As Olivier had his respite, so too did the storm, now returned in full force. Rain, held at bay for so long, was now unleashed. The world, itself, seemed to quake with the cracks of thunder, the sky itself alight from the lightning that burned a path through the gray expanse, all the while Avin guided Olivier through the forest. Rain pattered on the leaves, wind creaked the tree’s limbs, and the area was steeped in the scent of ozone.
Olivier fought to keep pace with the Natorei, taking this all in stride. Not a single blast of wind seemed to deter him, while Olivier fought to stay on his feet. It would be far easier if he had more than one arm to use, but he didn’t want to cause a stir yet. He didn’t know if he could trust Avin, and the last thing he needed was to lose his only guide in the middle of a forest during a storm. Not only that, there was the potential consequence of it “touching” the forest or storm, itself, and corrupting it, twisting it into something sinister.
So he went on, one armed, but it became a trial. His sword would snag on groaning limbs, choking then slapping him down onto his rump. The first few he was able to play off, but by the sixth, seventh, ninth, Avin no longer feigned care and would instead simply laugh. Which he did, in great amount. Fate, though, would not allow one disabled, even if by choice, to be mocked, and Avin, so enthralled in his own giggles, flew backwards into a limb, bent back far by the wind. It snapped, and the Natorei whizzed through the forest, fading into the dark before bursting into a bright puff, showing the bark of the tree he had hit.
Olivier waited by the tree that flung him, a tall, strong, aged sycamore, and watched the sky as the grays swirled and continued towards the plains. He wasn’t sure if he had summoned it when he talked about the Hallowed and Tartarus, but bad things always seem to emerge whenever they were mentioned, as if the Earth Mothers, Themselves, wish to purge the world of their utterance and presence. And yet They couldn’t even remove the source, for they were no longer apart of Their cycle. They had broken their ties with the Earth Mothers, had spurned their creators, and yet it was their creators that struggled to deal with them... Avin had returned, panting and grumbling, his pink a touch darker than it was before, almost red.
“We shall not speak of this,” he said, while his glare dared Olivier to laugh. Olivier simply blinked, giving the Natorei a bored look, and simply reached up and plucked a leaf off the sycamore. He twirled it, observing it before Avin, and the Natorei simply huffed and whizzed by, leading the way again. Olivier made sure to keep a firm grasp on it, waving it again and again whenever the Natorei looked back, a reminder for when his sword would catch.
In truth, as they continued their delve, Olivier was thankful for the storm. Sure, his imagination would run wild, seeing things in each flash of lightning, now dulled by his companion’s presence, but true threats would not dare attempt the storm just to get to them. No Leocarn would be out in this, nor Pyrhuund nor Stryx... nor even Drake. He had never considered the possibility of Drakes; Olivier looked to the sky, yellow filling his vision, thinking back to how carefree he had been above the crag. Open to the sky, nothing in between him nor its blue majesty; nothing in between him and a bolt of blue plummeting from the sky and making him a meal. Maybe he had more luck than he th-
He thought too soon.
Avin chuckled as Olivier exclaimed, teetering on the edge of the cliff. They had reached the end of the forest, ending at that cliff with nothing but open plains to see beyond, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t easily a forty-yard drop. The sun could be seen far across the plains, sinking behind the mountains far to the west. How those jagged tops dripped and bled with orange and purple light, trickling down their cracked edges, gnashing at the clouds as well in their hunger and fury while also giving the plains before it a coppery hue. A gust of wind could be seen blowing across the tall grass, clacking up the cliff until it hit Olivier, knocking him back onto his feet, and he heaved a sigh, glowering at Avin.
The Natorei simply shrugged, chortling.
“I know,” he said, pulling on Olivier’s shoulder, trying to turn him right. “It’s a beautiful sight, but, uh, I doubt those tentacles are aerodynamic. Not only that, I think you’d be a touch lopsided... This way.”
Olivier followed his heeding, and he could see that a path ran down along the side of the cliff. As it descended, though, it went back into the cliff. Wind whistled down the path, winding around the jagged ceiling; Olivier had to duck when he first entered and did not right until they were a good sixty paces in. Even then, he had to be careful not to let his shell or personal tripping apparatus catch on anything. The path continued to spiral, though it was wide, easily twenty steps in between each. Soft gems were embedded in the walls, lighting their path.
At least, they did for six turns.
Darkness sprawled before them, with only a glint at the bottom. Olivier froze. Why did he agree to follow this Natorei? Why did he think he would help him? This wasn’t a way to someplace to rest; this was a trap. He had followed this fairy under the cliff, if not the continent, and was going to be left down here.
Avin had floated a bit down the path before he noticed Olivier had stopped. He turned around and buzzed up to him, grimacing.
“What’s the matter?” He said. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of the dark. I’m literally glowing.”
“Where are you taking me? Really?” Olivier said, his voice betraying him. It shook and cracked, seeming to both fumble over itself while slowing, jarred.
“I told you. We’re going to Narvaal.”
“Why would a Natorei town be underground? Why would a Natorei go underground?” Olivier shook his head, taking a step back. “I shouldn’t have trusted you.”
“Right. Olimar. This is the path up to the forest. Narvaal is in a bowl just a bit further down. We could have gone the trade route instead, but I don’t think you want to be out in the plains during a thunderstorm. Do you? Because if you want we could go back now and skip merrily between lightning strikes. I’ll even craft a few licthspeer to act as lightning rods.” Avin groaned and darted behind Olivier’s shell, giving it a hard enough smack to make it flop forward. Olivier took a step as it did, another as Avin landed on his shoulder. “Trust me on this, okay? Besides, what reason would I have to trick you? You’re far too entertaining to lose... You don’t need me to lead you here, do you? Unless you forget how to stair.”
Olivier’s cheeks warmed. The yellow in his eyes faded away, but they weren’t left without color. Red flashed before those stars... but he simply sighed and took his first, voluntary, step down the path, each step after just as heavy, thumping away. The warm slowly faded from his cheeks, replaced with a chill, watching after that light, yet it never grew closer. He chanced a look at the Natorei every so often, sitting cross legged on his shoulder, humming away into Olivier’s ear, but the smile that was plastered on his face could both be merriment and content... as well as cunning and deceit.
What truly awaited at the bottom, if there was even a bottom? Was this simply a trick, an illusion? He was no stranger to Natorei “trust”. He had remembered the supposed “endless pies” his “friend” Laian had pulled on him so many years ago; though her parents scolded her, it would take months to get the taste of dirt out of Olivier’s mouth. And that was simply a child pulling a prank on her “friend;” he shuddered more as the light remained just as distant. As the path was still just as long. He looked back up the stairs, towards the entrance, and wondered if it was too late to turn back when Avin cleared his throat.
“You might want to pay attention ahead,” he said, almost singing it. He pushed against Olivier’s shell, turning his head for him as, at long last, the light did seem closer. In fact, a lot closer, as if it was-
“Halt!” The light, a Natorei, shrilled, the path exploding with bright, blue light. It emanated from her smooth skin, covering all but her arms, calves and feet, and face in its incandescence. Her eyes might as well have been living flames, those reds burning so bright under short, black hair. She swung out her left hand, and a long, jagged spear of light sparked off the wall, hissing before Olivier’s nose... gone as she cocked her head at Avin.
“Hey, Fili,” he grumbled, giving her a halfhearted wave, looking anywhere but at her, even as she flung herself at him.
“Praise be to Astra,” she said, sniffling, and sobbed as she batted against him. Still on Olivier’s shoulder. “We were all worried sick! How could you up and leave us like that? During a storm, no less!”
“I was only gone for a few hours-”
“It felt like an eternity.”
“Now imagine if I really did leave.”
“No!” She wailed as she continued to hit him, but stopped, glowering at Olivier though still sat on him. Once more the spear of light jutted into his chin, warbling, buzzing in her wing’s stead. Those deep, crimson wings were like a butterfly’s, though their edges were far more deadly. “It was you, wasn’t it? You imparted these dreadful notions into his mind, didn’t you?”
“What? Wait! N-” Olivier sputtered, saved as Avin cleared his throat again.
“Uh, no.” He stated. “He’s actually the reason I returned.”
“Oh! Really?” The spear was gone in a flash, instead launching herself. She latched onto his cheek as she covered it in kisses. “Thank you thank you thank you!”
“I wouldn’t be thanking him. He may be the reason I leave, too.” Fili gasped, and flung herself, the spear returned once more. It smoked on Olivier’s cheek, burning away the kisses she had just placed. Avin hummed, scratching his chin, and the spear wavered-
“Will you stop messing with her?” Olivier exclaimed.
“I’m thinking about it...” He shrugged, and how he smirked as he lazed off Olivier’s shoulder. “Nah. I thought traveling with a Cephamorian might have been interesting, but this guy is dullsville.”
“Then what is he doing here, Avin?” Fili said, fluttering over to Olivier. Her cheeks were puffed, making her rounded face that much more round, and fluttered between both eyes, humming, mulling to herself. “Actually, that is a good question. What is a Cephamorian doing all the way out here... Is this a Cephamorian? It looks more like a Terrahn with a bad hair day.”
“I’m... a mix,” Olivier said, feeling uncomfortable under her scrutinizing gaze. “My mother was Terrahn, while my father was a Cephamorian, so you are right. On both accounts.”
“Huh? Cephamorian and Terrahn can mate? How does that work?”
“Rather ugly, it seems,” Avin said, chortling as he buzzed over to Olivier again, and knocked on his shell.
Fili scoffed, and shoved Avin... into the wall. She fluttered down to Olivier’s hand, and patted it, giving him a warm smile.
“Don’t listen to him. You are beautiful,” she said, and gasped. “Oh dear. I haven’t even given you my name. I’m Fili.”
She let his hand go, and fluttered back, taking him all in. Again. Olivier’s cheeks burned once more, orange flowing through his eyes, feeling like he did not so long ago in his father’s shop, as he felt with Gwen. Terrahn, Faun, Cephamorian, Itchyoman; the only time he did not feel as if he was being judged or gawked at was when he had Aceon clients, but only when they were looking. Their waves were always a bit more pronounced, more blunt, as if he would not understand... as if he was-
Fili tugged on his right arm sleeve.
“What happened here?” She said.
“Straight to the arm, Fili? Really?” Avin said, clucking his tongue as he pulled himself out of the wall, lazing to her side. “A civilized person would not have asked... but, seriously, where is it?”
“Oh. Uh. I was... born without one,” Olivier said.
She gasped, knocking Avin into the wall once more, and fluttered up to Olivier’s cheek again, kissing it.
Avin grumbled, pulling himself free again, and floated over Fili. He tapped on her shoulder, cleared his throat for the third time, and gestured towards the path.
“If you do not mind, I was leading my new friend here into town so he can get some food and rest... You know... since he looks like he is about to keel over right on our doorstep! Maybe even faster because of unwanted affection and attention.”
“Oh, of course! How shortsighted of me. I should have known he was famished, being as far away from the sea as he was. Forgive me, Olson.”
“It’s Olivier,” Olivier uttered, too lost to really care at the moment.
“Sorry, Oil, dear.”
She fluttered down the path, leaving Avin to land on Olivier’s shoulder again with a weary sigh.
“Ah, Fili,” he said. “I would actually maybe like her if she wasn’t so modest. She needs to open up a little more, you know... Nah. She’s just not my type.”
Olivier... didn’t know where to even start, so he decided to simply follow after Fili. The steps seemed to be far lighter than when he began or before he stopped. They clacked a lot louder, flew faster underneath his feet, chasing after the blue as the pink hunkered down on his shoulder and gripped on to the right sleeve for dear life, flying, flailing, almost flung off and was when Olivier came to a sudden stop. The path had ended, and, off to the left, there was an opening in the rock, revealing a wide canyon within the mountains. Sycamores grew here as well, taller than their cousins before the path. They seemed to reach towards the heavens, the stars flickering to life, one by one, freed of the darkness still rumbling away beyond the treeline. The first two moons had crested over the the mountains across, turning those red tips almost silver.
Up in the trees lights, pinks, blues, yellows, greens, and more buzzed and fluttered and and whizzed by. They frolicked in between, lighting bridges spanned to quaint cottages built into their limbs, while at their roots lean-to’s were constructed, all circling a large, stone fountain. More lights flickered along it, giving life to the gems molded into the masonry, creating such fiery weaves, all leading to the Earth Mothers Astra and Ignes. Astra was carved as if dancing, covering her mouth as Ignes gave chase. “Fire” brimmed in her hands, clusters of rubies polished and kept clean. Both of them had such soft faces, just like their big sister Natalie, and wore white dresses, hemmed in different gems.
Behind the fountain, straight across from the cavern entrance, was a tavern. The Dimmed Natorei. Olivier would have blushed if he saw the sign for it, but could only see the lights pulsing inside, growing with each haughty laugh, with each cheer resounding from a belly far larger than anything he has seen so far in this canyon, all made clear as the dark doors were thrown open. Light spilled onto the porch, housing nine tables with eight chairs each. A Faun staggered out, holding two mugs, one for each of his hands. They tipped one back into their mouth, running down their chin as they bleated, and exclaimed as their rounded horn accidentally bit into the roof.
“Hey!” its keeper called out within, and the Faun simply chortled, ducking further as he seemed to almost crawl down the stairs, righting himself. He stamped his hooves, staggered left, right, and lobbed his empty cup back at the door, rolling into the tavern with a booming cheer from the others watching, going silent as he finished his next one. He belched, hiccuped as he held the cup before his eyes, aiming it towards the door, but stopped as another Faun stepped into view. His clean, white apron clashed against his shaggy fur, and the canyon rumbled with his growl, rolling from his black snout. The sound sent a shiver down Olivier’s spine, reminding him of his earlier encounter. The Faun’s blue eyes gleamed in the dark, flashing as he stormed down the stairs after the other, stopped as he lobbed the ale over his head and landed it inside with a round of applause. “Yes. Very well done, Bara, now get in there and clean them.”
The Faun, Bara, saluted the wolfish keeper.
“As you wish, Lobo,” he said, a little too loud, and staggered back in, earning a round of laughter this time as he bent down to grab them and fell on his face. He bleated softly, turned to snores, and Lobo simply groaned, rubbing his right ear.
“One of these days, Bara,” he grumbled, and snarled. “Oi! Nunca! Polly! Take him upstairs.”
A faun with a rather thin face scurried out behind Bara’s feet, and a thinner tail whipped as he picked them up. They hefted and followed after a bear of a man, both heading up a pair of stairs just seen from the entrance. Lobo huffed, and looked back at Olivier, laying his ears back. Olivier didn’t realize he had been watching him the entire time, shaking the entire time, and fell as the Faun had leaped over the fountain, running right at him. He cried out, holding his hand before him, his right pushing against his shirt instinctively, but froze as the Faun snarled and growled. He loomed over... but blinked as he saw Avin land on Olivier’s shell.
“Oh. Avin. Friend of yours?” He said, and offered his hand, chortling. “Sorry, lad. Not used to having Cephamorians in my neck of the woods, so let my instincts fly.”
“T... that’s okay,” Olivier stammered, taking his hand- claw. Though he felt the five jagged tips dig into his hand, they didn’t even scrape the glove, still clenching, flexing as he let go.
“You really shouldn’t show weakness, or fear.” He growled, and shook his head, rolling his wrist to Avin. “So that’s where you ran off to. Fili and Yori were worried.”
“I was only gone a few hours!” Avin squeaked, and creased his brow again. “They act as though I went on a decade-long world tour.”
“Wasn’t that what you always said you would do when you came of-age?”
“Yeah, but I was just taking a walk. Like I always do during storms. I swear, ever since my coming of age ceremony, they wanted nothing more than to break my wings and force me to stay.” He groaned, and patted Olivier’s shoulder, sliding onto it. “Anyways, it was a good thing I was out there. Olivier here-”
“It’s Olivier!” Olivier blurted... cheeks even redder as he realized.
“... Olivier here was wandering about by the lake, looking this direction. I thought, ‘this is a man completely lost in this world. Why, I would open my heart and help him if he came this way’... So... I did.”
“Right. That sounds like you,” Lobo said, the cynicism thick on his tongue. But he sighed all the same, nudging Olivier’s left shoulder. “But his heart was in the right, I suppose. You look ready to collapse, my friend. Come. Let’s get you some food and a bed then tomorrow we can discuss why someone like you is so far from home.”
“Is it really that uncommon?” Olivier said, yawning. He had not felt it for so long, dread, fear, adrenaline keeping it at bay, but now that it was all settling his body was feeling rather heavy, his lids drooping against his volition.
“You are going to be the talk of the town for at least a year. A Cephamorian, a mix at that, out of the blue? You’ll be lucky if you get any rest. Especially if the mayor gets word-”
“Too late,” Avin grumbled. “Her daughter met us in the tunnel.”
“Then we best stash you before-”
A pale, silver light bolted from the heavens, cutting Lobo’s statement off behind cold, red eyes. They looked at him for the longest second, then shifted to Avin, shuddering against Olivier. He tugged at his tunic, wanting to slink into it so bad, but there would hardly be room once Olivier was done cowering into it, the hot, burning reds locked on him next.
“So. My daughter wasn’t telling tall tales,” she said, her voice deep yet still like velvet on the senses. “There really is a Cephamorian-Terrahn mix here in my little city.” She held out her hand. “I am Mayor Strix, and you are Bolivia. My daughter told me your name.”
“Of course she did,” Olivier grumbled, shaking her hand, and yawned again. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”
“I bet it has. We do not get your kind here. Ever... Avin! Lobo!”
“M-ma’am!” Both said.
“Get him settled in at the tavern.”
“Yes’m!” They said, and hurried into the tavern, leaving Olivier to give chase after.
But Strix clenched his hand, hard, reminding him she was still there.
“Before you go,” she said. Her voice had shifted, the velvet still there, still pleasing to hear, but something about it made Olivier feel like ice had been put down his back, “know that I have great interest in you, Blucher, so best be ready come dawn for me to pick your jelly brain.”
A Faun had brayed in the tavern at the mention of Olivier’s “name”. The long-faced fellow looked out, almost stark, shaking as Lobo returned for Olivier. He seemed to carry him up and inside the tavern. There were twenty tables on the ground floor and only four filled at the moment, but that didn’t make it feel any less cozy, forgotten as Lobo lead him up the stairs and down a narrow hall. Soft lights flickered along the doorways there, the boards creaking ever so gently, until they stopped before the seventh on the left. Lobo reached into his apron, and pulled out a heavy set of keys, shaking them until he found one with a silver head on a wooden body. It clicked, and swung open so gently, revealing a tiny, quaint room. A bed sat against the wall, before a small window looking out towards the canyon. The white curtains were gently caressed by a soft wind, billowing them across the soft, blue fabric tucked onto the cot. Lobo went in first, taking the torch by the wall, and picked up the candle on the night stand. He lit and handed it to Olivier as he rushed over.
“I’ll be back with your food, sir,” he said... before stopping. “Anything specific your kind eats? Allergies?”
“No, sir. I can eat pretty much anything.” Olivier said, and trudged into the room. He sat on the bed, head already wanting nothing more than to fall onto the pillow, but he withheld, yawning again. “Just...be careful with salt.”
“No salt. Got it-”
“No. Salt is fine. Just... not too much. I prefer sweeter foods, in all truth.”
Lobo barked, and left him... and Avin there. Avin plopped back on Olivier’s shoulder again, stretching, yawning as he “punched” his cheek.
“Well, look at you. Mister popular. Aren’t you glad I found you now?” He sighed... then shrugged. “Of course, their opinions are going to flip so fast once they see your arm-”
That woke him up a bit.
“Wait. You know?” Olivier hissed.
“Not hard to when you were flaunting it before entering the forest and seeing me.” He nudged Olivier’s cheek again. “Relax. We’re not going to lynch you... much. Who knows? Maybe Strix will allow you a chance to plea your innocence. Then you can lead me wherever you and your lady friend went.”
Olivier didn’t know what to say, and now wanted more than ever to simply lay his head back and pass out. He wasn’t really hungry any more, and who knows. Maybe when he wakes up, he’ll be back on the Kraken, ready to enjoy another handful of spice and rice. Or not; it seemed to have given him some strange dreams.