Genni, hands resting on her knees as she stoops over Treen’s shoulder, glances up at me. “How goes things, Mr Bear?”
My head is still ringing. Whilst up in the air, travelling by hot air balloon had seemed a graceful means of crossing Tyria and afforded spectacular views – all of which have mostly been battered from my memory by our attempts at a landing. Those in the basket had decided that it would be impossible to land in the Vigil keep and so elected, amongst themselves, to put us down just north of Lion’s Arch in an area known as Gendarran Fields – apparently it was the safer option, not to mention far muddier. Once I had known of their plan – a hasty last minute advisory scream from Genni – by curling my arm up I was able to save our captive, Agnon, from the worst of the landing. The ground had approached at an alarming rate and only a deft twist at the last moment had meant that my back made contact first, where I then bounced before coming down again. The feedback system went into overdrive as I careened across the landscape like a flat stone across a lake and eventually I had passed out.
It turned out that those in the basket had not had it quite so easy either, but Treen unable to stay his gratitude had, for the first half an hour after landing, praised my efforts as a land-born anchor and promptly volunteered to clean all of the mud out of my joints; yet time eschews the past and like all bad memories that is all they will ever be.
“He’s fine,” snaps Treen. “I’m the one up to my elbows in muck and grease.”
“I am fine,” I agree. There is little point in adding my own list of complaints and with Treen grumbling away it is almost starting to feel about as close to normal as I think I will get for now.
“The area seems safe enough.” Sadhira approaches, stepping cautiously over and around deep furrows in the mud. “I’ve dealt with the balloon and I cut free some of the silk; we should be able to use that to fashion a sling for your friend.”
Everyone turns to observe the still form of the muddy and unconscious Agnon.
“Perhaps,” Sadhira continues, “you…” She looks at me and I realise that we have never really been properly introduced. Sadhira reddens as the rest of the group turn, waiting for her to continue.
“Asbjorn,” I offer to save her from further embarrassment.
“Or, Mr Bear,” adds Genni helpfully, clearly aware of the woman’s discomfort and quick to make light of the situation.
Sadhira nods. “Perhaps Asbjorn would be able to carry him using the sling?”
“Excellent idea.” Genni walks over to the woman and offers a hand to take the cut of balloon silk. Sadhira seems relieved to be doing something other than being the subject of attention, and whilst Treen returns to scooping muck from my joints, both Genni and Sadhira set to tending the unconscious Agnon.
I close my eyes to the world, trying to ignore Treen’s probing and prodding, which sends stuttering jolts of feedback that set me on edge, a sensation that does not feel altogether quite right. I do wonder if the crash landing has damaged something, but I doubt that the asura engineer will be able to do much out here, and besides, I have had enough of being tinkered with over the course of the last few days.
With my eyes closed, or as Treen would say ocular input disabled, sound becomes prominent. The day sets about its course, bringing night ever closer and bird songs call across the plains; a lone, warbling performance from somewhere across the wind-brushed grass is acknowledged and hailed with an equally melodious ditty and the conversation passes this way, with only the occasional interruption from another bird, for some time. I wonder what they are talking about. Not the lands to the north and the centaur raids that I can hear Sadhira and Genni quietly discussing as they tend to Agnon, nor the faint bitter smell that drifts from the south, of Lion’s Arch and its own battles with a mysterious person named Scarlet.
“That will have to do.” Treen looks tired as he steps away from his work, wiping his hands. “Without a suitable cleaning solution, a power jet and a good greasing, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do.”
“Thank you, Treen.”
He dismisses my gratitude with a wave. “With any luck, anything that may have got between the joints will be ground to dust; let’s just hope none of the seals or bearings are contaminated.”
I stand amongst all of them as we prepare to set out for the keep. Treen manages to find a little stream and cleans himself off whilst Genni and Sadhira secure the still form of Agnon, now bundled in the material used from the balloon, across my back.
Finally we are underway and heading east with the plan to eventually pick up a well used trail that runs north from Lion’s Arch and leads to the Vigil keep.
“It will take us a few days to reach the keep,” states Sadhira. “The way should be relatively safe; there are few centaur raids this far south in the Fields.”
“What about Lion’s Arch?” asks Genni.
“What about it?” Sadhira responds.
“Aren’t we in some danger from whatever is attacking the city?”
“I have no idea.” Even though she responds to Genni, Sadhira seems to direct the response at the air and Genni, sensing the human’s reticence, glances at me and shrugs.
I wonder if Sadhira does not want to be with us right now. Her aloofness had always seemed to me purely because she felt uncomfortable in my company, which I have only ever assumed is because of my unusual nature – a golem possessed by a norn. But then you know what they say about assumption: never assume you are the only one hunting the deer.
I had never considered that Sadhira is only doing this as a favor to William and Amber, and now because of chance alone, she is stuck with us. Certainly her response to Genni was not rude, but clearly she would have been unable to prepare for our current situation – but then it takes one to know one.
As the sun sets, an orange glow rises in the south, a concentrated penumbra pinpointing Lion’s Arch to serve as a reminder to us all that we are not the only story of misplaced futures; even though we head east, Sadhira is constantly glancing south, her pale skin reflecting the far-off fires and her eyes, her eyes are set with duty.
My mind settles on the mundane and the passing landscape, and it is not long before our – I now believe – unwilling leader calls a halt. The last vestiges of sunlight pick out an old hay barn that looks as if it has long since been abandoned – to what I do not know, but it seems sound enough to provide us with shelter for the night.
Sadhira and Genni, after removing Agnon from my back, set about making a fire and Treen examines my joints, squinting in the poor light. “You seem fine,” he murmurs before going to sit by the fire.
“We have no food,” states Genni. “Nothing.”
Sadhira gives the barn a cursory look as if hoping perhaps to find a handy sack of corn.
“I’m hungry,” complains Treen, his chin resting on his hands as he stares into the fire.
I feel like I need to say something, something that will provide a measure of comfort. “We are all displaced.”
No one says anything; everyone just stares at the fire.
“Rock calls with a heart of stone,
The heart of home that was born of me.
Lost to me upon the fiery sea
I am never going home
Bolder than the first
We struck against the black
But it was ever only pride
That stopped us going back
Rock calls with a heart of stone
Buries blackened bone
This is what I see
Rock calls with a heart of stone
And now I’m home – with me.”
Genni looks up from the fire as the last few words tumble from her lips. “Sorry,” she laughs nervously. “Just an old song I remembered from a while ago.”
Treen jumps up and dusts off his backside. “Camp fire ballads, eh? Well how about this!”
“Bookah would you look’ah
Treen is doing fine
Oral tenacity with lingual capacity
You cannot pauperise my rhyme
Intellectually upbeat, beat up but not beat
Charged positive, classic electric
I’m the autochthonous electromagnetic
A primary principle, molecular and unsimple
Bookah it’s the trait inheritance
So make deference to my intelligence.”
Genni’s jaw drops open as Treen finishes. Sadhira raises an eyebrow and a small smile tugs at her lips. Personally, I have no idea what I have just witnessed, beyond some rather strange dancing and… well I suppose it was a sort of poem – with attitude.
“What?” complains Treen. “All of our progeny are at it these days – I thought it was rather good. Rapidly articulated phonation is I believe the correct term.” Treen’s face brightens with a smile. “And, good fellows, I believe I have just remembered something of far greater importance.” The asura wanders over to where I have been standing these last ten minutes. “Sorry, Asbjorn, if you wouldn’t mind?”
“Be my guest,” I respond as the asura hikes himself up on one of my knee joints, fumbles around for a moment and then elicits a triumphant cry.
“Here we are.” Hopping back down he holds up a bulky, cloth-wrapped package that he had removed from a compartment at my side. “Rations!”
Genni’s jaw is still hanging open as Treen sits himself back at the fire and begins to unwrap the food. “What?” asks the buoyant asura, distributing the food between the three of them.
Genni’s face burns. “Nothing,” she mumbles, taking the proffered food.
“None of you are thieves,” announces a feeble, but proud voice. “Are you?” Agnon shuffles into the little circle of firelight, rubbing at his head. He plonks himself in front of the fire. “Would you have some spare for me?”
Treen’s eyes narrow cautiously. “It’s just hard tack with some dried date pieces.”
“A veritable cornucopia – hand it over.”
“What do you mean, we are not thieves?” asks Genni around a mouthful of food.
Before Agnon can respond, Treen adds, “This has something to do with the gate thefts, yes?”
Agnon sighs and nods. “Yes.” He bites into the hard tack, chews for a while and then swallows. “It was always my master’s belief that you were somehow behind the thefts.”
“What thefts?” asks Genni. Even though she had been my guard, or Treen’s, or… well either way, it was clear she had no idea what or why she was guarding; she had just been a hired sword.
“Someone has been using the gates to pilfer travellers’ belongings,” explains Agnon. “We’re not sure how, but when a body passes through the network, an attack – of sorts – is made. This act is used to redirect possessions of the traveller to another location. So far it has all been carried out on a relatively small scale – at least as far as we have been able to determine.”
“And you thought that our krewe was somehow responsible?” asks Treen.
“So that is what Kaado believed,” mused Treen. “But we were attacked by humans, those brainless skritt – no offence.” He nods to Sadhira. Sadhira appears indifferent.
“Humans?” queries Agnon.
“Burnt our lab to the ground,” confirms Treen.
“Just after they did the same to ours,” adds Genni.
Agnon nods. “I did not know that they were human; I never saw anything and now Qwaug is gone – to ash.”
Curiously, both Treen and Genni repeat the words: ‘to ash’. It is said with some reverence, and I can only assume that it has something to do with asuran culture.
“I am sorry for the trouble that I have caused. Yet, we were certain that you were implicit. When you were discovered with the remnants of the device after your accident, we saw it as a lucky break and no further thought was given beyond you were guilty of possession.”
“The device that belonged to, Asbjorn?” Treen indicates me. Agnon seems a little confused when he takes in the golem standing before him. “Ah, well that is perhaps another story,” says Treen when he sees that Agnon does not understand. “We are heading to Asbjorn’s home now.”
“I don’t understand,” says Agnon. “What do you hope to find at this ‘Asbjorn’s’ home?”
I lean over the little physician’s body and look down into his eyes as he looks up at me. “Answers.”
Edited by Amy