Inferno spent much longer in the hub than they had on their previous visit. They took everything that could be used or sold, every bin they could find was emptied.
/Inferno: Jun Li: You know there's a treasury build option for the Guild. We should build one so we have someplace better to store items.
/Inferno: Nix: Do it, Junie. Many of the items will have to be stored until we advance to an Upper Tier guild.
/Inferno: Ronnie: When will that be?
/Inferno: Nix: Not until we destroy the Cai-Song artifact on the 12th floor of Mermaid City.
Nix made his way to the Scorched Earth Temple. The Lamia acolytes hissed greetings at him when he entered through the archway, he did his best not to shudder.
"sssNIXsss." An acolyte dressed in red approached him. She had an aura of power around her that the others did not. Sori Dah smiled and bowed her head.
Nix bit down on the temptation to run. Her fanged smile seemed to make his blood freeze. "Sori... Nice to see you as always."
A slight scraping sound on the tile floor told him that Sori was following him while he walked toward a small courtyard in the middle of the Scorched Earth Temple. It was where that Fajii had planted dozens of different herbs.
Nix smiled and glanced over his shoulder at the Lamia Acolyte. She had stopped, her cold face seemed confused at his sudden disappearance.
He found the Temple's Scorched Earth Mage exactly where he had figured, she was sitting in between two rows of plants, carefully tending them. Nansu was nearby, planting a new row.
He dropped stealth and approached, purposely scuffling his feet on the floor to announce his arrival. Nix smiled at the two Alchemists. "You two are always working."
Fajii looked up from the rows, her brown face changing completely. She carefully walked between the rows until she was next to him. "Nix." Her voice carried a hint of happiness, "are you here to help?"
Nix shook his head. "No, just dropping off a present for my favorite Alchemist."
Fajii moved closer, her verticle irises blinked. "Something nice?"
He stepped closer and leaned in. "Hold still Fajii." He clasped the earring on her ear, there was a small curve on her lobe where it fit nicely. He knew Aquarions were sensitive about their ears so he moved carefully. He would have botched it had Semmi not shown him how to wear it.
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Nansu had approached while he was putting it on her. She smiled approvingly, "so pretty Fajii."
The long trident appeared in her hands, the smallest smile on her lips. "Thank you, Nix." She grabbed his hand and squeezed it. "Can you stay for a while?"
Nix shook his head. "No... Neither can you. The two of us have a mission." He had become aware that Fajii was very strong, but also too inexperienced. More than anything she needed seasoning.
Fajii's smile widened, "right now?"
"Yep, meet at the Phoenix in ten minutes. This should be a diplomatic mission, but things like this have been known to go badly."
Nix used the guild port icon on his hud to return to the dock, he didn't want to have to speak with Sori again.
/Inferno: Nix: The Phoenix is departing for Wisteria in 15 minutes. This mission is strictly voluntary, we don't really require an assault team.
A few minutes later he was walking down the dock toward the Phoenix. "Permission to come aboard?" Nix paused before stepping on the gangplank.
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The first mate of the Phoenix was overseeing deck cleaning. He smiled and waved. "Permission granted Commander Nix."
Fajii boarded a few minutes later, a small black fox was curled up on her shoulders. It looked like a fur wrap. Occasionally it would pop up its head and look around.
"You got ready fast." Nix had to admit, he was curious about Eron's abilities. According to Semmi, he was some sort of infamous fox prince, known for creating mischief.
The Scorched Earth Mage had braided her hair before leaving the temple. "I'm excited. Thanks for inviting me Nix."
"Get used to it."
Eron chose this moment to look up. His dark eyes glanced at Nix. "Worthy." He gave a small yawn and settled back down.
Nix noticed the three Aquarions walking down the docks; Mina, Milat, and Zhava had decided to join them. "So many..." He glanced at Fajii, "you must have told someone that you were going with me."
Fajii nodded. "How'd you know that? I ran into Milat when I was getting my gear."
Nix watched as they came aboard. "Lucky guess."
When the group approached, Mina took a moment to hug both Nix and Fajii. Milat and Zhava both offered their hands in greeting.
The black fox popped his head up again, glancing from Milat to Zhava before closing his eyes again. "Not worthy."
Nix bit his lip to keep from smiling, the moment of awkwardness was broken by the captain.
"Clear the bindings and make ready for three-quarter sail!" Delphi was standing by the helm, watching carefully while her crew followed orders.
"That's pretty Fajii. Where did you get it?" Mina's sharp eyes had noticed the earring right away.
Fajii turned her head to show her more clearly. "It's nice, right? Nix gave it to me."
Fajii grinned at the group while showing them her trident.
The two Aquarion scouts tried not to frown. Their kind didn't wear ear ornaments, the distance between Fajii and her people seemed to widen with each passing day.
Mina didn't seem bothered, she understood that the changes in Fajii were only on the surface, deep down she was an Aquarion, just like them. "I like it."
The group made small talk while the ship slowly left Glory. It took only a few minutes to clear the bay.
"Full Sail, Course set for Wisteria. Man the Crows nest!" Delphi shouted from the helm while the terror of the seas accelerated. The captain and crew had changed along with the ship, they were no longer the same green crew from a few months earlier. There wasn't a single ship in Colonial that would dare take them on without a fleet to back them up.
"What's Princess Festa like?" Milat spoke to Nix in a low voice, he had tried to strike up a conversation with Fajii, but the Scorched Earth Mage seemed content to reply with one or two words.
"She seems smart and very poised. Dark hair and brown complexion, typical of Phelinomia natives. I would say she's beautiful."
"Are we all going to meet her?" Fajii was content to ignore the Aquarion Males, although she was careful not to be impolite.
"No, just me and you." Nix shrugged apologetically at the other three Aquarions, they stood out too much and were obviously alien. Fajii had the brown hair and skin common to the area, no one would really be bothered by her ears and eyes.
[Whisper: Mina to Nix] Why can't I go also?
[Whisper: Nix to Mina] I don't wish my Aquarion friends to be exposed to hidden threats.
[Whisper: Mina to Nix] Fajii is going.
[Whisper: Nix to Mina] She is not easily recognizable as an Aquarion.
Mina moved to the rail, pulling up her disguise and turned her back to him while the Phoenix slowed to enter the port of Lohai City.
The City of Lohai was vastly different than the last time Nix had visited. The shops and streets were crowded with vendors and customers. The frantic bargaining from dozens of directions was oddly comforting.
Nix pulled Fajii into a small side alley and stepped out of sight. "You brought an invisibility potion for yourself?"
Fajii nodded, "you want one?"
Nix shook his head, "don't need one."
He waited while she drank the potion and then gripped her hand while she activated it.
[Whisper: Nix to Fajii] Stay close, be as quiet as you can.
[Whisper: Fajii to Nix] Why the secrecy?
Nix held a finger to his lips and pulled her back into the street. If Tu-Khat had been replaced, then it was possible that more than one of them had also. If he was forced to kill Festa, he didn't want to advertise the fact that he was visiting her.
The palace walls were fairly low, neither one of them had any trouble getting over. Fajii may lack experience, but she was still very strong and agile. In the brief conversation they had, Festa had mentioned that she spent long hours in her flower garden. She was an amateur herbalist, nowhere near as knowledgeable as Fajii or Nansu.
They walked along the top of the wall, not bothering to enter the grounds. The palace walls were only a few feet thick, they were not made for patrolling. They walked past several guards and workers, but no one noticed the pair as they made their way to the west grounds.
Nix stopped and knelt down when he saw her. Festa was trimming roses and placing them carefully in a basket.
"Stop." A soft male voice spoke from Fajii's shoulder. "There is an agent of darkness nearby."
Nix froze in place, his eyes scanning the garden. Did Eron mean Festa?