Chapter list: http://tanadin.dreamwidth.org/382.html
Map of the western continent: http://tanadin.deviantart.com/art/
Map of the eastern continent: http://tanadin.deviantart.com/art/Besker
Kynta territory, Beskeren. April 21, year 788. Time instance 483Z.
“You know, I’ve figured it out. I’ve figured out why I don’t like this place,” Vengeance announced, picking his way over a massive tree root. They’d reached the dark forest about an hour ago, and were now searching for the alchemist that the bovan had insisted was upriver.
Nessy sighed and decided to humor him. “Why, Vengeance?”
“Because it looks like the Vicious fucking Wilds! That’s why! The first time I went there some damn wolf wrapped me in vines and tried to kill me, and the second time it threatened to and both times I got judged!”
“It is a dark forest,” Eclipse told him, irritation creeping into her voice. “It’s not really surprising that it looks similar, is it?”
“No, but it pisses me off.”
“Piss!” Nelvethia repeated cheerfully.
Nessy groaned but didn’t respond, allowing Vengeance to slip back into silence. She was relieved, for the most part- Vengeance loved complaining and it seemed that there was no end to his infuriating carrying on.
She sighed. Some things never changed, she supposed. He’d always been good at complaining- something she’d noticed since the first day she’d started following the group. And yet…
And yet, he was a changed man. No more was Tarsen Harvex an uncaring sex addict hitting on anything that moved and wasn’t underage. No more did he shrug off his losses within a few days, only falling silent when reminded. No more did he seem lacking in any emotion other than enthusiasm, dripping with sarcasm and powered by his active lifestyle.
The sarcasm and the complaining remained, wrapped tightly around his innermost self, but most of his outer layers had been stripped away to show the pulsing and pained soul within.
The Heart of Pain glimmered faintly around his neck, and Nessy had to admit that her analysis was fairly accurate.
She still hurt, too, when she thought of what she’d lost, but it didn’t run as deep as Tarsen’s- Vengeance’s- whoever’s pain did. She’d lost her friends, and she’d lost Nia, her first close friend. But he’d lost so much more. He’d lost Tim, the one whose eyes he’d peered into and saw a spark of himself, of what he could have been. He’d lost Vorna and Aldobiva to flames and teeth and claws, blood and screams all that remained to remember them by. He’d lost Tranpar, in a way, when he left Paltross and never returned, his fate unknown and his destiny written amongst the stars. He’d lost Shred and Samuel- the latter nearly destroying him- at a time that should not have been filled with sorrow.
And, now, he was on the brink of losing Kaepravah to the plague. Nessy didn’t pretend to understand what kind of complicated situation he was in with her, but her state bothered him deeply, as much as he tried not to show it around them. From what she’d heard from Ujhin, he’d never spoken about it much, but had cheered up quite a bit as the group grew.
He feels best in a group setting, Nessy realized. He needs friends to bounce off of.
And yet, he was displeased about the quest and prophecy in its entirety. He didn’t seem to mind going to find a cure for the plague, but he hated the idea that fate had spelled out his path for him and that it wasn’t of his own volition that he was going.
Nessy wasn’t sure whether or not he’d feel better if she told him that prophecies weren’t meant to guide you, but to show you the path you would have eventually taken anyway.
Presumably. That’s what she’d heard from Spinelash, and she wasn’t about to argue with a dragon that was more than a thousand years old.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a bird screech.
Her head snapped up and her eyes locked on a large hawk, its feathers brown and white with tinges of orange here and there. Its eyes were light brown and had an intelligent light to them. Small horns curved up and forwards from its head.
“Hello,” Nessy tried, and it cawed in response. The group slowly stopped to see what she was talking to and Eclipse groaned.
“Okay. Nessy’s lost her mind. She’s talking to birds. They’re not good conversationalists, Nessy. Not enough brain in there.”
“This bird talks back, so maybe shut your mouth,” the hawk told her, and her eyes widened.
“We’re looking for an alchemist,” Nessy told the bird. “I don’t suppose you’d know where she is?”
“I might. Why are you looking for her?”
“We come from the west,” Ujhin said slowly, approaching reluctantly, “and our people are dying from a plague. We think she might be able to help us. We were directed this way by boven of the Vabos clan.”
“We’ve got a prophecy,” Vengeance added, “and I’m not happy about it. What’s this alchemist’s name, anyway? I swear, if it’s Skera I’m going to-”
“Skera?” the bird interrupted. “How do you know Skera?”
“She was the alchemist on our last quest! Every quest has an alchemist, apparently!”
“We’re friends with her,” Nessy explained. “Well. I am. She and Tarsen never talked much, Ujhin doesn't remember her, these two are too young to have met her at the time, and Zekara died.” She gestured at each friend in turn.
“She died?” the bird asked, incredulous.
“I got better,” Zekara said helpfully.
“I suppose you did,” the bird muttered. “Is Skera still alive?”
The group exchanged glances.
“She supposedly died,” Nessy said slowly, “but knowing her, she faked it and ran off to become a worldbuilder.”
“Or be an alchemist in a different forest,” Vengeance added.
“Well.” The bird shuffled her wings. “Normally I don’t help out just any random strangers, but I trust the Vabos clan’s judgement and you know about Skera, so…” The bird launched itself off the branch. Green light covered its body and when it faded, it left a tall, friendly-looking bovan dressed in practical leather armor, decorated with simple designs that reminded Nessy of the forest around them, of rolling hills and soaring mountains, of endless seas and warm winds.
She liked this bovan already.
She held out a hand to shake. “My name is Peesa. Perhaps I can help you.”
Ujhin carefully shook her hand. “You’re a...shapeshifter?”
“Druid,” she corrected, “but it’s an easy mistake to make. There are only a few animals whose forms I can take, although more than most. Perks of being immortal: all the time in the world to focus on attuning with nature. Or writing terrible books about fictional people on silly quests. Whatever floats your boat.” She shrugged. “So, tell me about this plague.”
“I can believe you’re friends with Skera,” Vengeance mumbled. “You’re just as weird.”
“Most alchemists are,” Peesa told him, but quickly fell silent as Ujhin started to explain.
“It’s been sweeping the continent for awhile now, or so I’ve heard. It’s magical in nature and no one’s been able to find a cure. A leviathan we met on our way here told us that it was Creator-born and we’d need to kill or purify them to stop it, but…”
“A leviathan? Did you catch their name?”
“Oh, Malkyr! I hope she’s well. In any case, she’d certainly know if it was Creator-born. I’m afraid I can’t cure it for you, if that’s the case.” Seeing the disappointment on their faces, she continued, “But I think I can still help you.”
“Something odd has been happening in the World Spine- the mountains to the east- and the wildlife there has been driven down into the forests. Vasbovs, cessrens, setaers, ki-”
“Setaers?” Zekara interrupted. “They live there?”
Peesa blinked in surprise. “Yes. How do you know about setaers? They’re extinct on the western continent.”
“We ran into one awhile ago,” Zekara mumbled, “and another yesterday.”
“I’m sorry. They’re nasty creatures, but easy enough to kill if you can get a shot into their mouths or throw them off a cliff. They can’t fly, despite their wings; they’re completely useless.” Peesa hummed quietly, thinking. “I believe the elven, children of the Creator Jeb, are responsible for this. They’ve been acting oddly lately, and Moranaax spoke of a war between the Creators. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jeb is the source of this plague and the host of the corruption.”
“The plague drains a victim’s lifeforce directly,” Nessy told her. “We don’t know why or how.”
Peesa sighed. “Definitely from a Creator, then. Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you much, but I can direct you to where most of the elven live. From here, you head south, out of the forest and across the plains, until you reach a river. Cross it and keep going south. You will encounter a second river that you’ll need to follow east, towards the mountains. When you reach the World Spine, you’ll find a massive waterfall. Behind that is a cavern that drops deep into the earth. That is where the elven, and, I suspect, Jeb, have their base of operations. I have felt a disturbance in the amount of lifeforce on Beskeren lately, but I didn’t think much of it…” She trailed off, thinking.
“Great. More walking,” Tarsen grumbled.
Peesa looked surprised, eyes shifting over to Nessy. “Are you incapable of carrying the others?”
“You’re a half-dragon, aren’t you?”
“How did you-”
“Please. I lived on Korvolia for a few centuries. It’s easy to identify draconic influence when you know where to look.”
“Well...I could, although it would be difficult and annoying, and I don’t know how the locals would react to a dragon flying around.”
“Hmm. That’s true. I doubt my people would be particularly hostile- although they would be afraid- but the kansru might be more aggressive. I suppose you’ll have to walk. I forget how slowly you humans move.” She raised a hand and motioned for them to follow. “I can, however, supply you with potions that will help.”
Vengeance groaned and she turned to glare at him. “If you come to see an alchemist, you might as well accept potions,” she said sternly, and he shut up.
She led the way through the forest, away from the river, until she stopped at a particularly stunning area.
The plants were all brilliant, vibrant green, flowers reaching up towards sunlight that streamed through a break in the leaves. A massive tree grew higher than the others, with a doorway in the bottom of the trunk and windows occasionally peering out from upper levels. It looked for all the world like it had grown that way, and considering the fact that Peesa was a druid, it probably had.
“Would you like to come in? You could stay the night if you’d like. I have guest bedrooms.”
“No, I think I’ll sleep on the ground again,” Zekara said sarcastically, face breaking out in a grin. “We’d love to come in. Thank you.”
Peesa smiled at them and led the way inside. “I should probably get all of your names, now that I think about it, but you should sit down first.”
The inside of the tree was just as fascinating as the outside. Several chairs grew out of the sides of the trunk and a staircase spiraled upwards. Light streamed in through a window and unidentifiable plant matter cushioned the seats of the chairs. Several shelves were indented into the walls, filled with various bottles of oddly colored liquid, some of which glowed faintly.
Peesa sat down carefully and waited for the others to do the same. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had visitors,” she admitted, “so the other rooms might not be as neat as they should be.”
“You’re more hospitable than our last alchemist,” Vengeance grumbled. “She lived in a forest that wanted to kill me.”
“Does he ever stop complaining?” Peesa asked, looking at Ujhin.
“Hey! I’m right here, you know!”
“No,” Ujhin sighed, “he doesn’t.”
“What’s a little death between friends?” Peesa protested.
“I’ll show you a little-”
“Vengeance,” Ujhin scolded. “Don’t threaten immortal druid alchemists.”
“It’s rude,” Peesa agreed. “And we’re not friends yet.”
“So I’m Nessy.” She hoped that the interruption would get the conversation back on track, and fortunately, it did. Everyone introduced themselves and Peesa nodded slowly.
“I’m terrible with names so if I mess it up, don’t be offended.” Peesa tapped her fingers against her leg. “Is anyone hungry? I have food, both meat and vegetarian.”
“You’re a druid. And a bovan, who...don’t look like they can eat meat.”
Peesa made an expression that was eerily similar to raising an eyebrow. “Zekara, dear, I am a druid. I can transform into a giant cat and I do eat like that sometimes.”
“I imagined a druid to be more...preserving life and being a vegetarian and whatever,” Eclipse told her.
“Druids are about the circle of life. And part of that circle is big things killing and eating little things. They both have a right to live, and dammit, if I’m a big thing and I’m hungry, I’m going to eat a little thing. Not often. But sometimes.” Peesa got to her feet, hooves clacking gently against the wood of the tree. “What does everyone want?”
“Just as I remembered her,” Skera mumbled. “Exactly the same. Believe me, when this is over, I’m taking a trip to Beskeren.”
“Can I come with you? I’d love to meet her.”
“She seems interesting,” Blame agreed. “If a bit...odd.”
“She taught my mom alchemy. She’s got to be odd,” Vechs protested. “I think she’s more normal than mom is, though.”
“By human standards, yes. By bovan standards, no.” Skera shrugged. “Peesa’s a bit… bizarre. She shares many of the same views as them, but they see immortality as something to avoid, as if you never die, your body will never return to the earth.”
“I thought you only met the one bovan?” Vechs asked, amused.
“I did! But she told me some about her people! Not much, but…” Skera crossed her arms moodily. “I’m still mad she never told me she was from another continent. Honestly!”
Vechs patted her shoulder. “Calm down the fury, mother.”
“Don’t you tell me to calm down.”
Vechs looked offended. “You can’t ground me! I’m almost five hundred years old!”
“And I’m your mother!”
“You’re both grounded,” Guude called from across the room, “and that’s final.”
“You can’t ground me!” Skera protested. “I’m-”
“You are far younger than me and yes I can.”
Skera pouted and Vechs laughed at her.