It was cold, and it was wet. These were two things that always seemed present, in lands like these. Night had fallen over the soaked realm of Rimnoll, and not only did it make it even colder than usual, but now it was dark too. This went doubly, inside the dark caves that opened up like a hundred hungry fish mouths, spotting the region, dug deep into muddy hillsides. The land was mostly flat, but sometimes it rose like a hunched giant's back from the earth, for reasons not many could explain. And in these hills, there were often caves that delved far into the wet bowels of the earth. The whiff of tulips, and the warm touch of sunshine was a thing of the past these days, and something that belonged to the south, to The Fairlands. In Rimnoll, only fog and perpetual rain would bid travelers welcome... and the occasional cave, like this one.
While it wasn't raining in here, it was even darker than usual, what with the silver moonlight being blocked away. And while it wasn't raining directly, the water still seeped through the earth and dripped from the ceiling in something that nearly may as well have been rain. Dryness and shelter was something only civilization could make, for nature had none to give. In Rimnoll, nothing escaped the water and mud.
The night was quiet. There was a mystical sense over it all, a silence disturbed only by the sound of droplets echoing off the ancient walls of this cave... and that of footsteps. Three pairs, by the sound of it, heard from deep within the cave. The sound of mud sloshing and giving way under heavy boots was something that this cave had not heard in a long time, and the bats that resided here seemed quite perplexed about it—-but when the torchlight came and chased away their precious darkness, they would have none of it. The squeaky cries of these flying rodents was something that may have frightened some at first, but after being squeaked at so many times beyond counting, it had almost become a background noise. The scream, the flutter of furry wings, and then back to the sound of muddy boots and fire. It seemed routine, nearly.
The torchlight continued to delve deeper into the cave, carried by a leather-draped hand. The dim yellow-brown glow of the flames revealed a bleak scenery of stony walls, thousands of stalactites hanging like javelins from the ceilings, and gentle creeks that trickled in from the mouth of the cave. It seemed mostly an abandoned cave, but many of them were home for animals that could be turned into food... and other times, they were home to vicious predators and monsters that would turn you into food. So far, though, all it had been was bats. Endless, innumerable, countless bats.
But as a silence fell in the cave, a strange sound became clearer. With the shroud of bat squeals torn away, a curious sound that certainly was no bat came to light. It came from a little side path, narrow and with a floor that was more water than dirt. The torchbearer came to a halt, to cease the sloshing of boots in mud from interfering as well. It was the sound of something brushing up against the walls, fur upon stone. It was brief, distant, and faint—-easily dismissed as just a play of the mind... and yet, the torchbearer stood still, listening. The leather hand slowly moved the flame from side to side, spilling the firelight all over the wet walls and what hid behind the forest of stalactites and stalagmites. The other footsteps ceased as well, and when the sound did too, tension grew in the air.
“Lewis. I need you to check that out.” the torchbearer spoke. His voice was hoarse and powerful, like the throaty growl of an animal. It allowed no debate.
“Of course, sir Wolfe-—uhh, lieutenant Wolfe... s-sir!” another voice, rather young and undisciplined, peeped up from outside the bubble of torchlight.
The torchbearer, Wolfe, sighed deeply. In the light of the torch, his face could be seen turning grim, his hazel stare full of authority. He was a man of age, surely past the half-way milestone of his life, but that was no excuse for weakness—-he had been sure to make this clear right from the beginning. He turned the torchlight to illuminate the face of the one behind him, the undisciplined little punk who doubted his orders.
“So why aren't you moving? Go!” he shooed the little man off, who startled and made his way down the side path like a frightened dog, squirming under its master's command. Wolfe watched the chubby worm scurry off, quickly disappearing into the darkness. He waited for something. Nothing happened.
“Uhm... sir. Won't he get lost in there?” another voice asked. Wolfe turned his torch towards the voice, and revealed a tall and rather gangly man, clad in armor far too big for him. Wolfe narrowed his eyes at him, his face wrinkling even further as a discontent sneer shaped on his face. He began wondering why he was given this pair of village idiots to accompany him in his scouting mission, when just one trained man would have been thrice as effective as his current party. Either it was a stupid joke that he didn't find particularly funny, or someone was trying to get these two dirt-heads killed. He figured it was some combination of both.
“It's a narrow corridor, Wilbur; he can only run back or forth. He'll continue going forth, and when he comes to an end, he'll be going back. And if he doesn't come back... well, I suppose that's all the information we're going to need.” Wolfe turned about on his heel and marched deeper into the cave. He could feel the fear radiating from Wilbur's frail heart, but even this guy knew that staying within the torchlight was a better idea than trying to run back. Darkness had a tendency to kill, after all. Lewis didn't seem to realize that, though.
Going further in, Wolfe noticed that the mud underfoot was getting soggier. Their boots were sinking further in, and the little creeks that trickled down the side of the muddy path seemed to have grown a few inches. He ran his tongue across his lips, considering this new change of environment. He didn't have to be a trained tracker to realize that this meant the cave was flattening out. It wasn't going any deeper into the earth, and the end of it was probably near... and he still hadn't found any food. He grimaced a little. But regardless, he pushed onwards, in hopes that there might be a sleeping bear at the end of this passage. Bears could be food too, after all.
He put his free hand on the hilt of his blade. If it was a bear, he knew he'd need to be ready for a fight. But he wasn't afraid of bears. He was well armed for a little tussle, having sharpened his blade just recently and fitted his armor to perfection. His armor was a strange mix of leather and steel, with his right arm heavily donned in layers of scale mail, and his left one free and light, easily maneuvered for quick strikes and ripostes. He remembered people calling him ambidextrous; 'the man of two right hands'. Maybe that was one of the many reasons he wasn't dead yet.
“S-sir...” the measly, pathetic voice of Wilbur never ceased to make him cringe “...Don't you think it would be smart to turn around? I dun wanna die, Sir.”
“Stick close, and you won't have to.” Wolfe swiftly retorted, sick and tired of Wilbur's cowardice “We'll find the end of the cave, see if there's anything there, and then head back, okay? If we're lucky, Lewis might even still be alive. But if you turn around and run now, I can tell you for certain that you won't be-—“ he was interrupted as the light of his torch came reflecting back against the stony wall of the cave's end. He halted abruptly, but not as much for the fact that there was nowhere further to go, but because of what he saw lie before him. Unconscious or sleeping in a pile of dried grass and sticks, there was a boy. Wilbur and Wolfe both stared down at him, eyes unblinking, mouth unspeaking. This was no normal boy, after all. Even idiots like Wilbur could see that—the boy's extraordinary features weren't exactly subtle. He was a scrawny little chump, lengthy hair and a pretty face, but Wolfe found that he could not tear his gaze away from the pair of horns that stuck out from his forehead. They were short and stumpy like those of lambs, but he could not deny they were there. They weren't the tipped horns of cattle, but the curved ones of goats and sheep, and littered with gold and silver rings. Furthermore, to make matters even stranger, Wolfe noticed that the boy had a tail as well; as long as himself, it lay limp in the pile of grass and sticks. It was naked from the root and right up until the tip of it, where there was a little tuft of hair, dyed red.
“Oi...” Wilbur spoke softly, as if trying not to wake the boy up “...Is that a—“
“Yes.” Wolfe sharply interrupted, not wanting to deal with Wilbur's voice right now “It is. Stay back. I'm going to have a closer look.” he said, carefully approaching the unconscious or sleeping boy, torch in his hand and caution in his step. He knelt down before him, and noticed in the light of his torch, that he was wearing surprisingly expensive clothes. Silk and velvet, colored red and black in beautiful patterns, with foreign symbols everywhere. Wolfe swallowed, hesitating only for a moment, as he reached forward to peel the boy's lips back from his teeth. He cringed as he saw them. Fangs. Vampire fangs, no less. So the stories were true.
“I've heard rumors about these people, the Krov... but I never thought I'd see one myself.” Wolfe watched the unconscious boy with suspicious eyes, not really sure what to make of this “And much less like this. If anything, I had figured my neck would be introduced to their fangs before I could even get to say hello.”
“Ohhh, dun say that, sir!” Wilbur complained, tripping back and forth, clearly unnerved by all of this. Wolfe wasn't even going to reply to that. Wilbur wasn't supposed to be here in the first place; he was a farmer's boy, more fit for squeezing cow udders than sword handles. However, Wolfe's attention was torn away from Wilbur, as he noticed something curious. He drew his torch closer, his eyes narrowed slightly. In the Krov boy's hand, there was a little piece of jewelry, from what Wolfe could tell. Circular, it looked almost like a pocket watch, but without the chain. Furthermore, it had at least four indicators, but there was no way he could tell what they were indicating. But most curious of all, was that it was broken. Cut in half, in fact, right down the middle. The boy was clutching it in his limp hand, as if it had meant a lot before he went out.
“We're taking this one back.” Wolfe said, and did not wait for Wilbur to sputter out another complaint about why that was a bad idea. Holding the torch in his left hand, he used his right to scoop up the boy, and haul him over his shoulder. Fortunately, he was a very light little runt, and proved no challenge to carry. Wolfe peeled the broken jewelry from the boy's hand, and held it himself. Holding it, he noticed that it gave a strange tingle to his palm, as if it was electric. But he figured it was just the cold playing games with his senses.
He slowly turned around to leave “Alright, let's head back. We're done here, and we don't want to—“ as he turned around, expecting to see Wilbur, that was certainly not what he came across. His heart cramped up and his muscles tensed as if he had been electrocuted as he found himself not looking into the stupid eyes of Wilbur, but a glare far more monstrous than that. Three eyes, each one with narrow yellow pupils, and a body looking like a pile of full-grown bears, rather than just one. Hulking muscle and fur winding together in distortion, looking almost as if it was stitched together, and bone sticking out random spots over this monstrous creature's body like branches from a tree.
“Gah! Stay back!” Wolfe shouted, lashing out after the monster with his torch. And just as he had expected, it let out a furious growl at the flames-—it was scared of it. In the torchlight, Wolfe saw all the blood that rolled down the abominable creature's mouth, through teeth as large as claymores. He quickly realized what had become of Wilbur-—and probably Lewis too.
“Afraid of a little fire, are we?” Wolfe grinned and lashed out after the creature again, and true enough, it was horrified of it. He had read about these creatures, seen illustrations, and every monster hunter tome claimed that a thing like this one-—a wendigo-—would dread fire like nothing else. Wolfe advanced on the creature, the boy on his shoulder, the torch in his left hand, and the piece of jewelry in his left. The wendigo kept backing away, its heavy steps sending tremors in the ground, but Wolfe could see in those monstrous three eyes that it wasn't going to last. It was building up courage, and the moment that it realized this petty torch flame wasn't so dangerous, things could take a turn for the worse. Wolfe's eyes darted between the wendigo and the way back, and considered dashing by it... but that was before the wendigo stopped moving backwards.
“I said stay back!” Wolfe shouted as loud as he could, flailing the torch in the face of the wendigo, but it was of no use. He took a deep breath as he realized that this wasn't going to end well. Just like that, the tables were turned when the wendigo slowly began to advance on him, and this time he was the one backing away. Sweat rolled down his cheeks like raindrops, his heart pounding in his chest. Fighting this thing with a blade was out of the question, and running seemed futile. He had seen his chance to flee... and missed it.
He could swear that he saw the wendigo smile, as his back bumped into the dead end of the cave. He was cornered. The wendigo came so close he could smell its putrid breath, warm and sticky, full of blood. He considered putting the boy down to draw his sword, but he feared that the wendigo would already have smashed him to pulp by then. He gritted his teeth, squeezed the piece of jewelry in his hand... and felt something strange. The jewelry felt like it was vibrating in his hand, full of some kind of peculiar energy-—an energy he felt surge into himself. The more he clutched the thing the more energy he felt pushing in through his palm and right into his bones. He wasn't certain what was happening, but in a split second, he suddenly felt so... powerful. Taking a step forward, he looked the wendigo right in the eyes, and raised his voice to a roar.
To his surprise, the sound of his voice was empowered to at least three times the strength, so loud he could feel the cave shuddering all around him. He felt as if his limbs were on fire, and when he looked at them, it seemed almost as if they were. Surging magical energies arced all over his body, red and blue and purple, winding together in a strange arcane weave that made him feel as if he was connected to all things in the world-—and beyond. The wendigo staggered slightly at the sudden thunderous bellow from Wolfe, but what really scared it was when the flame of the torch suddenly rose to become many, many times the size. The gentle flame that coiled around the torch suddenly became a bustling inferno that spilled out over the ceiling of the cave like an inverted waterfall.
The wendigo let out a horrified cry as all of hell suddenly seemed to rise to consume its home, the roar of flame almost as loud as Wolfe's. He advanced forward, snarling like a monster far more horrifying than the wendigo, and the wendigo knew that. It scuttled backward on its huge, furry limbs, but Wolfe did not stop flailing the hellish blaze that stood from his torch until the wendigo had disappeared completely into a little side path like a mouse retreating into its burrow. Wolfe could not explain what had happened, but he knew that there was a time for questions, and there was a time for action. For now, he simply counted it as a blessing. But before he sat down and began thanking the gods above, he prioritized his own hide, and made a run for it as swiftly as his legs would take him.
Once he came bursting out the mouth of the cave, he did not stop running for a solid minute. The sound of his boots sloshing in mud was now replaced with the splashing of puddles, until his knees came down as well. Fatigue ate him up from inside like an invisible fire burning in his legs. He came crashing down, never having run so fast in his life before—-it was made very clear to him that he didn't have the body of a stalwart soldier anymore. He felt the rain against his forehead and his cheeks, running down them like icy pearls. Mouth open and eyes closed, he panted and panted to get his breath back. But even in his fatigue, he was careful not to drop the boy, carefully laying him in his lap, away from all the water. For the Rimnoll Wetlands were not named this for no reason.
As his eyes open, he beheld the soaked world of Rimnoll. The rain seemed to never cease, the thick clouds overhead making people forget what the sun looked like. Countless puddles stretched over an endless flatland of mud and occasional groves-—but mostly mud. Were it not for the mist, some would claim that they could see all the way to the western waters from here.
The mist was another thing that never seemed to leave this place. Moving like massive, pale slugs over the land, these great clouds of silky mist were everywhere, and they were as thick as the stories had told them to be. Wolfe was lucky not to be inside one for the time being, but he remembered the all-consuming whiteness well. There wasn't much to remember, aside from the color white.
Once he had caught his breath, he looked about himself. He was in the approximate middle of nowhere, from what he could tell. It was almost like being back in The Wastelands—-except much, much wetter. A million creeks entwined to fill up a million puddles, scattered throughout the land wherever there wasn't grove or city. And considering that the groves were small and patchy, and there only was one city to speak of, that made up for quite a lot of puddles.
He looked over his shoulder, and saw the hillside behind him. It was the only thing that rose beyond sea level for the next many miles, the rest of this land flat, misty, and wet. The rain was pouring in a thick curtain by now, and even though there was no mist around him, he could not see far. And it was getting cold. He had to get to shelter-—or more importantly: he had to get the boy to shelter. He rose from the mud and water, hauled up the boy once more, and set off. He shot the piece of jewelry a skeptical look one more time, wondering what it was. Its magic had died out now... but he could still feel it tingling in his grasp.
He was fortunate to find his way back to the main road in this roaring downpour. It was barely there, slowly becoming one with all the mud, the bricks falling apart one by one. His short and grey hair was clinging to his scalp like glue by now, and the lengthy mane of the Krov boy was hanging like willow leaves, his tail just as well. With the wind howling and the rain pouring, it was getting dreadfully cold. His torch had died out quickly, but fortunate for him, it was high noon and he needed no torch. The light that came down through the clouds was thin, almost like a whisper hinting that the sun existed in the first place. He was cold, he was wet, and he was getting rather hungry too. But he had been through worse. He wasn't sure if he could say the same for the boy.
But within no more than half an hour, a familiar sound came cutting through the blare of the rain and wail of winds. It was the sound of armor, heavy sabatons trudging in perfect unison. In the fickle light that pierced through the woolly overhang, steel glinted. For a moment he thought he had gone the wrong way, but as soon as he saw those familiar armors break through the curtain of rain, he was glad to know that he hadn't.
“Hoy there!” he called out, hoping to speak through the noise of the rain “Lieutenant Wolfe here! I need blankets, and quick!”
The sound of sabatons quickened rapidly, and before long, the owners came breaking through the rain as well. They were Myaani, the odd middle-way between a man and a fox. Covered in tan fur from top to toe, with the head of a fox, the tail of one, and the hind legs of one, they weren't exactly hard to distinguish from humans. And these in particular belonged to the Tu'Myaa, the only Myaani tribe meant for war-—it was clear to see on the armor that weaved around their body like silk, yet was still steadfast as the strongest steel. Peculiar totemic inscriptions littered their armor, and in the time Wolfe had gotten to know these people, he remembered that the more inscriptions meant a higher-ranking soldier. These two in particular weren't as adorned as he had seen others, but at least they were carrying blankets.
“Quick, wrap the boy up! I'm not sure how long he'll last.” Wolfe ordered, pulling the boy from his shoulder to carry him in his arms instead. The two Myaani soldiers, one male and one female, hurried up with their blankets. Their canine ears perked and Wolfe could see the curiosity in their eyes-—these two had likely not seen a Krov before either. He caught some of the questioning glances they sent his way, but every one of them were given a look that seemed to say 'I'll explain later'.
Once the boy was completely wrapped up, only his horned head peeked forth. The blankets were beautifully woven with the totemic, tribal signs and glyphs of the Myaani people. It was a stroke of luck that these two soldiers were carrying them, as most of the Myaani simply made do with their own fur to keep the warmth. He was pleased to see that at least some of them were following protocol.
“I'll explain on the way. Let's just get back to camp before the cold gets him.” Wolfe ordered, the wrapped-up boy now back on his shoulder. He set up the pace and began to jog through the rain, the two Myaani soldiers close at his heels. It was not long before he reached camp.
Tents slowly began to appear here and there as he drew closer, simply following the main road through the downpour. Scout tents by the looks of it, small and easily packed together, if needed. But the further he ventured down the muddy road, the more tents began to appear through the rain. People too, some donned in heavy armor, others not. There were scouts and warriors, officers in boastful manes to signify their importance. There were lower soldiers in plain steel, others in leather, most with bows and swords alike. Some were Myaani, some were humans. There were a few other people, the occasional elf or so, but the Myaani and humans made up the majority. There were children and adults, some of the young frolicing in the mud and rain while others stayed inside the tents as their mothers had ordered them. But what they all were, was wet. Civilians and soldiers alike were all thoroughly drenched in the rain, the fur of the Myaani hanging limply down their sides-—not to mention the smell. The Myaani really didn't seem to like the rain, most of them with wrinkled noses and discontent looks in their eyes.
But despite the rain, as Wolfe went deeper into camp, he saw flocks of soldiers doing jumping-jacks, pushups, and going on jogging tours to keep themselves from getting lazy. This he could appreciate. He was beginning to think that it was a good idea for the Tu'Myaa to be part of this rebellion, for if there was anything the Tu'Myaa could take pride in, it was their discipline. Never did they question orders, and never did they whine. Trained for war, bred for it some would even say, they were stalwart and strong soldiers. And then there were the warg riders; soldiers with many years of training in the art of beast harnessing, and only those able to show true dominance could mount the wicked wargs. Wolves the size of horses, and many times stronger, these beasts were the claymores of the Tu'Myaa that could slice through enemy forces and bring down entire platoons effortlessly. Wolfe had heard legends of great riders that had tamed beasts stronger and fouler than any before, and how they brought these monsters to their knees. 'Yuurma the matriarch' was one such legend; a woman Myaani known for bending entire packs of wargs to her will. A one-woman army, they called her. If only humans were more like that.
The tents were growing closer like a forest becoming denser the closer to the heart you were. The tents were sitting side by side at this point, some tall, some small, and the crowds were getting thicker than ever. Patrols of soldiers marched through the rain while civilians sat in the shelter of their tents, trading stories or bartering items. But Wolfe's attention was only on one of those tents. Slightly larger than the rest, it was not hard to notice. Eager to get the boy out of the rain, he did not hesitate to throw open the linen entrance, and step inside.
“I hope you don't mind I come barging in.” Wolfe said “But I'm afraid it's slightly urgent.”
Stepping inside, he immediately caught eyes with a quite familiar face. He was sitting by his desk, seated upon a chair that seemed to buckle underneath his massive weight. On the topic of legends, this particular man had become some of one himself, even if just for his size and strength. The people must not have seen all that many Mjaln in their days.
“Ah, lieutenant Edan Wolfe!” he greeted him with a voice like distant thunder, turning his chair to face him. He was dressed casually for now, his ebony cape and steel armor discarded unto the bed that was enforced with iron planks to keep it from breaking while he slept. Wolfe, or Edan as his first name was, hadn't seen him dress casually before, and it was some of an odd sight, really. He was much more used to seeing this lesser giant with boastful shoulderguards and a cape that billowed in the wind, glorifying him even more than he already was. But now he was wearing little but a pair of trousers and a white linen shirt. He seemed much smaller than usual; but even so, he still stood a three heads taller than the average human.
Like Edan, he was a man of age as well, but much closer to the grave than him. His face was wrinkled and worn, and wrinkled even more as he smiled, but as his withering old eyes fell upon the boy that Edan was carrying, his smile seemed to die out.
“...And you bring company.”
“Rather odd company at that.” Edan added as he laid the boy into the bed in the back of the tent. He was still unconscious-—Edan determined the boy could not be asleep, as he would surely have woken up by now, if he was “Ever seen a Krov before, Ramund?”
The great man, Ramund, looked down at the boy with much curiosity in his eyes. He stroked the mighty beard that rolled from his chin like an avalanche over his chest, studded with steel braces engraved with the jagged runes of the northern mountains. He ran a hand through the great but pale mane of hair on his head, a ponytail held upwards by another steel stud. He shook his head, and sighed.
“I have not.” he said, almost regretfully “All I have seen of them has been drawings in books and drawings in my head. And I fear that the people have not either.” he leaned back in his chair, the wood creaking loudly; Edan was afraid it was going to collapse at any moment now. Ramund looked him in the eyes, and asked cautiously “Is he dead?”
Edan shook his head, but felt the boy's neck, just to be sure. True enough, there was a pulse, but it was slow. And by slow, it was the usual speed of a human's pulse; Edan remembered being told that Krov blood was much warmer than human blood, and they also had a far quicker heartbeat. He couldn't remember why this was.
“If he was, I would have left him in the cave I found him. Sadly, the same cannot be said for my company, Lewis and Wilbur. We hoped to find some food in a nearby cave, but all we found was death... and this boy. I'm surprised the wendigo that killed Wilbur and Lewis did not kill the boy. But I'm not an expert on wendigo behavior, so I won't over-contemplate.”
Ramund sighed, and folded his arms across his chest. Now that he wasn't wearing his armor, Edan could see how many scars this great man had accumulated over the years. It was as if he was gathering them like trophies. From what Edan knew of Mjaln culture, maybe he was. War and battle was a great part of life to these people, after all. And, if possible, an even greater part of death.
“I grieve for Lewis and Wilbur, but this is boy is most concerning.” Ramund said, eyes locked upon the sleeping boy. Edan saw his eyes fall upon the boy's horns and tail over and over again, clearly perplexed about these odd features. It seemed that even Ramund, old as he was, still had some things in life that he had not seen.
“I am glad that you brought this boy to me... but I fear what the people might say, should they be told of his presence.” his voice was concerned, underlined with a dire fear. He looked back at Edan “I assume you have already searched his mouth, have you not?”
“I have.” Edan said with a nod “Big, ugly fangs. Nearly the size of my pinky.” he was leaning against Ramund's wooden wardrobe and raised his pinky finger to illustrate his point. Ramund simply gave a nod as well.
“Then it is imperative that this boy remains a secret from the people. Civilians and soldiers alike. Rumor spreads like wildfire, and if they are told that there is a vampiric creature like this one in our midst, not only will we sow unease and fear in our own ranks, but we will put the boy's safety at stake.” Ramund massaged his temples, the gears of his mind grinding.
Edan shrugged a little “You don't think we can tell them that the Krov aren't the insane and bloodthirsty nutters from Nightweald? I mean... I admit that I'm not going to trust my neck to these people, but when you think about it, they've managed to incorporate themselves into society just fine. Noble society, no less! Surely they can't be that bad.”
“I agree.” Ramund replied shortly, eyes still on the boy “But would you risk the boy's life, hoping that all the civilians and soldiers of our little rebellion here would understand?” He shook his head, closing his eyes briefly “The Myaani will perhaps, but never the humans... the humans have lived secluded lives, worrying for nothing but their crops and their livestock. I have already faced enough scrutiny and suspicion, and that is simply because I am Mjaln. My speech back in The Fairlands breathed some trust into their heart, but still there are mouths whispering that I should not be an officer-—that a human is more suited for the task. I dread what they might do to a boy like him, should his existence come to light.” he said, gesturing loosely to the boy in the bed, sighing.
Edan sighed too. He sat down into the bed beside the boy, suddenly not so sure if he was more safe in that cave, than he was here. The wendigo must have kept him alive for a reason, but an angry mob of villages would kill him for none. There was a silence between him and Ramund, the situation suddenly seeming more dire than it did at first. But he couldn't just carry him away and leave him in the rain. He had already killed two men today, albeit indirectly. Leaving a boy for dead was a step he was not going to take.
However, as the boy's tail suddenly did a little twitch, he realized that perhaps he wouldn't have to. His gaze snapped towards Ramund, and the look on his face showed that he had seen it too. The boy was about to wake up. Edan stepped back from the bed and pulled up a nearby chair to sit beside Ramund, eyes on the boy. The tail twitched again, and this time, a tired moan escaped the boy as well. He moved. Edan watched attentively as the boy rolled a little in the bed, eyes still closed. He yawned, and in that yawn, he bared his fangs like a silent tiger's roar. Although weakly, his hand grasped after Ramund's pillow, and he scooted it in under his head. It was as if he didn't recall where he had been, and that he still was home... wherever that was. Edan looked towards Ramund with deep concern in his eyes, wondering what to do next. Ramund could only do a little shrug. But Edan wasn't going to wait for the boy to realize he wasn't home. He scooted his chair a little closer, his elbows on his knees, his eyes unwavering from the boy's face.
“Hey... kid. Get up.” he spoke softly, and in return, the boy gave a little complaining moan. Edan rolled his eyes. He swallowed, and reached forward to poke at the boy's shoulder. And when he did, finally his eyes opened up.
Edan nearly leaped off his seat as he saw what hid behind the boy's eyelids. Golden yellow filling the entire eyes, except for the vertical slit in the middle, serving as the pupil. It was like some twisted god had taken out the eyes of a human, and put in the eyes of a cat. Edan tried not to show his surprise as the boy sat up and slowly that he wasn't home anymore. He shot a glance towards Ramund, and saw no surprise on his face. Was it a normal Krov trait, to have eyes like these? He must have been too drunk to remember it, after being fed tales of the Krov in taverns back home.
“Where... where am I?” the boy spoke quietly, his feline, haunting eyes wide. His voice was sweet and soft, almost strictly so, as if he had been taught to speak like that. Edan looked back at him, and put on a little smile for the boy.
“You're safe, kid.” He reassured him, looking him right in the eyes, even though it made him horribly uncomfortable. The boy sat up in the bed, his gaze darting here and there, clearly nervous and scared—-not that this was a surprise, of course. His hands clenched around one another, his tail standing on end and his fangs bared in an uneasy gritting of his teeth. Edan did not look away from the boy until he realized that he was safe, and that Edan and Ramund were not going to eat him. With fangs like those, Edan was more concerned about the opposite.
“Are you hungry, child? Thirsty, perhaps?” Ramund's rumbling voice caught the attention of the boy, his eyebrows rising at the mention of food. His mouth stood open for a little while, but only silence came out of it. He resorted to simply nodding a few times.
“You're lucky to still have a sense of hunger, kid.” Edan added “Hell, you're lucky to have a sense of anything! Do you remember where you were, just an hour ago?” He asked, leaning back in his chair, trying to seem as relaxed as possible in hopes that the same might shed off on the boy.
Ramund approached shortly after with a plate of jerky, and put it on the boy's lap. His slitted eyes seemed to lighten up at the sight of food, and he did not hesitate one second before chowing down. The pieces of jerky disappeared into his mouth one after another, so fast that Edan had a hard time seeing when one ended and another began. It was as if the boy hadn't eaten in days. Maybe he hadn't?
Finally, as the boy realized that Edan had asked him a question, he stopped eating. He looked into Edan's eyes, his tail slowly falling back unto the bed, more comfortable now that his belly was full of jerky. He put the plate away and swallowed. The red-dyed tail moved unto his lap, where he fiddled with the little tuft of hair. He spoke softly.
“No.” it was as if he was confessing a crime; his eyes were in the ground, his face full of guilt “I don't remember much. It was dark. I remember a lot of dark things. Dark noises, dark smells...” he cringed and shook his head in disgust “It smelled so bad. Like... wet dog. No, an entire wet kennel! Ugh.”
Edan nodded a few times “Yeah, what you probably can remember is the wendigo. I found you in a cave, see. In a wendigo cave, to be exact. Do you know what a wendigo is?”
The boy let a silence linger as he stared at Edan with eyes that seemed to wonder how this question was relevant “I... yeah. My mother has warned me about those. She always said that I wasn't allowed outside the city walls, and that wendigos would get me if I did. But she also said that they would get me if I didn't eat my vegetables.”
“Then it seems you should've eaten those vegetables, kid.” Edan said, uttering a little chuckle as he did. However, that smile quickly died down, as his voice took a darker tone “You know... you could've been dead. Wendigos aren't known for sparing little kids, and yet, it spared you. If I were a gullible idiot, I'd even say it had cared for you! You were lying in a bed of straws, in the driest spot of the cave... how can this be, is all I'm asking.”
The boy only seemed more confused. He looked around, as if searching for help, but there was no help to find. He gritted his teeth, and all he could do, was give a humble shrug “I really don't know, mister.”
Edan sighed. A tongue ran across his lips as he sat there, thinking of how to reach into a kid's mind like this. He was no interrogator, and much less a psychologist. Something was not right, though. And it had something to do with that piece of jewelry.
“Let us back up a little, shall we not?” Ramund butted in again, smiling. The boy looked up at him, and saw the friendly expression on his face. Ramund, on the other hand, was a lot more qualified for this kind of thing. He was the one with a daughter, after all. If there was anyone in this room who knew how to speak to kids, it was him.
“Would you like to share your name with us, child? I'm Ramund, and this man beside me is Edan.” He said, gesturing to Edan beside him, who raised his hand in a slight wave at the mention of his name. Edan watched as the boy put on a smile and scooted off the bed to perform a practiced, elegant bow before the two. His tail rose.
“And I am Matvey, of the Zakadiev family. Usually, I... I would welcome you into my home, but... yeah. I'm not home. So...” he scratched the back of his head and smiled shyly, before he sat back down in the bed.
Edan tried not to show his cringe, as the boy mentioned his name. His surname in particular. He looked up at Ramund and saw hints of the same concern, as that name was spilled. It was spilled unto the floor like sour milk, and everyone knew it was going to stink sooner or later, if they didn't clean it up.
“So... you're a noble?” Edan couldn't hold his tongue, the words escaping his mouth as he looked Matvey in his slitted eyes.
“Yep!” Matvey responded, putting on a little smile, baring his fangs as he did so “Only just recently, though. We weren't considered nobles until... uhh... five years ago, I think. Do you know my family?” he asked, cocking his head a little, his little horns glinting in the light of a nearby candle.
Edan suddenly felt quite uncomfortable. This had just gone from troublesome, to a potential execution-—with his head on the chopping block. The parents had to be furious about finding their lost kid, and if they found him in Edan's arms? It reeked of kidnapping more than a farm dog reeked of cow shit. He swallowed and exhaled through his nose, his gaze wanting to look away from those haunting golden eyes, but politeness bound him. Not to mention that he was now sitting before a lordling, rather than just some kid who had lost his way and sought shelter in a cave. He leaned back in his chair, and shook his head.
“Not personally, but I've heard of you. Hell, the whole world has heard of you! You're practically living legends already, and that's simply because you have horns, tails, fangs, and... uhm... cat eyes?” he gave a shrug “Regardless, anything that shipwrecks on our shores from a far-off world across an endless sea has got to stir up some commotion in the world.”
Matvey scratched the back of his head, his tongue running across his lips; that's when Edan saw that even their tongues weren't like those of humans. It seemed clearer and clearer why the Krov were known as the 'patchwork people', as many of their features seemed like they had been sown on from other animals, to replace the human parts-—the tongue included. And the animal in question this time, was a snake. Matvey's tongue—-and the tongues of all other Krov, Edan assumed-—was slender and long and split at the end, rather than blunt like the ones you would find inside a human mouth. Whatever the function of a tongue like this was, he had no idea.
“Actually...” Matvey said “...We didn't shipwreck on your shores. I think. Mommy always told me these stories. We shipwrecked on the shores of a place called 'The Jemero Keys'. I don't remember the actual crashing-—I wasn't even born then, so I suppose I don't have to.” he chuckled a little, but Edan could clearly hear that he was still nervous about this whole thing “I was born the year after the crash. It was only when I was six that we left. I really liked that place. It was warm. Sunny. Nice fruit, and stuff. This place is just rain and mud.” he sulked a little, glancing upwards to the linen roof where the rain drummed endlessly.
“Actually, it's got a lot more charms than just rain and mud, if you take a closer look.” Edan retorted with a little smile, arms crossed over his chest “Ever been to the Academy of Advanced Gizmology?”
Matvey smiled, but shook his head “No, but I've always wanted to! My brothers have gone there. They told such wonderful stories of all the things they saw. But mommy won't let me... she will hardly let me out of the manor. She says I can't let myself get dirtied by 'lesser kids'. I don't know what she means by that.” his smiled died with a little sigh.
Edan opened his mouth to speak, but Ramund intervened “You are not allowed outside your home, yet you were found in the cave of a wendigo?” he asked with slight disbelief in his voice.
“Not being allowed something, doesn't mean not doing it.” Edan smirked, casting a sideways glance to Ramund “As a matter of fact, disallowing someone something often makes it even more intriguing than it is. And if his mother doesn't want him to get dirty, what better way of defying that, than moving in with a wendigo?” he looked back at Matvey “Isn't that something along the lines of what happened, kid?”
Matvey looked up at Edan, suddenly seeming strangely insulted “I... no! No, I... I just...” the words seemed to clog in his throat, making it hard for him to breathe. He swallowed and opened his mouth several times to speak, but each time, he had no words to give. He fiddled nervously with his own fingers, his lips squeezed together in a mix of concern and guilt. Finally, he shook his head and spoke.
“I don't remember. I don't remember how I left home.” the words were struggled, spoken so that it sounded like that even he, himself, didn't believe them “It's all just a blur, you know? I remember being at home, reading as mommy told me to, then going to bed... but I don't ever remember waking up.” he gave a shrug “Until now, of course.”
Edan's suspicion grew stronger with each word Matvey spilled. His story seemed laughable at best, yet he said it with such truth in his words. Edan could feel his fear jutting out of his mind, mixing with the confusion. This boy wasn't lying, Edan was certain of it. Still, lie or no, it stilled seemed ridiculous. He couldn't possibly have gone to that cave himself; Moonby Sanctuary was an entire day's journey from here. The kid wouldn't have the strength for such a thing. Someone put him there... against his will, most likely. And it had something to do with that piece of jewelry. He let his hand slide over his pocket, where he kept it. He feared there was something more to this, than simply a lost kid on the roads.
He smiled, and gave a nod at Matvey “Thanks, kid. You've been quite helpful. Now, I suggest you eat something, and get comfortable. It may be a little while before we can take you back to your parents.” Edan said, rising from his chair. Matvey seemed a little worried about this, but in the end, all he did was nod. The kid clearly trusted them, despite being complete strangers. Edan wasn't sure if that was a good thing.
“I take it you'll keep an eye on him, Ramund?” Edan asked as he moved to the linen entrance of the tent, looking back at Ramund.
Ramund smiled “I would be honored. It has been many years since I cared for a child, but I do believe I still have some expertise hidden in my sleeve. Not to mention that Matvey is a noble, no less... at this point, I would be rude not to keep an eye on him!” he said, chuckling a little, Matvey chuckling too for some reason. It seemed Ramund's voice was just so kind that Matvey couldn't help himself. Sometimes Edan wished he had that kind of voice.
“In that case, I'll be off. Let me know if anything new comes to light. Best of luck.” Edan said, throwing a farewell gesture over his shoulder as he stepped outside. The rain was still pouring, but at this point, Edan didn't mind. As he sloshed through the mud, away from Ramund's tent, there was only one thing in his mind. He wasn't a particular religious man, but if the gods didn't put that piece of jewelry there, he did not know who did. But there was something about it... something larger than what it seemed. And he feared this was only the beginning of it.