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Posts: 5
Registered: ‎11-11-2007
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The beginning of a story... feedback please?

The Voice

The sun shone defiantly in the chilly air as the white sails of the [i]Hataras[/i] made their way with all speed towards the coast of Darmica. Several of the ship’s company were out on the riggings, and many were up on deck gazing off at the coast. Rugged hills could be seen through the mist, along with the dim peak of the tallest tower of a palace. While many of the ship’s people watched the coast, the younger passengers were grouped in a clump, listening to a man who paced back and forth in a dignified manner in front of them.
The man was Katir Hataras, the ship’s captain. He stood holding a dagger and demonstrating techniques to the group, who watched in a huddle.
Katir was thirty or so, a strong, tough man who was also uncommonly handsome; the years had only made him more so. He held the dagger firmly and skillfully, and in his work he was solemn and serious, a sharp contrast to the boy he had been fifteen years ago, to whoever remembered. His voice was not loud, but his charismatic air was unmistakable, and the group of teenage girls and boys sat hooked to his every word.
“You all know that after this voyage, the Council and I will choose my successor. One among you will be chosen, will end up by my side, learning the skills necessary to be not only the captain of the ship but the leader of the entire Hataras clan. This boy or girl must show talent in all areas, from book-learning to fighting to the art of selling our goods. Rali, would you mind stepping forward?”
The boy who had been called walked up to the front, picked up a dagger, and tossed it in the air, catching it again by the hilt as it spun. He looked to the group as if hoping for some sort of applause. He tossed back his jet-black hair, strode leisurely up to the front, and smiled lazily towards the girls in the front. It was the general consensus among most of them that he was perfection embodied, at least in looks.
He took his position facing Katir and when Katir nodded, Rali lunged. Katir went in and before anyone could blink an eye, Rali’s dagger was on the ground, sliding across the deck.
“Really,” Katir said, “I haven’t yet seen a lot of potential with any of you bunch. Except possibly… Cass and Jasmin, show us how it’s done.”
Jasmin got up gracefully, like a dancer. She was a slender girl, with a braid of silky black hair down her back and large, slanted dark eyes like a cat’s. Her name was Jasmin, and her voice was catlike too, silky but never far away from a laugh. None of the boys would really fight Jasmin in lessons. They’d let her win while she giggled and they imagined being close to her in a far different context.
Cassah was Jasmin’s best friend, but the two of them were nothing alike. Cassah was pale for a Karikan. She was pretty but not stunning, and she did not laugh as easily as did Jasmin. There was a sort of regal bearing about her and she was not afraid to speak her mind to anyone. She took herself and her schooling seriously, and she had a talent for the fighting arts. She was as practical as Jasmin was beautiful, and the two of them basked in each other’s glories, inseparable, to the point that when one came up in conversation, the other was sure to follow. As a result of this, no one realized that Jasmin had real talents, and no one realized that Cassah could be considered attractive. They were the smart one and the beautiful one.
It was probably this that most of the spectators were thinking about as the two girls began to practice fight, Jasmin smiling, Cassah intense, unreadable. They went through motions that they had been taught with daggers that could not hurt each other. On the mainland, Karikans carried real daggers. The Masks were still about on occasion, and it was best to be able to defend oneself.
Suddenly Cassah stopped. She put down her dagger, and Jasmin had to pull back to avoid hitting her.
“What, Cass?” said Jasmin, her defined features arranged into a perplexed expression.
“Did you hear that?” said Cassah, looking around.
“Hear what?”
“That voice… it just said, ‘Ah, so I’ve finally found you.’”
Now the bemused expression spread to the rest of the people gathered, including Katir. “Cassah, there was no voice,” he said firmly. “Right, class dismissed.” He turned away, as if he was hiding something in his eyes. The group was suddenly uneasy and silent; the very sound of the waves seemed ominous. The sun in the cold air seemed too bright, even malignant. Everyone alternately looked at Cassah or looked around for the source of Cassah’s voice.
Then a boy called Ari laughed, a sort of nervous giggle. “Cassah, you are bloody crazy. Always known it.”
With that the mood dissipated; but the question was still in the minds of the assembly, especially Cassah’s.
The thing was, odd things in the life of the Hataras clan did seem to revolve around Cassah. First and foremost was the way in which she had come to live with them. She had been presumably the child of outcast Karikans (but she looked more like an Islander than anything else). When she was three, she was brought to the ship by Tyrai of Rikol, a young Islander noble who had run away from home and found herself smack in the middle of the turmoil happening in the Islands in those days, and Thaki, a boy sorcerer who was born a peasant and ended up working for the leader of the Masks before turning against him in the end. The two of them had been like parents to her, even before they ended up romantically involved.
After the Battle of the Mask, Thaki, Tyrai, and Cassah had left the ship, gone to the University. Less than a year later, Cassah came back with Tyrai alone, and since then, the two of them had lived on Kas Karikan with the clan, taking the occasional voyage out with the ship. No one spoke of Thaki. Cassah barely remembered Thaki the person; but she did remember when Tyrai said they were leaving the University that had become their home, and Thaki wasn’t coming with them. They’d left at night; Tyrai hadn’t wanted Thaki to see them leave. Cassah remembered the nights in little inns, looking out the window at the dark shapes of people walking by, and wondering what Thaki was doing. She remembered how Tyrai sat up at night and told her stories with a sad look in her eyes that had, Cassah thought, never really gone away.
Cassah’s real parents were unknown; the story of the people whom she had thought of as parents was equally mysterious. So when she heard a strange voice in the middle of a practice fight, this was just another mystery to add to Cassah's list.

After the strange class, Ari found Cassah on the deck, practicing with her daggers.
“Cass, put those things down for a second?”
Cassah obliged and turned in his direction. Although she liked to keep up the appearance that she had disdain for Ari, Rali, and all the other boys who were adored by the general female population of the ship, Cass would admit that Ari was a handsome sort, tanned from the constant sun on the ship’s deck. He wore traditional Karikan clothing, a loose, flapping shirt, sailor’s pants, and black boots. His hair was swept back as if by the wind, and his eyes never quite met those of others, seeming instead to look above or to the side of a person when he spoke. He had a constantly relaxed air about him, and had mocked Cass for her studiousness for years.
“So. Cassah,” he said slowly. “What are you going to be doing in Kalien?”
“I don’t know. Selling things.” The Karikans bought and sold, from the Islands to the East.
“After we sell things, Cassah,” said Ari rather exasperatedly.
“Looking around?” Cassah had expected that she and Jasmin would explore the city and do a bit of shopping, much as they had in previous years.
“There’s a tournament up at the palace, you know. The Kaliens have contests where they and a bunch of other people try to knock each other off their horses, it should be just your sort of thing. I went last year, it’s a good bit of sport.”
“Good to know, maybe I’ll go there,” said Cassah, a bit confused. Why was Ari advertising tournaments? She turned back to looking out at the coast.
She turned back around slowly to face him and raised her eyebrows.
“Why don’t you come with me?”
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