The journey certainly felt easier now that Thæon was travelling with Morak; Gryka especially making traversing Tangek’a simpler when she took to the skies, slipping in and out of the Shadow Realm to scout their path ahead, saving them pushing their way down one path between towering plateaus only to find the way ahead impassable and forced to walk all the way back simply to find another route. The days in the jungle passed quicker with the rain’s consistency beginning to thin the more they pushed north and close to the boundaries where magic was stretched thin across the region.
The morning where they awoke on the shore of Tsaulpayora, Thæon was startled by the presence of the fifth member of their party: Sagen, Morak’s horse, and second Shadow Soul, pawing lazily at the ground while Morak was stood at his side, adjusting the straps on his saddle.
“And where in the nine realms were you hiding him?”
Morak shot Thæon a smug grin. “The second, actually,” he says, cocky and teasing, but his tone sobers to contend with the early morning and to soothe his mount as he goes about storing his travelling supplies to hurry their departure. “It was safer for Sagen to wander the Shadow Realm than it was for him to carry me through Tangek’a. Too many predators and not a decent path for him to walk, so he roamed the Grynn plains while I searched the caves.”
And Thæon could only feel respect towards the extent of Morak’s magic, and perhaps a spark of excitement for how his own might blossom as he grew stronger.
With Sagen carrying Morak, and Bröder carrying Thæon, their pacing quickened even if the weak magic of the region played manic with their inner magics; Morak growing exhaustingly tired beneath the unrelenting light of the sun while Thæon struggled to moderate his temperature where his magic flared between burning far too bright and dwindling like a candle flame.
He had thought that the rolling golden sands and barren dusty plains would be a defence for a clutch of dragons to hide in the depths of the desert, but now that he’s stood here on the edge of it, with the sun hot on his face, he knows himself to be wrong.
The world is wrong here; dead and empty, void of life; void of sound and smell and taste beyond the expanse of dust that blows in a feeble wind that feels desperate to breathe life back into this scorched wasteland.
“Fourteen hundred years and Ered Naur’s fear still scars this landscape,” Morak whispers, his voice tainted with sympathetic pain to what must’ve once been a beautiful country; luscious green and teeming with life; now nothing of its former glory.
And truly, it is a shame, and a very present reminder to Ered Naur’s callousness. They were the ones responsible for the fall of the dragons, and had the might to enact their brutality.
Thæon dreads to think what Obí’s fate will be, should the Scorched King learn that he is hiding within his kingdom.
While Tangek’a and Iskí leave Thæon still searching for a dragon clutch, they do not mean the end for his search, and he continues to push further north, along Falathren’s tail with the days falling into a familiar pattern with Gryka taking the lead, and the boy’s following behind, filling the peace and quiet with their conversation, or sometimes not at all, content to listen to the world around them.
“You’ve changed,” Morak says one afternoon when they have left behind the desolation of the desert, and now nearing the northern shore where they’ve stopped to give their mounts a well-deserved break at midday; the Nomad having taken up residency at the foot of a towering tree, leaning against it while his fingers turn the charms on his obsidian wristlets; Thæon leaning against his own nook of buttressed roots, leaving Bröder and Sagen to graze on the long grass that grows around them.
Thæon turns his head in question. Morak, seeing this as permission to continue talking, does so.
“There’s something different about you, to how you were back in Medellin. I know in your homeland you had people watching you all the time and it made you… different. But there were times when it was just us and you relaxed, but now you’re… more you, I think,” he says, with all the confidence a childhood friend might have, laughing to himself when Thæon throws him another raised eyebrow. “More… me?”
“More yourself than when you were playing the part of Mundanaï,” Morak grins, bowing his head, right fist curled over his chest in mock salute at the formal title of respect, laughing again when Thæon grabs a stick from the ground and throws it at him. “I told you to knock that shit off,” he growls, but it’s weak and Thæon knows it.
Morak knows it too, but he knows enough not to tease.
Quiet draws in; easy, peaceful, and Thæon knows that, should he choose he can let the silence surround them a let the conversation be forgotten, or conduct its course into something without weight or secrets. And yet, he choose to meet Morak at the line in the sand, because while he might have suspicions that Thæon is calmer because he was no longer under the heavy watch of his entire clan and the constant reminders of his father’s death, Thæon knows it to be the months he spent in company of Obí, and now the trial set before him by the Twelve.
“I left home before the Elders and the Adanaï could push me to take mother’s place as Tae’adanaï,” he says, telling the same parts of truth he had already told Morak, near four weeks past; voice monotonous in recital of words he’s already told. “I wanted to experience the world without that weight, or being held back by the restrictions that come with accepting that title. I think, in the beginning, I was being selfish. But then, the more I travelled, I saw things, met people; saw how no matter the power of the Scorched King and the devotion of his people, there were still those that suffered and those that were left to struggle for reasons beyond their control. I knew that I didn’t want my rule to be anything like his, but there were still things that I could learn.
“And then I found Obí.”
Thæon chooses to keep Obí’s truth to himself; for the sake of protecting him and his clutch that is still somewhere, still alive.
Or at least, that’s the lie he tells himself, but the boy knows the name of serpent that writhes in his chest; knows why its scales are a luscious shade of green, like the gentle grass around them; not fool enough to not realise the implications of what it means when Morak says that Obí is man worth meeting, and the serpent bares its fangs.
“He is,” Thæon agrees. “I wanted him to come with me, but he had his reasons that made him stay, and I had my reasons for leaving,” he says, firmly pushing away the emotions that rise with the memory of having to walk away because the mountain slopes wouldn’t hold Bröder through the Deep Snow, and Obí’s pained refusal when he revealed in his own way that he wouldn’t be joining the Fireheart when he left.
Thæon pointedly does not let his mind linger on the all-too-familiar loneliness that raises its head come nightfall even now, when he glances across the firelight and doesn’t find Obí’s blood-red eyes watching him.
“Looking back on it now, it was the right decision.”
“Whys that?” Morak asks, and Thæon doesn’t need to see the way he leans forward to know how much he’s interested in this stranger.
Thæon just shrugs, leaning back against the roots, head resting on the ridge as he stares up at the dancing canopy and the crepuscular rays that break through.
“He’d be in constant danger if the pair of us travelled together. He’s not— He would attract the wrong kind of attention, and I knew that he would hesitate if it ever came to defending himself. When I first met him, he couldn’t even hunt for himself, but even when we did it together, I knew he still felt guilt about killing them. He was living off fish when I first found him,” he laughs, unashamed of the fondness that softens the edge of his voice as he recalls watching Obí snap up the river fish in his maw and the countless times he got frustrated with his attempts at fishing, and simply boiling the river water with a sharp burst of fire.
“If you saw him. you’d think that he was fearsome: all big and powerful, but the truth is that he’s actually just a huge pushover.
“And yet, he protected me when I was in trouble,” he says softly, almost as if it was a secret between himself and the forest around them.
“The first night I met him, I understood. There were these three assholes. Bandits, poachers—whatever. It didn’t matter. They’d been searching for him and they found him, and Eyonfel’s mercy, he was so, so scared,” Thæon says, his voice having fallen to a whisper, eyes unseeing as his mind returns to that first night, when Obí set the meadow ablaze in his desperation to protect; and he had thought that the dragon’s fire would burn untamed until there was nothing left.
And even after they’d been quelled by the wind, Thæon had stood witness to his dragon panicking; choking on air at the crushing guilt of having killed, even if he had done so at the defence of himself and the human caught by iron chains.
His heart still hurts with the pain of distance between them.
“Then he was lucky you found him,” Morak says kindly.
“I like to think we found each other. And while the gods haven’t been the kindest to me or my family, I know that they had a hand in our meeting too.”
The Shadowcast turned his head at that, eyes wide. He knew Thæon had lost love of the Twelve after his father’s death, and while he had never openly cast them off, neither did he pray to them outside of the expected ceremonies as Mundanaï.
His devotion, while respectful, was minimal at best; done more to save face and keep the peace of the elders and the clans alike; but Morak, who had been an outsider and a breath of fresh air for the younger heir had come to learn of the boy’s true opinion of those that had tested him by stealing his father from him, and marring his people’s view of him to make it that all his efforts, all his training and hard work was for nothing.
So for Morak to hear him now, speaking warmly of the gods…
“I’m looking for Obí’s family,” Thæon says, before Morak can ask any of the thousand questions burning his throat. “It is a trial of Miiannila N’namun, and when I’ve found them, I’m going to return to him.”
“If this is your trial, then is it alright that we’re travelling together?” Morak asked warily, hesitant almost, as if he didn’t want to bring such a thing to light; visibly relaxing when Thæon waved a dismissive hand. “It’s fine. It’s not the kind of trial that you can interfere with. Tradition dictates that only the first must be completed alone, to prove that you are ready for Miiannila N’namun, but it’s auspicious for trials to be completed together. But besides that, don’t you have your own journey? Your own answers to find. You’re searching for answers to Shadow magic, aren’t you?”
And while it’s not like Thæon wants the pair to part from one another, he knows that Morak is still searching for answers of how to better understand and control his magic, sure to be found; while Thæon is chasing dreams and hopes and a promise he made to an important friend.
“There’s nowhere I need to be. I’m searching, just like you, and while I know what I’m searching for, I don’t know where those answers might be. I think we’re very much in the same boat,” Morak says, the beginnings of a grin poking up from the corners of his mouth. “Besides, I think journeys are more enjoyable when they’re not spent alone.”
Thæon would have to concede to that.
While too prideful to admit as much out loud, he isn’t stubborn enough to think that he’s not lonely without Obí’s company – and while, yes, he does have Bröder to talk to and moan at and pet when they set up at a campfire for the evening, there is something that he finds to be missing from their spats, even if it was that Obí hadn’t the words to argue with him either.
“Then let us see where this road takes us.”
As the pair continued their journey northwards, pushing from Falathren’s shore and the last reaches of the damaged magic veil, Thæon found himself learning more and more of Morak’s magic, controlled and otherwise. He already knew the basics from his own lectures back in the clanlands, and more details where Morak had answered his questions over the course of his stay in Arkeríon, but Thæon’s never had the chance to see it in action.
On occasions when the night sky holds no moon; when the Shadow Realm and the Living Realm seem to overlap, and Gryka’s hold is stronger, Thæon sometimes found himself having to spark up his own flames to help his friend regain control of his Shadow Soul when Gryka’s instincts outweighed her logic in her need to protect her bonded; talons dug deep into the shroud of Morak’s magic, and it was with the sporadic reoccurrences that Thæon truly understood his friend’s relief of the pair travelling together. Because while company was certainly welcome for them both; the nights of No Moon were made easier when Gryka couldn’t so easily snuff the Fireheart’s light to keep her master gathered beneath her wings.
(Her unwillingness to relinquish her grip wasn’t anything malevolent, but nurturing and motherly; none too dissimilar to the way she’d perch on Morak’s shoulder near the sun’s peak when his magic was at its weakest; and she’d tug on his ear, his hair, or play with his braids to make the adorning silver charms clack against another to annoy him enough into taking a moment to rest in the shade.)
And yet, despite these mishaps, Thæon could see Morak was still more often in control than not; the fault for Gryka’s ability to bury her talons and not want to release at fault to the imbalance between their shared bond. She was his first Shadow Soul, bonded when Morak was still a child developing his magic and had no real understanding to the destruction his magic could bring should it backfire.
That wasn’t the same case with Sagen; only having enough of Morak’s power for him to be drawn where his shadow soul may reside, be it in the Living, or Shadow Realm; and enough power for Sagen to cross into the Shadow Realm if he is in danger, while Morak reaps the benefits of improved stamina and overall strength, although not enough of Sagen to enable shared transformations like he is able to with Gryka: Morak having explained this all before when Thæon had shown his interest one night, back in Arkeríon, and at the next night of No Moon, Morak had shown some of his more intricate magic to the clan heir.
Intricate magic, such as Shadow Walking that allows Morak to pass between the Realms which shortens his and Thæon’s journey when the sun falls behind the horizon and the night sky becomes a map that Morak navigates as he opens a gateway into the Realm of Grynn, tugging Thæon and Bröder with him, and they step back out into the Realm of living a half-day’s walk further north, no longer on Methen’s shore but surrounded by trees and the gentle eastern slopes of the capital’s mountains.
And it’s this show of strength that emboldens Thæon one night, when he sparks the campfire and watches golden sparks reflect off Morak’s black-weave cloak instead of Obí’s magnificence; the weight in his chest is too much to shift and a longing for the familiar touch of scales beneath his fingertips sees him asking Morak just how far he is able to shadow-travel.
But Morak is no fool and he’s seen the differences of who Thæon is now compared to the boy he had met back in the shadowed halls of Arkeríon and he knows what he’s asking without him having outright.
“Maybe with more power,” he says later, when it’s just the two of them and the lower burning embers of the fire. “To travel such a distance, and to somewhere that I haven’t been before would take considerable effort and I would need a stronger tie to the Shadow Realm than simply a night of No Moon.”
It would have to be on the Solstice Moon: the longest night of the year, and the time when the veils between the Realms were at their weakest.
They didn’t halt their journey, deciding to still push on an excitement growing between the pair of them and sparked a visit, daring to visit a coastal village in search of supplies, with Thæon spending extra coin to fill on of Bröder’s water sacks with sweet wine so that when the time came, they might see in the first sunrise of the new year with more than a warm campfire and a hunt to fill them.
And then, on the eve of the Solstice Moon, they set up their camp in the foothills of Methen’s mountains, north of Ferani’s slopes; securing themselves a small glade and allowing Morak a full day’s rest for the expected challenge ahead of him.
“I don’t know how long we will have,” Morak tells him at dusk, the dawning twilight hours having been spent in growing anticipation; Thæon anxious and hopeful for Morak’s magic to work while he himself is eager to see how far he can push his magic, never having need or thought to try to shadow-travel; both near-impatient for the sun to completely set.
Morak is ready, Gryka’s shape having bled like reaching shadow to coat his skin until he is inky black, tiny contour feathers poking up from his skin, layering and patched in places; thick and pillowing at his shoulders and around his neck where Morak’s countenance has taken a liking to Gryka’s: his long black hair no long pulled back into a ponytail, but replace with obsidian plumes that shine purple and iridescent in the lambent firelight; a razor beak in place of a nose and mouth; his eyes void like a starless sky, colourless and predatorial, but still holding the same intricate intelligence as when he is entirely human.
It’s still Morak. Still his friend.
“Just keep the picture of where you want us to go in the front of your mind,” Morak explains, Thæon’s forearms in his magic-shifted hands, Thæon holding Morak in imitation of an Ouran handshake; his skin calloused and inky; each finger peaked with curving talons. “Imagine a feeling, as if you were being pulled towards it, as if you have left a part of yourself behind and that it’s calling for you,” he says, and Thæon feels a touch of twisted humour spark within him.
He doesn’t need to imagine that feeling. It’s been a constant companion ever since he left Obí behind; no longer waking beside him each morning with a huff of air reminiscent to laughter; no longer an echoing a growl rising up behind shuttered fangs when he had let loose his own in expressed annoyance, having grown used to imitating his dragon’s noises instead of cursing; Thæon feeling that same growl rise up within him when he casts his eyes to the lingering light of dusk, waiting, they were so close—
“I haven’t travelled this far with another before. Whatever you do, don’t summon your magic. Your light will destroy my shadows and I don’t want to find out what happens should you, so just keep your head down and hold on tight.”
It’s the only warning Morak gives before Thæon feels something cold, something unnatural bury itself in his gut, like a fishing hook carved of ice and suddenly he’s yanked forwards, backwards, upwards and down, deep into the earth’s embrace all at once. The world falls away from him, starlight glittering into the endless void of nothing swallowing all light, sound and warmth.
Thæon can’t help the panicked cry that escapes from him, his hands gripping white-knuckled around Morak’s forearms but his voice sounds wrong and distant like his voice didn’t come from his throat but the sky above them; panic and shock rolling through the void like brontide.
Inside his chest, his magic revolts at the emptiness of the world; the absence of warmth that leaves only the cold and empty, heavy shadows. His spark flares, smoke in his lungs, but Morak had warned against bringing light into the Realm of Grynn and Thæon fights his own nature to burn as bright as the sun.
There are voices in the darkness; the wind whispering as he fills the void around them; shadows and shapes dancing in a thousand shades of night, but Thæon can’t see anything clearly beyond his own body and the visage of Morak before him; shifting, moving as fluid as a flag pulled into dance by the wind; beaked-face flickering between searching and speaking, talons curling tighter but never painful and the tail of his cloak rising up into giant obsidian wings; black like the dead of night and the Grynn Realm but touched with subtle colours in the brief moments they are solid; not wisps of shadow but purple, blue, boreal lights shimming on the surface like oil to water; a rainbow of silk; rust to a metal blade that stretch from Morak in a reach of feathers far richer than any crown of jewels.
His voice rises in answer to the wind, echoing and repeating; layering like Gryka’s feathers that darken his skin until a hundred voices resound his cry; “remember that feeling Thæon! Hold onto it! Let it pull you!”
He imagines Obí’s face. He imagines him laid out in the meadow grass, wings splayed wide, the sun dancing across his scales where one leg kicks out in dance to the dreams that fill his mind, his snores light and easy and strangely melodic—
Suddenly, Thæon can’t breathe, but it’s not because of the nothingness that surrounds him, stealing his breath and turning the air in his lungs to ice but an unexpected coldness that locks his jaw, eyes flung open wide to search—when had he closed them—?
Thæon finds himself stood in the middle of his and Obí’s meadow, and yet it was almost unrecognisable to him at first glance; the world blanketed beneath a perfect quilt of white, glistening like fallen stars beneath the beauty of the Solstice Moon.
Snow fell lightly around them; soundless and unique, untouched by the wind or the susurrus of the forest’s voice as it crept amongst the branches; Thæon’s own breath misting in the air in front of him from where his inner fire burnt hot; cloak pulled tight around him even as the chill of the Shadow Realm clung to his bones. He took a careful, curious step forward, eyes alight with something akin to childish wonder.
The river was now no more a trickle as it wound its way along the riverbed; it’s source now doubt frozen and the slow-flowing water quick to follow suit casting an eerie quiet about the night.
Around the meadow, the trees stood like the burnt husks of soldiers; black-barked and bare, their fingers stretching up into the sky, no crown of leaves to rustle as the dusk grows old around them. Across the sea of white, thin shoots of meadow grass dot the milk-blanket while starlight glistens across its surface in outcrops of purple stone and blue jewels.
It reminds him of home; of Arkeríon’s winters buried beneath Arenthíen’s breath, and the painful longing in his heart twists. He might miss his homeland, but he doesn’t miss the expectations that hang from his neck like a noose, or the way the halls feel confining rather than protective.
Shaking the thought from his mind, Thæon turns from the sight of the frozen river and the frozen expanse, looking further, beyond the guarding trees and the rolling hills that shape the slope of the valley, wondering of the lake and how the Deep Snow will have drained it of colour; frozen its surface into a black mirror threaded with spider-web cracks and ice that will sing and pop with wonderous sounds should he test its strength with his weight; and beyond that the winding mountain trails that slithered their way down the slopes and the surrounding mountains themselves that rise up on either side, purple-headed, wreathed in snow, and it’s quiet, so, so quiet, the silence broken only by the whistling song of owls flying up in the midnight void and the wind himself that beckons them into the twilight dance.
The yearning for that peaceful world is ignited inside of him once more, but this time it burns a deeper colour, rich in desire; strong enough that Thæon’s feet stumbled slightly beneath him. Were he not a Fireheart, he could’ve blamed it on the cold.
He watches the last colours of dusk sink below the horizon, watching the stars shine in beauty: pinpricks of white in the dark as the moon hangs high above the black mountains, shining pure and perfect, the Goddess casting her ethereal glow across the glen and the mountain valley below.
Thæon had always thought their meadow was an enchanted, magical place, but under the light of the Solstice Moon, he can’t help but wonder if it was something far more precious.
His heart hurts in his chest, but it is a good kind of pain, and suddenly Thæon can hardly contain his excitement as he turns from the shining moon, ignoring Morak’s rising question where he rushes to the grove of peach trees where their nest is sheltered from the snow and Obí will be sleeping; the branches folded low, heavy with snow and tangled together to form a nook that will keep out the wind, and probably buries Obí each morning when he forgets to keep his head ducked, stretching wide and high….
But the nest is empty.
There is no sight of the dragon.
The turned earth that would cradle the three of them is black with old ash, the largest of the peach trees ripped from her roots to lay over the burnt remains of what would’ve once glowed warm with Obí’s embers, her branches weighted with frozen snow; everything cold and lifeless, devoid of the warm memories Thæon held from having spent many nights curled up in the nook of Obí’s neck while Bröder lent his weight from the other side; a hand tracing shapes across his scales and sometimes, when he couldn’t sing, humming old lullabies that his parents used to sing to him.
But Obí is not here and the nest where he should be is broken and destroyed; Thæon moving closer, drawn with that same longing that saw him travel through the Shadow Realm to get here; hand ignited by his flame before he’s even thought about summoning it, lifting it up to cast light; eyes scanning the snow for prints, for signs that Obí has been here or an answer to why the nest has been abandoned.
There are no claw marks on the trees; no deep trenches of scoured earth where Obí would trail his claws through the dirt; no pronged footprints that lead to or from the tangle of trees that no longer stand to keep out the wind and the cold. But there is the half-frozen carcass of a hart.
Its neck lay untouched, meaning Obí did not slay it; the creature half-devoured by the scavengers and the touch of decay curling around the spilled contents of its innards; enough to reveal that Obí has not been near the nest in a long while, and Thæon’s chest hurts—
“Thæon? Where are we?”
Morak has followed him from where they stepped out of the Shadow Realm, coming to stand beside him now with questions and worry. “Obí’s meadow,” he says, not of enough mind to put feeling into his mind as he takes a knee, fire fading into shadow, hand to touch the ash and snow, unable to look away from the sightless eyes of the hart; the nest more a grave than anything resembling warmth and home.
“We’re in the right place,” because Morak had warned with Thæon leading them they might miss their mark, be it by a league or a few hundred. But the meadow had drawn them in and they were here.
But where was Obí?
Morak comes to stand beside him, a feathered hand reaching out to offer a touch of comfort on his shoulder; hand squeezing when he feels the faintest of trembles beneath curled talons. “Thæon, I’m sorry.”
There’s pain in his own voice; sympathetic blue, compassionate yellow; the Fireheart shaking his head because he doesn’t want to hear what he has to say. Morak speaks anyway. “Are you sure that—could he have moved on? You said you left him in the last weeks of High Sun. It’s been months since then. Surely he—”
“He might’ve,” Thæon interrupts, voice taking back a little bit of colour.
While Morak is operating under the belief that Obí is human, that maybe he suspects—and doesn’t want to admit—that whatever beast killed this deer had killed Obí also, he still seeks the possibility that he has moved on. To him, he can see no house, no hovel, not even a sign of a human camp beyond the empty hearth of a bonfire that has long-since burnt out, and this meadow is no place to spend Deep Snow without any real shelter.
Morak has considered all these thoughts; Thæon too, three steps behind where he’d got tangled in sudden panic of an empty nest, but now that he stops a moment and really thinks about it….
“I met him here and this is where we stayed together, but I never stopped to think that this wasn’t his permanent home,” he says, in part to Morak, but mostly in sudden-struck wisdom for himself. “I continued on the snow would’ve made it hard for Bröder,” gesturing to the snow blanket that hides the withered meadow grass that was as much the calf’s food supply as it was the deer’s.
But there is no need to consider that Obí would’ve ventured further down the mountains to chase the herds either—and yet that thought does cross Thæon’s mind although he is quick to snuff that ember before it can catch—because, quite simply, Obí must have found himself a different grove, or a larger tree or a sturdier nest to take shelter in while the Deep Snow blankets the world in white and lulls Fellfrir’s children into hibernation.
The snow fell heavy here even if they were in the south of Ered Naur, and Thæon was stupid to have forgotten such a simple fact. When Arenthíen’s breath gave first fall to the snow, he must’ve returned to the nest he had claimed before Thæon first appeared in the meadow. That was why his nest was abandoned, and that’s why there is no need to worry.
Obí can take care of himself. Even if he didn’t quite know how to hunt or had the confidence to fly before Thæon found him, he had been looking after himself before, and was simply looking after himself again.
“C’mon. He’s not here. We should go,” Thæon says, dusting his hands in his cloak and standing from where he had taken a knee to examine the cold ashes.
“He’s fine,” and there’s a sharpness in place of words that don’t need to be spoken. “The grove isn’t suitable for Deep Snow, so he’s found somewhere better to spend the nights.” He flashes a grin that feels easier than it probably should.
And yet Thæon is certain that he would know, deep down, if Obí was in danger. The gods wouldn’t have let him leave the valley if they thought their child would come to any harm he couldn’t protect himself from, and it’s this belief that Thæon clings onto.
He holds his hands out to link them as they had when Morak brought them to the valley, but Morak hesitates. He stares, for a long while, feathered-face tilted in a way that Gryka might do to show curiosity, or a thought; perhaps even amusement were it not for that spark in his eye or the way he searches for something with an intensity of a predator.
But, unable to find whatever it is that he seeks, the shadow mage closes the gap; Thæon’s mind filling with the image of Bröder, Morak finding the returning journey easier when Sagen stands as an anchored point to their campsite; this time the journey feels barely longer than a stumbled step from snow-damp meadow to the long grass of Ferani’s north valley that has escaped the frost of Deep Snow.
Although Thæon knew what to expect, it doesn’t make the passage any easier the second time around and he’s gasping for breath when he falls out on the other side, falling to his knees while Morak sheds Gryka’s cloak until they are once again two separate beings; he his human self and she, all midnight feathers and motherly affection, pressing herself to his cheek before taking wing and settling in to watch the forest around them.
Now free from the Grynn Realm, and in need to banish the cold of having to restrain his fire, Thæon tugs on his spark to fill him, perhaps a little too forcefully when it pops and crackles; the embers in the campfire glowing at the sudden rise in Fire magic and it only takes a flick of Thæon’s fingers to breath life into flames that stretch high and cast warm, bright light on their claimed glade.
Sagen raises his head from where he’d been dozing near a tree; Bröder blissfully unaware of his keepers departure and return; undisturbed when Thæon took his numnah as an extra layer between the hard ground and his aching body. Even if it wasn’t his magic used to jump hundred of leagues, he’s still exhausted, giving little care to grace as he throws down his bedroll and then himself, not even bothering to kick off his shoes.
Morak isn’t quite so drained as his companion, but prepares to settle in for the night all the same.
He’s slow and hesitant though, questions burning on the back of his tongue, but the distance has worn them both. There will be time enough on their journey ahead; Morak told as much when his curiosity gets the better of him and he invites conversation with the point to pry, even if he disguised his intent when bringing Thæon a waterskin with a taste of sweet wine.
“I promise, in the morning, I’ll answer your questions, but for now let’s sleep. You can’t say that that trip didn’t tire you as much as it did me.”
“Not as much,” Morak says, smiling, the spark in his eye yet to flare out. But he concedes to the lull of sleep, slumping down onto his own bedroll, hesitating a moment to kick off his boots and pointing his toes to the campfire.
And as much as Thæon is tired, sleep eludes him.
He stares up at the shifting canopy, at the glimpses of the stars above, eyes flicking to where Gryka is perched when she shifts or clicks her beak in warning to the darkness but unable to drift off. He thinks maybe it’s the weight on his chest, too cold to be hunger, too hollow to be tiredness.
He’s still worried.
Self-assurance and reasoning aside, Thæon is still worried for Obí, and disappointed in himself for thoughtless action. Angry even.
He doesn’t deserve to feel disheartened that he hadn’t reunited with Obí when he hasn’t fulfilled his promise; doesn’t deserve to have seen him when he’d nearly, thoughtlessly, revealed the existence of dragons to Morak, regardless that Morak is a friend.
If he had been there, things could’ve been disastrous.
But as it is, Obí has joined the bears and the bushy tails in winter’s sleep. Not once does Thæon consider that his dragon might’ve taken to the wind and set out for another mountain valley, because he knows that not to be true.
Because when Morak told him to take an image into his mind, to think of the place, Thæon hadn’t thought of the meadow, but of the dragon he had left behind. It was Obí they had been drawn to. Even if they hadn’t seen him, he was there, close by.
“He’s safe, I’m sure of it,” Thæon tells himself. Tells the stars.
Idle fingers stretching away from his bedroll to the hard ground, pretends it’s scales.
Pretends Bröder’s snoring is the gentle rumble of a dragon snoring.
Pretends the whisper of the leaves in the canopy caused by the swish of Obí’s tail as he dreams.
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