The wind gently pushed freshly fallen snow over the dunes in the small valley. It was peaceful, and quiet, and very barren. The only sound made was the hooves from a pair of horses that traveled the winding trails that would lead to this part of the valley. The trails were light, mind you. For they weren’t traveled very often. Only those with purpose came here.
Both riders pulled their cloaks tightly around their shoulders to ward off any of the cold that did come through. Hoods were pulled up, casting their faces in shadow. The valley was peaceful, however, it was still cold. So there was a little shock when they saw one lone figure, dressed as though he were comfortable in the cold. He wore robes that flowed elegantly about his frame. His silver wings seemed to stand proudly on his back, just as his raven hair flowed lightly in the wind. One hand gripped a halberd that he seemed to use like a walking stick.
“You are here for the ceremony?” he asked of the riders.
One of the pair, a taller figure, pushed back her hood. Shani Wennemein’s hair flowed in the wind just as the mysterious figures did. “I am, yeah,” she replied with some reservation.
“You will dismount and follow me,” he said as he lifted the halberd from the ground and lay it over his shoulder. Both riders began to dismount, and the man held up a hand. “Just you, Shani. Pania will stay here. This is a ceremony for dragon borne, and not for elven eyes.”
Shani looked to Pania with an apologetic look in her eyes. Pania merely shrugged and smiled. “Dunna worry. I’ll stay here with the horses.” Shani offered a small smile and nodded before turning to walk in the direction the winged man was pointing toward. Wordlessly, Shani strode past him, catching sight of a cave entrance, adorned with an elaborate gate and lit with torches. As Shani drew closer to the entrance, the man turned his attention back to Pania.
“I’ve heard of you,” he stated. “You don’t have to stay here, you know. But I have a feeling that you will. Wanting to chronicle some event for future generations?” This last he said with some spite, evident he had no use for bards.
“Shani’s me friend,” Pania Alow replied. “We’ve ridden t’gether fer the better part o’ a century. When she died, her soul were bound ta me. I nearly were driven mad b’cause o’ it, but I held me course, an’ did what I were asked ta do. I may not have the right ta enter that dwellin’, but I’ve earned the right ta support me friend.”
The man simply nodded, studying Pania for a moment before moving off toward the cave. “Be on your guard, Pania,” he called back without looking. “There are creatures in the mountains that would not be so inviting of your presence as we dragon borne are.” He never said another word as he continued on the path, and Pania never asked anything else of the man. She may have traveled with her partner and friend, and her part of the journey was now done. But she would stand here until the time when Shani would return and need a friend to begin a new journey.
Shani’s eyes adjusted to the sudden change in light and looked about the small entryway. One would never believe that this was some cave carved into the rock face of a mountain. It was as regal and ornate as any Stonebridge Magistrate’s home. Books lined the shelves of one wall, that seemed to reach up to the ceiling. An ornately carved staircase sat beyond a small seating area where two chaise lounges and a couple of comfortable chairs sat. The fire from torches made the shadows dance across the walls in soothing manners. Up the stair case, Shani could see another room, and caught sight of figures taking their seats.
“If you would come this way, please,” the man who greeted them before said as he didn’t stop walking toward the stair case. He looked out of place in this dwelling. He looked more like a warrior who longed for battle, but his mannerism and his eyes spoke differently.
“What’s… what’s yer name?” Shani called out as she began to follow him. “I mean, what do I call ya?”
The man turned and smiled softly. He seemed amused how quickly Shani went from asking his name to merely asking for something to call him. “I suspect you don’t want to just say ‘hey you’ all the time.” He chuckled lightly. “You may call me Elessar Melwasúl. It means dragon borne, quite literally.” He stopped as they reached the entrance to the meeting room. Elessar held out a hand and offered Shani to enter.
The elven gunslinger nodded her thanks and stepped inside. This meeting room was just as ornate. Circular in shape, there were six doorways that lead into it aside from the massive double doors that stood as it’s entrance. More books lined the walls, only rising eight feet tall. The walls of the room seemed to curve above the bookcases creating a dome. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling, and the light played across the well crafted images carved into the walls of the dome.
Five other figures sat around the large table in the middle of the room. Two women, three men. Shani’s eyes drifted to one woman, her ebony skin a contrast to the white hair, white lips and white finger nails. Her red eyes seemed to glow with an inner light. While her appearance seemed sinister, there was a feeling of calm and serenity about her. The woman looked directly to Shani, and she smiled softly. Shani tried to smile back in return and offered an awkward wave.
She looked to each person in kind and smiled broadly as she recognized one larger man. Daeron of Dorthonion, first mate of the galleon The Red Rose. “Um, could I sit over there?” Shani asked meekly, pointing out a seat beside Daeron.
“Of course, Shani,” the ebony woman announced with a pleasant voice. “This meeting isn’t to interrogate, but to welcome. Please feel as comfortable as you need.” Shani nodded her thanks and moved to sit beside Daeron.
“I thought you were out at sea,” she said with a quiet whisper to Daeron.
“Captain Falcon knew of this meeting, I told him about it,” Daeron replied. “He sailed to the nearest port and gave the men shore leave. I do recall he audibly grumbled about it, but you know Falcon.”
“Has ta hide his feelin’s under a gruff overcoat, yeah, I know all ’bout him,” she said with a nod.
One dragon borne stood from his seat. He was old, and most likely one of the first dragon borne on Terra-Kal. His eyes gazed upon each person in the room as he began to speak. “It is not often when a newly borne is entered into this world, but we cannot deny that Shani Wennemein is just that.” He turned his full attention to Shani, his auburn wings stretching slightly as he turned his body. “This is not a trial, Shani. We are here to invite you to stay with us. In the end it will be your choice, but we wish that you hear us out.”
Pania finished digging out a small pit into the snow and filled it in with some wood. She carefully place a circle of rocks around it, something more practical in a forest, but it came from a force of habit. She took her main gauche and began striking it against her whetstone to create a fire, stopping only to watch as her small pixie, Verit, stood on one of the rocks and began a familiar incantation. Even with Verit’s diminutive speech, Pania could recognize the hand gestures. Soon enough, a small fire began to rise in the dry tinder.
“Careful, luv,” Pania cautioned. “We’re not certain how magic used will be welcomed in this place. It may be seen as offensive if we dunna ask permission first.” Verit protested in her usual manner, pointing at Pania, and then at the fire, and then toward the cave. “Aye, ye are right. I suppose I could have asked first.” She sighed as she sat cross legged before the growing fire. “Well, what’s done is done. At least ye got us a good fire ta keep warm by.” Pania smiled as the pixie took a regal bow as though she were ending a performance at some play. “Here,” Pania offered as she took out a small wrapped bundle. “Ye gonna catch yer death o’ cold. Have yer warm ups, and then come sit in me lap.” Verit clapped as she unwrapped the bundle and began to dress. Smaller versions of what Pania would generally wear, once Verit was dressed she looked like a tiny version of the elven bard. Right down to the rapier at her hip.
Verit slapped her right hip, then pointed to Pania’s hip, indicating the pistol she wore. “When Smith an’ Wesson can manufacture pixie size pistols, ye’ll get one. ‘Til then, ye’ll have ta settle on just havin’ ye rapier.” Verit huffed and stomped over to Pania’s boot, plopping down heavily as she sat, arms crossed staring into the fire. “I know, luv. ‘Tis a vicious transgression that Earth alchemists an’ tinkerers dunna have the capability ta craft pixie sized weapons,” Pania gently teased with a smile. Verit merely looked over her shoulder and stuck her tongue out, causing Pania to chuckle lightly.
Behind them, the two horses nibbled away on some hay Pania had set down for them. They brought the bundle, not knowing if there was any grass for them in the snow covered valley. Aphrodite, a pure white horse that had come to Pania directly as a part of the bard’s own quest for enlightenment, lifted her head and cocked her ears. She heard something, and chuffled lightly to alert Pania.
Pania turned and looked at first to Aphrodite, then to the direction the noble steed was looking in. Her left hand gripped her rapier’s scabbard, and she spoke in a determined voice as she saw three dots in the distance. “Be on guard, Verit. Aphrodite sees somethin’. An’ I b’lieve that we’re ’bout ta see what that lad mentioned earlier.”
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