I think it goes without saying that you should prepare for massive feels.Chapter 18
The following days went at a much appreciated slow pace. Finally the small group of dragons had been given the chance to unwind without much to worry about other than themselves. Food supplies had been replenished thanks to the Serthis' stolen goods as well as the general area being rife for foraging, hunting and fishing alike. A few valuable trinkets had also been found amongst the pilfered objects. First thought was to try and return them, but without any idea where they may have come from it was decided instead to keep them for hoarding. If only so they can return them later. At least that's what they said...
Tensions had eased over time although Matar still gave Vin and his Serthis, who had revealed his name at last to be Nathrach, a wide berth. She had however stopped insisting no one else bother with them and in fact found herself very curious to know what the pair were up to. They seemed to have grown close by means of alchemy, learning each other's ideas and recipes and putting them to the test. Powerful poisons, potent healing salves, tinctures that could cure illness and of course a gag tonic that would temporarily change a dragon's colours depending on the ingredients.
Isaura had fallen uncharacteristically, though understandably, quiet ever since Eurus had been killed but still helped out with gathering up the snakelike beastclan's loot and sorting through for useful items. She'd grown a fair bit since first arriving with the group too – being almost if not as big as Ilmatar at this point and with more yet to do. What no one had noticed at first what that the Guardian had been using bits of metal to fashion a rudimentary set of shoulder and leg armour with intent to make more if the materials presented themselves.
The red Coatl found herself walking in on Makani, Vunguza and Noelani chatting together as they washed some of the scavenged fabrics in the river and greeted them calmly, flopping down to watch the water rippling prettily in the sunlight.
“Hey mum! Watch this!” Makani chirped, fluttering his crests in excitement as he leapt off of the rock he'd been perched on. Out of instinct Matar jumped to her feet to grab him only to have her shock be replaced with joy. He didn't hit the water, instead flitting gracefully over it. His large yellow wings moved in a circular motion, carrying the Fae through the air with ease. He was flying! All on his own!
“How... when...?” the Coatl sputtered in surprise as she watched her adopted child wheel around above the trio. Next to her Noelani shuffled her own wings and grinned. “Wait, did you...?”
“He's been wanting to for a while it seemed.” the Wildclaw explained simply, lifting the sheet of linen to inspect it. Laying it flat on the grass at her side and spreading it out neatly she grabbed the next piece: a torn but still useable swatch of red canvas. “I'm sure you've been trying to teach him yourself but with everything else that's happened I can appreciate that lessons were cut short.”
Matar's feathered crest fell and she looked away. The last time Makani had tried to fly properly was before the fires. When Saira... They'd had so much fun with the return of the wind. She'd not have been surprised if her son had not wanted to learn after that and so she hadn't taught him. “Thank you.” she managed at length. “He deserves the joy of flight.”
Vunguza scoffed from his place in the shallows where he'd been applying forceful torrents to the more stubborn of filth. “Ye say that but ye know flight ain't everythin'.
Both girls exchanged glances and giggled. “Sorry Guz, no offence was meant.” Noelani replied, still grinning. “Truly, I've never understood why Snappers such as yourself even have wings when you're so comfortable on the ground.”
“An' ah cannae understand why you'd rather be up there!” the Snapper grinned back, pointing a flat paw at Makani still displaying his skills across the river. So caught up in his flight the Fae looked like he'd forgotten anyone else was there.
“If I may Vunguza,” Ilmatar began, settling back down to watch Makani, “how did you end up in this mess?”
Vunguza lifted his paw again this time in a “one moment” gesture as he blasted his cloth again, sending droplets of water spraying all over and causing the girls to yelp indignantly at being splashed. He then dragged the sheet out to dry similarly to how Lana had placed hers. “Och, t'is a right strange tale. Ye be knowin' o' what's happenin' o'er Sornieth, aye?” Noelani nodded solemnly but Matar shook her head in confusion. Vunguza's brow shot up so high his cap almost fell off. “Ye haven't heard, lass?”
Again she shook her head. “Where I used to live everyone was far too busy looking after the lair structure and guests to tell me anything. The only weird thing I know of is that the Twisting Crescendo stopped for a month then started spinning the other way.”
This piqued Lana's curiosity. “Wait you're a Wind Whistler?” The Coatl flinched. “That's amazing! I've wanted to visit the Singing Reeds platform for a long time. Please tell me-”
.” Ilmatar cut in grouchily. “There's nothing to say. What else is going on over Sornieth?” she added before the white Wildclaw could push further.
“Aye well, ye at least know aboot the Tidelord aye? How us Water dragons get tae see visions an' all that? Well we got hit 'ard by a right mental storm, like. Right before ah got myself a vision o' travelling wit other folk. Cannae say why but 'ere we are, eh?” He smiled broadly. “Now ah didnae see the part where those snakes got tae me so don't go askin' aboot it. Just ken that ah got washed up 'ere after t'storm. 'sides ol' Tidelord's gone silent ain't he. Ain't gettin' another vision nae time soon.”
Noelani and Matar stared and blinked as the story sunk in. Having caught some of it himself Makani had at some point swung around to land on his mother's head to listen. “You got washed here by the sea after your home was hit by a storm? Wow.”
“Aye lad. Ye see, we Snappers ain't so heavy as ye call us!” They all laughed.
“Whatever the case,” Matar stated once she'd gotten her breath back, “it sounds like you'll be coming with us whether we like it or not.” Vunguza nodded. “What about you?” she asked Noelani. “Now that you know about... about your cousin.”
For a moment the Wildclaw didn't respond. She stood, picking up the textiles that had been lain out to dry and flipping them over before spreading them over a flat rock that had caught the heat of the sun while they'd washed and talked. “I'm honestly not sure.” she said finally, yellow eyes gazing blankly out at the horizon. “I'd planned to spend time with him while I found myself a new clan to join. Maybe integrate with his. Otherwise,” she shrugged uncertainly, “maybe just go back to the Sunbeam Ruins.”
A new clan to join. Could it be? Is now the time? It would be small but if they were sticking together anyway... could they possibly form a clan together? Ilmatar's heart raced at the thought. The reason she'd left her home in the first place. It was starting to come true! A group of displaced dragons with nowhere to go finding themselves travelling together... all they needed now was a place to call home! Not yet though. Tonight maybe. When they were together in the cave. Then she'd declare their scraggly band a clan and determine a name for themselves.
With a newfound spring in her step the red Coatl meandered her way through the ransacked camp, making herself useful by snatching up a bundle of foodstuff to carry back to the temporary den site. Oh she could not
wait to announce this! Along the way she could not help but tell Maki her plan despite knowing she wouldn't be able to hear his replies. At least she could tell he was happy about it as his fins and crest waved vigorously in excitement.
“Yes. Even Vin.” She noted, knowing Maki would want to know that for definite. “And the Serthis.” Matar's pace slowed as she considered what she said. “I guess I am happy with him now that we know what really happened. I still... don't quite trust them but yes. I'd let them join us if they wanted to.” Makani squeaked in a manner that could be perceived as jubilation. She settled on that.
Something seemed to shift after she'd admitted trusting Vin. Like a weight had lifted. Even she couldn't deny that Anvindr had been trying. And now that she could shift blame to the beastclans instead it was almost freeing being able to allow herself to talk with the Spiral at last. Something to address at tonight's meeting perhaps.
Suddenly Makani slid down Matar's brow to perch unsteadily on her snout, pointing at the cave. Or rather, something on the ground nearby. Resting just outside of the entrance appeared to be a medium-sized pouch made of dark, midnight satin with its top secured with a delicate twine adorned with amber and feathers. Isaura was already there, shifting uncomfortably.
“Sora? What is this? What's going on?”
The young Guardian shuffled awkwardly, hanging her head. “I'm sorry I-I don't know. I saw a dragon land by the cave but but they'd already gone by the time I got here.” She swung her long neck to gesture the direction the stranger had gone, then sat down ashamedly like a dog who knew they had done something wrong.
“It's okay. Don't beat yourself up over it.” Ilmatar told her softly. Sora smiled weakly in return. “So... should we open it?”
“Um well.” The red-and-blue dragon held something out to the Coatl. “There was this, too.” A scroll which had been tied closed, since opened and read, waited in her claws. Matar took it gingerly, scanning the somewhat elegant penmanship.
To those this gift is intended for,
I have caught wind that your one of your group had the true dishonour of encountering Venril, our esteemed alchemist here at Shal'anir. He's a mercurial dragon at best and leaves much to be desired, even for those who have served beside him for years prior. As such, on behalf of the Poisoned Mind and the Children of Shal'anir, I formally apologise for whatever discomfort and disarray he may have caused with his presence.
As a token of our sincerity, please accept these personally commissioned potions that, when drunk or even applied directly to wounds, will aid in healing whatever ails you. They were made by Venril, but, as I can personally attest to, they won't cause you any ill harm. They are a little bitter on the way down, mind you.
Within the pouch should also be a set of feathers. As ambassador for the Children of Shal'anir, I see it fit that I take some responsibility for Venril's presence - so this is my gift to you as a personal apology. They're, quite literally, of my own design; I only hope that my colours are as suited to you as they are to me.
“What does it mean?” Isaura asked, fidgeting in her seat again. Whoever it was had clearly spooked her. “Who is “the Manipulator”? Who is Venril? I don't understand.”
Ilmatar did, glaring holes into the parchment. “I don't know about this “manipulator” but that Venril...” An image of the Skydancer's scarred face flashed in her mind. “Let's just say we've met.”
“Oh.” Isaura tapped her claws together. “O-okay.”
“Should we open it?” Makani asked from his feathery perch. All three of them exchanged wary glances and while it was never spoken the permission was given. Carefully Matar unwound the twine, making sure not to damage it. Inside the extravagantly prepared gift were several vials of sunset orange liquid and a delicate set of plumed feathers - the same colours as the smaller ones that decorated the package.
Silence gripped the group as they tried to glean the reason for this gift. The potions looked similar to Vin and Nathrach's healing tonics. Someone didn't want them to get hurt. But who, and why?
“Um.” Sora meekly broke the silence. “Those feathers. Could I maybe, um... Could I take them?”
Green and red eyes fixed on the Guardian. After a short pause Matar said, “Sure? I mean I don't know what they're for otherwise. Go ahead. I'll get these potions to Vin and his snake.”
“Thank you. They... They're kind of like his. You know...” Sora drew circles in the dirt with a claw. “I wanted to do something like Makani has with the friend we didn't get to meet.” As she said that the Fae's tail twitched, causing the glittering gold feathers to jingle and chime.
Matar nodded sombrely. “I understand.”
“Thank you.” Sora repeated, felt awkward for repeating it and began to apply the plumes to her armour. As she did so Ilmatar spoke again.
“Sora while you're hear could you help me with something?”
“Oh! Ah, sure! What's up?”
“I want to tell Makani something very important and I need you to tell me what he says.”
Isaura tilted her head for a second then realised what she meant. “Oh! Right, of course.”
Matar nodded in thanks and turned to the Fae. “Maki?”
“Now that you can fly, that officially makes you a big boy now.”
Makani glided from his mother's head to a stony outcropping. “You really think so?” he buzzed in amazement, clutching tiny paws to his chest which was no doubt full of pride.
Glancing at their go-between to listen Matar chuckled. “Yep. And as a big boy you get to do big boy things.”
“What like? What like?” the green Fae was practically bouncing on the spot.
“Well. Looks like we don't have as many insects as we thought. Less so, your favourite ones!” she feigned despair. How could they be so neglectful as to run out of Maki's favourite food!
A small gasp left Maki's mouth as he caught on. “You want me to get more? Me?”
Their noses came together in a light bump. “Think you can do it?”
“Yes! I'm a big boy, I can get some food!” he “shouted” with his whole body. “And I know where, too! I saw some really nice bugs down the river with the big pohip things.”
“...big pohip things.” Sora finished for him. “Uh, no offence but do you really think it's a good idea to let him go down there?”
Her long, curled tail flicked as she pondered. “Pohips are generally docile creatures. Generally.” Claws tapped on the soil in thought. “Yes, you can go. Just leave the pohips alone, okay? They won't bother you as long as you don't bother them.”
Makani nodded enthusiastically and, before the girls had a chance to change their minds, shot off downriver.
Finding the bugs was the easy part. As he had correctly seen the part of the river that went past the trees was packed with creepy-crawlies. The problem now was catching them and keeping them still long enough to wrap in the bag. And the worst part was there were so many that he had a hard time deciding which ones to get! That's a pretty butterfly sunning itself on that flower, he'll just grab- whoops! It flew away long before he could get near it! No wonder this was a big boy job, Makani realised as he picked his next target. They were so darn tricky to get!
After many failed grabs and plenty of getaways the little green Fae was finally able to find some bugs he could catch. A nice long wiggler here, a shiny round beetle there. Drat, almost got that dragonfly! A handful or two of slimy worms, a big ol' hairy spider (and a bunch of flies that were in its web!) and hey that green bug just hopped away!
Makani was reaching very slowly towards a pond skater that was sitting on the water when the surface began to roil and ripple. With a squeak the Fae jumped back as a giant yellow creature exploded from the river, laying down and bobbing contently in the current. It flicked its small, round ears and watched Makani with lazy, dark eyes. A pohip! As if summoned by some unheard call more of them began to pop up from under the water to bask in the sunlight. And what a sight it was for someone as tiny as him.
“Whoa...” So enthralled by the emergence of the massive hippo-like creatures that he failed to notice that dinner was escaping. By the time he did notice more than half of what he'd caught had fled. “Oh ma-an.” he whined, getting to his feet and then taking to the air to begin anew. How did other Fae do this?
Some time later he realised it was starting to get dull, and not just because of the trees blocking the sun. It was getting late. He'd better finish up and get back to the others. Maybe there was enough time to get a few more things though.
Indeed Maki was able to scrounge up several beautiful and delicious insects, some of which he could not help but snack on along the way. The pond skater was back as well. Should he try? As he considered something large and dark shook the branches overhead. He snapped his head up to look but couldn't quite see what it was. He shrugged, deciding it was just some bird. He did suddenly feel very vulnerable with all these big things around. Okay, grab the water-bug and get back to mother. He nodded to himself and reached out slowly, aiming his outstretched paw over and a little ahead of the insect.
That was when something large hit the water. So large that the pohips were startled. Makani cried out as the river became a tumultuous broth as the pohips snorted and bellowed and stampeded out onto the land. Oh no... that one is really close.
He dropped the bundle he'd painstakingly filled and flew up to the closest branch to get clear. One pohip charged into the tree, sending shock waves through his tiny frame, rattling his jaw against his skull and making his head hurt. When it passed he risked a look down, only to squeal again as a purple one with dead stumps growing out of its back bellowed. That was a massive mouth and he did not want to fall in. Claws dug deep into bark as the world shook.
“Mother!” he cried as loud as his lungs would allow. “Sora! Fin! No'lani! Guz! Help!” Tears of fright slid down his cheeks as all he could do was cling on and wait. It could have been his imagination but Makani could swear he heard laughter somewhere in the treetops.
Then the worst thing happened. One of the largest pohips also charged into his tree. There was a splintering, cracking sound and the world began to topple. So much damage had been done to the tree that it had snapped. Makani screamed as he was flung to the floor amidst giant, stomping feet. Somehow he was able to get clear of being stepped on and tried with all his might to get high into the air, heart pounding painfully in his chest. Another, large yellow pohip, tossing its head in agitation. Wings pumped. The jaw opened, head turned. Makani was knocked out of the air by the massive snout, sailed a fair way, landed hard on his spine. There was a crack... then nothing.Once again the harpy cackled as she watched the puny creature be brought to an end. She'd hoped one of the stupid beasts would crush the dragon flat. This would suffice. Those Serthis may have failed to do what had been tasked of them but there were plenty more beastclans all too willing to take down dragonkind once and for all. She took off, leaving the pohips to run their course. Let the child's death paint a clear message. They will be back and they will do whatever it takes to be rid of them.
The calls and shouts of the five group members rung out in the evening sky, which was slowly turning from blue to orange to purple. When the Fae didn't return before it started getting dark Matar had rightfully began to panic and doubt her decision to let him go alone. It had taken a lot of encouragement from the others to keep her from dashing out there and then. However more hours slipped by with no sign of his return. And so as a group they made their way down to the grove Makani had been foraging in.
When they arrived it was a mess. Much like the aftermath of the stampede weeks ago now trees were broken or splintered and cracked, branches littered the ground, grass covered with fallen leaves. What areas were clear were torn and muddied from the passing of many large feet. The river banks were grooved and dug where the pohips had clambered out in their rage.
Still the five called. Still no one replied.
“Vunguza.” Matar spoke, throat tight, words strained with effort to not break. “You and Noelani check the other side of the river. Anvindr, check the trees. Sora, come with me.” They all nodded in silence and split off in their respective directions.
“I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it! That package was bad news.” Sora growled, trying to keep her words under breath. It didn't work; Matar heard all of it. She remained quiet, focusing every fibre of her being on staying calm and telling herself Maki was okay. He was okay. He was...
They'd both stopped. They'd both choked, staring disbelievingly at the still green-and-yellow shape in the leaves. Matar was the only one of the pair to step forwards, though both sobbed. “Maki...?” Ilmatar gently shook the body. “Maki... did you... did you tire yourself out?” She gathered up the lifeless Fae in her arms and cradled it tightly. “You're just tired aren't you...?” She gulped. She tasted salt. “I'm sorry, it... it was... too soon to send you out. Poor boy... let's... let's get you to... to bed.”
She didn't look at Isaura as she passed. Said nothing. Sora could only stare through a thick mess of tears at the way Makani's head hung awkwardly, his neck bent in a way it shouldn't be able to be. The Guardian tried to say something, anything
. A babbling, nonsensical gibberish took place of words as she lowered herself to the ground and wept. Noelani and Vunguza, too, watched the Coatl leave, also said nothing, bowed their heads respectfully. Above them Anvindr had tied himself to a branch, teeth grit so hard his jaw hurt as he pressed his head into the bark to keep from screaming.
“I'll tuck you in.” Ilmatar mumbled to herself as she walked. “Shh, shh... sleep. We'll see you in the morning...”