It was a stormy night out of central. People were rushing inside to aviod the rain pouring down in buckets. The wind was brewing so hard it raddled windows on buildings. No one wanted to be outside during this time.
Out on a street counter a girl sits. She is sitting crisscrossed with her legs pulled near her. Her messy dark brown hair dangled out of the blanket in which she used to cover herself with. The clothes shown ware and tare. The girl wore a tan shirt with the sleeves ripped off. The shorts were 2 inches above her knees. The shirt cut off in a diagonal showing her side abit. The shorts were also a tan color. She had light brown eyes with a hint of caramel color next to her pupil. She then stood up weakly. One foot at a time she headed for the exit out of central.
The Elric brothers were heading back to Central from a mission they had just completed. They were tired. Edwards stomach could be heard from a mile away. " Hey Al, we have to find something to eat I am starving..." Alphonse walked next to his brother eager to head inside. "Okay brother." "We can stop inside somewhere to eat if you want to." Edward's face light up at the sound of that. "Hey thats a great idea Alphonse!" Edward then checked his pockets for money. He emptied his pockets to find nothing inside. Both brothers just groaned.
As they walked inside the central building, they noticed people rushing out. "What in the world are they rushing out for?" Alphonse questioned. Edward just smirked. "Who cares Al!" "I been wanting to brag in Mustangs face all day!" "We completed that mission when he said it would be too much for us to handle!" Edward was laughing up a storm. Edward was about to open the door when Mustang opened it. "I am guessing you succeed in the mission.." Edward smirked. "You bet!" "That was not very hard to handle..." Mustang shoke his head. "You two did not complete the mission" Edward looked shocked. "I made sure that the borders were all sealed up!!" Mustang then crossed his arms. "You did not seal up all the areas Full Metal." "I had to send more alchemists to go back to finish what you started..." Edward had already began walking off. " What nerve..." "I cant believe this Al!!" "Can you!?" Alphonse just continued walking shaking his head. "I thought we sealed the pathways too brother,but I guess we missed some..." "I Told you to go back and check on it..." Edward then got frustrated. "I did Al!"
Two hours had gone by since they talked to Mustang. Edward was now stuffing his face with food. Alphonse was sitting at the table watching his brother eat. "Something does not seem right brother..." Edward then swallowed. "Tell me about it!" " I am so sure I went back to seal the roads!" "I even fixed some of them!" Alphonse just sat in thought. Edward went back to stuffing his face.
It was now 9pm. The Elric brothers were getting ready to get a good rest. Tomorrow, they will continue on their journey as state alchemists. "Goodnight Al..." Edward began climbing into bed. "Goodnight brother." Alphonse sat against the wall. He soon closed his eyes. Edward then shifted into a comfortable position. "Hey Alphonse..." Alphonse then shifted his head up when he heard his brothers voice. "Yes brother?" Edward was starring at the ceiling while he talked. "Did we get all the supplies?" "Ya know for tonight?" "The storm is supposed to hit us soon..." Before Alphonse could respond they heard voices outside. Alphonse got up and looked outside the window. "Hey brother..." "Some cops are cornering this girl...." Edward then got out of bed. "What?.."
The girl was fighting to get away from the cops. The cops constantly yelled at her in a not so nice tone. "You stupid girl!" "Why don't you talk!!!" the girl slowly backed up holding her arm. She shoke because she was cold. It was still raining pretty hard. The cops then started to walk toward her again. The girl then got frightened. She took off running from them as fast as she could. "After her!!" " DO not let her escape!" "We need answers from her!" Edward then was putting on his jacket. "Where are you going brother?" Edward was already at the room door. "Out." "I wont let them harass some little girl like that." He then ran out. "Ed!" "Wait!" Alphonse rushed after him close behind.
“You are sure of this?” Sheera asked with a scowl as she sat atop the wagon. “I'm standing here telling ye such aren't I?” Caleb replied gruffly. Sheera frowned and pursed her lip in annoyance as she glanced at Nil. “I assume you saw them as well?” Nil shifted uncomfortably under the wood elf's scrutiny. Caleb felt bad putting the girl on the spot but there was nothing for it. “I'm not sure, I've never seen a bandit camp before, but they were heavily armed and hidden within a dell so they couldn't be seen from the High Way.” Ikras looked towards Sheera dubiously. “It is possible, reports of banditry upon the High Way are not uncommon.” Sheera sighed and turned, pulling up the flap for the wagon. “Ra'ma. Come.” The nidracaal flowed out of the wagon, dropping to the ground and looking up at Sheera curiously with her shimmering yellow eyes. “Yes lady-elf?” Sheera glanced at Caleb. “How far down the road are they?” Caleb closed his eyes, retracing the flight path in his mind's eye for a moment before coming to his conclusion. “Three leagues.” “Very well.” Sheera looked to Ra'ma. “Three leagues distant and to the west of the High Way is a dell with a camp in it. Seek it out and discern the nature of its occupants.” Ra'ma nodded her assent and wordlessly started down the road, running as only a nidracaal could. It was not long before her lithe form vanished from view entirely. Caleb had seen nidracaal run before and knew that they could cover the distance of three leagues far faster than anything save perhaps a centaur or other hoofed creature. He never wanted to have one in pursuit of him, not without Bracken beneath him at any rate. The cats couldn't fly at least. “Now what?” Ikras inquired. The Minotaur snorted and sat down, crossing his massive arms over his chest and closing his eyes. “He is right.” Sheera said simply. “We must wait.” “Waiting waiting for bandit baiting.” hummed Duulingknopf to himself. For once Caleb didn't think the gnome was completely stark raving mad, there was nothing else to be done for it. They stepped off the High Way and set up a small campsite and enjoyed a small lunch. “Can't we eat anymore?” inquired Nil, brushing her hand through her hair as she looked down at the simple biscuits in her Caleb shook his head. “Not before a fight.” Ikras nodded in agreement. “You do not want to cramp up during battle.” Nil snorted as she reached for more food. “As if I would ever fight, that's why all of you are here after all.” Caleb watched as the girl gorged herself. “How can a dancer eat so much?” She shrugged indifferently. “I don't know, guess I'm still growing because I've never had a problem staying thin.” her eyes flickered mischievously. “It's why I've been able to keep the men coming back, I never get sick, and I never get overweight.” Caleb felt his face heat slightly and he looked away, coughing to cover his embarassment at the girl's candor. Ikras merely chuckled to himself and shook his head. They waited for a time as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Caleb wondered if Ra'ma was safe, not that he had any particular attachment to the nidracaal but she was a member of this company and much as he might hate the circumstances of his admission into it, he did have a job to complete. He glanced at Sheera as the wood elf sat on the wagon stroking her blasted pet's wings. If he ever had the chance after Bracken's spell was lifted, he'd wring her neck. “Such thoughts do not suit your heart.” whispered a soothing voice from behind. Caleb shouted in alarm and leapt to his feet, drawing his sword in the process as Ikras and the Minotaur looked on indifferently. Ra'ma stared at him for a moment as she uncoiled herself and strode past him seemingly without any intention of apologizing or elaborating on her statement as Caleb sheathed his blade haughtily. “Damned cat.” he grumbled to himself as Nil giggled. “Well?” Sheera prompted from atop her bench. Ra'ma inclined her head. “It is as he says, bandits stalk the road ahead.” “We should rid the world of their filth.” Ikras snarled. “How many?” Sheera pressed. “A no more than a score.” Ra'ma stated simply with a sinuous shrug of her shoulders. “They will pose some nuisance.” Sheera grew quiet as she considered. “If we try to go around them we will have to go many leagues to ensure we are not spotted and we are few enough in number that they may think us a target worth attacking.” she smiled slightly, glancing at Caleb. “I think you may earn your keep today rider.” Caleb's eyes narrowed. What did the bitch have in mind now? “If you were to attack from the air,” Sheera said simply, nodding towards Ikras and the Minotaur. “Then perhaps Ikras and—“ “Ghastly ghosts!” exclaimed Duulingknopf suddenly. “Honking hooters!” They all stopped and looked at the gnome in bewilderment as he began giggling uncontrolably. Sheera sighed and looked to Nil. “Perhaps you could get some sense out of him?” Nil shrugged. “I think he wants to play a trick on them.” Duulingknopf cackled madly and spun in a circle, seeming to blur for a moment before elongating and growing in height until he stood well over Ikras. He stopped spinning and Caleb was takenaback to see a massive ogre standing in the gnome's place. As if that wasn't enough, the ogre began to multiply until there were seven of them standing before the party. A slow, cruel smile spread across Sheera's face. “Oh? Now this is entertaining.” “Make them quake, make them shake, their flesh and bones for us to bake!” the lead ogre chortled as the rest laughed. Caleb stared in a mixture of horror and wonder at what the gnome had wrought. Just how powerful was the little bastard? And did the guilds know that there was a gnome who could do something so dangerous? “Very well, we'll let our gnome play with our bandits while the rest of us proceed along the High Way.” Sheera glanced at the lead ogre. “I presume you can catch up with us?” The ogre leered. “Sticks and stones and broken bones, we'll make them sing in ugly tones.” Caleb winced at the awful ryhme and shook his head. Apparently no one else in the group saw anything wrong with unleashing a pack of magic spawned ogres on a band of brigands as a foul deed. He himself would rather have fought them straight then rely on this sorcery. “Rider.” Sheera said quietly. “I still have a task for you.” Caleb turned and look at her balefully as she continued. “I want you to watch over Duulingknopf as he goes about his business. If he requires any help you will give it to him. Do I make myself clear?” Caleb nodded solemnly. “It will be done.” “Good.” she replied. “Everyone else, lets ready ourselves to travel once more and leave the bandits behind us.” As the others readied to move again, the seven ogres plodded off at a loping run in the direction of the bandit's camp. Caleb for his part headed for Bracken, the griffin chirped and warbled questioningly, his feathers ruffling in a rippling progression along his back. “Aye lad, we're going ta cause some trouble.” Caleb said as he checked his weapons to be assured of their readiness. So satisfied he climbed up onto the griffin's back and a moment later they were once again in the air, circling high overhead and following the trail of the romping ogres below. “I pity the poor fool that marks upon that lot.” Caleb grumbled. Bracken warbled as if in agreement, crooning thoughtfully as Caleb stroked his ruff. It seemed that this journey would be nothing if not interesting. He could only hope that at the end of it all the conclusion would be simple enough.
Caleb ran his hand over Bracken's breastplate, examining its surface carefully as he examined it for damage. The tawny beast in question lay sprawled besides him. The griffin's blue eyes watched Caleb's motions intently, its head turning rapidly to follow even the slightest shift in its rider's body. Bracken's beak lunged forward suddenly, pecking at Caleb as he adjusted the breastplate's straps. "Here! Off ye great winged git!" Caleb snarled, throwing up his hand and grabbing the griffin by the beat. "The damned thing is loose ya fool, how're ye supposed to protect yer chest if ye've got a loose breast piece eh? Tell me that why dontcha." The griffin chirped and warbled at him indignantly before settling into a low humming growl that emanated from its thick chest. "Oh yer just sulking ye great oaf." Caleb replied tersely, rubbing Bracken between his ears affectionately. "It'll be alright, just ye watch." Bracken chirped again and pulled his head away with a snort, turning back to poke at the meager portion of honeyed meat and seed that passed for his meal. He looked up at Caleb plaintively with a mournful growl. Caleb frowned fretfully and rubbed Bracken's frill of feathers affectionately. "I'm sorry friend. Tis what we can afford fer the time being." Bracken croaked and went back to his food. Caleb set aside the armor he'd been tending and retrieved his bags from their pegs on the wall. Things were bad. Bracken needed much more to sustain himself, however the funds were just not there any longer. Since the wars had ended there was no need for a warrior. Many were in his position, without a lord to take them into service and afford for them the means to support themselves. Caleb felt such times especially hard since he had Bracken to tend to as well. He'd stolen the griffin from his mother, being sure to leave meat for the remaining chicks, and then raised the fierce little male himself. It had been the raising of the griffin which had saved him first from a life as a tanner, and then a death in the infantry. Being a member of the cavalry, whether knight or soldier, was an auspicious and lauded position. However being a member of the riders was another thing altogether. It afforded a certain rank to even those of the lowliest birth such as Caleb that elevated them above the rank and file soldier. However it did not protect them from peace. A knight could return to his estate, a soldier could not. All a soldier could do was hope that he still had a home and a family to return to. Caleb did not. His father had lashed his hide when he'd brought Bracken home. Caleb had taken the thrashing in silence, sheltering the griffin from his father's wrath until Bracken was old enough to first hunt for himself and then finally fly. They'd fled then, never to return. Looking back, Caleb had considered that perhaps he shouldn't have been so rash all those years ago. Watching Bracken eat now though, and all the times before when he'd questioned his choice, he found the griffin's beauty too great. They'd shared too much together in the years since he'd first gotten it into his head to steal Bracken from his mother. There would never be any going back. "It is a shame," a woman's voice came from the entrance to the stable. Caleb's blade was drawn and at the ready. "that such a majestic creature must eat such scraps." Caleb examined the woman with narrowed eyes. She wore an elegant green robe hemmed with silver threading and inlaid gold braiding. A noble or something equally silly he imagined. "Who are ye?" he asked guardedly. Bracken had stopped eating, his ears flat against his head and had risen to a crouch. The distance from the griffin to the woman was barely three men in length. A distance that Bracken could easily jump. If she was worried that she was within killing distance of the griffin, she gave no sign. Turning instead to address Caleb directly. "I am told that you are a soldier with no means to support yourself." Caleb did not move from his position, sword between himself and her. Behind him on the wall leaned his lance and other weapons. She seemed to be unarmed and there was no way that she could reach his own weapons. She was either very brave or very stupid. He would have to see which case held true. When he did not reply to her statement, the woman turned back to Bracken, speaking softly in a tongue that Caleb did not recognize as she held out a hand towards the griffin. Bracken snorted and recoiled from her outstretched hand, hissing and expanding his chest in warning, fluffing out his feathers menacingly. "I wouldn't be doing that." Caleb cautioned. "he doesn't take kindly ta strangers." She inclined her head, reaching up and removing her hood. Long golden hair revealed the sharp features of an elf. A very pure elf from her appearance. "I require a rider." she stated flatly, turning her green eyes to gaze at him. They were surprisingly piercing, commanding even. "Yer lord requires a rider ye mean." Caleb growled. There was no way that an elf could be that finely adorned. She smiled at him condescendingly. "No, I require a rider. No lord calls me his property." "What need does an elf have fer a rider?" She shrugged. "My reasons are mine alone human. Until you agree, I cannot tell you anything more than that I have need." Caleb snorted, sheathing his sword and crossing to Bracken, stroking the griffin in an attempt to calm the irate beast. Bracken leaned against him as he ran his hand over the beast's shoulder blades soothingly. "What are ye paying?" "Well enough that your griffin will not go hungry again." she replied. "I'm no in the mood fer yer coyness lass." he growled. The corners of her mouth turned up at the corners in what appeared to be amusement. "No, I suppose not. Very well. There is an advancement of ten gold pieces with seven silver and five copper a week thereafter. More will be forthcoming depending on the length and result of your service." Caleb's mind lit up at the sum. With that he could certainly afford to not only maintain the kit he currently had but also acquire new items that he would need; not to mention that Bracken would not need to go hungry for a while. "Ye've got me attention lass. What's the job?" "I am assembling a small cadre to accompany myself and my companions into the Oskillian Forest in north Vagre. Your duties will be as escort to myself and those with me." "What are ye seeking in those wastes? There's nothing there." "Oh there is." she replied. "We are seeking a High Elf ruin." Caleb froze and looked at her, really looked at her. The expensive clothes, the noble bearing, the fact that she did not seem in the least bit cowed by the disparity in their race...and the strange words from before. He swore. "Yer a damned wood elf." Her face lit up with a smile, despite himself, Caleb couldn't deny the beauty in that expression. "How very astute of you sir rider. Will that be a problem?" "I am not in the service of brigands." snapped Caleb. "Deal's off." She stiffened, her eyes narrowed into slits. "Do not cross me rider. I told you what the job is and knowing that I cannot allow you to walk freely. You and your griffin are contracted." Caleb met her gaze. "Lass, I've seen things yer eyes would pop out at. Don't test me good temper." "And don't underestimate mine." she replied. "You will regret it." "Go back to yer cart lass." he said dismissively, turning away from her. She spoke something in the strange tongue from before and Bracken shrieked, twisting and shriveling up in a ball and the straw floor. Caleb's heart stopped as he knelt besides the thrashing griffin. "Calm down, Bracken be still, ye hurt boy?" Bracken did not respond, instead he continued to twitch and cry in pain. Caleb rose, drawing his blade as he turned. The tip touched the throat of the wood elf, who tilted her head back to keep from losing her head. "Undue it." he snarled. "No." He looked back at Bracken who let out a fresh agonized screech. He turned back to her, his face twisted in a mixture of fury and terror. There was a touch of desperation in his voice now. "Undue it now or I slit yer throat." "If you kill me," she said darkly. "Your griffin dies." "What do ye want?" "Your service." she stated flatly. "Yehave it." he cried. "Undue it!" She nodded and spoke in the tongue once more. Bracken stopped convulsing and uncurled, panting heavily as his chest heaved laboriously. Caleb dropped his blade and wrapped his arms around the griffin's neck, stroking the back of Bracken's head as he cradled the beast's head in his grip. "Yer alright now, yer alright." he cooed soothingly. "I have your service then?" asked the woman quietly. He looked back at her, tears in his eyes though they blazed with hatred. "Yes damn yer eyes." "Good. If you try to disobey me or attempt to flee your griffin will die. I will remove the magic completely when your job is complete." "Ye'd better hope yer not near me when that happens. I'll kill ye." he said. She smiled at him. "It is good to see that you care for him so dearly. It means you will work well to keep him safe." she took a rolled parchment from her cloak and tossed it on the ground. "That is your contract...you can read I presume?" "Enough." he replied, not taking the parchment. "Good. Be ready at dawn tomorrow. I will expect to see you at the north gate." She turned to leave. "What do I call ye, asides from bitch?" Caleb asked. The elf froze, her body tight as she gazed over her shoulder at him indifferently. "Sheera." with that she replaced her hood and strode from the stable, leaving Caleb to tend to Bracken who was still whimpering pitiably as the griffin burrowed its head into Caleb's arms. For his part, Caleb held Bracken protectively, trying to provide the safety that his mount sought. He didn't understand magic, or wood elves, but he knew enough of each to know that Bracken's life would be forfeit if he wasn't standing ready at the city's north gate on the morrow. He reached down and took the parchment, unrolling it and scanning the ink. There were words he didn't recognize, but he deciphered enough to understand what it said. He was bound until released. He found the part that mentioned his pay and it was as stated. He shook his head, stroking Bracken as much for the beast's reassurance as his own. He'd wanted work. He had it. Gods help them both.
The morning broke as it always did in this part of the world, slowly at first as the sun fought to rise above the low rolling hills and then poured down upon the sheltered depressions between them. Caleb's eyes opened slowly as he yawned mightily, stretching out his stiff joints. He lifted himself from Bracken who crooned softly as he lifted his head out from under his wing, clicking his beak and warbling a good morning. "Good morinng to ye as well." Caleb said gruffly as he turned to stroke Bracken's mane. The griffin clicked his beak and began to preen himself, cleaning away the morning dew clinging to his feathers as Caleb brought out his feed. Bracken set about eating eagerly as Caleb checked over their gear. He didn't expect any of their companions to have taken anything but old habits died hard. "Good morning." Caleb turned at Nil's voice to find the girl standing behind him smiling with her hands clasped behind her back. "Good morning." he replied. "Are you going to be flying this morning?" she asked eagerly. Caleb smiled. "Nah, not yet. He needs to eat first and then let his stomach settle." Nil seemed somewhat disappointed but recovered quickly. "Won't you come join us? We're having breakfast." Seeing that Bracken was still happily gorging himself, Caleb accepted the offer. He may not abide the notion of getting any closer to Sheera but the rest of their party certainly was worthy of his attention. Especially if, as he suspected, his life may depend upon it. Given what Sheera was, he imagined that she had no small number of enemies including but not limited to the Church itself. Since he was forced to associate with her for Bracken's sake, her enemies were now his and for whatever reason the rest of their party was along for the ride. He looked at Nil as they joined the others and wondered why the girl was here. That she held no love for the Church was obvious, but it just seemed strange for a simple entertainer to join in with someone as dangerous as Sheera. As he sat down at the campfire and accepted a bowl of the thick meal stew that Nil handed him. He looked around at the others. Sheera sat quietly with Grimmel curled around her shoulders, the drake's eyes were lidded and Caleb could swear the little beast was purring. His gaze turned to Ikras, the big centaur nodded and continued eating. The minotaur made no move to acknowledge Caleb's presence as he ate and Ra'ma's attention was for her meal alone. Duulingknopf however was leering at Caleb in a manner that was all too disturbing to be comfortable so Caleb quickly looked elsewhere. So much for getting to know them. He turned his attention to the meaty gruel in his bowl and began to eat. It wasn't the best fair he'd ever had but nor was it the worst. It was certainly filling if somewhat bland. Besides him, Nil produced a small vial from a pouch at her hip and poured some of its contents into her own meal. She looked up at him and offered up the vial. "Honey?" He nodded his thanks as he took the vial and let several drops of the sweet fluid fall into his meal. Ikras held out his hand. "May I?" Caleb looked to Nil who nodded with a smile. "Of course." And so the vial of honey made the rounds around their stew pot, all but Ra'ma took some of the liquid until it reached Duulingknopf who sat and considered the vial for a long moment before his eyes widened and he puffed up like an irate bird. "BEES!" he declared thunderously. And with that, a swarm of the buzzing insects billowed forth from his ears and swarmed around his head angrily. Caleb shouted in alarm and jumped back as Ra'ma hissed and leapt away from the gnome angrily. The minotaur and Ikras both bellowed their distress and backed away from the scene snorting in terror. Only Sheera and Nil seemed unaffected by the gnome's lunacy, remaining seated by the stew pot as if nothing was amiss. Grimmel rested atop Sheera's shoulder, snapping at the buzzing insects in annoyance but showing no real signs of alarm. "Come on." Nil chided. "It's too early for that Master Duulingknopf." Duulingknopf puffed up his beard which turned a vibrant shade of blue and then the bees all burst into rose petals which fluttered down to the ground lightly around where he sat. Caleb looked at his upended bowl and scowled. So much for finishing breakfast. "I'll be taking Bracken ahead." he said in annoyance. "Grimmel will accompany you." Sheera said as she continued to eat. "As will I." Ikras said. "Anything to get away from the gnome." Caleb couldn't hide his smile as he turned to go with the centaur in tow. It was nice to know he wasn't the only one who found the little midget annoying. "You weren't going to leave without me, where you?" Nil chided as she joined them. Caleb blinked. Truth be told he'd completely forgotten about her. "No, never lass." he said quickly. "Come along." She smiled at him coyly before looking up at Ikras. "Are you going to fly too?" The centaur snorted and tossed his head. "Centaurs do not fly." He said this with such finality that Caleb couldn't help the memories as they flooded back to him from his childhood. They'd said a half-dwarf had no right to fly either. And yet he'd done so. He chuckled to himself as he remembered the shock that his rearing of Bracken had brought to his family. A tanner's son now a rider. Who'd have thought it? Bracken had eaten his fill of his feed bag and was resting quietly, with his head between his taloned forepaws. His ears perked up and his blue gaze fixed upon Caleb expectantly as they rejoined him. Caleb checked the feed bag and nodded approvingly. Bracken hadn't eaten a full half of the bag yet. If Sheera was to be believed then their destination was only a handful of days distance by foot...though they'd need to leave the High Way soon to get there. The Miithra hadn't extended the road to the north, it only joined their four major cities, Narsum to the south of Iskander, Adiea to the northeast and beyond that The Compass and further Argolys. Their destination was in the joiner of the Brumrach Ranges and The Seven Gates. What could possibly be in the Oskillian forest of interest to a thrice damned wood elf was beyond him. He'd grown up to the east of the forest, in the Free Holds where his parents yet lived. Perhaps once all this was over he'd return to them. It had been quite a time since he'd last been at home. He wondered if they'd still feel that he'd abandoned the family to become the rider he was now. Bah, it was a concern for another time. At the moment he had the immediate matter of deciding how best to deposit Nil so that she could ride with him. Eventually it was decided that she'd ride atop Bracken in Caleb's saddle until Bracken was ready for flight. Then Caleb would have to strap her in just in front of the saddle. It wouldn't be comfortable but it was either that or have her sit atop Bracken's saddlebags and such would never do. The three of them walked for a time, Ikras playing on his pipes as Nil sang. Much to Caleb's surprise, Bracken actually joined in the tune, whistling along in as close a semblance of music as a griffin could manage. It was rather touching Caleb had to admit and despite the lack of conversation he felt closer to both of his companions. In fact if not for the annoying presence of Grimmel high overhead it might have made for a pleasant morning. As it was, every time the shadow of the drake passed overhead Bracken would jerk his head around nervously despite the soothing music. Nil did her best to calm him but it was Caleb's gruff and gentle voice at his side which made him rest easy each time. Caleb wished he could take his sling and knock the vile little beast from the air but knew better than to risk provoking Sheera in such a manner. After a time Bracken began to grow restless, shaking his shoulders and haunches as he flexed his wings. Caleb patted Bracken's flank as he looked up at Nil. "It's about that time lass." Nil's face lit up brightly and she scooted forwards over the saddle's forward boarding as Caleb climbed into the saddle. He lengthened the straps and fixed him around her legs as he fitted his own feet into the stirrups. He'd ridden Bracken bareback on numerous occasions, especially when they were both younger, and had no fear of falling out. However Nil was another matter entirely. He'd never ridden with someone else, at least not anyone conscious. However he wasn't going to deny her the flight, he wasn't sure why, but he felt compelled to do so...it was a strange sensation and if he'd been more concerned about it he might have wondered at it. Caleb looked to Ikras. "Will ye be well on yer own?" Ikras nodded. "I have traveled the lands by myself before rider. I will wait here for the others and rejoin their company." "Right then." Caleb said. "Bracken!" The griffin let out a delighted cry and bounded forwards, his powerful muscles making Nil's added weight seemingly as naught as he leapt into the air and his wings beat furiously to gain altitude. Nil shrieked as Bracken suddenly dropped like a stone, clinging to Caleb's armor as the griffin fell and then rose again before circling in an ever widening ascending circle. When they'd finally gained an altitude that Caleb was pleased with he gave Bracken his reins and let the griffin do as he pleased. Nil for her part let go of Caleb with a sheepish smile. "Sorry, I didn't mean to panic." Caleb shook his head. "Is naught to be fearful of. Bracken and I won't let ye fall lass." She nodded and looked around, her eyes widening in wonderment. "This is amazing." "Aye, that it is." "It's like I'm...free." Nil whispered quietly, looking out over the vast rolling hills and the scattered woods. "Like the entire world is at my fingertips." "Aye." Caleb said heavily, she was saying almost exactly what he'd felt all those years ago when he'd first taken flight atop Bracken. The release from the ground was wondrous, though you had to conquer the fear at first and being a half-dwarf...well that fear was greater than most. Still he'd conquered it and the world had indeed become his. That was until he learned the grim realities of war. The wonder had gone out of the world to an extent then...but seeing Nil's excitement at the marvels of flight certainly served to warm his heart a good deal. Grimmel swooped past Bracken then and the griffin hissed in annoyance, his beak clicking out a warning to the pseudo-drake. Caleb twitched, again wishing to take his sling and knock the annoying little lizard from the air. "I don't think they like each other very much." Nil said with a slight smile. "And with good reason." Caleb snapped. "Little bastard keeps provoking Bracken like that I won't be responsible for the results." "Sheera said that he's poisonous though." Nil reminded him. Caleb sighed in annoyance. "So she did. Oh well, it's a pleasant thought." They stayed aloft for what must have been close to an hour before Nil tugged on his leg and pointed down towards the High Way, at the point where it peeled off to the east. "What is that?" Caleb focused his vision, squinting against the glare of the sun. Were those tents? He frowned and leaned back, rummaging in the small satchel attached to the backboard of the saddle. He produced a spyglass and popped it open, looking down at what appeared to be a campsite. "We'd better be getting back to the others." he said quietly. "Why? What's wrong?" Caleb's eyes narrowed as he handed Nil the spyglass and took up Bracken's reins once more. He wheeled the griffin around and headed back down the High Way. "They're armed." he said in reply. "Heavily." "Do you think they're a war party?" Nil asked, looking down behind them at the receding camp. "Not here." Caleb replied. "Riders are among the first to be sought out for a war. They're bandits most like, probably soldiers like me without work." "And so they camp by the High Way to extort travelers." Nil said quietly, her voice growing dark. "I hate that." Caleb considered for a moment before nodding in agreement. He hated it too. Men like that gave the honest soldier a bad name. Still, he couldn't fault them for trying to make a living in these times. Peace was hard on everyone.
Caleb strode through the city gate, glancing at the guards who eyed him warily. He couldn't say that he blamed them. After all, a fully armed and armored rider and griffin were intimidating to say the least. Granted given that by nature of the fact that Bracken had to be able to fly with all the gear the armor was relatively light. Only the griffin's breastplate and skullcap were iron. The rest was hardened leather reinforced with bronze barding. His own armor was equally light. Consisting of hardened studded leather. Over the years of constant fighting he'd acquired a shirt of chain mail to wear beneath the leather and a scale mail vest to wear on the exterior. The triple layered armor wasn't the strongest thing he could've worn but it protected Caleb well enough. He wore leather chaps with inlaid chain mail and iron plates covering his thighs and shins. He wore a simple iron skullcap to protect his balding pate. At his waist rested the long sword which he'd drawn on the elf bitch the day before. It was cumbersome to use one handed but in the air and even on the ground he needed its reach. There was no way around that simple truth. Bracken carried the ever present lance and javelins, the former being the length of fourteen feet, capable of reaching out and striking a foe easily while the javelins gave Caleb the ability to reach out further. He'd become quite good at striking down foes at distance with his thrown weapons, and also had a sling which he kept for when his supply of javelins had run out. He'd thought once of taking up the bow but he lacked the skill for such let alone strength of arm. A crossbow had been another option he'd considered but the price of the contraption and the bolts was too much to sustain. Especially out of wartime. In any case, the guards looked at each other and then back at him before they turned their attention to the next individual in the crowd of people leaving through the city's north gate. Iskander wasn't a large city but it occupied a crossroads of sorts. One of the continent's rare paved roadways leading from the southern tip of the Borleias Peninsula up the to the High Way ran through the city and the city was also the meeting point of the Aila and Twain rivers which merged to form the Gortia which flowed the length of the peninsula before meeting the sea beyond. So while it was not a large city, it was a prosperous one, and during the wars it had been the site of more than one siege. This was evidenced in the still unrepaired damage to the city walls which were still scored and chipped where projectile and spell had both left their marks. He passed out of the city gate and onto the roadway. He was unsure where the elf wanted him to meet her. He was still dubious about this job but he dared not endanger Bracken's life anymore than was already evidenced. He could not lose the great beast, he was not so much of a man that he'd not admit such to himself. Not after seven years of constant fighting with the griffin besides or beneath him. Bracken chirped curiously and cast his head towards a wooden covered wagon, a caravaners wagon of all things and a rather richly adorned one. It was the sort that wealthy merchants or vagabonds would use. The vagabonds being comprised of groups of drifting humans or orcs, traveling gnomes, or the wood elves. The intricate carvings upon its surfaces argued towards it being one of the last two The carvings were in an intricate tongue that Caleb couldn't even hope to decipher. He stopped, holding Bracken's reins tightly in his gloved fist as he surveyed the wagon and its company. The animal pulling it was a great red elk that seemed perfectly content to munch on the grass about its feet. However it was not the elk, nor its impressive rack of antlers that interested Caleb. It was the centaur, minotaur, and nidracaal that stood around the wagon that told him he was in the right place. There was also a young apparently human girl present with a gnome who seemed to be exploding himself into a bright shower of gold before reassembling itself, Caleb could never tell the males from the females, damned beards. Given the nature of their company, the two most normal members of the gathering, the girl and the gnome seemed to be the odd pair out even though both were far more common in this part of the continent. "Well, I suppose this must be it." Caleb grumbled, his grip tightening on Bracken's reins. The griffin for his part leaned forwards, clicking his beak pensively as his blue eyes examined the gathering. "Well lets go introduce ourselves." Bracken's feathers rippled as the griffin flexed its muscles. Caleb couldn't blame him for being nervous. None of these individuals seemed particularly friendly save perhaps the girl and the gnome. He still saw no sign of the wood elf but she could be inside the wagon for all he knew. As he approached the centaur rose from his sitting position and strode up to Caleb, the eight foot tall beastman looked down at Caleb inquiringly. "You are the griffin rider?" Caleb looked up at the centaur without batting an eyelash. "Nay, I'm the Hippogriff Express." The centaur's eyes narrowed and his hooved feet pawed the ground. "Do not test me human." Caleb surveyed the massive claymore across the centaur's back and the longbow strapped alongside the beastman's flank along with a quiver of arrows. The blue tattoos covering the centaurs face, torso, and body indicated one of the plainslands tribes. "Whats a centaur berzerker doing on the Borleias Peninsula?" Caleb asked. "That is my business human. You are the rider that the elf has enlisted, she will be pleased." Caleb glared. "I don't care much what pleases her. I ain't here willingly." The centaur glared at him, but then turned and walked back to the wagon where the minotaur sat. The second beastman was sharpening a nasty double-bladed war axe. The minotaur looked up as Caleb approached and Caleb took a good long look at the beastman's heavy armor that covered his hide. It was finely etched iron and the skullcap the beastman wore encased the entirety of his massive skull. Even his horns were tipped with iron which no doubt made them even more lethal in a charge. Caleb did not wish to face such a monster on any field let alone one of battle. Behind him Bracken chirped and clicked his beak in annoyance, crowing noisily in warning. Caleb turned, dropping the reins and laying his hand upon his sword. The nidracaal was standing besides Bracken, running its hand over the griffin's haunches. "I wouldn't be doing that." Caleb cautioned, his hand still on the hilt of his blade. The nidracaal turned to look at him, its piercing yellow gaze surveying him as its black fur rippled. "You are the rider of this beast?" "I ain't its nursemaid that's for sure." he replied. Now that he had a look to examine the nidracaal's appearance he realized that it was a woman. The front of her leather armor was rather obviously conformed to allow for a noticeable bosom. She strode over to him, her tail flicking from side to side. She stopped before him and looked down at him, Caleb had never been a very tall man and this woman was easily six foot of height, at least four inches taller than he was. He looked up at her defiantly, and then to his surprise she reached out a clawed hand and traced it over his armored chest. "You have a strong and noble heart...I will work with you." Without another word she strode past him and hopped atop one of the wheels of the wagon, perching there with her inhuman grace, completely natural among her feline species. Caleb shook his head. They were an odd group indeed. He glanced again at the gnome and girl, wondering what they'd be like. The gnome had stopped blowing himself into gold dust and was now looking at Caleb from behind his great bushy red beard, his bright black eyes twinkling excitedly. He marched forwards and stuck out his hand. "Duulingknopf." he barked harshly. Caleb blinked and looked at the girl who shrugged with a smile. "It's his name." "Caleb, Griffin Rider." he replied, taking the gnome's diminutive hand. It was an awkward shake, the gnome wasn't very strong to begin with and that the top his head barely passed Caleb's thigh made it all the stranger. "Pleasure to meet you." Duulingknopf replied as his beard changed from red to blue. Caleb barely had the chance to adjust to this sudden change before the gnome puffed up like a farmyard fowl and exploded in a burst of sand, leaving behind a scent of onions. Caleb stood there mutely, staring at the scattering sand that had been the gnome moments before. The girl was doing her best to hide her obvious mirth as she stood and walked over to him. "You haven't seen many gnomes, have you." Caleb shook his head. "Avoid them usually." She nodded. "Most people do. They're not," she frowned for a moment, canting her head to the side. "Not like most races I suppose is a good way to put it." Caleb nodded dubiously, surveying the girl's short cropped blonde hair and short leather skirt and vest. It was hardly the sort of clothing that any seemly young woman would wear yet she wore it easily and without shame. "Entertainer?" he inquired. She nodded with a bright smile. "I sing and dance mostly." she stamped her animal hide shoes and the bracelets around her ankles jingled merrily. "And other things from time to time." she added with a playful smile. "How old are ye?" Caleb asked dubiously. "Nineteen years this harvest." the girl replied. "Don't give me some speech about how I'm sinful or something like that." there was a sudden edge in her tone now that made her seem older. "I've heard it all before. At least I don't make my living killing others." The centaur snorted. "Nil speaks her mind well. I too had issue with such a young girl making her living in such a manner." "And I told you off too Ikras." she replied hotly. Caleb looked between the pair of them. "You know each other?" "We've been traveling with Sheera for a moon now." replied the girl, Nil, apparently. "You, Ra'ma back there," she pointed at the perched nidracaal. "And Duulingknopf are the newest members of our little band." "The last members." interjected an unwelcome yet familiar voice from the rear of the wagon. Sheera strode around the wagon and joined their party, her eyes surveying Caleb who took a step towards Bracken protectively. "I see that you made yourself ready before the settled time. Good. I respect promptness." "I have no need for yer praise." snapped Caleb. "What's this business of yers?" "I told you yesterday rider. We seek a High Elf ruin in the northern wastes of Vagre at the base of the Seven-Gates within the Oskillian Forest." The minotaur had stopped sharpening his axe and was watching Sheera intently with his bovine eyes while the rest of the party did likewise, all were intent upon her person. Even Caleb was listening intently, though mostly because to not heed her was to risk her wrath. There was a shrill cry and all of them looked up as a miniature drake alighted upon Sheera's shoulder. It coiled its tail around her arm and leaned forwards towards Caleb with a menacing hiss. Sheera stroked it soothingly and the small creature nuzzled against her cheek affectionately. "Thank you Grimmel." she looked back at Caleb who was eying her dubiously. "This is my pseudo-drake, Grimmel. He and I share a connection, much like you do with your Bracken." Caleb's eyes narrowed. "Then ye'll be understanding if I strangle the beast." Sheera's expression twitched in annoyance. "I hope that we may eventually come to understand one another rider. Until then, do not forget that you are contracted and your griffin's life hangs in the balance." Caleb nodded. He needed no reminding. Sheera looked around at the other members of the party, frowning. "Where is the gnome?" "Pudding!" exploded Duulingknopf as he erupted from the ground nearby, startling the red elk which reared and pined in alarm. Sheera sighed and looked to Nil. "I trust that you can keep him amused?" The girl nodded with an eager smile. "I can do that." The minotaur, who still remained unnamed as far as Caleb could tell, stood and began to move off. Ikras nodded and followed after him. Sheera looked around at the remaining members of their band. "You are all welcome to ride upon the wagon or walk as you please." she looked to Caleb. "I assume that you will not wish to do so given your mistrust of me." Caleb held up a hand. "Before we head out. My payment." She nodded in turn. "I thought as much." she produced a purse from within her robes. "As promised." Caleb took it and strapped it to his belt, returning to Bracken's side and swinging atop the griffin's broad back. Bracken took the weight and flexed his sinuous muscles beneath Caleb's thighs before following after Ikras and the minotaur. Caleb didn't wait to see if the wagon followed them onto the road north, but a moment later he heard the pining cry of the elk and the trundling sound of the wagon wheels. He looked forwards towards the horizon, wondering what lay ahead of him and if this would be any better than another war.
Their party made good progress that first day. Caleb had never worked closely with either of the taurian races, however he'd heard stories of their amazing stamina and much to his shame they exceeded even Bracken's steady and inexhaustible pace. The others of course rode with the wagon...except for the gnome who sometimes floated alongside it and at other times vanished all together only to reappear somewhere up ahead waiting for the group to arrive. The centaur in particular seemed to take great offense to Duulingknopf which seemed only to encourage the gnome to further acts of depravity. He even buzzed past Bracken once during the journey yelling: "DUUUUU!" as he flashed by. The poor griffin had jerked and hissed in agitation and it was all Caleb could do not to take a try with his sling at knocking the gnome from the air. Thankfully the rest of the party was more tolerable. Ikras proved to have a musical side to him, producing a set of the pipes that his people were famous for and playing a soothing tune to ease the nerves brought about by the gnome. Duulingknopf seemed to enjoy the music because once the centaur started playing the obnoxious gnome finally stopped buzzing around and settled down on top of the wagon where he rocked in time to the tune merrily. Then Nil had surprised Caleb further when she'd asked Ikras to play a certain song and had begun to sing. It had made for a very pleasant passage of time. The nidracaal, Ra'ma, remained within the wagon, apparently asleep while the minotaur walked ahead of the group wordlessly. If the great beast had a name, he gave no mention of it and nor did any of the others. Caleb left it well alone, after all he was not one to pry into the affairs of others where such was not needed. He kept a wary eye on Sheera who rode at the wagon's front with Nil besides her. The pseudo-drake Grimmel circled high overhead and from time to time Sheera would look up at it and nod as if in conversation with it though no words passed between them. Caleb would not put it past the elf to be using some sort of foul magic that enabled her to speak with the little beast as easily as if it were besides her. Magic wasn't new to Caleb, however it was normally restrained and contained within mage's guilds which were guarded by paladins or templars with warded weapons and armor so that they could keep the mages in check. However to have an elf, and a wood elf no less, wielding magic and commanding beasts triggered so many cultural alarms that it was all he could do not to call upon the Holy Trinity to smite the bitch. The only thing that kept him from doing so was the knowledge that Bracken's life hung in the balance. He didn't know what the woman had done to his precious mount, only that she'd made it very clear that Bracken's life would end if she were to come to harm. He didn't doubt her. Seeing the other members of their party he had to wonder how she'd managed to coerce each of them to follow her. He couldn't imagine how she'd managed to draw such a diverse party together. Perhaps the most baffling members of their small cadre were Duulingknopf and Nil. Ikras and the Minotaur had obvious abilities, as did Caleb himself. Even Ra'ma's purpose was obvious, the Nidracaal were famed for their stealth, and Caleb did not doubt that she made her living as a thief if not an assassin. However the girl and gnome seemed to serve no purpose, unless Nil intended to entertain Caleb and the others while the gnome...did whatever it was he did. Such thoughts occupied his thoughts for a good portion of that morning and it wasn't until well past midday that he realized just how far they'd come. Or that Bracken was pining to spread his wings and fly. Griffins could travel overland but unlike their cousins, hippogriffs, they preferred flying to walking and needed to fly at least once a day otherwise they became cagey. Something that Caleb had learned the hard way. He still bore the scars from Bracken's tantrums when they were both younger and before Caleb knew better. "I'm taking Bracken up." he called to no one in particular. "Grimmel will keep an eye on you. Do not stray far." Sheera said in response. Caleb grimaced and scowled at her. "It ain't my fault if Bracken eats the little bastard." "I would hope he wouldn't." Sheera replied with a cruel smile. "Grimmel is poisonous." Caleb said nothing, turning his attention to Bracken, stroking the griffin's feathered neck gently. "Alright, ye can go now." Bracken gave a delighted chirp and bounded forwards with a great leap before his powerful hind legs kicked off the ground. His wings snapped open and beat wildly as he fought for height. Caleb leaned forwards against Bracken's back, his body surging with adrenaline as he relaxed his muscles and rode the rippling of Bracken's sinuous muscles beneath his body. Once Bracken had gained some height his wings again snapped back against his flanks and dove before his wings unfurled once more, catching and carrying him higher. Now that they were truly airborne, Caleb leaned back as Bracken glided about above the others. He looked down and smiled at the small figures of his companions. He looked up and around at the scenery. To the north the High Way stretched out to the horizon. To the south the High Way again stretched out back to Iskander which was beyond view. To the East and West stretched grasslands with scattered groves of trees broken with small waterways. This was why Caleb loved to fly, the feeling that the world was at his fingertips. True that flying and fighting was what earned him a wage with which to pay his dues, but it was the escape from the earthbound fate of the other races. There was a freedom that few could experience. The realm of flight was held by few among the sentient species. The riders were of course those that rode griffins, hippogriffs, wyverns, and even pegasi and drakes though the last two were rare as few could tame either. Among that singular group there was a certain camaraderie that transcended politics. There had been several occasions when he'd refused to finish off an opponent, understanding the bond shared between rider and mount and refusing to inflict that pain upon another. Of course he'd still fought them to a standstill and forced them to give the sky over to himself and his fellows but that didn't mean he wanted them dead. It was all a matter of making a living. He remained aloft for the remainder of the day as the wagon continued to trundle along below. The little pseudo-drake did indeed follow them about while they wheeled in the air although it kept a good distance from Bracken who snapped at it warningly whenever it drew too near. The little creature seemed to be intent on watching them only, though Caleb did not doubt that it was capable of more than merely observing them if the wood elf required it. Granted he'd never seen a pseudo-drake but he'd heard that they were sometimes used as focuses for mages and the like. Seeing what Sheera had already proven she could do, Caleb did not doubt that Grimmel served a similar purpose for the wood elf. As the sun began to dip towards the horizon, the wagon pulled off the High Way and Caleb nudged Bracken in a slowly descending spiral. "Alright, back down with ye." he said with a glance at Grimmel who stayed above them. The little creature was either stupid or trying to provoke Bracken. Aerial creatures didn't like having something above them. It was a blind spot and signified dominance and vulnerability. If not for the trust and training shared between Bracken and Caleb, he had no doubt the griffin would have torn the pseudo-drake to pieces in a heartbeat. As it was, the griffin kept twisting its head around to keep the little creature in view. "Shhh." soothed Caleb as he stroked the griffin's neck. "It's alright, just a little bastard over yer head. He won't hurt ye." Bracken chirped in irritation and they descended with the sun, circling the campsite that the others had set up below. They alighted on the ground with a trot, Caleb dismounted from Bracken and stroked the griffin's head fondly. For his part, Bracken pressed his head against Caleb's chest, nuzzling him with great affection and crooning softly in response to Caleb's gentle strokes. "There, that wasn't so bad now was it." Bracken chirped happily and placed Caleb's hand in his beak, tugging on it with a series of low whines as Caleb laughed and rubbed the griffin's head affectionately. "There now, ye great ball of fluff, all better now ain't ye?" "Excuse me." Caleb turned to find Nil watching him intently, her hands clasped behind her back as she leaned forwards with a hesitant smile. "Can I be helping ye?" he asked gruffly. She ducked her head slightly. "I'm sorry to bother you, I just wanted to ask if I could touch him...he's very beautiful." Caleb looked at Bracken who had released his arm by now and was studying Nil curiously. "Would ye like to feed him?" Nil's eyes lit up and she nodded emphatically. "Yes, yes I would!" Caleb smiled at the young woman's elation and nodded back towards the wagon. "Go see if the wood elf has a bucket then." He watched as she ran off, her anklets clinking together as she left. Looking back to Bracken he found the griffin's ears twitching back and forth at the sound of the jingling. His eyes were wide as he watched Nil go and Caleb had to laugh. "What? Fallen in love have ye?" Bracken clicked his beak together with a thudding sound and let out a low whine as he butted against Caleb's chest. Caleb laughed. "Oh I know, I love ye too ye big git." Nil returned then with the required bucket, it looked like it was used to feed livestock. It would certainly do for Bracken though. He walked around to Bracken's flank and the saddle bags there. He produced the feed, ground meat, seed, and honey all mashed into a thick viscous mixture. The bad was lined with wax to keep the stuff from sticking to the inside. He unstrapped this particular bag and walked back to Nil. "Here, take a handful of this and hold it out for him." "Like this?" she asked as she reached into the bag. "Ych, it's sticky." "He loves it." Caleb said with a smirk, holding Bracken's reins lest he leap at the girl. The griffin was getting very excited and Caleb didn't want Nil to come to harm because Bracken was acting like a cub. "Use both hands." he chided. Nil did so, lifting out a great glob of the feed which she held out for Bracken. Caleb let go of the reins, placing a steadying hand on the beast's flank as he dove his beak into the wet mass in Nil's hands. "Mind ye don't lose a finger." he said. "Keep yer hands flat." Nil nodded, her gaze never leaving Bracken as he continued to feed from her avidly, picking away at the mass of meal she held up for him. When he'd finally finished he moved forwards and his tongue lashed out, lapping at Nil's arms which brought on a rash of giggling from her. "It tickles!" she shrieked in delight as Bracken licked at the residue covering her skin. "Here, don't eat her ye oaf." Caleb chided, kicking the feed bag. "That's yer food." Bracken nuzzled against Nil, letting out a low rumble of pleasure as she wrapped her arms around his head and stroked the plumage on the back of his head. "He's really quite beautiful." she murmured as she stepped back and let the griffin eat which Bracken did with gusto. "Will you have enough feed for him?" "I have another bag of this, he'll only eat about a third of each bag when he gets hungry. When we run out I'll let him hunt." Caleb said with a shrug. "Does the elf have meat in her wagon?" Nil nodded. "Some." Caleb smirked darkly. "Then perhaps I'll take some of my pay out of her stores as well." Nil frowned. "You really don't like Sheera." "I have little reason to." Caleb replied dubiously. "She's a damned wood elf for starters, and she threatened to kill Bracken if I didn't come with ye on this mad quest of hers." "I'm sure she has her reasons." Nil said quietly after a moment as she stroked Bracken's side gently. "She means well...and she is a little odd I admit." Caleb snorted at Nil's understatement. "If we're caught in her presence we could all be burned as heretics." Nil stood up on her tip toes and leaned across Bracken which caused the griffin to pause for a moment and look back at her inquisitively before going back to his meal. "They'd do that to me anyways." she said with a wicked grin. "I'm beyond saving...that or they'd put me in a monastery as a nun." she made a face. "I'd rather be burned." Caleb looked at her in disbelief. "Ye'd rather be burned than be a holy sister?" Nil stuck her tongue out. "I love my freedom very dearly...plus I'm not a virgin anymore." she added playfully. "And in any case, the church is just a bunch of nobles trying to scare people away from magic." "They exist for a reason, they protect us from those that would abuse their curse." Caleb said darkly. Nil's demeanor became less merry as she shrugged. "I guess, I don't think Sheera is that bad and Duulingknopf is great fun." Caleb looked over towards the campsite, atop the wagon the gnome was puffing on an overly large pipe, where he'd produced it from was beyond Caleb's imagining, and he was blowing multicolored smoke rings into the air where they'd proceed to fly about chasing one another before vanishing. As Caleb watched, the gnome had a trio of rings settle down around one of the minotaurs horns. Nil saw it as well because she giggled. "See?" Caleb said nothing as his eyes settled on Sheera who sat by the fire stroking her pseudo-drake which sat in her lap like some pampered cat. "I suppose." he murmured absently. "Hey." Nil said suddenly, poking him in the arm. He turned to look at her. "Will you take me up with you tomorrow?" Caleb blinked in surprise. "Ye want to ride with me?" Nil nodded emphatically. "Yep, may I? Please?" He considered her for a moment, and then looked to Bracken who had apparently finished eating as he shook himself and flopped down, very nearly sitting on Caleb's foot in the process. What would it hurt? He'd be up there with her after all. "It's done. Ye can come up with us." Nil's face brightened. "Thank you, I'll think of some way to pay you back, promise." Caleb must have looked scandalized because Nil laughed merrily, covering her face with her hands as she giggled. "No silly, not like that, I mean a dance or song or something like that...unless you want that of course." Now Caleb knew he was scandalized and Nil seemed to know it too as she hopped back to the campfire, still giggling in her mirth at his expense. He looked to Bracken who was regarding him quietly. "Just what have we gotten ourselves into?" Bracken chirped and settled down, closing his eyes without another sound. Caleb snorted and shook his head, settling down against the Griffin's flank and looking up at the night sky. What indeed.
A Wasteland Melody: Or, A 1983 Doomsday Tale through a Nation's Eyes.
Somewhere near the Sopron Frontier. 2009.
The cold November winds coursed through the empty cottage as Austria let his hands recreate Mozart's brilliance from the myriad piano keys. He no longer wondered when he first started this peculiar ritual, out here at the very fringes of not only the Alpine Confederation but also of civilized life in Mitteleuropa. He knew that the proud men patrolling the still irradiated borders who heard it at the very least considered it a relief from the dreary reality of their watch. And yet deep down, he knew that he was playing for an old love he hoped against hope was still out there in the wastes. Not since Doomsday, he thought bitterly as the notes grew more disjointed. That he was in what had once been Hungary's doorstep made it all the more difficult.
He could still vividly remember that day in 1983 when the world nearly ended. When at long last, America and the Soviet Union finally decided to wipe each other out along with large parts of humanity. When the bomb fell on Vienna. How after years of hardship, he, Switzerland and Liechtenstein formed the partnership that was the Confederation and became the most powerful force in Central Europe, as much as he tolerated the siblings' close intimacy. How for a time they saw themselves as the last surviving remnants of the old world before a strangely rejuvenated Prussia came crashing in their side of the Continent, which he appreciated as much as he denied it. But if he were truly honest, his mind seemed to go back to Hungary, desperately trying to recreate her in the same way his music could invoke Brahms.
Why now? In his memories, he could still hear his beloved Elizaveta's voice. The beauty of her culture. The warmth of her body. The precious moments spent with her. In hindsight, the separations that were Versailles and Yalta seemed to pale to the nuclear hell that came not long after. They had promised to meet each other in secret the night before Doomsday. He had been buying edelweiss in a market outside Vienna when the bombs fell. The bouquet was long gone, but the scars were still there on his skin. I never even got to say goodbye... He felt his hands banging wildly on the piano. You can't be dead, right?! You're stronger than this! Damn them all, please hear me!
"Herr Edelstein?" Austria turned to find his young, though robust assistant nervously waiting by the door, gasping for air and his uniform ragged. He carried what appeared to be a freshly sealed military-grade container. "Have...I interrupted something?"
"Nothing at all, Franz," the aristocrat replied with an emotionless tone that seemed forced than measured. At least your people's children are safe. "Though I take that it is of importance to interfere with my privacy?"
"Ja. The expedition just returned, and... I think you should see this." He hurriedly placed the box by the study table and proceeded to unlock the lid. As he switched the lamp on, the contents became clear for the Nation to see: Shreds of laced clothing and what appeared to be a rotted flower that used to grow around Lake Balaton, a few strands of hair still attached to it.
"Where did you find this?" the Nation asked, briskly standing up. "Where?!"
"It..it was found by some ruins not very far from here. In miraculous condition too, though there was no corpse found there. To think that we overlooked it after all this time..."
The Nation's mind no longer seemed to listen as Franz continued to describe their findings. In his head, he was screaming at God or any deity who was listening. He wanted so much to get revenge at the monsters who took his dear Hungary away. To make them all suffer, whether or not Alfred or Ivan were even alive now. To somehow turn the clock back just to see her one more time.
But in the end, a few teardrops fell on the flower. The wind continued blowing.
"I missed her..."
"I meant that it would be best that I keep this container for now," Austria said in a barely composed monotone. "That will be all. Danke." As soon as he was sure that the man's footsteps had faded away, he brought the box towards the piano, placing it right alongside him. For a very brief moment, it almost seemed as though he sensed the air of the Hungarian plains and the faintest hint of a whisper. A weak, lopsided smile crossed the Nation's face as he readied his hands for another piece.
Here's a one-shot outright crossover fic between Hetalia and 1983: Doomsday ( [link] ), focusing on the Austrian part of the Alpine Confederation ( [link] ) and one particular "close frontier." For those of you who are curious, there's some AustriaxHungary and implied SwitzerlandxLiechtenstein present here, along with some last-minute (and careless typo-removing) edits.
As an aid, Versailles refers to the real world treaty that not only formalized the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary (among others) but also helped set the stage for World War 2. Yalta meanwhile refers to the conference that practically gave the Soviets domination over Eastern Europe after 1945 and helped set the stage for the Cold War.
The timeline itself is on a post-apocalyptic world rebuilding itself after the Cold War goes hot in 1983. It's mentioned as well that while a number of countries survived such as Australia, Japan and the Nordic lands, others like England and France had crumbled away, while others still like Belgium and Portugal were practically wiped off the map. And Hungary happened to be one of the latter....
Apologies in advance if it comes off as really bittersweet or painful. but I hope you enjoy!
I neither own Hetalia nor 1983: Doomsday. All rights belong to their respective owners.
Austria/Alpine Confederation: A Wasteland Melody (Revised/Final Version): [link] A New Symphony for the Wastes (First Version): [link] A Symphony for a New World (Finalized Version): [link] A New Meeting for Old Rivals: [link] One Unexpected Day: [link] (Part 1/2) One Unexpected Day: [link] (Part 2/2 END) A Wasteland Memorial: [link] (Doomsday Future)
America: An American Twilight: [link] (Doomsday Prologue)
This was the inspiration of another poem I wrote. That work was longer than this one and the only reason it was written was because I lost the scrap of paper I had written this on. This is my prayer in its simplest form. I'm glad I found it so I could put it down somewhere.