Floodwater Causeway was quiet save for the croaking of frogs, which I had become used to from our time by the oasis. The dolyak steadily pulled the cart, its stomach filled with grasses the sylvari had given him at our last camp. It seemed happy, which made me not feel so bad about the fact that it was pulling everyone and their equipment.
The further we got into Sparkfly Fen, the more I could smell the faint trace of rot that hung on the air. It was a little disturbing; it reminded me of what was waiting for us at the end of the road. I had spent a lot of time worrying about the group and less about the people that the Risen used to be, but it was all coming to me now. I had heard that they went about their daily lives, as if nothing had ever happened, until they met with a living being.
Or that very well could have been Angel making things up again.
Ragnvaldr and I kept a steady watch on our surroundings. We had already passed by a small camp in the marshy forest. A few men stood around a camp fire, their weapons lay beside them as they spoke to one another.
I smiled and waved out of habit of courtesy. Two of them waved back at me. Ragnvaldr smiled and put his hand on my shoulder and kept his watch off the other side of the cart. Unlike what I previously thought, we were able to get more time alone and had stayed up alone the night before. While we talked about many things, the one thing we had spent the most time on was how little we were actually able to behave or act like a couple these days. My attention had been split between Tobih and Angel mostly. It was understandable, both of them needed me. My ear was for not only Ragnvaldr but also for my friends and those friends were carrying a lot of burdens. Ragnvaldr and I promised ourselves that after we got back, we would take a week for ourselves, to stay in Hoelbrak. He would show me around properly this time. We were going to see all of the lodges and each beautiful ice sculpture they held. During this, we would also go out and hunt game like most norn would; he wanted to show me how to survive on my own in the wild. I looked forward to it. After all, I would love to learn any skill to make myself useful and it was especially exciting that the person teaching me would be none other than the man I fell in love with.
I caught myself nodding off, my head nearly slipping from the palm of my hand which held my chin. The ride was relatively calm; there was only a bump here or there. Nature sung a soft lullaby through the thick grass, high trees, and swampy waters. Angel was softly whistling a tune from the front of the cart. It reminded me of a tune that the mechanical orchestra played back in Divinity’s Reach. Tobih snored silently on the floor of the cart, dodging the legs of both norn and human. I nodded off for a second again. It wasn’t as if it was unreasonable with how calm it was as well as the lack of sleep I had gotten.
Each time I dozed I had caught a glimpse of my past, something that wasn’t unusual to see in my dreams. They repeated often. Today it was the red iris flowers in Ascalon. Wind brushed through the sun-kissed blades of grass, a few flowers bloomed here and there, mingling with any other plant. The sky was a beautiful azure and dotted with clouds that floated across the sky. Rays of light reached through the autumn-colored branches of a small oak, casting both light and shadows on the ground.
A stalker cat lay behind me, I was using her as a place to rest my head as I watched orange and yellow leaves fall like snow around us. Each time she snored, I heard a faint growl from her. She was content to lay here with me on the cool forest ground.
I had fallen asleep and was only awoken again by a few drops of cool rain. Ragnvaldr was already stepping over a half-awake Tobih to put up some shelter on the cart. It wasn’t much, but the spare blankets we had brought would keep the rain out until we could get to better shelter.
Tobih stretched, yawning as he did. “I was having an amazing dream of a great feast. I kept eating and eating and there was more delicious food to try each time.” He stood up to help Ragnvaldr. “It’s really too bad it had to start raining.”
“It’s pretty normal here,” I heard Angel mumble in an attempt to converse. “We should be fine with this rig until we get to the ruins up there. We’ll try and wait out the rain.” As she said this, I looked forward to see the ruins she was referring to. They were tall stone walls connected by bridges and covered in moss and vines. The stones were crumbling away and it all looked unsteady and willing to collapse anytime.
We took our shelter in a building with a roof, probably the only one of its kind here. There was no door, just a doorway. A column lay inside, fallen perhaps a century ago. Tobih climbed up it as I tried to start a fire for us to dry our clothes beside. Angel kept a watch by the door while Ragnvaldr lugged all of our important items inside.
“Ugh, wet doylak smell,” Angel groaned, passing a glance to the dolyak huddled in a dry corner of the room.
“Did you expect them to smell like bacon? Maybe a ham?” I teased.
I heard Tobih grunt as he climbed his way onto the second level of the building. “What do you think this place used to be?”
The fire finally lit after I dried the wood out enough. The flames burst into life beneath my hand. “It’s really old and the stonework doesn’t look familiar to anything that I’ve studied.” I stood up and decided to examine the place as well, my curiosity also showing its face.
“It probably belongs to Fort Cadence in the west. It isn’t far off, but it’s dangerous. Ghosts, pirates, undead, Priory, it’s always overrun by something,” Angel chimed in.
“Suppose the name makes sense then… Wait, you included Priory as in-” I was quickly cut off.
“What does cadence mean?” Tobih was surprisingly the one that interrupted me.
I thought for a moment, trying to find a good way to describe it to him, “I guess it really depends on the context. I was using it as a way to describe the pattern in the flow of events- in this case, being overrun is its pattern. It has a lot to do with how things flow, but I’m not sure how else I could describe it.”
He smiled and sat on the edge of the stone above me. “I think I get it.”
“That should be everything,” Ragnvaldr announced as he set the rest of the stuff down in the corner opposite the dolyak. He proceeded to sit down in front of the fire and remove his top to dry.
“You really think there are marsh drakes out there, Angel?” Tobih continued his questions while swaying his feet from his perch.
“Entire nests of them. I saw one when we arrived. Hopefully the rain masked our scents.” Her voice was serious but distant, “Unless you wanted drake kabob for dinner.”
“Are those tasty?” There was another question.
I heard her almost giggle and for the first time in a while, a smile flashed across her face. It was different, worrying almost. “You’re just full of questions, aren’t you?” She stood up. “I really don’t know, but let’s find out.” She motioned for Tobih to come down. “Come with me. Ragnvaldr, I hope you don’t mind me taking over the spit tonight.”
“Go right ahead.” He seemed just as surprised as I did.
Tobih and Angel left, weapons in hand. I worried for them, but it was time for everyone to take a break from our normal routine.
Ragnvaldr patted the ground next to him and I joined him by the fire. I took some wood with me and attempted to dry it just to have something to do with my hands. We would need more later anyway.
“Think she’s okay?” I asked him.
He stretched and sighed, “You wouldn’t think it with all of the grief she has given us… She’s denying it herself.” His eyes moved to meet mine. “Maybe she just hasn’t realized it yet.”
“Is there something I don’t know?”
He cleared his throat before speaking this time. I noticed the water dripping from his hair. I knew of the blazing fire next to me. The sound of the rain on the roof, too. But at this moment I was completely intrigued with what Ragnvaldr had to say about my norn friend. “The way she talks about him, you’d think she would realize that she has some sort of feelings for Tobih.”