Koda’s Breath woke to the sound of birdsong and the bustling of the Priory members. They tinkered and scratched, sifted through sand and made meticulous records. Some read aloud, others silently, while some conversed about questions he had little hope of understanding.
They had stayed another day, but since Ulfridda’s sharp rebuke against the rude asura, the Priory did not bother them much. He still could not shake the feeling they were being watched and recorded at all times. He had struck up a friendship with a sylvari named Aniwen, who was as excited and full of life as he was measured and calm.
“Kodan, what does the world say of balance today?” She walked without grace, as she claimed she was taller than most of her kin, and seemed all angles. She regularly bumped into other scholars, and had knocked over three valuable objects since he had met her.
“The world does not speak of Balance, Aniwen. It implies the direction we may take to achieve it. It screams when we stray, but we rarely truly achieve the Stillness and Serenity of total balance. If we do, we pass beyond this world into the world of Koda.”
“Is that like the Mists?” Aniwen sat down next to his bedroll, where he had been trying to rest.
“I do not know. I have only been there when I meditate. I catch glimpses, of words, of meaning. It is not a physical place. Many say that where my mind goes is the Mists, but I cannot be sure.”
“And have you meditated recently? What’s that like?”
Koda’s Breath felt his heart drop. “I have not. I am unable to meditate presently, or risk unleashing imbalance upon the world.”
Aniwen spoke softly. “I read your kind, if they connect to the Mists too often, can go mad.”
“It is true, that can happen. We call it ‘The Rage of Koda’, and it can bring about the premature death of a Voice. This is why we are trained so heavily in the art, to stave away the madness that can creep into our minds. When I became Voice of my sanctuary, it was because of all the candidates, I showed the least strain when meditating.”
“I see.” Aniwen thought for a moment, then smiled. “But you don’t seem mad. Why have you not been meditating?”
“The madness I would let loose is not my own.”
Aniwen looked at him questioningly, and when he did not answer, shrugged.
“Well, either way, I’m glad you came through here. You’re so interesting”
Koda’s Breath did not miss her implication, and smiled.
“My heart belongs to another. I’m sorry.”
Aniwen pouted, and shrugged again. Korr rolled over outside, causing ounce to mew and run around in circles.
“How did you meet him?” Aniwen gestured to Korr.
“He is our charge. A seer gave us a prophecy, and he is supposed to aid us on our journey.”
“What is a prophecy?”
“It tells us of what is to come. Of our destiny.”
“Oh, I’ve had one of those. We call it our Wyld Hunt. Every sylvari dreams of their purpose, before we are born of the Pale Tree, our mother. What’s your Wyld Hunt about? Mine is to discover a secret of the dwarves, I think.”
“I do not know, but my heart tells me to save my love, and to fight against Jormag.”
“Oh that’s a good one. I knew one of us whose dream was to tend her garden. Boring, don’t you think? Better to be exciting, and go on an adventure.”
“Tending a garden is less dangerous, though.” Koda’s Breath bowed his head, remembering those he had lost. Without warning, she bent over, and kissed his cheek. He looked up at her, stunned.
“I cannot return those feelings for you, sylvari.”
“The kiss was for luck.” Aniwen grinned, and excused herself. She left his tent, and began her daily tasks.
Koda’s Breath sat in his tent alone for a long while. He thought of Serene Wrath. Of his sanctuary. A tear rolled down his cheek, as he remembered the moments together that he and his Claw had shared. Their bond had been stronger than most, and his people had accepted that. The chieftains had given their blessing as well, and under a crescent moon, they publicly celebrated their union at a bonding ceremony one week before the attack on Drakkar. He stood, and shaking himself from his memories, and removed his cloth robes.
From a pouch in his bag he extracted a small phial with a dark liquid inside. Standing before a mirror, he began marking long lines, making jagged edges and shapes in a ritual he had been performing once per moon for years. Once he was finished, he stood back to admire his handiwork, the ceremonial dye carving long geometric patterns in his fur in designs reserved for the Voice. After so long, he looked like himself again, but different. His training with Ulfridda had improved his body greatly, and his strength had greatly improved. He could see lines of muscle beneath his fur that had never existed before.
‘You look good, Ko.’ Serene Wrath’s voice hummed in his head.
‘Wrath! How are you speaking to me?’
‘I can use my strength for a few words. The pain is great inside here, Ko. The darkness fills me, but being near the disturbance has brought me a measure of peace. What do you travel with?’
‘A giant, named Korr. He absorbs magic, it seems’
‘You always did attract strangeness to you Ko. Do you remember that boy from training?’
‘I do’ Koda’s Breath smiled ‘But I fell for you instead’
Serene Wrath seemed to smile. ‘I have to go, but tell me, are you near a solution?’
‘Ulfridda thinks so. We are nearly there.’
‘Be like Koda’s Breath, my love’ immediately, his voice faded away to silence.
Koda’s Breath broke down into tears. Ulfridda entered his tent, saw he was crying, and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. She took a blanket to cover his body, and attuned to flame, warming them both in the tent. Many minutes passed, as Ulfridda simply held Koda’s Breath.
After a while, she wiped his tears away, and stood. Dusina called through the tent, informing them that Gixx had been able to muster an escort to the Durmand Priory.
“Get ready Koda’s Breath, we must leave now. I’ll get Korr ready.” She said, as she left the tent.
He put his armour on, and took Icebreaker in his hand. He emerged into the sunlight, to see a simple cart pulled by dolyaks, lead by a group of priory members dressed in full battle gear. Ulfridda and the leader were speaking, and Koda’s Breath joined them.
“Koda’s Breath, it is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.” The raven haired norn woman shook his hand vigorously. “My name is Melinda Fairchild. I am a merchant and sometimes contracted guide for the Priory.” She was dressed in furs and leather, and wore a strange hat, with most of the fur on the outside. Koda’s Breath thought this a strange fashion, but did not comment.
“I greet you like the sky greets the sea, Melinda Fairchild.” She bore a striking resemblance to Ulfridda. “Will you be guiding us today?”
“Yes, I’ll be leading these scholarly types. My job will mostly to keep them to the trail, as they have a tendency to get suddenly fascinated by something and wander off. I trust you’re all ready to go?”
“We are” Ulfridda answered. “How much do we owe you for the journey?”
“Oh, Gixx settled my fee at the priory. It seemed like he knew you?” Melinda cocked her head sideways as she asked the question.
“I pulled Gixx out of a raptors nest when he was younger.” Ulfridda smiled. “He owes me more than a journey through Lornar’s Pass”
“Oho! So you’re a record-keeper? Don’t let me ever be indebted to you then, Elder Ulfridda!” Melinda smiled, and turned to the Priory escourt. “Gear up! We leave in five minutes or you’re left behind!” The guard hurried into action, and Koda’s Breath and Ulfridda found themselves riding in the cart behind Melinda. Korr, who was too large to fit, walked beside them. Ounce was curled up on his shoulder, and he walked carefully so as not to wake her.
“He truly loves that snow-leopard” Koda’s Breath remarked.
“He seems a kind soul. I worry for him.” Ulfridda answered.
“We plan to use him one day, apprentice.That is a lot to ask of anyone.”
“We won’t be asking him to go alone.”
“This is not his fight. He has no reason to accompany us.”
“Neither do you, elder.”
Ulfridda looked at him straight in the eye.
“How can you know that?” She asked.
“I trust you would have told me.” Koda’s Breath smiled, and she smiled back.
“The day I found you was the day I began to feel responsible for you, kodan. You’re beginning to be like a son to me.”
“Thank you, Ulfridda.”
They sat for the rest of the journey in silence. Koda’s Breath could not help beginning to feel that there was something Ulfridda was not telling him.
“We are nearly here.” Melinda called out behind. “Just around this bend.”
“Welcome to the Durmand Priory” Ulfridda stood in the cart, and stared up at the massive structure.
The Priory had been built into the mountain, and was lit from beneath by massive cauldrons burning bright in the twilight. The road to the gate was steep and below, a wide bridge served as a glorious promenade to this house of knowledge. Banners flapped in the quiet breeze, and the snow lightly dusted every surface, gleaming from the firelight. The mountain was sheer on one side, and seemed to crouch over the landscape, an imposing and distinct figure. Koda’s Breath was awestruck, and Korr stood open-mouthed before being prodded into action by a charr.
Koda’s Breath spoke inwardly. ‘Serene Wrath, if we can find a way to save you, it will be here’.