Fable - Ask May the Spirits guide your Journey

Zeri Rekani

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Zeri just grew somber as Weylin talked, and her smile faded. A realization that he hardly had anything uplifting to say. It seemed to her that no matter what she said, no matter how much she expressed her enjoyment or love or wishful longing or hope, that he gave her nothing of the sort in return. The tragedy of his past weighed so heavily upon him and his spirit that it threatened to crush hers too, dimming the sun in a sense and turning it to the dark.

It was a thought she seldom had of people, and an awful one indeed, but...she liked him better when he did not say so much. Back before he had revealed his lack of self-worth. Before he spoke near ceaselessly of death and danger, robbing the world as if through words alone of its life and light.

Zeri said nothing when he apologized. Simply watched as he went to collect his possessions. Said nothing still when he pointed out that none of the combs of the box nor the mirror was broken. She didn't want to explain any of it to him. She didn't see any point to it, and yet it saddened her that this should be the case.

She stood where she was when Weylin took a seat and had a drink. Stood, holding her spear and with her pack on her back. Just watching. Waiting. She would have wanted him to rest, but again, what was the point even in insisting on it? He would stubbornly say no and nothing would come of it. The only thing she could possibly do was to push on and have him follow after her until he grew so weak that his own body would give out and then maybe he'd see reason.

At least what he said next was somewhat positive.

Still, a mild look of defiance crossed her face, and she held her spear a little more firmly. She said, "Of course I wouldn't mind company. But I can learn to journey by myself--I know I can. You do it. Here, in the Spine of all places, by yourself, when it's soooo dangerous. If you can do it, so can I."

Weylin Kyrel
 
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The orcess' reply to the last thing the hunter had said got a frown from him. He turned to look up at her. A face full of seriousness was directed her way. It was clear to him she didn't understand what he did about himself. She thought he had survived alone and somehow it was an easy thing. Did she think him weak or the Spine so mild? Either option felt like an insult to him and to where he lived. Pride was a quick way to die but he did have some of it in his skills especially as dangerous as the Spine could be.

After a bit Weylin spoke. "That's wrong. I'm not alone." He pats the white dog next to him who wags her tail across the stone floor. "Don't look down on the Spine. My entire life was spent learning its dangers and how to avoid them. Even now I've barely survived them. Thinking it is easy to survive here is fatal. Can you say you'd have survived the troll without me?"

Some pain crept through the man's back when he finished speaking as if to remind him to be humble. He squirmed a bit as he sat with a wince. The motion was done as if it could ease the pain, even though it couldn't. Eventually a sigh left his lips.

"Sorry. Not looking down on you just worry you might not realize the respect the Spine demands. Many foreigners die because they don't believe what people say. I'd rather you not be one of them." Weylin tried to stretch a bit after he finished speaking. The pain wasn't going away.

The hunter petted his dog a bit before he said almost to himself, "Can we rest? I need to." And with that he just waited. He couldn't get up right now if he wanted to. The pain was getting too bad.

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Zeri Rekani

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A frown. Weylin frowned so much. Zeri pinched her eyes shut and with a tiny shake of her head looked away--those frowns were like the manifestation of his oft grim demeanor and fixation on the darker elements of the world. Painful to look at. Any flower of hope she could make bloom, it seemed he could make wilt. Was he always like this?

She didn't want to argue. Not about the differences in what one could mean by "alone" or the perceptions and realities of the Spine or whether or not she would have survived the encounter with the troll had he not been there. Weylin was just like her Pa, only Weylin didn't have a corresponding Ma-figure to convince him that Zeri could be anything other than a hapless victim. It made sense: to Weylin, she surmised, if she wasn't a thing to be protected then he'd have no purpose.

But at least he actually acknowledged that he needed some rest, instead of doggedly insisting that they get going while he crawled his embattled body alongside her.

"Okay," she said. And that was all she said.

She unshouldered her pack and set it down and placed her beside it and sat down on the stone of the dock where she had stood. Crossed her legs and placed her hands in her lap. Her eyes still averted from when she had looked away from his frown earlier.

And she thought on many things.

Weylin Kyrel
 
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Weylin Kyrel

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The orcess remained silent. All she had uttered was a single word in response to everything. It didn't feel right. She had been so talkative and cheerful before yet now she was like this. What had changed? When had she become like this? It made no sense to him at all.... But he hadn't been in the best of states since they fell into the canal. He was a fool. He had allowed too much to go unobserved. If this was a beast he would be dead by now.

The hunter just stared at Zeri. Rest was important right now but this situation was bothering him. She wasn't even looking at him. No words. No looks. No smile. The man would have frowned but he was done wasting the energy on it.

Minutes had past when Weylin finally decided upon an action.

"Songbirds are important to the people of the Spine. Their singing brings joy. It is a sign of life and spring. The more songs being sung the brighter the day." The hunter spoke as he petted his dog. Her tail wagged as she enjoyed the moment of rest.

"Because of this when songbirds stop singing it means something is wrong and death is near. It is a warning sign. A sign of danger."

Weylin's face got more serious as he paused. But soon enough he said, "So tell me songbird, what is wrong? Why did you stop singing?"

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Zeri Rekani

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Zeri enjoyed some of that quiet. Just the crackle of the coalfire that had burned even in their absence and the flow of the canal's water off the edge of the stone dock. She did like to talk to others and partake in friendly fellowship with them but as well she liked these moments of solace. Alone by way of keeping her eyes averted from him. Alone by way of softly ignoring her belief of the spirits which pervaded everything. Sometimes that was all somebody really wanted: to be alone, however briefly. It was a chance to mend that which needed mending, to reset oneself out from a place undesirable and back to a place familiar.

She looked up when Weylin started talking. She smiled at first, but the smile faded when he spoke of the songbirds stopping their singing.

Regardless, she was invigorated by a new determination. A hope that there was some avenue by which Weylin's spirit could be pulled from the murk of the grim.

She ignored his own question. Her head canted in a curious way, she asked of him, "Weylin, what do you do for fun?"

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Weylin Kyrel

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The start to a smile was all Weylin seemed to get when he spoke. It made him a little sad that it went away, but instead of answer his question she just went on and asked him her own. That seemed a little rude to him. If you were asked a question weren't you suppose to answer it? Oh well. He wasn't going to be rude like she had been and figured she wanted the subject changed. He wasn't about to make someone talk when they didn't want to.

It took the hunter a bit to figure out what he even did that could be called fun. He rarely had much time, especially of late, to do more than focus on what needed to be done. Slowly things came to mind though and he could hopefully provide an answer she could accept.

"I enjoy carving wood and bone. Little figurines mostly but also parts for necklaces and bracelets." Weylin began as he thought over everything. The memory of once making a necklace for someone from a hawk they had shot down drifted into his mind.

"Oh I like to play with dice. Carve them sometimes too. Don't care for bets. Why do old men get obsessed with betting?" He said before shaking his head. Gambling was stupid. You could lose as easily as gain. It was best not to gamble out in the Spine as what you had to lose was most often your life.

"My favorite thing is listening to stories. Especially those read to me from books. Easy to listen while I'm working so I don't have to choose." Weylin said with a bit of a smile as he thought of all the stories he had been told while hunting or making things. After a pause he looked more directly at the orcess. "What about you?"

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Zeri Rekani

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There.

There!

That was something. Something other than the grim and the solemn. Something with an actual heartbeat. Something that gave vibrance to his spirit. In six small words, I enjoy carving wood and bone, Weylin appeared to be more of a living person instead of some caricature thereof. He seemed a discrete man with his own hopes and wants and wishes and dreams and who ascribed to these things worth and importance, and perhaps with this the notion that something of true value would be lost upon Arethil should he pass away in some untimely manner and those figurines and necklaces and bracelets uniquely his own would thus go on unmade by his hands, and in such a notion a certain affirmation of his life's mattering.

He liked to play with dice. Much like the men of various races within the taverns of Bhathairk. Zeri herself did not play but she watched and sometimes the newcomer to the city she accompanied and who was playing would win and sometimes he would lose. A game of pure chance, not one of skill, but the men who played seemed to enjoy the simple thrill of a roll of the dice, not knowing what it would be until the result was revealed. Zeri could see it. But she was like Weylin in that regard, not caring much for the bets that went alongside the dice rolling--she would rather watch.

He liked to listen to stories. Oh! Another thing they shared common. Zeri loved the tales and legends that were passed down from generation to generation. Books were a little different--the orator most often was just the voice inside your head, only as good as you could make it. Sometimes a great story-teller could enhance a tale with his oration and his gestures and his pauses and elevate it to something incredibly enthralling and captivating even beyond what it might have already been.

Zeri had perked up when Weylin actually answered her question in her straightforward way instead of twisting it around and saying something like "There is no fun in the Spine, fun will only get you killed" or another thing similarly gloomy. And she perked up more when he asked the same of her.

She said, "Well, I already told you about talking to travelers coming to Bhathairk so there's that. Oh! I love a good festival! Like Luuruk-Hur or Ghrondurung. Everyone gets together and celebrates and there's feasts and games and, oh, I just love watching the games! Foot races and team duels and strongorc competitions, discus throwing and long-jumping, swimming from one side of the Wda to the other and back. I tried my hand at one of the archery tournaments for younglings a few years ago and, uh..." She scratched the back of her neck and forced some laughter, "I didn't do so well, but it was fun. Maybe again sometime soon, who knows."

She looked at him again and continued, "But above all I enjoy going out on my own. Not my own, my own, necessarily, just...away from the city and that structured life. Out and roaming the land. Free as the wind. Living by what the Spirits of Earth and Air and Water and Fire provide. I told you about hunting with my Pa, and that's when I first felt it. And when my elder sister went out to adventure on her own...that's when I knew what I wanted to do. I'll always love Bhathairk and my family, but adventure and travel is what I want. It's fun, but to me it's also something more. It's..."

She struggled to find the right word.

"It's..."

She struggled a little more, then she snapped her fingers and her eyes brightened when she thought of it.

"Fulfilling."

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As Weylin listened he began to think about various things from his own childhood. The festivals. The competitions. The religious holy days. So many little events that gave reason and purpose to different times of the years outside of just the seasons. It seemed no matter where someone was from or what race they had similar experiences to one another. Or perhaps it was just because many of the Spine folk were so similar to each other and to the ways more traditional orcs lived their lives.

The mention of adventuring and travel did stir up some more memories from the hunter. Those were things he had often thought about in the past himself. He had always enjoyed going out on his own for hunting. The chance to get away into the wilds and roam off to somewhere new and see what it was like there. The old stories had not helped dwindle that dream down nor his own parents' tales of their youth. Both of them had gone so far and seen so much before they settled down when they had him.... And now it was all gone. The stories. His parents. That dream.

The human had clearly gone back down again. A bit of a frown formed on his face yet again.

But it didn't stick like before. His memories drifted back to the events he couldn't experience anymore. The festivals. The competitions. The holy days. A bit of a smile returned with them.

"My people had similar festivals. Archery. Wrestling. Races. Even trophy hunts. Best catch won and we would eat or release what was caught. Could be a fish or an elk or a bear. The rarer and bigger the better. How some of our holy days started actually. The great hunts. Eating the bounty nature gave after giving thanks. Let none of it go to waste. Feed the people. Dance. Sing. Compete. Live life today because tomorrow it could be gone as easily as it was for your prey." Weylin said half to himself with a smile.

The hunter shifted a bit. He had gotten quiet for a moment. "I actually won the last archery contest my community held. At the end of summer before the season of harvest began we always had this holy day. The Felling of the Sun. The villages and towns in our area all came together. Those who wanted to hunt would gather and go after something large. Something dangerous usually like a troll. A trophy would be taken from it after it died. No honors were given to the hunters. The hunt wasn't about competition. It was to get a sacrifice. A gift for nature praying the Sun would be felled and laid to rest. If the Sun never rests then no living thing may rest. Everything would eventually fatigue and die, even the Sun it self. But before it dies it will scorch the world. Only stone and sand will remain. To prevent that the Sun must be laid to rest. The heat must be allowed to cool. Summer must become Winter."

Weylin chuckled a bit as he paused. "That is why the season between is called Fall. It is the time it takes for the Sun to Fall asleep. Or so they always told the kids."

"After the hunt is when the competitions began. Fishing. Crafting. Cooking. And of course all the sports. There was something for everyone. I decided to shoot my bow. My dad did the dueling ring like always. And as always he won. Never really was fair for everyone. My dad was trained in his homeland how to fight properly. Everyone else learned by getting their hides beaten in the competitions or some training at home from their dads or uncles. Dad had all of that and more they say. He just moved differently than everyone else when he had his sword in his hand...." Weylin paused as he got the sword slung across his back set down. He tapped it with a finger. "This sword." He placed his hand over it and stared at it for a bit.

After a minute he went on seemingly out of nowhere. "Anyways I competed at archery. Standard stuff. Shoot at some discs made from cut logs with circles painted into them for points. Distance increased with each stage and the last stage involved moving targets. Someone strong would throw the discs at random as hard as they could. I was the only one who managed to hit any discs on the last stage so I won despite being the least favored point wise by then." He smiled a bit sadly. "Still feel like I didn't really deserve to win that one. Just got lucky while everyone else was unlucky."

The human went quiet for a bit. After a moment he said, "I use to dream of adventures and traveling around like my parents had. Understand why you do too."

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Zeri Rekani

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Zeri was actually surprised when Weylin started talking. And talking. And talking some more. Surprised, and pleasantly so. He had some brief pauses and silent moments, but he shared with her many things--cherished and lovely things--all of his own choosing. He recounted a great deal about his younger life and the ways of his village and people and Zeri found herself listening easily to it all, listening in the same manner as she did to the traveling men and women who came to Bhathairk and brought with them a collection of fascinating tales to tell.

She listened. Listened to him tell of his own festivals and the beliefs of his people concerning life and the Sun and the Fall. Listened to him speak of his own Pa. The sword. The archery competition that he won. All of those things.

And Weylin went quiet at the end. Another of those pauses, or perhaps he was done. Zeri opened her mouth after some time to speak but before she could Weylin had a final say.

I use to dream of adventures and traveling around like my parents had. Understand why you do too.

Used to. Used to, he said. He had a fire in his spirit and then it was smothered. And here he was now.

Zeri shifted as she sat and glanced off toward the water flowing in the canal. Watched it, watched the small sparkles from the reflections of the light from the glowing crystals above, watched these sparkles appear and disappear along the water's surface. Her eyes were level, then down in thought, then level again. And she looked back to Weylin. Offered a heartfelt smile.

"Thank you for sharing with me your story, Weylin."

She blinked. Her smile unwavering, despite the thought and the pivotal question it provoked churning anxiously and unseen behind the gesture.

And then she asked it: "You no longer dream of the life your Ma and your Pa enjoyed. But have you given up on it?"

Do you believe that you can still find happiness?

Weylin Kyrel
 
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The hunter was busy petting his companion as she too rested next to him. The pair were worn out. It was more than just the physical exhaustion from recent events. They were both in need of more than temporary stops. They needed a place to lay down that they could fully relax at. But none existed for them anymore. And he was all too aware of this fact when the orcess asked her question. The answer was obvious and immediate when it came to his mind.

"I don't have a home to go back to. Adventure. Travel. Those are things you can do because you have a place to return from when they are over. I don't have that. Not anymore. Hard to dream of adventure and traveling when I don't even have the one thing that makes them possible." Weylin said in a rather matter of fact way. It was something he had come to realize over those harsh months. He had little else to do but think when the snows locked him inside of whatever cave or abandoned place he had crawled into for shelter.

"We drift. No place for us to go so we keep moving. My dad told me about this place near where he lived. It was a land that was like a great lake of grass. It stretched out as far as the eye can see, and beyond even that. People live there that move around. He called them nomads. Some followed the herds of wild beasts while others took their herds of beasts from one pasture to the next. They travel. They have places to go and places to return to. Some even do something similar to groups of Spine folk. They have these seasonal towns that they travel between based on the time of year...."

The hunter realized he had started to babble on. What was even his point? He was beginning to sound jealous of all these different people, some even local. It was sad, but so was his situation. How could he not be?

The human smiled slightly to the orcess as he looked over at her. "It just isn't possible for me to adventure or travel right now.... Maybe one day...."

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Zeri said nothing as Weylin talked. Objections were raised in her mind but she did not voice them, once again not wishing to fruitlessly argue with him. It was like his endless grief and lack of self-worth were encased in full plate armor. Impervious to any attempt to assuage them. He offered but one tiny glimmer of hope for himself, that small admission of Maybe one day at the very end, but that was it and it was indeed small.

She was reminded of something.

Pa was well-traveled. Of course. He'd come all the way from his home of birth in Falwood to Bhathairk. Had seen many of the places along the way, met a number of people in his own journeys. And, as well, picked up some sayings from those people he met. Humans, especially those in the smaller, more remote villages far from the larger towns and cities, had a saying that Pa had told her: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." Zeri had always thought that saying was funny, always thought that of course the horse would drink if it was thirsty, that there was no need for such "making" of the horse to do anything.

Now she understood the wisdom behind the saying. The frustration at being unable to do something--anything--for someone who truly needed it, now that the metaphorical leading was done.

Zeri took in a breath.

Said, "So what are you going to do? When I collect an Edelweiss and leave here and go back home? You're just going to stay here? Willingly? In this hostile land? And do what? Survive and wait for another traveler like me and that's it?"

One last question had crossed her mind, but she did not ask it. She thought she knew well enough the answer already.

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Weylin frowned at what Zeri had to say to him. It was becoming clear how much she looked down upon him and his life. Honestly it wasn't the first time it had happened. Many outsiders looked down their noses at him and his people. They chose a simpler and more natural life by choice yet were treated as lessers for it. Orcs lived a similar way if more reliant on walls and weapons given the aggression of many tribes, but it was rare for them to not understand the choices his people made. So this sort of behavior coming from one of them made this time sting.

The hunter looked to the orcess with a stern gaze. "Stop looking down on us. We aren't beneath you or your way of life."

He was aware of how heated he had gotten there. Best he calm down a bit, so he took a moment to breath the calm in and excess emotions out. After a moment he felt he was in a better place, a more focused place.

"My way of life is different, but that is all it is. Different. You act as if I wander around looking for strangers to help as if it is the only thing that gives me a reason to live. Helping others is my choice in how I wish to live. It is up to me to decide if someone needs help and then give if they need it. You weren't aware of the troll. It would have killed and eaten you if I didn't step in like I did. I'm injured because of it but sitting still won't get us out of this situation. I made the choice so I'm responsible for seeing this through to the end. It is how I am. It is how I was raised to be. I don't have to help others to find purpose. Surviving in the Spine requires we help each other out. But you don't know that yet because you are a stranger here. As I would be a stranger at your home. You would help me if I was there so what is wrong with me helping you when you are here?"

He was feeling heated again and had to pause again. There was more to this than just feeling insulted about her looking down on his people. Honestly he couldn't care less about that. It was petty at best on both parts and not worth the effort to correct ignorance. The Spine would do that itself. No, it was because of when all of this was happening. It was so close to that time and so it felt as if she was insulting those lost. She wasn't. Why would she? She just didn't understand and he wasn't helping her to yet.

A few moments had past before Weylin sighed. His gaze had softened as he refocused on Zeri. "I mourn slowly. It hasn't even been a year since everyone began the endless dream. You don't know what it is like and how it feels. You couldn't and I pray you never do. I stayed here to stay connected with the very little I have left. The only tokens I have left of my family are my dad's sword, my parents' rings, and the knowledge past down to me."

As he mentioned the sword he touched it with his hand next to him and as he mentioned the rings he pulled the leather they were tied to around his neck from under his clothes. They were simple things yet showed how cared for they had been over the years of their life, even before their current owner got them.

"Stop judging me and let me mourn my way. My slow, different way."

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Zeri blinked rapidly and recoiled, taken aback by the stern gaze and the sudden flare of anger. In that moment he was again the man who had appeared from nowhere among the trees, intentions unknown, bow aimed at her. That dangerous man.

Gradually, as she listened, that apprehension faded, and the Weylin she knew overrode the Weylin that she did not--the Weylin of then.

The apprehension faded, and it was replaced by a sole and solemn feeling: defeat. There was nothing she could do for him. Nothing physically to mend his wounds, nothing spiritually to mend his soul. Both only time could alleviate, and yet even knowing and accepting this Zeri could not escape the crushing futility of her efforts--meager as they were. Perhaps if she had a gift of shamanistic healing or knowledge of potions and salves she could have assuaged his injuries. Perhaps if she truly knew "what it is like and how it feels" she might have the capacity to understand his grief and how to ease him from it.

But she had neither. Neither to offer.

Worse, he thought she was doing something that she did not believe she was doing. Yet--still--she did not want to argue. Spirits, she didn't even want to talk to him anymore. Ever since he had gone off to the mushroom cave, ever since he admitted a lack of self-worth, it was nothing but frowns and the grim words of death and danger and fear. No, that wasn't fair--he spoke of the good in his life briefly, and this gave Zeri some heart. But brief it was.

To Zeri, Weylin seemed to love his grief more than he loved his happiness. And in this dismal state he thought nothing of his own life, that it mattered not at all. To her it was not his grief nor mourning that darkened his spirit: it was his seemingly ceaseless indulgence in them.

Stop judging me and let me mourn my way. My slow, different way.

Zeri waited a moment. Waited to see if he was finished and it appeared that he was. She grabbed her spear and slowly rose up and stood. Offered a meek (and forced) smile.

Said, "I am sorry if I offended you, Weylin. It was not my intention to do so."

She was fast losing the resolve to say what little she wanted to say.

But she continued, "Thank you for saving me from the troll. It is a n-noble thing to help others. I do not begrudge you that. I am sorry if you thought that I did."

The corner of her mouth twitched nervously.

"You are right. I cannot imagine how it feels to lose one's family and home. I'm s-sorry this happened to you."

She glanced to her right. Back toward the path leading back into the port town from the docks.

"I'm...I'm just...g-going to..."

Zeri didn't finish. She turned curtly, started walking. Slow and stilted for the first two steps. Then briskly. Then, as she passed the corner of a dockside building and cut line of sight from her to Weylin she started into a steady jog, heading back into the port town with no clear destination in mind.

All she wanted to do was to be away from him. For a while. Maybe longer. Maybe longer than that.

Yes. She liked him better when he did not say so much. That she knew for certain, that somehow she preferred the dangerous man in the forest to the broken man she knew now.

Weylin Kyrel
 
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Broken ribs were dangerous. It was partly due to unavoidable pain that simply breathing caused let alone more complex movements of muscles. Such a state could distract the mind and lead to accidents. It was mainly due to how the sharp and pointed edges of broken bone could easily find their way into one's heart and lungs. Flesh could be cut up over and over and over. Blood would leak into parts of the body it should not. It was dangerous, very dangerous, to have broken ribs....

But Weylin wasn't focused on that. His mind was on Zeri and how everything was going between them. What had caused her to change so suddenly? Before she was chatty and cheerful then for some unknown reason she had grown so distant and filled with pity towards him. It made no sense to him and it was frustrating him. Outsiders were always like this. They made no sense and yet it was somehow his fault when they treated him poorly.

The hunter sighed.

It wasn't her fault. It wasn't his fault. It was this situation. His injuries and the time of year had him in a foul mood. She was in unfamiliar places with an unfamiliar person. Of course she would be in a foul mood as well. Perhaps they just needed some time to sort things out on their own....

The hunter sighed again.

The half human got to his feet very carefully despite the pain all of it was causing. He began to move despite the lack of energy in his bones. This place was unfamiliar to him as well which meant it was dangerous. He told her that here in the Spine the only way to survive was to work together so he couldn't afford to let her wander long.

Everything was gotten gathered and put in its place. The weight on his back caused extreme pain but he ignored it. White could tell and so gave her human a worried look. He just smiled to her and petted her fluffy head.

"Find the orcess. Time we leave this place."

A huff escaped the dog before she began to sniff around the place. Very quickly she picked up the trail and the pair began to work their way to find Zeri before hopefully something bad happened to her again.

============================================

The abandoned town that should have been as quiet as the crypt it now was proved to have more life in it as Zeri traveled into it than it should. Whispers faintly echoed around her. First it came from a single alley or home before fading to come from somewhere else. Then another voice joined in. Then another and another and another. They never became loud enough to understand, if she could even understand the old dwarvish tongue, but they did become more frequent. Soon it was as if she was in a busy market square of whispered tones.

Then it just stopped....

Silence had returned. The town was a crypt once more.

Something was watching the orcess however high above. Something that had found its way into this crypt of a town. Something that had contributed to the newer additions laid to rest within this stone tomb. Something silent. Something that hungered. Something that had scared the voices away....

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Into the abandoned town Zeri wandered. Her jog slowed to a brisk walk, and then to a regular walk. She weaved around the occasional dwarven skeleton in the quiet streets. She heard noises that made her stop, then start, then stop again. At some point she recognized that the noises were voices, even if she couldn't make out what they were saying. The initial nervousness she felt gave way to tired indignance when she thought she knew who it was: those crass dwarven ghosts. She didn't see them, and eventually the whispering voices stopped. She didn't wander much farther after the cessation of the whispers: she saw the old forge which she had procured the coal from earlier, and she went to it. Sat down on one of the workbenches, resting her spear across her lap.

And she thought.

Thought for a good long while.

How did she get here? Not specifically to this place in the Spine, but into this mess with Weylin? Things had started off well enough...excluding the bow being drawn on her. They had managed to survive both the troll and the freezing water of the underground river. She thought that he was a good man, this and all of the things she had told him before: that he was nice and sweet and brave and handsome. All of that was still true. And it was still true that she wanted him to be happy.

So what happened? How did she get here? She thought she was trying to help him, trying to get him to embrace the goodness of life again and to lay his grief to rest, but all she had managed to do was offend him. Hurt him further. The way of the Old Folk and the way of the Bhathairk Tribe was starkly different in this matter, that much was clear. She didn't mean to make him feel judged, yet it was so.

And she thought further, running over all that had happened and coming up with an accounting of her own actions. Gradually she came to accept that she had gotten far too upset over the devious dwarf ghost's suggestion of Weylin 'claiming her.' That certainly didn't help. And she had pried too deeply into a matter that was still sensitive to him, losing that tender touch she'd handled it with prior when she tried to cut his hair. His thoughts on his own self-worth disturbed her, yes, but she had again allowed herself to get carried away by emotion--there was no reason for the mean remark.

So what now? Now that she'd offended him, made him angry, only did more harm than good? He still wanted to help...she assumed. Out of a grudging sense of duty if nothing else.

One thing was clear: she still needed to get the flower.

Right. Just focus on that. Don't bother Weylin so much. Let him help if he so wished and let him guide her through the mountains and get back home, before she offended him further and made the mess even worse. Just talk about what needed to be talked about to get the flower and leave him be. Let him mourn in his slow, different way, as he said. She didn't need to fix him or anything like that, she didn't need to fawn over him and make him think she had yet another 'fever,' and she didn't need to be mean because he didn't think and act in the orcish way. She just needed to get the flower.

After her time spent thinking, she had relaxed. Felt better. Less stressed.

Zeri slid off of the workbench and back onto her feet, adjusting her traveling pack on her shoulders. Prepared to start heading back toward the camp.

Unaware.

Weylin Kyrel
 
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The walking was slow and it was painful. The injury to his ribs hadn't gotten worse but any relief he had before be it the cold or his mind feeling numb was gone. All that was left was raw nerves like an unwalled town with raiders rushing its way. He was aware of how bad his injury was and he didn't appreciate his body feeling such an intense need to remind him. He would do something about it when he could and right now there wasn't.

Needless to say the human was distracted. White could tell when he was so it was up to her to focus on the task at hand. The female had run off, again, and they had to go find her. Again. Why couldn't she just sit still and wait? All of this was her fault in the first place yet she was stomping around like an angry goat in the rain thinking her feet couldn't slip. It was unsightly, disgusting, unattra-.... What was that smell?

The dog stopped in her tracks. She froze up and hunkered down low. The hunter noticed and it drug him out of his attempts to mentally make the pain go away. He dropped down low himself, wincing as he did. She sniffed the air repeatedly for a bit before emitting a low growl. Something was spooking her. But what could it be?

Weylin realized how distracted and unfocused he had become when the growl escaped her lips. A danger had sneaked up on all of them and he had missed it. All the thoughts on the orcess and his past and his pain needed to be forgotten for now. He had to clear his mind and focus. Something was here and likely hunting them. If he wanted to deal with it then he needed to hunt it as well. It was not unheard of for a predator to hunt another predator. The game just became more dangerous as it was hard to say which was ultimately the prey in the end.

============================

Something stirred high above Zeri. It had finally awakened. Primal needs began to make their demands upon it already. Needs of thirst and of hunger. The former was easy to sate. The later had been some time since it had. It had devoured what little life had crawled back into the cavern the strange underground port town called home. So it had gone hungry. So it had grown ravenous.

The thing sniffed the air out of habit. Water from the canal. Bone and dust from the floor below..... And something new. Something moving. Something alive. Excitement filled the thing. It had lost its reasoning at the first prospect of sating its rumbling, devouring need in who knew how long. The cycle of time was meaningless here for this thing as well as its next meal.

So it crawled up above. Sniffing. Listening. Then it dropped to the ground below missing the orcess but being all too close.


It howled at the orcess while charging forward. But it was met by an arrow in one eye. Before it howled from the pain of hunger but now it did from the pain of flesh. It scrapped away at the thing removing half its sight. The orcess, for now, was ignored.... But she wasn't yet forgotten.

============================

Weylin winced and huffed. The act of shooting a single arrow felt like he had been hit by maul. Too many muscles near the injury were required for the action. He could hardly draw the string let alone hold his notch right now as well. His ability to fight this thing was greatly hindered.

White had rushed forward towards the orcess and grabbed her clothing. The dog began to tug away trying to get her to run away from this unknown thing. She was panicking. This thing was new to them. They didn't know what it could do. It had dropped from above and was nearly as big as a troll with large fangs and claws. Chances were it craved meat and the only meat around was them.

The hunter managed to get enough of his breath back to slap his hand against the wall of a building he was leaning on as he yelled, "In here!"

Weylin prayed that Zeri listened. The doorways in this place were designed for dwarves and that thing was even taller than he was. If he had trouble getting in then he figured it was not possible for this thing. A temporary safety was better than no safety at all right now.

And so while the thing howled still in pain trying to scrap away at the arrow head lodged in its eye, Weylin and White got themselves into the dwarf building as quickly as they could.

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Zeri walked down the still streets of the abandoned port town. She thought about how nice it was going to be to see the sun again after this whole harrowing experience. The wizard creature--who Zeri had previously thought of as "the New One"--could give the reward he'd promised now that Weylin was rescued from the mushroom cave and unblock the tunnel leading to the surface. Caves...Zeri wasn't particularly fond of caves now.

Then something crashed down to her right side. So close that she felt the torrent of disturbed air from its descent and the vibration of its impact. Her eyes startled and wide, mouth agape, she turned her head to regard the creature.

The Monster Bat. An enormous and hideous thing, frightening simply to behold. All the color drained out of Zeri's face in an instant. This thing was not like the ugly wizard creature that had tormented her before; this thing had the vicious look of the troll, only worse.

And it lunged straight for her. She had but a split-second to raise her spear, to thrust it at the Bat's chest in her defense, the obsidian tip piercing through its hide but she was terrified that it wouldn't be enough--

The Bat howled. Reared back and scraped at its face. An arrow. There was an arrow in its eye all of sudden.

Something was grabbing her! Zeri shrieked. But then saw it was the dog, tugging away at her winter clothes in a panic. Then she heard Weylin give a shout from further down the street. In here!

Zeri broke into an adrenaline-fueled sprint, holding her spear in one hand and pumping her other arm vigorously. Her pack bounced on her back with her movements, its contents rattling and jostling around, her bow strapped to the side of it flailing in her flight.

She crouched down low and slipped in through the door to the dwarven-made building, her bow smacking against the frame on her way in but failing to be torn loose from her pack. With some distance away from the door inside, she whirled around into a kneel. Panting and clutching her spear in both hands again and holding it ready, bloodied tip pointed back toward the door.

She only spared a quick glance to Weylin. A cursory thing, making sure he'd not incurred any wounds or some such. But then she returned her gaze to the door. Frightened--clearly--but ready to defend herself and Weylin as well now that they were backed into a corner.

There was so much she wanted to say. To ask. But she did not. She kept her mouth shut and her focus honed.

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His body wasn't in good shape. Ribs had been broken, the cold still clung despite the lack of moisture in his clothes, nearly taken by fungi, lack of restful sleep, and now all this moving around. His body couldn't handle much more without some proper rest.

But Weylin still got himself moving as quickly as he could into the building. Zeri and White both had beat him inside and the ducking down to enter sent sharp pain all over. But he was inside.

The hunter made his way to the back wall away from the door. He didn't sit down against the wall so much as collapsed there. His breathing was a bit heavy but at least they were inside. And safe....

The beast suddenly thrust a clawed arm through the doorway. It raked all around the stone as his shrieked and howled on the other side. It was too bulky to make it through and so was forced to just claw and scream and snap and stare from the other side of the door.

Yes they were safe.

Weylin had to close his eyes after a bit. His body wasn't going to have any more moving for awhile. It would seem he had reached his current limit. It wasn't good. He was in no condition to outrun the thing and it was impossible to say how patient and tenacious it was. A fact it continued to prove by how it seemed to tirelessly continue to remind them of its existence outside.

"Any injuries?"

Perhaps some talk would help calm things down. The human didn't expect he, the orcess, or the dog would be going anywhere any time soon. And he could use a distraction right now from the pain.

"Did you get done what you wanted to do or did that thing stop you?"

========================

The building they found themselves in would prove to be a home upon closer inspection. A cozy one of modest income, which was proving to be their saving grace given the size of the entry way. Trinkets and fragile from age tools were all about. It was not a bad place to be holed up. It just lacked any other way obvious way in or out that wasn't the door they had taken to get in.

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Zeri hopped back slightly when the clawed arm stretched in through the doorway--making certain she was out of its reach. Her eyes darted and watched as the Bat's hand and claws scraped against the floor and knocked aside the home goods arranged along the nearby walls. She tried angling her spear several times for a thrust, but the beast was fast and frantic. In the end, it withdrew its arm and stared ferociously at them through the doorway, and Zeri hadn't made any of the spear-thrusts she'd been planning.

She backed away a little more. Wary of getting too close to the walls, but backing toward Weylin--who'd gone to rest at one--nonetheless. She stayed in her kneel, her spear still raised and pointed toward the door and the menace that lurked outside.

And she was frightened terribly, of course--her heart still thudding heavily in her chest. But she'd gained some significant resolve in her alone time. She knew what she had to do, and she was going to do it, and her expression reflected that.

Any injuries?

Weylin. From behind her. She didn't look back. Kept her eyes focused on the Monster Bat out through the doorway.

"No."

Did you get done what you wanted to do or did that thing stop you?

"I know what I need to focus on. Getting that Edelweiss, and getting home."

There. Short and simple. Almost like the way Weylin talked. Or used to talk, until more recently. Regardless, it was focused and uncomplicated. She still had a tight rein on all of the normal exclamations and questions she might be saying or asking right now in a moment like this, much like before with the troll. But she had her nervousness under control, and hence her tongue. It was honestly better this way.

Zeri held her spear and stayed in that ready kneel and watched vigilantly the monster through the doorway.

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The human wanted silence and the orcess would talk. He wanted to talk and now she was silent. This one was frustrating. It was as if she was trying to spite him.

Weylin just closed his eyes and tried to rest his pain filled body.

White sat next to her human and laid down to conserve her energy as well. But her attention never left the thing attempting to get through the door even now.

===============

The bat creature continued with its probing of the doorway for nearly an hour, but the stones would not give way. It was still too sturdy even after who knew how many decades or centuries. So eventually it grew tired and left. But it did not go far. It had perched itself on a nearby roof to rest with a clear path to the doorway. It could be patient and wait for a meal.

================

Weylin woke up a few minutes after the creature had left the door. He didn't know when he had fallen asleep or for how long he was out. He just had left awareness with scrapping and screeching only to return to silence. Was it a good sign?

He looked over at the orcess to see what she was doing. "What happened?" He was speaking in a hushed voice. It would be clear how use to doing so he was. His words were clear to her but they didn't echo off the walls like they should.

White still kept her head down and eyes closed, but her ears were listening. She was still on alert and ready for anything. Be it the monster or her human and the female.

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Zeri's legs began to ache, the soreness of rigidly holding her position creeping in. As the hour wore on, Zeri eventually unshouldered her pack and slowly set it down on the floor behind her. The Bat was persistent, but the old dwarven home was built like a fortress--it was no wonder that Belgrath repelled that Siege. Still, she didn't want to become complacent. Unlike before with the troll, this time they were trapped inside a much smaller structure. If that Monster found an unexpected way of getting at them, breaking through some weakened portion of the home and reaching in from a new angle, i-it'd be disastrous.

The Bat seemed to give up at some point. Retreating from the open doorway. But it probably wasn't gone, no. It wasn't like there was anything else around here--

Or was there?

What happened?

Zeri glanced back. Weylin had been silent--sleeping maybe--for the past hour. Good. He needed it. Not that it would do much for his poor ribs, but he needed it nonetheless. And now she finally allowed herself to drop back from her kneel to sit down on the floor of the home, taking the weight off of her legs and knees and setting her spear across her lap, letting her arms rest as well.

"It went somewhere," she said. Keeping her voice to a whisper like Weylin. "I don't know where."

And in the following moment, she thought to tell him what occurred to her.

"Weylin...this may sound silly, but I, uh...there's some rat-like wizard creatures around here too. I encountered them while you were in the mushroom cave. They were concerned about your life, so maybe...well, maybe they'll come and help us. This is probably strange to hear all of a sudden. No, I-I know it's strange to hear, but it's true."

The corner of her mouth twitched, as the content of what she was saying fully registered now that she had given voice to her thought.

"I guess there's not much we can do with that, though. Other than wait and hope."

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The orcess informed him of what had happened while he was sleeping. The creature was gone. Did it give up on them or was it changing its tactic? He had seen this kind of shift before in other creatures so it was possible. He hoped it wasn't that smart but it was still possible.

Then what Zeri had to say confused Weylin. A rat wizard creature? It was concerned with his life? She even thought they might come to help them. It did sound strange as she said but she was swearing by it. What kind of thing could she have seen?

After a moment a thought crossed his mind. He might know what she had seen, but he needed some more information.

"These creatures, did they speak to you? Was it broken words? Why did you call them wizards? What did they do?"

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Huh. Weylin seemed familiar with them, the wizard creatures. Familiar enough to posit the question about them speaking in broken words. Maybe these things were native to the Spine? Rare to whatever extent, but native nonetheless? At least they didn't seem wholly malevolent, despite the impression left by the first one she'd encountered.

She kept her voice down. Said, "Yes, they did speak to me. And it was in broken words, like they had a poor grasp of the Common tongue, and they used their words strangely too. I called them wizards because they had magic. Powerful magic. The first one tried to...intimidate me? I guess? It summoned blinding light and made the cavern quake--it was awful. There was another one too--nicer--but it, um...i-it collapsed the tunnel leading out of here."

She didn't dwell on it.

"But both of them knew about you and knew you were in danger in the mushroom cave. I didn't even know the cave was full of miasma and that you were in trouble there, but the nice one told me about the miasma and about you. So...I'm hoping, at least. I don't see any other way out of this home."

And even if there was another way out of the home, they probably wouldn't even make to the exit tunnel even if it wasn't currently blocked.

Those rat wizard creatures, though. They knew an awful lot. Like they had been watching Zeri and Weylin ever since they'd arrived. It was unnerving to hear the Nice One say it then, it was unnerving to think about it again now. But it might actually help them here, right? If the Nice One had enough insight to know precisely what Weylin was thinking when he'd gone off to the mushroom cave, had possibly even (spied on us) seen it happen, then the Nice One had to know they were trapped in here now. Right?

Or maybe it was all wishful thinking. She didn't know.

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The orcess told him everything. They did speak in broken words. They held powerful magic. Lights. Shaking. Tunnel collapse. They knew things and were trying to help the two of them. Every new bit of information was another confirmation of what he had thought. These things were kobolds.

Weylin straightened himself up and began to look around the building. Dwarves were strange. They worshipped their ancestors and strange gods. The great spirit of nature was never on their minds. But it seemed some groups of them did give spirits the respect they were due. He had heard it was even more common in the past. Perhaps that was why they were here?

After a bit of looking around, the hunter spotted a little nook in the wall. It held a little shelf with room to place a candle and a couple smaller items. He started to get up, but was having trouble moving. The pain rushed back as soon as he tried to leave his spot. So he gave up for now. Instead he got into his pack and began to rummage around it.

The hunter pulled out two pieces of hard tack and a small jar that contained a bit of honey he had found. It was a good chunk of his rations as well. He searched through his pack a bit more but couldn't find any candles. He rarely had any use for one so never carried or made any.

Weylin looked over at Zeri. "Do you have a candle?" He said in a hushed voice but didn't wait for a response. The items he had pulled out were picked up and held towards her. "Place it and these on that nook. Light the candle and say 'I offer these in friendship.'"

With that done the human waited. He hoped this worked. Kobolds were strange spirits, but they could be reasoned with and asked for help. This might be their only chance to get out.

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Zeri just watched as Weylin began to rummage through his own pack. Saw him take out the hard tack bread and the jar of honey, and admitted to herself that they could be here for a while. Well, at least he would have something to eat finally--he never did eat one of the cooked rabbits.

Do you have a candle?

Zeri blinked. Said, "I--"

But he didn't wait for her response. He held out the bread and the jar toward her. Gave her some instructions which seemed like they could be the fulfillment of the hope they needed. She didn't take the items just yet. There was a slight problem.

"No, Weylin. I'm sorry, I don't have a candle. Will it...will it still work without one?" She ran her hand through her hair and down the back of her head, scratching a bit anxiously behind her neck. Thinking. Trying to come up with solutions. "I still have my firestarter kit in my pack. Do we need a candle for this, uh, ritual? Can it be any sort of small fire? Or m-maybe there's a candle around this home, do you think?"

Her shoulders shrugged upward. She tried to smile, but it came out more like an awkward grimace. Spirits, it would be bad if Weylin's plan was foiled by missing one small little item.

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