The Aterland Chronicles

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Chapter 23: THE FAE

The journey to Kelpivale, though exhausting, had been relatively uneventful. Fatigue had long stifled their initial urge to indulge in friendly banter. Consequently, for the most part, the five of them walked in silence, focussing on what, for Rose, at least, was becoming an increasingly difficult task, the task of putting one foot in front of the other.

Initially, as they had made their way further west, the worst of the snow thawed and the afternoon sun, though hazy, had warmed their aching bones. That night had been more of a challenge. It fell quickly like a black cloud and brought with it a freezing mist. The hazy glitter softened the darkness but froze the ground to an icy glass that cracked beneath their feet.

As agreed, they had taken few breaks, just short stops to drink, eat, and rest their weary legs. They dared not risk lighting a fire. As the five of them trudged on into the early morning hours, the mist finally lifted, revealing the dark, inhospitable waters of Ogin’s Deep. Speckles of soft light rippled across its surface, reflected glimmers of an enormous pale moon that grew larger and more translucent as dawn approached.

Attempting to keep within the cover of the overhanging crag, they had kept together in a tight line. Now, as they drew nearer to Kelpivale and the western coastline, Rose could taste the salt in the air, carried along by the Aborahs, Ferrum’s legendary fierce onshore winds, which whipped at her face stinging her eyes and coating her skin with a thin powdery film.

The putrid aroma of rotting fish assaulted Rose’s senses. She gagged. We must be nearing Kelpivale. She raised a small, tired smile at Sloley, who was, as usual, perched happily on Lee’s shoulder. Periodically the loris flicked out his slender tongue, sampling the air before smacking his lips together and making curiously musical clicking noises as he savoured this salty treat.

Commander Linden slowed beside her, taking out his map.

“How much further to the Landings?” Rose, unusually impatient, didn’t wait for his reply, “Will we be able to cross to Rhodium before dawn?”

“Maybe, if Ash has everything ready for us,” said Linden, gesturing to a small finger-like outcrop ahead of them. “Once we round that ridge we should get a clear view of the Landings.”

“Thank goodness,” said Auriel, “I don’t think these feet could carry me much further, they’re killing me, and they’d probably ache even more if they weren’t so frozen.”

“They are not frozen Auriel,” said Lee, “they may feel frozen, but truly, if they were frozen you then would be in serious trouble, and I doubt you’d still be walking. In fact, bits of them would probably have broken off by now.”

“You know Lee,” Auriel shook her head wearily, rolling her eyes skyward, “sometimes I have this almost irresistible urge to rip my ears off when you say things like that.”

“Only sometimes?” Rose quipped.

Lee’s brows arched dramatically, a hint of a smile flickered across his lips.

The cold wind intensified as they rounded the point and emerged from the shelter of the basin. It lashed at every inch of exposed skin, biting like a thousand tiny, needle-sharp teeth and leaving their cheeks stinging and raw. Up ahead of them Rose could just make out the Landings, an eclectic collection of ragged huts and wharfs, where local fishermen anchored their boats and landed their catches. Dawn was fast approaching; soon the whole area would be teeming with fishermen and their crew.

A figure emerged from behind one of the huts. Even from this distance, Rose recognised the tall, muscular silhouette framed in the moonlight, its bulky form implausibly lithe, like a dancing bear. Raising his arm, Ash motioned for them to join him. As Rose approached, she could see that Ash was not alone. Beside him stood a short, stout, bearded Ferrish native, dressed from head to toe in Snow bear skin.

Squashed features protruded from a tangle of hair and fur. Rose found it hard to make out which belonged to him and which formerly, had been owned by the bear. The skin on his face was ruddy and weathered yet, beneath bushy brows, his eyes were the same vivid emerald green as Ash’s. However, the most overwhelming impression the fisherman made on her was how strongly he smelled. He and in fact, the whole area, reeked of fish. The wooden jetty under their feet was slippery with ice, and frozen within it, sparkling like tiny pearlescent sequins, were thousands of fish scales interspersed with sinewy, grey lumps; fish guts yet to be taken by the gulls.

“I’m glad to see you all made it here safely,” Ash welcomed them with a broad grin. His eyes flicked briefly to Rose as he rested a hand on the shoulder of the man at his side. “This here is Ewan, he’s been fishing these waters for over thirty years, and he’s agreed to take us across in his boat. To be fair, the man didn’t take much persuading when he knew you would be with us Rose. You’re quite a celebrity around these parts it seems.”

Ewan barely lifted his eyes from Rose, except to cast a wary glance at the Snow leopard circling soundlessly around them.

“It’s good to meet you, Ewan, we appreciate your help,” Rose offered her hand. “I expect Ash has relayed to you the importance of keeping our whereabouts from becoming widely known.”

“Aye,” said Ewan, rubbing his stumpy fingers on his coat before taking her hand. “Yea can rely on me and me lad, Lady Rose. We’ll nay utter a word t’ anyone. Yea can be assured o’ that. ’Tis a real pleasure to meet you, so it is.”

“Likewise, but please, call me Rose.”

Ewan arched a brow, his eyes widening.

“We need to get going,” Linden nodded towards the rapidly brightening eastern horizon.

“Everything is ready,” Ash gestured to a heavily laden boat moored off the jetty. “We can depart right away. Isn’t that right Ewan?”

“Aye,” Ewan’s eyes drifted nervously towards the large striped, white cat. “Though I’m nay sure about the…”

As he spoke, the snow leopard’s form glowed, becoming blurred and indistinct. Flowing like warm jelly into an invisible mould it finally solidified, and Ro-eh-na stood before them.

“Is this more to your taste?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah, o’ course… right,” Evidently flustered Ewan averted his eyes from Ro-eh-na’s deformed features. “I apologise, m’ Lady, but we rarely see Ascendants in these ‘ere parts an’ I’ve never seen anyone do that. If ye follow me, I’ll take yer below to yer accommodation. I doubt it’s what yer used to, but it’ll be warm an’ dry, an’ there’s room enough t’ rest yer bones.”

Ewan’s fishing schooner, expertly crafted from the finest Ferrish oak, was big enough to accommodate all of them comfortably. Below deck was a fair-sized chamber with a small galley. The room was furnished with a collection of mattresses, each strewn with colourful, hand woven blankets. Animal pelts covered the floor and a metal wood stove burned at the rear of the cabin where a pan of smoked fish soup simmered gently.

By its side, a small table was laid with platters piled high with large slabs of fresh bread.

“Thank you, for going to all this trouble,” said Rose.

“There’s nay need t’ thank us, me lady,” said Ewan, “‘Tis we that’ll be thanking ye in the end I’ll wager. Just make yer selves comfortable an’ me an’ the lad will get us underway.”

Ewan’s son, Oren, a small boy of about ten with an unruly head of chestnut brown hair, moved about them with the zeal of a whippet. Spooning large portions of the soup into pewter bowls, he handed one to each of them together with a wedge of fresh bread.

“Good lad,” Ewan watched proudly from the steps of the cabin. “Now get thee on deck and raise the foresail.”

“By me-self?” The boy’s eyes widened excitedly.

“Aye,” said Ewan with a wink, “special treat, I’ll be up in a bit.”

“Right ye are Da,” Oren beamed as he clattered up the steps letting out a long, joyful whoop.

“You’d do well t’ get some kip,” Ewan gestured to the patchwork pillows resting on top of the mattresses. “Laurel, me wife, made those particular. All sorts in them, lavender, hops, lemon balm, rosemary and even a few rose petals I’ll wager. Anyhows always does the trick fur me. Me head hits one of them an’ I’m out like a candle in the Aborah. I’ll be sure to wake yer before we make land.”

Sitting on their mattresses, they warmed themselves by the stove before eating their simple meal. Linden unlatched the wood burner’s small metal door and added a couple of logs before pulling on a long metal tab and opening up the flue. The fire burst into life, filling the cabin with a soft glow and the homely smell of burning wood.

“Ewan’s right,” he said, “we should get some rest. I’m trained for this, and I’m about as tired as I’ve ever been. We’ll need our wits about us when we reach Rhodium. Knuckers are not the only evil we will find there for sure.”

“Evil... really? Is a wasp evil? Is a Brown bear driven by wickedness?” Lee huffed indignantly, “Knuckers are water dragons. That doesn’t make them paragons of evil, it just makes them water dragons. In fact, as dragons they are quite fascinating, did you know that not only are they the only dragons that can survive under water and the only dragons that can’t fly, but they’re also the only ones unable to cast fyre. Knuckers are by far the most interesting of all of their phylogenetic class, furthermore...”

“I think I’m beginning to understand your ‘tearing your ears off’ remark earlier Auriel,” said Linden with a chuckle.

“He does grow on you, though,” Ash hitched up the side of his mouth, “…a bit like a fungus.”

“I am still here you know,” Lee flashed them a look of frustration. “I just don’t see what’s so evil about Knuckers. They are simply animals that need treating with respect. They will only attack if you invade their territory or threaten their young. They’re fish eaters for goodness sake!”

“As are sharks,” said Auriel, “but Linden’s right, it’s not just Knuckers we need to be concerned about. This area is known to be crawling with Fae.”

“Fae?” Lee arched an eyebrow.

“According to The Concise History of Rhodium: Foundation to Post Dragon War,” Auriel closed her eyes as she read aloud from the virtual book, carefully stored in her mind, along with thousands of others. “The Fae appeared after the Great Dragon War. Little is known of them, except for the fact that they are vaporous spirits of some kind. Never found south of Rhodium, Fae are generally confined to the areas surrounding Knucker Bay, Enisfrae and Dynasgwyn.” She hesitated momentarily, frowning. “It says here that if they pass through you, they freeze you solid. Any interaction of this kind will kill a native instantly and can severely damage the bodies of ascendants, often irreparably.” Auriel opened her eyes. “That’s why Rhodium has remained virtually deserted since the Great Dragon War. No one goes there now. No one sane that is...”

The cabin fell silent for a second until Ash noisily gulped down the last of his soup, mopping up the dregs with a large wedge of bread.

“Auriel, your knowledge never fails to depress,” Ash wiped his mouth with his hand, glancing up at her and shaking his head with an exaggerated sigh. “Did you read every single book in the Oratory before we left?”

“Not every book,” Auriel’s eyes flashed indignantly, “just the ones that Lord Dux told me would be relevant.” Her face clouded. “I hope that the Afreet didn’t burn down the library. All of those manuscripts, all of that knowledge. Rose, you don’t think…”

Rose did not answer. She lay, curled up on a mattress, head resting lightly on the sweetly aromatic pillow, her uneaten meal at her side.

“She’s got it right, as usual,” Ash pulled the thick woollen blanket over Rose’s shoulders, “we should get some sleep.”

Rose was awoken by the clatter of crockery, to the drone of tuneless whistling and the pungent smell of coffee.

Ewan stood in the small galley at the rear of the cabin. At first, Rose did not recognise him, nor the strangely furnished room, which seemed to lurch sickeningly, tilting sideways as she attempted to sit up. A wave of nausea washed over her.

“We’ll be making shallow water soon, ye’ll feel a bit better then,” Ewan’s face cracked into a knowing grin. “There’s a wee jetty just ahead. I’ll not be docking there, though; it’s too risky. I’ll anchor offshore, and ye can take the small skiff. It’ll take the six o’ yer.” Wavering for a second he added, “Any o’ ye know how t’ handle a skiff?”

“I can row,” said Linden, “but what about our supplies?”

“Aye,” said Ewan, “there’ll be room enough for them too.”

Rose forced down a mouthful of the freshly made coffee while she watched the others tuck into thick, salted biscuits spread liberally with some sort of fermented fish paste. Whatever it was it made her want to heave.

“Are you okay, Rose?” Ash said, “You look rather green.”

“I’ll be okay,” Rose covered her mouth and nose with her hand, “I guess I’m not much of a sailor, and that smells awful. How can you eat that stuff?”

“You know us Muds, Rose,” Ash said with a wink, “We have to eat to keep up our strength. You should try them, Kelpitats are a Ferrish delicacy.”

“Not exactly fyrepot though is it?” Said Lee, “rotten fish with flour, salt, and water. Whatever inspired anyone to concoct something like that?”

“Starvation, I suspect,” said Ash, “but you get used to the smell after a while and then they start to taste surprisingly good. Ewan tells me that the fishermen eat them to prevent sea sickness, so maybe you should try some Rose?”

“I’ll pass thanks,” said Rose, “I’m struggling to keep the coffee down.”

She jumped at a sudden rushing, rattling sound. Ewan and Oren had dropped anchor and were releasing the skiff from its trusses at the stern of the boat. There followed a loud slap as the vessel hit the water. Waves pummelling the side of the boat, which rocked wildly for a few seconds. Oren held fast to the small craft’s bow rope. When the rocking had ceased, the boy tethered the skiff tightly to the stern of the schooner.

“Good lad!” Ewan said, patting his son on one shoulder. “We’ll make a fisherman of yer yet, so we will.”

A few minutes later they were all on deck, their haversacks crammed with supplies. The air was needle-sharp. They pulled thick robes tightly about their bodies.

The wind had dropped to a zephyr. Nevertheless, the tiny ice crystals carried within it caused Rose’s eyes to prickle and tear. Blinking hard she pulled her hood over her face as she looked out towards the north.

Expecting to see land, she groaned unconsciously as she saw only a thick white mist that eddied and flowed as the fickle breeze pulled it first this way, then that. The fog hung, suspended a few inches over the rippling water. It moved towards them like a ghostly apparition intent on swallowing them up.

“The fog will wane as the sun rises, I’d wait, but we’re only a few hundred yards from shore now, it’s over yonder, see you can just make out the shoreline.” Ewan raised his arm, pointing out into the haze. Hesitating before adding guiltily, “I cannot risk taking yer any closer.”

“That’s fine Ewan,” said Rose, aware of the sailor’s increasing nervousness. “We appreciate you bringing us this far. I know that you would not usually venture this far into Rhodium, thank you and you also Orin.”

Rose stifled a smile as the young boy flushed, averting his eyes.

As the six of them climbed down into the small skiff, it was evident that they would not all fit in safely. Their supplies took up almost half of the available space, and Linden took up most of what remained.

Auriel slipped, landing uncomfortably on Linden’s lap.

Ash earned a stern glance from her when he failed to subdue a chuckle. Sobering, he turned to Ro-eh-na as they both attempted to maintain their footing on the cramped and very shaky deck. He linked his thumbs together, making a flapping gesture with his hands.

“Shall we?”

Ro-eh-na nodded. Ash’s eyes flicked towards Rose.

“Good idea,” she said, “but stay close to the boat, I don’t want any of us out on our own around here.”

Linden pushed off from the schooner, they lifted their hands in farewell, but Ewan and Orin did not wait to bid them goodbye. The anchor had already been raised, and the fishing boat had begun its journey back to Ferrum.

“Does anyone else get the feeling that they are rather keen to leave?” said Auriel, “I can’t say that I blame them. It’s rather creepy here isn’t it?”

“Hardly,” said Lee, “It’s simply an advection fog caused by relatively warmer air flowing over the cold sea surface. I don’t see why that should creep you out.”

“No,” said Auriel, “I don’t suppose you would.”

“I know what you mean Auriel,” said Rose, the hairs on the back of her neck beginning to prickle, “there is something about it that makes my skin crawl.”

Linden’s massive, muscular arms moved decisively and rhythmically, lifting, dropping and then pulling the large oak oars through the water. The small boat moved quickly into the mist. Soon they were completely shrouded in its vast, suffocating void. The fog was so stiflingly opaque that it seemed to smother every sound. The eerie silence intensified until all that could be heard was the faint rhythmic swishing of the oars cutting through the water and the muffled beating wings of two white doves following closely as they edged ever nearer to Rhodium’s concealed shoreline.

“What was that?” Auriel’s voice was nervously hushed. “Did you hear that?”

“It’s just the wind,” said Lee.

“There’s barely any wind,” Rose’s sense of foreboding was growing, “and even the Aborahs didn’t howl like that.”

“The Mud’s call them the wailing Fae,” Linden broke his stroke, letting the boat coast in the water as he turned his head towards the direction of the sound. “It is said that the day you hear the cry of the Fae, you’ll not see nightfall.”

“I doubt that there is a scrap of empirical evidence for that statement,” said Lee, irritably “superstitious nonsense!”

“Auriel, have you read anything that could help?” Rose said, “Maybe you’ve heard of some spells that can be used to subdue them?”

“There are no spells that explicitly deal with the Fae, though blocking spells might work, I suppose.” Said Auriel, “There is virtually nothing written about the Fae at all, so few people have ever survived a meeting. No one knows much about them, let alone how they are affected by magic. I don’t think many ascendants have risked this journey and only a few Ferrish hunters have been desperate enough to brave this area. They visit only briefly, sailing across Ogin’s Deep to trap snow bears for their pelts. I guess the promise of great wealth is enough to conquer a certain amount of fear. Of the few Muds who have encountered the Fae and lived to tell about it, all had managed to return to their boats before they were attacked. The Fae appear to be unable to cross the water.”

Their boat emerged, gliding out of the mist like a bird soaring through the clouds into a sky full of sunlight. Rose gasped as she caught her first glimpse of Rhodium’s desolate, snow-covered shoreline, looming before her in all of its grandeur. The magnificent glaciers of the Ice Mountains towered above them to the north and east. The morning sun glistened, crowning their glory as it ascended majestically behind their twin peaks, set against the backdrop of an endless topaz blue sky as if some divine artist had sketched in every inch of the scene ensuring each delicate point of colour was placed for maximum effect.

“It’s beautiful,” Rose’s eyes began to smart. She felt bizarrely sentimental. This is my home. Though she had no recollection of the place so it was quite ridiculous that she should feel this way. This land of frozen snow was so dazzlingly white that it pained her eyes just to look at it and yet she could not stop looking, she took in every inch of it.

Now only a few feet from the shore, the mist hung behind them like a gleaming curtain flawlessly dividing water from land.

“Fascinating,” Lee’s eyes narrowed as he studied the phenomenon. He dipped his fingers into the water only to lift them out a second later, a smile of satisfaction lighting his face. “As I expected. The water is warmer here, which is why the advection fog is so thick just a few feet behind us while this area is clear. Still, I’m not sure why the water is so warm here considering all of the snow...”

“I think I can explain that,” said Auriel, ignoring Lee’s openly sceptical expression. “This area is geothermally active; it lies over the Rhodium plume, a volcanic hotspot. The mist over the warm water must be one of these geothermal effects, maybe the wailing we heard could be another?” This last question was asked with more than a hint of optimism.

“Possibly,” Linden, grabbed for his quiver of arrows, placing them at his side before pulling hard on the oars and forcing the boat up into the shallows. “There’s no harm in being prepared though is there?”

He manoeuvred the skiff towards the shoreline, weaving between large rocks that jutted from the water like an old giant’s teeth; black, crooked and broken. There was no sign of the jetty that Ewan had described though Linden seemed unperturbed. When the water was around waist deep, Linden leapt over the side and guided the boat safely into the shore.

“Throw us the rope,” Ash stood on the snowy bank with Ro-eh-na shivering uncomfortably at his side.

“Couldn’t you have made that offer before I got into the water?” Linden tossed the line with such force that it knocked Ash backwards as he caught it.

“I guess I could have,” Ash gathered up the slack and yanked hard on the cord, “but I just love watching you tough guys show off for the girls.”

After landing the boat, they quickly gathered their supplies hitching the thickly woven haversacks up onto their shoulders.

“Which way now?” Linden grabbed up handfuls of the powdery snow, rubbing it over his wet limbs.

“Northwest, towards the Knucker holes,” Rose arched her brows quizzically. “Linden, what are you doing?”

“It prevents frostbite,” said Linden, “one of the things I picked up during cold weather training.”

“Yeah,” said Lee, with a quirk of his lips “like sticking your hand in the fire prevents burns…”

“What is that?” Ro-eh-na pointed a quivering hand towards the Northern horizon.

A dense, shimmering, silver-white fog was billowing up from the Northern snow lands and heading towards them at speed.

“A blizzard?” Linden squinted into the distance, “it looks like a snow storm though it seems remarkably localised.”

“A blizzard… from a cloudless sky,” said Lee, “really?”

They watched the swelling white cloud, in silence for a while, and then it began. A soft, pulsating, wailing cry, intensifying rapidly as the billowing miasma approached.

Sloley, suddenly agitated, let out a tirade of squeals and high-pitched clicks, as he frantically buried himself in the hood of Lee’s cloak.

Cautiously, Linden unhitched the bow from his shoulder. Drawing an arrow from his quiver, in one seamless movement, he lifted his bow, set the arrow and took aim.

“Linden, I know I’m going to regret asking this,” Lee glanced from Linden to the shimmering mist, now only a few hundred yards away from them. “But, what are you aiming at?”

“Whatever emerges from that,” Linden jerked his head towards the fog.

The fog grew more opaque as it approached, glittering in the sunlight as millions of tiny crystals eddied and danced within the miasma.

“On your order Lady Rose.” Said Linden.

A light breeze caught Rose’s hair, and it swirled around her like a silken cloak. Rose focussed her attention on the fog, which had stalled and was now billowing and shifting on the tundra about fifty yards ahead of them. She could see shapes moving within the miasma, tall, thin ghostly figures. These extraordinary, dynamic forms materialised, expanded and merged only to disperse and vanish seconds later.

Like the wings of some ethereal butterfly, the breeze caressed Rose’s skin, bringing with it a familiar aroma. Snow roses, I can smell snow roses.

A form flew out from the approaching cloud. Letting out a long screech, it glided rapidly towards them like some ghostly eagle owl intent on their destruction. In an instant, Linden let fly his arrow.

“No!” Rose raised a hand towards the officer and then watched helplessly as the arrow flew past her towards the wraithlike figure.

The arrow hit, instantly freezing, it fractured, splintering into a thousand pieces, all readily absorbed into the glittering fog. The wailing intensified into a cacophony of blood-chilling screams. More figures began to emerge; soon there were hundreds of ghostly forms moving rapidly towards them.

The perfume of the snow roses became intoxicating, suffocating, and yet Rose felt no fear. Instead, there was a strange sense of calm, of belonging, as if she had reached her last refuge, her sanctuary.

“Wait there,” her tone challenged any argument. “I know them, these are my people.”

“Rose, you shouldn’t go alone,” Ash took hold of her arm, “let me...”

“I must do this alone,” she placed her hand over his, “please Ash, I’ll be okay. They will not harm me. These are my people Ash.”

“Rose, we swore to protect you,” said Ash “do not ask us to break our oath.”

“I would never do that,” She said, giving his arm a reassuring squeeze, “but if you accompany me you will be putting us both in danger.”

“Please be careful Rose,” he said, “I’ve kind of got used to having you around.”

As Rose approached the emergent group of wraithlike creatures she did not look back. As she neared them, their wailing began to quieten. She could see them clearly now, transparent phantoms, peppered with ragged black holes, punched out from their substance like silver cobwebs shattered by stones. So this is what fractionation venom does; punctures the soul, ripping out its very essence. Before her were the remains of her people, the fragmented souls from whom Rose was ascended. These broken spirits were all that remained of the Whytes of Rhodium.

The snow crunched under her feet as she continued towards them and with each stride, the fragrance of snow roses grew more potent.

“It is she…” their hushed voices had a fragile, musical quality, “our redeemers are returned to us as we were promised. We have waited so long…”

Each word was carried along on the rose-scented breeze, the final words of each sentence fading, lost, towed away by the current of air.

One figure emerged from the assemblage. His lithe, vaporous form draped in long greyed robes. Though ragged and torn, Rose recognised them as the mantles of a Whyte ascendant. His long silver-white hair and beard hovered about him, covering much of his thin, deeply lined face. Then, as if caught in an underwater current, this silver veil of kelp drifted upwards, revealing a gaping black hole the size of a fist just below the cheekbone of one eye. Rose let out a sharp breath and halted in her tracks.

“We have waited long for you Rose of the Whyte,” his words flowed like warm honey, melting quickly away as he spoke. “Are you well my dear friends?”

Friends? Rose turned, expecting to find that Ash had followed her, but she was alone. Ash stood watching her from where she had left him. She sensed his concern.

The wraith’s eyes crinkled at their edges as he smiled, instantly reminding Rose of Lord Dux. She felt herself relax as a familiar warmth stirred within in her chest. It was the sensation experienced when greeting an old friend.

“Rose the Whyte, you may not remember me here,” he placed a bony forefinger to his forehead, “but Ruzha, Ogin, Sevti and Eldwyn, they will remember me here.” He set his hand flat at the centre of his chest.

“The four and I fought together during the Dragon War,” he cast his eyes towards Ash and the others, who had endeavoured to move closer as they talked. His glare forced them to take a step backwards before his eyes returned to Rose. “You knew me as Gydion then. Now I come again to aid you, we ready ourselves for your call. You need only to speak my name.”

“I wish that my memory of you was stronger Gydion, though I sense much warmth and I thank you for your offer of aid,” said Rose,” but at present my only aim is to locate a Knucker.”

“Knuckers abound in this area,” Gydion hesitated, “though they do not take kindly to their eggs being plundered and we cannot protect you from their spew.”

“We do not seek their eggs,” said Rose, “and we are quite capable of defending ourselves.”

“Ah, but it is not what you seek that is of concern,” he gave a slow wink of an eye, “but that which seeks you.”

A sudden squall blew up, seemingly from nowhere, lifting Gydion and his Fae high into the air, their forms disintegrating, scattering like snowflakes in a blizzard and returning them once more to the cloud of glittering dust that vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

Ahead of her now, the early morning sun lit the stark white landscape, dazzling her as she looked out on a seemingly endless expanse of snow-covered tundra.

“What did it say?” Ash cooed into Rose’s ear.

She jumped, being unaware of his presence.

“His name is Gydion, he’s an old friend,” Rose, ignored Ash’s questioning look, “he wanted to warn us to take care around the Knuckers.”

“Why does everyone have such a problem with Knuckers?” Lee handed a piece of dried fruit to Sloley, who took it into his paws and nibbled at it eagerly. “Knuckers are only dragons and dragons are such unobjectionable animals.”

“Yes, well you may revise your opinion after you have met one or two of them in the flesh.”

“Never,” said Lee, “Nothing can dampen my enthusiasm for such perfect animals. I mean, other dragons breathe out fyre, but Knuckers spew out ice. You have to admit that’s cool... Why are you all laughing?”


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