew that. So would he dare leave them? Just to take a peek?

Hanari was running as fast as she could. But it wasn't enough. Contrary to what she'd believed, the streets had been virtually empty. The odd passerby looked at her in a strange way, but at least none of them had tried to stop her. No-one had offered her help either. But that she had expected.
She could only run for the desert, she knew. Take a road and hope she'd meet someone who didn't know she was a temple dancer. The loud banging of her heart almost covered the sounds of the footsteps of those following her, but she knew they were there, getting closer. She was so close to the gate. Straining for air, she tried to run even faster. Trying to get out, telling herself she'd be safe outside of Rok. It wasn't true, but as long as she believed she'd keep going.
One minute later she dashed below the arched entry that was the only way in and out of Rok. The road outside was dusty and uneven, making it hard for her to run on. But she had to. Behind her she could hear footsteps, but even worse the drumming of horseshoes. They'd catch her in no time now.
Still all Hanari could do was run. And running she suddenly saw someone coming her way. A horse? No a camel. And in the distance dust thrown up by a large number of feet marred the horizon. Salvation? Maybe. With renewed strength she ran, her goal the sole rider.

Furase saw the girl running. At first he thought she was just glad to see a caravan and was coming closer to look and talk with them. Maybe she'd even try to get some present from him. Furase wouldn't mind giving a girl that had to live in this forsaken place something she could dream about. He loved kids after all. One day he hoped to have some. Lead a quiet life, work a regular job. Away from the danger of being a hired gun. Even if his current job was legitimate, it was still not too far away from what he'd done before.
As the girl got closer Furase noticed she wasn't running in a happy mood, she was running like all hell had broken loose. She didn't skip or wave, she was running to him dead on with all the determination her mind and body could produce. Furase shifted from a leisurely riding to scanning the surroundings. Not far behind the girl he could see a group of riders. Were they chasing the girl?
She could be a criminal. She could have murdered someone. Furase knew how easy it was to make someone kill others. But still his heart wanted to believe otherwise. It wanted to believe that a girl barely in her teens who was too old to be his daughter, but could have been his baby sister, would have done something like that. Maybe he needed to believe that.
"Oi!" he called when he got closer, "Need help?"
"Escape." her shrill voice sounded back, "Take me with... you."
Picking her up he noticed that the girl was very agile, he barely needed to slow down for her to be able to jump on the back of his camel. Making a wide arch, Furase turned his camel and made it run back to the caravan.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Hanari." she said.
"I'm Furase." Mind telling me what happened?"

Nyaka watched as the caravan and it's riders got closer. He was still hesitating about whether he could go or not. He'd probably get punished because of it, but wouldn't that be ok? What would a beating or a day without food be compared to seeing a caravan up close? Maybe they'd even take him on and he could see more. His eyes widened at the exciting thought.
Suddenly sounds from behind him made him turn away. The cattle under his care were still calmly grazing. But from the gate of Rok a group of riders burst forth. Nyaka turned and soon he saw the girl running from them. He couldn't recognise her. Though he knew he'd seen her before. She was his age, so why didn't he remember her from school? Even if Rok was isolated all kids went to school till the age of 12. Though you didn't learn much in school aside from being quiet and believe in the temple.
The temple! She was one of the dancers. If she was running it meant she'd tried to escape and they were trying to recapture her. Though the dancers never had to worry about food and health, they were confined to their rooms all of the time. It had always been like that. No-one seemed to question it. or if they did, they couldn't change it.
Maybe because he'd always protected his mother and siblings, maybe because he'd already wanted to go, maybe because he finally got the courage to act, Nyaka ran toward the girl. He noticed the rider of the caravan picking her up. But that alone wouldn't stop the others. The caravan would be attacked. Rok wasn't kind to strangers, even if they were seldom seen merchants.
Chasing behind the camel, he put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. The shrill sounds reached the ears of the cattle he guarded and like the well-trained animals they were they recognised the signal to head home and did so. Few things could stop a mass of cows moving, horses weren't one of them.
With the road blocked, the pursuers were trapped.
"Wait!" Nyaka called after the rider.

"Tell me again." Deriaki said.
Hanari sighed, but still continued because the large woman could snap her in two if she wanted to:
"I escaped from the temple and they chased me to get me back. They kept me prisoner and they were going to sell me as a slave. I would rather run free."
"You could have died." Gejuisu added.
He turned to Furase and said: "And you could have caused us a lot of trouble."
"She was running." the man shrugged, "I picked her up."
"What about your families?" Deriaki asked.
Hanari shrugged, "They sold me."
"And yours?" Deriaki asked when she saw the young boy shy away.
"They'll miss me." he admitted, "My mum is alone and I helped by working. But I can't go back. They know I did it. They'll just be waiting. But I don't feel good about it."
Deriaki nodded and motioned for one of the guards to come. She whispered in his ear a bit and he left. Gejuisu sighed and added, "You better take his place, he was a good aid."
"He's leaving?"
"He'll protect your family and move them out. I'm sure Deriaki told him where we're headed."
"He will?"
"Now rest." Deriaki said shooing out everyone who didn't belong.

Several days had passed and Deriaki felt pleased of their progress. They were exactly on track. She estimated the return of Joss and Nyaka's family to be in one day and 3 hours. give or take a few minutes. They'd be almost at Dawn Cove by then. There wasn't a settlement near the bay, but it was the closest thing Deriaki and Gejuisu could call a home. Their caravan stopped there to rest every time they started and ended a run. Though this time they'd hardly sold anything.
"We'll manage." she told herself and reigned in the horses they'd traded for the camels.
"Worrying?" Gejuisu called from the side of her wagon.
"Just a bit." Deriaki said, "We'll be responsible for Nyaka's family now as well."
"Only one adult, 4 kids." Gejuisu nodded.
"Soon we'll be home."
"It's unlike you to wait to solve a problem until you reach home."
Deriaki smiled, "might as well wait for Joss to come back with Nyaka's family."
The sea became visible at the edge of the horizon when they crossed a few hills and only hours later was the entire caravan parked and settled on the beaches of Dawn Cove. The children played and the adults worked to provide food and shelter. Though it was unlikely anyone was around, the guards still rode a regular patrol. You could never be too safe.
And something was there. Though no-one noticed the arched back of the nekrat in the water. Her bond, Uwasa had been searched from this place as well and it seemed they might find new candidates here. The two of them waited a bit, but in the end the smell of roasting meat and the sounds of laughter and singing drew out Uwasa. She'd wanted to wait until morning, but her stomach was violently opposing that plan.
"Hello!" she called, "Mind if I join you?"
A small pandemonium of panic broke loose, but Uwasa, and certainly her nekrat Serise calmed the crowds. When morning did come, there were 5 less people in the caravan, though they'd vowed to come back before Joss' return.

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Stats and Nekrats:
Gejuisu (m) and Green Well Chunyon (m)
Deriaki (f) and ???
Hanari (f) and Sapphire Deep Sea Mazorun (f)
Nyaka (m) and ???
Furase (m) and Sand Foertun (f)

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All images found with google
Nekrats impressed at Lantessama Isle