August 30, 2010 Leave a comment
By the time their bedraggled hippogryphs touched down, the biting wind had already made its way into Vassanta’s bones. The handler effortlessly slipped the leather traces over their heads, and led the creatures away to the paddock to rest from the long flight. They were so exotic and fanciful, so unlike the practical gryphons, that Vassanta felt a little reluctant to let them go. Maybe it was the horns that endeared them to her.
She looked to Caelris, who appeared as grim as ever. “Come along,” he said, nodding east toward the cliffs. “We haven’t any time to waste.”
Vassanta wanted to ask about the ruins, about this place; she knew enough of elven history to know that it was important, but she didn’t dare ask him about it any further. Along the way, he’d given her withering looks anytime she brought it up, until she was resorting to commenting on the weather, and eventually, nothing at all. More than likely, that’s what he preferred, as he hardly made a sound as they crossed the expanse of wind-swept brush. Caelris had mentioned that the ruins probably were guarded, by spirits or possibly naga — those serpentine creatures that once had been elves. That was another sore spot with the night elves, she had learned, but one she could relate to. After all, the draenei also had cousins they would rather forget about.
But once they reached the ruins, Vassanta saw no naga, nor did she sense any spirits. The druid set to work, gingerly brushing the dust from the stones and squinting at whatever was engraved there. Vassanta felt it best that she stay out of his way — he still did not seem inclined to casual conversation — and kept a diligent patrol of the perimeter. Beyond the cliffs, she could see the bright blue of the ocean, stretching toward the horizon. She had seen lakes, and the bay down in the jungle, but never an ocean as big as this one. Surely Caelris wouldn’t notice if she went down for a better look, he appeared fully absorbed in his work.
She hadn’t expected such gravity from him, the way he spoke of the sword, it was going to kill both herself and Vajarra if they kept it. That must be why he’d wanted to take it away, but if it was so dangerous, why would he want to risk handling it? Vassanta suspected there was more to it than he was letting on, and it probably had to do with his lingering feelings for Vajarra. She knew he tried to hide it, but it wasn’t a convincing attempt. Most males — and most people, really — could be easily read within a few moments of meeting them, and Vassanta had made much use of this skill in the past. Most — but not all — she thought wryly, picking up a jagged stone from the earth and sending it tumbling over the cliffside. It seemed a very long time before she heard it splash into the ocean below.
The golden grasses rustling in the cold wind reminded her of a trip to Farahlon she had taken with her father, when the place called Farahlon still existed. In those times, before the orcs and elves and demons, it was a lush prairie, farms nestled behind every hill. Her uncle Jovaar — her mother’s little brother — was betrothed, and Vassanta was riding with her father to deliver their gift. She couldn’t remember exactly why Vajarra stayed behind. Perhaps her studies wouldn’t allow it, perhaps their mother needed help with her sewing, but Vassanta liked to believe that it was by choice, that her father might spend some time with her and her alone. That was the part of being a twin she didn’t like — having to share with Vajarra all the time. Her father let her sit at the front of the saddle, atop the creaky old elekk that at the time seemed incredibly imposing. But her father showed her how the beast would sniff delicately with its trunk, its touch gentle as a butterfly. They talked all the way, pointing out landmarks and animals, and she was so pleased at how he listened — really listened — to the things she said. Vassanta had always admired him, as all girls admire their fathers, but looking back, that was when she decided she wanted to grow up to be a Vindicator just as he was. She remembered little of their actual visit; Uncle Jovaar was friendly and jovial as ever, and his betrothed was beautiful, she made appropriate cooing sounds over the clefthoof-hide rug that Father had brought. But Vassanta had never forgotten the trip itself, and she fervently hoped that she never would.
She was startled to realize that the sky had lit with the fire of sunset, and even more startled to see the druid standing silently nearby.
“H-how long have you been there?” she asked, feeling vaguely embarrassed, as if he could somehow see her thoughts.
Caelris shook his head once. “Not long,” he replied, gesturing back toward the ruins. “We are losing the light. Normally not a problem, but it is much more dangerous after dark here.”
They made camp atop a rocky outcropping, not exactly the most comfortable of camps, but it afforded a view of any danger that might be approaching. But it also left them exposed to the relentless wind, made all the more biting by the darkness. Caelris lit a small fire, and roasted some rabbits — those he had caught when he had slipped off into the shadows as an enormous cat — and Vassanta could almost imagine she was back at the outpost among her comrades. Except, among the Vindicators, there was always plenty of friendly conversation. Vassanta couldn’t remember the last thing the druid had said, probably an hour ago. She had tried gamely to strike up a conversation, asking about his studies and his family, anything she could think of, but he never offered more than a handful of words. Did he still resent her so much? It was possible, and Vassanta could hardly blame him for that. Yet at other times he seemed brighter, almost friendly, and she wasn’t sure what to think of that. He certainly wasn’t telling.
When the fire died down and Vassanta huddled beneath her cloak for its meager warmth, he surprised her again. He could turn into a bear, he explained, and his fur would keep her warm. She wanted to laugh at the idea, it struck her as so absurd, but he seemed so earnest that she didn’t dare.
“But what if you wake up hungry in the middle of the night?” she asked, rather sensibly she thought. Vassanta believed that druids retained their minds while in animal form, but it never hurt to be safe.
Caelris did laugh at that, a sound that sounded strange to her ears. “I won’t eat you, if that is what you are worried about. I promise.”
And that is how Vassanta found herself pressed close to a bear for warmth. She had to admit that his fur was very warm, far more comfortable than a fur cloak, and he didn’t smell nearly as awful as she’d imagined. She couldn’t wait to tell Vajarra about it — she just hoped they would find something about the blade soon.