The trek from Dredgehaunt Cliffs to Lornar’s Pass took the party through a mountain pass, high and steep. Korr had difficulty keeping his footing and inched his way, hands against the edges to keep his balance. He was in a talkative mood, and kept conversation with Koda’s Breath, since Ulfridda had decided to walk in silence. Ounce playfully darted between his huge feet, swiping at his ankles every now and again.
“You worship balance?” Korr asked.
“We worship Koda, who is the keeper of balance.” Koda’s Breath clarified.
“How do you worship balance?”
“We—“ Koda’s Breath realised he would not get anywhere correcting Korr. “We look towards insight and meditation to first understand balance. It is not often the obvious answer.”
“Can you teach me?”
“Of course. I’ll give you an example. Bobbing along on a turbulent sea is a small ice floe. A bird perches on it, working hard to maintain its footing, going so far as to peck the ice to make it less slippery. Is there balance?”
“The sea is balance.”
“Why do you say that?” Koda’s Breath had told this riddle many times.
“Because even though the floe is moving, and the bird, the sea stays the same.”
“Is it? The water moves and rolls, causing the floe to move. Waves are proof of the imbalance of the sea.”
“The bird is in balance then, because he did something to stay on the floe.”
“No. The bird damages something else to gain his footing. That is not balance, it is selfishness.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The ice floe remains the centre of this riddle. Pressure from below, from the sea, and pressure from above, from the bird. It remains calm, in dignified serenity between the two opposing forces”
“That makes no sense.” Korr frowned as he ducked beneath an outcropping. He disturbed a crow’s nest and the birds screamed their protest. Ounce hissed at the birds and they flew away.
“Try another. A great storm comes, and the seas roil and swell. The waves erode the land, forever changing the face of the coast. Is this an offence to balance?”
“Correct. See, it’s not so hard” Koda’s Breath smiled, and the giant grinned at him.
“Enough word games you two, we are nearly at Pinion Pass.” Ulfridda scolded them.
“How much longer?” Korr asked.
“When we arrive we will check in to the priory camp there, and they will send word on to Gixx that we will be arriving. They will provide us with food and a place to stay the night.”
“How long until we arrive at the Durmand Priory then?” Koda’s Breath inquired.
Ulfridda looked towards the sun, and did some mental calculation. “Provided we don’t run into any trouble, we should be there in two days.”
Koda’s Breath nodded, and they continued towards their goal.
Through the mountain pass the scenery opened up into high peaks and frost-capped ridges. They filed out of the area and immediately were met by members of the Durmand Priory.
Ulfridda greeted them warmly, even going so far as to briefly hug one of the norn members. There was a diverse group, some asura, some human, and a larger group of norn. They kept their distance from Korr, and Koda’s Breath had a moment to observe their group.
They talked excitedly, as if consistently uncovering secrets with every sentence. They all wore matching armour, in grey and blue-grey. A small human woman walked over to greet them.
“Welcome to Pinion Pass camp. May Kormir’s light reveal all to you.”
Koda’s Breath had not heard this greeting, and briefly paused before answering back.
“I greet you like the sky greets the morning”
Korr just nodded. Koda’s Breath knew him well enough to know it was due to shyness.
The human woman smiled, and motioned towards the camp.
“Come. We do not often have your kind this far south, and a few of us have some questions. We have started a fire to keep you warm.”
“We have begun cooking for the night, do you have any requests for us?”
“No Meat! And some rabbits for my pet please!” Korr exclaimed emphatically.
“I have been deprived of fish recently. I was told there is a major river near here with Salmon?”
“We will prepare some vegetarian and seafood options then. Our chef is known for his experimental nature, so expect something exciting” A twinkle in her eye, she ushered them into the camp, and found Koda’s Breath and Korr a space to sit.
The entire camp came out to meet them, and sat in a big circle around the roaring campfire. More than a few had done little to hide their inquisitive nature, and had brought ink and scrolls with them outside to record the answers to their questions. They began in a flurry, until Ulfridda gave them all sharp looks, and they began taking turns.
“Where are you from?” A small asura asked.
“I am the Voice of the Spear Of The Sea, our first fully militarised sanctuary of the northern Shiverpeaks.”
“Why was it militarised?” An aged charr piped up.
“It was our response to Jormag. We carved her from glacier ice, which is strong and deadly cold.”
“How many people lived on it?” A fat human asked.
“We had over a thousand warriors, and then another three hundred support staff. They were all killed when Drakkar defeated us.” Koda’s Breath’s heart sank, and Korr reached over and patted his shoulder. Ulfridda spoke in hushed voices across the fire with the leader of the camp.
“What do you mean you can’t spare any Priory members?” she spat.
“The destroyers and dredge are taking up all our researchers! And—”
“If you’re going to be of no use to me why bother speaking at all?”
“Mother!” The norn she had embraced stared at her, shocked. “Please, let’s take this inside the tent”
Ulfridda and the norn stood, and disappeared into the tent behind them, as the questions continued to flow.
“And how did you manage to face Drakkar?”
“We developed a technology to allow us to survive corruption by Jormag’s smaller, less influential minions.”
“And for his larger minions?” A sylvari spoke across the crowd.
“It did not work. Against Drakkar it was as if we used paper shields. My whole army, and my sanctuary were destroyed that day.”
A female asura with big ears stood “As I’m sure you know, kodan, that Jormag’s main method of corruption is via temptation for power.” She paused.
“Yes, I am aware. I have faced many Icebrood in my time” Koda’s Breath answered, unsure as to where her question was heading.
“Then if your people were corrupted, did they not simply resist?”
Koda’s Breath frowned. “Are you implying that my people were weak?”
“No, I am wondering why your people were able to succumb, since association with Jormag is so voluntary?”
“And what would you know of it?” Ulfridda’s voice cut across the open space like a knife. She had emerged from the tent, and overheard this last question. The fire exploded, sparks crackling in the crisp night air.
“I was just—“ The asura paled.
“You clearly know so little of the world, progeny, that you would imply that association with an elder dragon is voluntary. I have lost most of my family to Jormag, and I can tell you, every single one fought against the blizzard with hearts steeled against the cold grip of his corruption. I would advise you to hold your tongue before implying anything, or I’ll sear it from your head. Koda’s Breath, Korr, come with me please.” She turned, a gust of wind flying from her and knocking the asura over.
Korr and Koda’s Breath scrambled to their feet, and followed Ulfridda and the norn to the tents that the Priory had set up for them. When they were outside earshot of the camp, Ulfridda adressed them all.
“This is my daughter, Dusina.” She was shorter than her mother, and had raven black hair. Her face was decorated by geometric tattoos, giving her a severe look. She shared the same straight-backed confidence of her mother, and looking at Dusina it was as if seeing Uflridda when she had been younger.”
Koda’s Breath bowed, and Korr gave a small wave.
“I’m afraid that the escort I had arranged has not arrived from the Priory. Destroyers and Dredge in the area has made the roads less safe to travel. That, and the pirates to the southwest.”
“We will discuss it in the morning” Ulfridda said. “We have had little time to rest these past few days. Let’s eat”
The chef brought out their dishes. Simple, pan seared meat and roasted vegetables for Ulfridda, steamed whole marinated salmon for Koda’s Breath, a variegated leaf salad for Korr, and rabbit in cream sauce for Ounce. They ate with gusto and when finished, retired to their respective tents.
Long after the sun had made its way below the horizon, Ulfridda emerged from her tent, flame in hand, and turned into the cold.