Book I Chapter XIV: Bad Nerves
Heaven's Pillar Forest, Aensdoun
“Aensdoun is even cooler when you're riding a dinosaur,” Reks announced, gently stroking Alice's neck as she rode through the towering forest with Liam seated just behind her.
The cities of the world were interesting enough, and she enjoyed doing her taxidermy work in the comfort of a suitably-cluttered room, but musty rooms full of old books weren't nearly as awesome as sprawling wildernesses full of stuff to chase and catch and poke with sticks.
Adding a big, friendly zemoira to the mix was just rubbing it in.
“Isn't much you have to worry about out here from a perch like this, either,” Liam agreed, gazing out through the gaps between the massive trees, seeming like archways in a grand cathedral crafted of living wood. “You're free to ride and explore at your leisure, provided you don't pick any fights...”
Alice let out an excited shriek, snaking through an opening in the trees to eye a group of Aeneski advancing across the plains to the north.
“Strange.” Liam scratched his cheek. “The tribes generally don't travel like that-- they patrol around their own campgrounds, but they're usually too busy defending their own territory to go out looking for more. I wonder what's gotten them on the move.”
“Maybe a dinosaur ate their camp!” Reks offered. “That'd be a pretty good reason to... to...”
The little hooded elf scrunched her nose and perked her ears, wrapping her arms around her chest.
“...No. No, something's not right. Li--”
Liam watched with growing concern as the group of marching faeries continued to grow, streaming out into the Infinite Green by the hundreds. No single tribe in Aensdoun was that large or organized.
They were no single tribe.
The turquoise-on-blue of the Aen'och Glen people mingled with the dusty gray and rust-red of Dracha garb, sprinkled throughout with glints of solid green armor that belonged to no Aen'och tribe Liam knew. Even the brilliant gold and violet of the Aen'och Visk had ample representation among the swarming ranks.
Liam felt Reks' strong arms grab him before he realized he had nearly fallen from Alice's back in his shock.
“Hey, careful! You coulda broken your neck!!” Her voice was shrill and quavering. “What's going on?”
“The tribes... the tribes are marching together as one,” Liam breathed, righting himself again. “It shouldn't be possible. The Anshe have fought amongst one another for as long as anyone can remember, for land and food and simply for the sake of intimidation. Something like this is unprecedented...”
Suddenly, a figure with wings glowing in the sunlight like fire drifted gracefully into view as they watched, clad in gleaming green plate.
As it flew over the advancing army, the tribesmen gave way to more armored soldiers, some traveling on foot while others rode upon the backs of big red deer.
Liam drew in a breath.
Reks' eyes grew huge and wide; she seemed to shrink, drawing herself down against Alice's back as she stared.
“I'll be damned, it's the Flamekeeper,” Liam swore. “Guess the old legends about the Kaelan and the Ban'leane had some substance to them after all.”
He didn't expect Reks's backhanded slap-- and by her squeal of surprise, neither had she.
“Yeow! Hey, what the hell, kid?!” he growled, reaching to rub his cheek.
“Aaaiee, Liam, I'm so sorry!!” Reks eyed her hand accusatorily, as though it were another person. “Bad hand, bad! You don't hit friends! Geeze!”
Liam shook his head. “Heh, it's fine. Was it something I said?”
Reks glanced up at him, biting her lip; her face was pale, sweat beading on her forehead.
When she opened her mouth to speak, the words fell out all at once.
“N-no. I think I'm just a bit nervous, that's all! I don't know why it did that,” she laughed weakly, her eyes darting about. “I've never seen the Flamekeeper before! I mean, I've never seen a Chapter before. I mean, I don't really see him very well since he's pretty far away but it's almost like he's right here, the way... Don't you feel it? I... Ohh, I don't feel too good, Liam!”
The big Aeneski grunted.
“Mm, you don't sound too good, either. Listen, want to find a place to rest while they're passing by? It looks like he's managed to force all three of the local tribes to play nice for a bit, so it'll take some time for them to finish coming through."
Reks glanced silently out at the marching crowd, her hands trembling slightly.
The winged figure in the distance seemed to turn towards them and stare at her, wings flashing gold and red.
“L-l-listen, Li, you go on ahead, okay?” She whimpered. “I've... I've gotta pee real bad, th-that's all. I'll come find you once you've made camp for the night, promise!”
Before Liam could reply, she hurled herself bodily from Alice's back, landing on her hands and knees as the pilisaurs gathered around her.
Rising to her feet, she looked over her shoulder once more before bolting into the bushes and vanishing without a sound.
“I got you, kid,” Liam grunted to himself, giving Alice a pat. "The only people I ever seen panic that bad over a pyro were smugglers and mutants. It ain't that hard to figure out...”
Next Chapter: Volume II - Book I Chapter XV
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