Dec 27, 2011

Tales of Tyria - Chapter 7: Guide

If you missed it, here's a link to the previous Chapter.
"Neev?" croaked a bewildered Skoldur.
"Yes", said the creature in front of him.
"How..." Skoldur managed to utter before his mind gave up on him.  It was too busy taking in the sight before him.  Naimh looked human except that her skin was made of overlapping leaves -- her arms reminded Skoldur of corn cobs still wrapped in their husks.  Where a human would have hair, Naimh had what appeared to be flower petals.  Her clothes were also made of leaves so it was difficult to tell what was clothing and what was Naimh.  She had a dagger and some metal loop hanging from her belt and was clutching a staff.  Belatedly, Skoldur realized that she was also talking.
"... and that's why I need you to take me into the Charr lands." she finished.
This time Skoldur managed to get out "What..?"
"My, but you are a rather thick example of Norn intellect, aren't you?" Naimh said with as much sarcasm as she could muster.  When she saw the somewhat hurt look creeping across Skoldur's face she reconsidered and said " I'm sorry.  I've spent far too much time among the Asura and I've picked up some of their more unflattering mannerisms.  Give me a minute."
As Skoldur watched, Naimh gathered up some wood that had been knocked out of the tree by Cracktooth.  When she had a respectable pile of it, she pointed her staff at it and small glob of fire spat out to ignite the campfire.
"There", she said, "that should warm us up, keep any other animals at bay and allow us to get a better look at each other." She then sat down by the fire so Skoldur joined her by sitting on the opposite side.
"So as I was saying, I'm trying to find a colleague who was last seen headed for Charr lands.  I've made it this far by following you, but if you can't lead me there I'll most assuredly get lost and wander these hills forever.  Can you take me to the Charr lands?"
Skoldur considered his options.  Right now the main thought on his mind was finding the quickest way to end his sorry existence.  "The lands closest to here are held by the Flame Legion.  They don't take kindly to outsiders.  If they found your friend, he's probably dead." Skoldur stated matter-of-factly.  Naimh didn't say anything and as Skoldur studied the odd face across from him, he could tell she was going to go on with this fool's errand with or without him. "Fine" he said after a moment.  "All I have left is a bow, some arrows and a pair of hunting knives -- so I won't be much use in a fight -- but I'll travel with you if want".
"Great!" squealed Naimh.  Her smile was alien, but at the same time it warmed Skoldur in a way he hadn't expected.  Naimh offered to take watch first and as Skoldur drifted off to sleep he thought about that smile.  Just before sleep took his battle-weary body he realized what was different about the Sylvari.  She wasn't judging him by any standard -- her smile had been caused by simple appreciation and gratitude.  There was something refreshingly simple about Naimh -- a naivety that was endearing.  And with that thought and the warmth of the fire on his face, Skoldur fell asleep.
Skoldur awoke in the morning feeling quite refreshed.  It was only after a moment that the memories of last night came flooding back to him: his broken sword, his near death and the ignoble rescue at the hands of a magic wielding Sylvari who then asked for his help.
Skoldur looked around and saw Naimh sleeping under what had recently been the hide of Cracktooth the cave bear.  He saw that Naimh had been busy before she slept -- the bear was skinned and there was a stack of cooked bear meat sitting next to the fire.  It was a bit gamey, but still made a suitable breakfast.  Once he had finished eating, Skoldur examined the remains of his greatsword.  It was obvious now that there had been a flaw in the metal and that the blade was beyond repair.  When he looked up, Naimh was awake and staring at him with her large, alien eyes.
"I see you've eaten" she said.
"Yes." Skoldur replied.  Then, belatedly "Thank you."
Naimh ate a little and then they packed up as much as they could carry.  The rest of the carcass they left for the scavengers -- already there was a small flock of ravens gathering in the tree tops.
"So, where to?" asked Naimh.
"Northeast" said Skoldur.  "We'll make for the pass of Holgum the Loud.  It's said that Holgum was a Norn with such a powerful voice that when he wanted to cross the mountains he shouted at them and cleared the pass."
Naimh giggled, which cause Skoldur to say "What?  You don't believe our Norn legends?"
"Oh no.  I believe that there was a Norn named Holgum and that he cleared the pass.  However, I think the tale may have been embellished a little.  Maybe he just snored loudly and his snores caused an avalanche one night?  After all of the snow had coursed through the valley, it left the pass?"
Skoldur looked at her as if she was crazy.  Then he smiled and that turned into belly-aching laughter.  "I like you little twig!" he finally exclaimed.  "Yes, we Norn love our legends, but in our pursuit of becoming legends ourselves, some exaggeration may happen from time to time."  It took a while for the grin to disappear from his face.
Their trek towards the pass was surprisingly uneventful.  They saw very little in the way of small fauna and thankfully nothing that would be remotely threatening.  They did come across some bison tracks, but Skoldur determined that they were at least three days old and probably nowhere near them now.  They reached the base of the pass in the late evening and decided to leave the climb for the next day.  As they were settling down to rest after finishing a meal, Naimh asked "So what did they mean back at town when they said that you were setting out to prove yourself to Bear?"
Skoldur was silent for a moment.  How to explain this to an outsider?  Finally, he sighed, then said "We Norn are more than just giant Humans.  We have a special bond with the animal spirits of the land.  Norn who prove themselves worthy can assume the aspect of the animal spirits, gaining the strength of Bear, or the Agility of Snow Leopard or the Ferocity of Wolf.  So far, I have not been able to impress Bear enough and have been denied my birthright of assuming the mantle of Bear."
Naimh was silent for a moment.  After some contemplation of what Skoldur had said, she asked "Is it possible that you're pursuing the wrong animal?  Maybe Bear won't bless you because he's waiting for some other animal to bless you first?"
If Skoldur had been drinking, he would have spewed his drink all over the camp.  "No!  That's preposterous!  My family has honoured Bear for over twenty generations!"  He was so angry, that Skoldur rolled over, turning his back to Naimh.  She realized that what she had said had struck a nerve, but wasn't sure what to say to make it better, so she left it like that and hoped his mood would be better in the morning.
The events of the previous night seemed to have been forgotten when they awoke in the morning.  Skoldur was pleasant and seemed eager to climb the pass.  What Naimh didn't know was that he had spent a long time questioning himself, wondering if maybe she was right.  Then, he had dreamed, but it wasn't his usual dream -- in this dream he was walking through a forest and the trees where thick with ravens.  They had stared at him in silence, just watching as he walked through their midst.  Then they had all caw'ed at once and he had awoken with a start wondering if it was a sign, or just Raven's mocking trickery playing with him.
The climb was strenuous.  Holgum's pass wasn't frequently used because you couldn't take any carts or wagons on it.  It was passable on foot, but only just so.  It wasn't until a few hours pass noon that they stood at the top of the pass.  The view was amazing.  Behind them, they could see the peaks and valleys of the Shiverpeaks stretching out as far as one could see.  In front of them, the slope led down into the lush valleys that the Charr called home.  After spending a few moments to catch their breath and enjoy the view, they started down the rocky slope.  The path was a little easier on this of the mountain and the trip was made even simpler by the fact that they were now headed downhill.  After an hour, they crossed below the treeline and started into forest.  This forest was thick and full of life.  Insects buzzed around them, birds chirped as they hunted the insects and squirrels, marmots and other small creatures scurried away as the pair wound their way down.
Skoldur didn't want to camp in the forest as it would be too easy for something to sneak up on them so they kept going until they came to a clearing.  Skoldur was about to pronounce that this would do when he noticed a dark shape in the middle of the glade.
Naimh noticed it too and stopped dead in her tracks.
The story continues in Chapter 8. 

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