For Chapter Three, click here
“Is it white?”
“Is it tall?”
“Is it the mountain?”
“Ayric, I‘m not playing around anymore.”
“You only said that because I've guessed right!”
“No, I said it because you’ve been guessing since midday, and now the sun’s being chased away by your annoying game.”
Ayric stopped and looked up for a moment, peering in between the trees that stood in his line of sight to stare at the sky. “I don’t think the sun can hear us. If it can, do you think it would want to play?” He asked quizzically, squinting at the remaining daylight. Raen expelled an agitated sigh and stomped extraneously hard on a weed that stood tall and stubborn on the path she was taking. They had not stopped yet for the night, and Ayric had already forced Raen to play three different games and won each time. On top of which, he had nearly gotten lost picking flowers, and yet somehow managed to stay completely unharmed during the whole ordeal. Even though Raen found him to be a bit of a nuisance, she could admit to herself that she liked his company.
“I’m hungry,” called the little voice behind her.
“Camp first, then we can eat.” The girl replied shortly. She had been starving since the night before, but she had only limited knowledge of the plants here and no weapons to hunt with. She longed for the warm, comforting scent of her father’s stew simmering slowly in a pot and the taste of it, thick and flavorful, on her tongue. While these thoughts clouded her head and taunted her famished body, it was still a welcomed change from listening to Ayric ramble.
They continued to walk a while longer, weaving through patches of foliage and over vast plains of tundra until finally they found a suitable place to camp; a shallow cave carved into the side of a rocky inclination. Surrounding the cave were dead bushes and plant life, battered by the cold climate. The sun was setting, hitting the horizon and sinking into a sea of radiant gold, red, and purple. Though trees prevented their ultimate goal from sight, Raen knew Heirsuun was there just beyond their reach, and as shadows overtook the landscape, she went to work building a camp. From the area surrounding their make-shift shelter, Raen collected all she could. After picking up a bundle of twigs and rocks, she stumbled over a bush of red berries which clung to the branches, bending powerlessly from the weight of the snow that had fallen there. Brushing away at the snow, the young elf came to the conclusion that she had found snowberries, a rather common plant that grew expediently in areas of high altitude. More importantly, they were edible, and even the sight of them had Raen’s stomach growling.
Retrieving a branch of them from the bush, Raen turned her attention to Ayric who was prowling around on his hands and knees in the cover of their shelter. As she approached him, he roared at her and batted his hands around in the air. His facial expression was twisted into a funny sort of mock-anger.
“Here. Eat these.” Raen ordered and thrust the branch in the child’s direction.
“I am a bear! I want a deer! No, an elk!” Ayric huffed and turned his head away from the offering.
“Well you’re the tiniest, most hairless bear I've ever seen. Besides, they eat these things too.” Raen responded, sitting down beside her companion throwing a few berries into her mouth. With a final, disgruntled growl, Ayric sat and reached out for the berries. He chewed loudly and stared at the pile of sticks and rocks Raen had laid out before them.
“Are you making a fire?” He asked between bites.
The girl nodded. “Before it gets cold.”
“Then can I make a spear with one of the sticks?”
“How are you going to make a spear?”
“With this.” The boy said nonchalantly as he retrieved a small dagger from his boot and waved it in Raen’s face. The shock had the girl jolting backwards, knocking her head on the side of the little cave. She swore, placing a hand gingerly on the back of her skull, checking for injury.
“A good girl doesn’t swear.” Ayric said plainly as he picked a stick out to sharpen and paid no mind to the deathly gaze coming from Raen.
“Are you insane!? Where did you get that!?” She pointed blatantly at the blade.
“I found it.” He replied with a shrug.
“Found it where?” She asked again impatiently.
He gave another shrug and began to peel away the outer layers of the top part of the stick. Raen was becoming increasingly impatient with the boy as his answers were slow and vague. First she couldn’t get him to shut his mouth, and now that she had questions she had to pry to get any information
“Fine, be secretive.” She mumbled, and began to arrange the rocks into a circle for a fire pit. Eventually, after a few minutes of work, Ayric started to babble again, talking about bears and how he wondered why bears don’t just build fires in the winter like they do.
It was cold and dark now, and Raen was miserable even though her hunger had diminished. Her breath was visible as she worked to produce a fire - a task she was never fond of attempting – and her body ached from the journey they had begun. A spark finally ignited and a little flame flickered in the cold air. The young elf nursed it until it spread throughout the remainder of the twigs she had placed in the center of the pit. As the fire grew, the two companions could feel the heat emitting from it, and they huddled in their shelter with the flames dancing in front of them.
“Fire makes no sense.” Ayric’s little voice said and when no response was given he continued. “It starts so small but gets big so fast. We use it to keep warm and make food to help us live. What gave someone the idea to hurt people with it?” Though his speech went on, his voice was soft and his eyes were fixated on the end of the stick he was using to poke around the fire. He wasn’t aware of Raen’s movement beside him, and her instruction to go to bed hardly registered in his mind.
Raen ignored all he said now and only watched the flames play. They entwined with each other and broke away, making shadows appear and disappear in contorted, strange shapes. She tried desperately to push away or to shut out the memories in a dark corner of her mind, yet they lingered. It was exhaustion that finally had her eyes feeling heavy and her vision blurring until the fire in front of her became a smudge of orange. It darkened still until she fell to sleep.
She awakened a while later to a loud and incessant crackling sound, and the choking scent of smoke, wafting in with the wind. It took a fraction of a second to realize the fire had spread to the dead brush beside the shelter’s entrance. The way out was partially sealed off by the flames and smoke filled the little area completely, forcing itself down the girl’s throat. She coughed out a cloud of it and shouted to Ayric who was still asleep on the floor. Once his eyes fluttered open, they remained rather emotionless as he looked around.
“What did you do?” He asked curiously.
If it had been in another instance, the comment would have infuriated the girl. “Fire, Ayric! We’ve got to put it out!” Raen screamed at him, panic edging her voice and making it higher than usual. Ayric moved to stand and shuffled closer to the flames that spit out violently from the side of the cave, ignoring Raen’s orders to get back, and displayed his palms to the heat. From those tiny, white hands, came a frost spell that combated the fire and painted the inner wall of the shelter in ice. The girl stood eyes wide as the fire shrunk away and the boy’s magicka ceased.
“Panicking never helps when something scary happens. I remember one time when a stray dog got into Frost Haven. Mrs. Gwyn went mad.” Ayric started to say as he kicked at the burnt remnants of the fire pit.
“Hold on, What was that!?” Raen had finally found her voice, interrupting Ayric’s ramble before it drew out too long. “How many surprises are you going to throw at me?!” Her tone was still high and flighty, and her heart drummed hard against her chest.
“Don’t you like surprises?” He asked innocently and Raen softened even though she wouldn't allow the change to become apparent.
“Well… I… yes but, just not ones like that!” She said and looked to the sky to see the sun rising. They couldn't just sit around for ever though the companions were making good time, each moment mattered. If they hurried, they could make it to Heirsuun this night, but it would be tiring and dangerous.
Ayric’s chatter persisted as she retrieved more berries from behind their shelter and set off with him close behind. She battled the droning with her own thoughts for a while, but couldn’t diminish the want to question Ayric on the magicka he had displayed. She wondered greatly just how someone so young had such a powerful spell at hand. Curiosity overtaking her, she turned her head slightly to look at the boy.
He was walking a few paces behind, staring in no particular direction at all, babbling on continuously, unaware of the girl’s eyes on him. “How did you do that back there?” She blurted out and watched his attention snap towards her.
“Do what?” He questioned.
“The frost spell! How did you do it? What were you thinking?” Raen replied, firing each question off rapidly and hearing the obvious frustrations seep into her tone.
The boy cocked his head to one side and stared through narrowed eyes at the girl in front of him. “I don’t think.” He said finally.
“No, of course not.” The girl responded.
Whether he chose to ignore it or was totally oblivious to the insult, Ayric continued to speak. “I just pretend it’s there, and then...it is! Poof!” He explained with a wave of his hands making explosion sounds as he did so.
“That doesn’t make any sense. You’re supposed to focus.” Raen said, shaking her head.
“Look, look!” Ayric shouted and ran ahead. He spun to face the girl with an excited smile spread wide across his face. “It’s right there! I see it!” He said as Raen walked towards him.
“See what?” She asked.
“Look for yourself!” The boy made a jester to his hand and nodded to the girl to show her to look too. She glanced down at her slender fingers, but saw only the pale skin there. She said nothing and continued to walk by the boy who huffed out a dejected sigh and followed.
They walked many hours, cutting through the winter-ridden forest, climbing over hills, and struggling when the footing was unsure. All the while, Ayric jumped from topic to topic, barely pausing for breath, but Raen only contemplated his words from before. “I don’t think. I just pretend it’s there…”
As the sun began to fall once more, Ayric’s voice called out from behind,
“Shouldn’t we stop for camp?”
“We’re too close now, Ayric. Keep walking.”
“It’ll be dark though. When will we be out of the forest?”
“Soon, just stay close.”
Raen didn’t look back. She could hear the child’s loud, uneven footsteps as well as his one-sided conversation so she knew he was at her heels. She didn’t particularly want to walk the forest in the dark, but her goal was close enough to be tangible now. When shadows were put to rest on the ground and moonlight tried to shine through the dense trees, things got quiet. No movement could be heard from any direction. It seemed as if even the animals had deserted this particular place. No night-bird called, no insect chirped, and finally, Raen realized Ayric had stopped talking.
“Ayric!?” She called, but received no answer. Again, she called and circled in place. She searched frantically for signs of him anywhere in the darkness.
“Where are you? Ayric!” She yelled out. Finally, she heard his soft and muffled laughter from somewhere within the trees.
“I don’t know where I am, Raen. Sure would be helpful if you could light up the forest.” He giggled, and a twig snapped under his foot. The sound wasn't far from Raen’s position so she moved towards it, but she couldn't see the boy anywhere.
“Stop it. I’m not playing any games.” She growled, wrenching her foot free from a patch of weeds.
“Come on, just play pretend. It won’t hurt you!” Ayric’s voice was farther off now, and the girl lunged forward to follow it. She could feel her skin being pricked and scratched by the foliage surrounding her but remained focused on the laughter of the little boy.
“I can’t see!” She called out, agitated by the child’s game. As she continued on in the futile search, every ounce of common sense screamed at her to stop and think. However, the only thought that remained obtrusive was Ayric and his display of magicka.
She took a breath, and clenched her fists at her side. A few moments later, she took one hand and raised it up until it was visible in front of her face.
“This is ridiculous.” She whispered, but sealed her eyes shut nevertheless. From behind closed lids, the darkness brightened, and when she peeked through one eye, she could see a gleaming ball of light floating there, pure and perfect. Overwhelmed with excitement, she allowed herself to laugh, waving the light around to reveal the forest.
“Ayric! I did it!” She screeched, and set off at a jog, weaving through the trees in search of the boy. In her hand she kept the light burning, and soon she saw his form in front of her. She jumped at him, missing her target and nearly falling over as he stood in awe of the sight before him. They had reached the edge of the forest and Raen followed the boy’s gaze as her light dissipated. She couldn’t mask the gasp that escaped her then.
There stood Herisuun lodged in the mountain, and the winding path up to it lit by seemingly ever-burning torches. The greater moon, Masser, hung above the mountain like a guardian, along with its lesser close behind. The light from them had the snow on the top of the mountain shimmering. It made the settlement look like something from a children’s fairy tale Raen’s father had once told her. Though they had seen the settlement before on their journey, it was never so close as it was now. Raen glanced over at Ayric, who was still stunned by the beauty, and nudged him forward.
“Come on.” She urged. “We can’t just stand here and gawk at it.”
The boy obeyed and shook away the trance he had lost himself in. He trotted a few steps in front of Raen but never once allowed his eyes to wander from Heirsuun. Raen watched the elation spread throughout his body, from his expressions to his long, purposeful strides as he walked. While the arrival in Heirsuun would mark the end of an adventure, Raen knew it also signified the beginning of something new. The mystery of what that might be is what propelled her momentum forward as they climbed to the settlement.