The cart bumped along the road at an even pace, pulled by two sturdy bullocks. Ulfridda sat at the front, the long bull-whip in her hand rested across her knees. She wore a large cap made from woven reeds which kept the sun off her face, and had bought a sun-dress in the Elonan style. The white cloth draped elegantly around her, and in the light of the sun seemed to shimmer. Koda’s Breath and Serene Wrath sat behind her beneath a sun shade. Koda’s Breath had changed into his grey robes, and Serene Wrath wore his red ceremonial garb. He had not been able to affect a change in his minds’ eye, and could only materialise these robes at will. Korr and Alepe sat on the back of the cart, Korr’s feet almost dragging on the ground, and Ounce curled up on his lap. Alepe had removed his shirt and was sunbathing. Korr had copied him, drawing the laughter of the kodans, as Korr’s skin was so dark already the sun could not possibly change his appearance.
“It is a long time since I was in these parts. The people have done well here.” Ulfridda scanned the scenery as they made their way past small villages and homes scattered along the road.
“When were you here last?” Koda’s Breath asked.
“I do not recall. But there were not this many houses. The people of Gendarran fields have driven the centaurs back.”
“Centaurs? What is a centaur?” Serene Wrath asked.
“They are hexapedal creatures. Intelligent, but prone to high emotions and aggression. They look as if half of them are human and the other half are horses.” Alepe explained, drawing their shape in the air. He did not sit up, and kept his eyes closed beneath a pair of mirrored spectacles.
“Ah, like Sēntō. Except, beyond the Far Shiverpeaks, they are half human, half dolyak. They are proud warriors.” Serene Wrath said.
“Centaurs have less hair than Sēntō.” Ulfridda explained. “And they worship trees, not running water.”
The group was silent for a few minutes, until Korr’s stomach growled so loudly it shook the cart.
“Let’s stop here and make camp.” Ulfridda pulled back on the reins, and the bulls snorted their protest, but stopped. “Apprentice, can you please feed the bulls? I’m going to make a fire. Alepe, help me fetch some dry wood.”
“Okay.” Alepe stood, and put his jacket on. Korr began unpacking the cart, lifting the heavy tents off the back and placing them down in a circle. Alepe and Ulfridda walked towards the nearby trees, and soon they were out of earshot.
“Young one, I know your reason is to maintain Serene Wrath’s golem, but I want to know why else you have stayed.” She stopped, forcing him to stop and look at her.
“I am the only asura in the world who knows how to create and maintain Elixir M, Ulfridda.” Alepe said. Ulfridda twisted her cane in her hands.
“These kodan are very dear to me. I nursed Koda’s Breath back from the brink of death and discovered Serene Wrath was the one whose madness was killing people, not Koda’s Breath. Korr is my charge, and I will have need for him in future. But you are likely to exceed your welcome when we fix Serene Wrath’s shard.” Ulfridda looked at Alepe, her icy blue eyes boring a hole into him. He looked away, and she turned on her heel and walked a few paces.
“Wait.” He said. Tears brimmed his eyes.
“What is it?”
“All my life, I have been rejected.” Alepe’s words bubbled up, and it was like a dam had broken. “Experiments failed, krewes not wanting to work with me, and masters criticising everything I do. But you all seem to like me for who I am.” His voice had slowly gotten smaller and smaller.
“I never had people who would have saved me like you did in the Durmand Priory. I feel like even though you’re all so big and strong, someone like me can still be a part of your team.” He nearly continued, before he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“I am sorry, Alepe. I was testing you. You’re more than welcome to stay with us as long as you like. Spirits, but we will probably need a brain like yours!” Ulfridda’s smile had warmed his heart, and he suddenly felt like all those failed experiments and criticisms had been worth it. He wiped his eyes, and smiled.
“Come” Ulfridda said, “Let’s find some wood and have a big fire tonight. I even bought us some mead”. She winked at him, and together they foraged for over two hours before they began to make their way back to the camp.
Korr had dug out a firepit, and Serene Wrath had created a few clones to help build the tents. Koda’s Breath had taken the opportunity to walk a little way down to the nearby river, and brought back with him large pails of water for the bulls to drink. He had removed his outer robe and walked back in the afternoon sunlight in his loincloth. The water had cooled him, and as he walked back, noticed Serene Wrath eyeing him. He winked, and threw a bucket of water at him. Serene Wrath laughed, and chased him down to the waters’ edge. Korr ran after them, and soon the three of them were splashing around in the water. Serene Wrath caught Koda’s Breath for a moment, and held him in a deep kiss.
“Love is nice” Korr said, splashing them with water. “But lets play!”
Ounce swam out to them, and while sitting on Korr’s shoulders, attempted to catch some fish.
“Let’s play a game,” Korr said. “It’s called… Ellen Evon! Those bullies in Lion’s Arch taught me. I close my eyes, and call out ‘Ellen’. You have to call out ‘Evon!’ and I will catch you.”
“Very well!” Serene Wrath said, diving under the water.
“No cheating!” Korr said.
“Serene Wrath is a mesmer,” Koda’s Breath said. “They always cheat at games”
Serene Wrath did his best to look indignant, but the effect was ruined while he was wet. They began playing the game, and at first Korr was very bad at it, but after long, he managed to catch Koda’s Breath. They were about to play another round when a voice echoed out across the river.
“Dun’ move, or we’ll fill ye full of leadshot!”
Koda’s Breath, Korr and Serene Wrath looked at the beach and saw five pirates with muskets aimed at their direction.
“Now, what arr’ ye three doin’ ‘ere’n my river?” The only female pirate asked. She aimed her pistol at Ounce, and pulled the trigger.