Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission

Chapter Twenty-Two

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


The teleport-- based on an image gifted by Yulaan himself, to Haiiro, along with knowledge of how to change back into his hooved self-- took the quartet not to the cult's grounds in the old ruins, or even to that same stretch of desert itself. Rather, they appeared several miles away, because teleporting into what was apparently called the Black Sands was said to be risky, at best. Even Ishtar and her group of heroes had used this stretch of dunes and scrub beyond the Black Sands, themselves, to get there.

In the time spent with the Order waiting for Tekasynos to recover his strength and energy, Tayne had kept himself busy with the Order's archives and helpful members. One of the things he'd done was find out as much as he could about their three destinations. This one, the piece of desert known as the Black Sands, was the location of a long-ago war that had left it "tainted". No one had really wanted to talk about it-- a lot of knights had died there, so it was a touchy subject-- but he'd found records in the archives to fill in a few of the blanks. In this case, being "tainted" meant that magic used on the Black Sands tended to go awry: teleports redirected to other places, divinations warped or providing wrong information, even simple offensive spells having random effects. The cult had stabilized their own patch of it, around the ruins, but everywhere else was still dangerous. Hence, the off-site teleport. That also meant that, at least as long as magic was unreliable, Tayne and Tekasynos were the more important members of the party. After all, Ishtar might have wiped out several groups of nomads during her reign here, but she certainly hadn't done away with all of them, and those that were left might not like visitors after what happened to their neighbors. Besides, anything she left behind at her base would still need contending with.

The first thing made obvious was the heat-- which wasn't exactly surprising, since they were in the middle of the desert-- though it was ironic that they'd gone from the intense cold of the far north snowfields to the intense heat of a southern desert. Tekasynos seemed to appreciate the irony, himself, though he probably appreciated the heat just as much. Infernals, heh. Though Tayne couldn't say that he minded it all that much, himself: lions were made for hot savannahs, after all.

Unfortunately, Ishtar's base was likely still frozen, so they had to bring warmer wear with them. Being the only four-footed one at the moment, and being more comfortable with the heat than Torshael or even Haiiro, Tayne got the bulk of their belongings. At least they weren't all that heavy.

"Which way from here?" Torshael asked, squinting across the landscape-- in what Tayne was sure was the entirely wrong direction. Tayne scented left and right, checked the angle of the sun, noted the shadow that seemed to overtake the sand under the shimmer of the heat, a mile or so away, then grunted and started off towards what he expected would be the Black Sands. His paws were not going to appreciate that name, he could tell already.

Then Tekasynos surprised him by turning into a big, blue infernal-- with a neck lined in gold spines-- once they hit the aptly named "Black Sands" a few minutes later, and consequently offered to carry the bulk of the load. Well, big in the relative sense, as he wasn't a particularly big infernal. Even so, Tayne was quite content to take him up on that offer. It wouldn't be a burden to someone thirty feet tall to carry a few packs of clothing. Actually, it wouldn't be a burden if all three of them hitched a ride on his spiny shoulders-- though Tayne preferred to fly himself, if they were going to go at an infernal's pace. Tekasynos didn't offer that, though. Tayne guessed it would be too much to ask for an infernal to want to carry a couple of his species deadly enemies and a holy kirin-dragon, human-formed or not, good or not. He could understand that. He supposed he could shift larger and offer some protection for the two bipeds from the hot sand....

"Tekas, would you mind horribly carrying us, too?" Haiiro asked diffidently, looking up at the fanged face. "I don't think we'll be particularly heavy, and I'm not sure how our feet will handle all that black sand in the sun...."

The infernal glanced down at Haiiro, looking rather as if he'd been expecting to be asked. "I don't mind." He even stopped and crouched down to let Haiiro and Torshael clamber on. His back was even free of sharp things, so it looked like a pretty easy ride, once one got used to the gait.

Tayne opted to take to the air. "No offense to you, Tekas, I just like moving of my own volition when I can," he'd said. It was a good thing he did, as the Black Sands were, indeed, far too hot to walk on. For all he could control his own personal body heat, it would take too much effort to try and cool his pads when even Tekasynos's feet were smoking with each step. They had, somehow, wound up arriving at the hottest part of the day.

::Maybe we should have come at night,:: Torshael commented faintly. He'd put his cheek and chest to Tekasynos's neck, beside the lowest of the spines, and shut his eyes, as if the infernal's body was actually cooler than the surrounding air. Actually, given the oppressive heat, it might well have been. It seemed that again, he was the one affected the most by the extreme temperatures: Tekasynos was a creature of flame, Tayne's element was heat, and even Haiiro seemed more alert than the poor Favored.

By the time the sun got around to setting, though, even Tayne was ready for the heat to abate. There was something on the horizon, but only Haiiro could actually make out what it was. He relayed the image his own enhanced eyes gave him: a cluster of small buildings that looked, actually, rather like tents. ::Tents?:: Tayne clarified. ::Are those what we're looking for, or one of the nomad groups?::

Haiiro's somewhat impatient, wordless reply seemed to indicate that he didn't know.

Tekasynos, himself, didn't so much as comment. He actually kept throwing concerned-looking glances over his shoulder that could only have been directed at Torshael-- Haiiro obviously didn't seem to need that kind of worried attention. Tayne wasn't sure whether to be amused or not; it was rather amusing to see such a fearsome creature looking like he felt so sorry for someone, but making fun of him for having a heart seemed a little much, at the moment.

::He'll be all right,:: he told the infernal privately, so as not to embarrass his brother-- normally, he wouldn't have bothered, but even he could take pity on Torshael now and then. ::Once things cool down, he'll be fine, and I'll heal up any sunburn he might've gotten. He's just not got any kind of control over his body temperature like the rest of us do, that's all. Lucky guy's probably napped for most of the trip.::

Tekasynos was silent a moment, and when he replied, it was to all of them. :: ... Should we head that way, then?::

::Sounds like a good idea, to me. They're the first signs of life we've seen out here besides the occasional lizard,:: Tayne answered. Haiiro's agreement was, as usual, wordless, and Torshael either didn't want to waste the energy agreeing or really was napping, for he said nothing.

It did seem Tekas had heard him, at least, as he stopped looking over his shoulder every few steps. He was still walking carefully, as if afraid of jostling his riders, but probably wasn't craning his neck uncomfortably anymore. And his feet weren't smoking anymore, either. A cool breeze had even sprung up, ruffling Tayne's mane for the first time in hours. It felt nice.

Even walking fairly slowly and carefully, Tekasynos's long strides got them to the encampment in good time. Lights were visible in the waning sunlight, and the figures of people and large beasts moving around. ::I don't think they've seen us,:: Tayne commented, landing lightly on Tekasynos's rump, now that they were approaching people who might be discomfited by a flying lion. ... and possibly an infernal, as well.

::Should we all get off, Tekas?:: came Torshael's mental voice.

::If you think it wise,:: Tekas replied hesitantly. ::I've never been out here before... I have no idea how they'll react to any of us.::

Tayne leapt down onto the sand-- which was still hot enough to make him jump from paw to paw a moment before settling with a wince. "Probably ought to," he called, shifting up so he had protective boots rather than pained paw-pads. "Big, spiny monster is probably scarier than a pack of heat-struck humans."

Torshael sat himself up again, rubbing at his face with a wince, then eyed the ground with definite misgivings. ::He's probably right,:: he sighed mentally rather than shouting. ::I don't know if people out this far will even know about Haiiro's kin, for that matter.::

" ... right," Tekasynos said quietly, crouching down for Torshael and Haiiro to slide off. The former gave his shoulder a grateful pat once his feet hit the sand.

"High One, it's even hotter down here," he commented unhappily. "I'll be glad when we find the frozen part, I think. Haiiro, do you want to go talk to the, uh, natives?"

"I might as well, just in case they do recognize kirin traits," Haiiro answered, squinting through the lengthening shadows at the encampment. "I hope they understand the common tongue."

"I can just stay back here, if you'd like..." Tekas suggested, stepping back.

"Why would you-- oh." Torshael frowned. "All our things...."

"Why don't I just go, by myself?" Haiiro suggested. "I'll be less likely to upset anyone, by myself."

"Not by yourself, kid," Tayne said, shaking his head. "You might need a translator, and you can't get your pretty head to make actual words. Torshael, no offense, but you don't look at your most impressive right now." His brother put a self-conscious hand to his hair, blushing beneath the sunburn he had actually garnered. "Any complaints if I just go and play bodyguard, and you just enjoy that shadow Tekasynos is making?"

Torshael glared a bit, but didn't complain, and neither did Tekasynos, who was stretched out on his belly now.

"Good. And drink something, brother... you'll feel better. After you, then, Haiiro," Tayne said with a smile, and followed him across the sand towards the camp.

No matter what they might have been afraid of, the camp was hardly guarded and the guards themselves looked at Haiiro and Tayne with nothing more than curiosity as they approached. This group wasn't human, but probably one of the varied intelligent non-human groups that shared the planet. They looked somewhat lizard-like and had large, clawed feet and long ears. The camp itself seemed to be mostly families. Haiiro smiled tentatively at the first guard stationed outside the ring of tents. "Hello... we're passing through and wondered if you might give us some directions."

The guard, for a moment, looked like he didn't understand, expression tentative and a little confused, but then he spoke: "Daytime-- not good travel. Going where?"

Though the sentences were broken and accent thick, Haiiro could still understand him. He smiled a little more, gently, and explained, "There was a religious cult here some years ago, that was destroyed by an ice mage. She worked from their home for many years after. We are looking for that site."

There was another pause as the guard struggled to piece the long description together. Haiiro was patient, though he could have kicked himself for talking so much. He finally pointed past the little village of tents, off in a slightly more south-westernly direction than what they'd been taking. "That way," he confirmed. "Dark place, we not go close. Sometimes strange lights."

"We'll be careful," Haiiro assured him. "Thank you, sir."

"Luck." The guard put a hand over his chest, then made a fist with it. It was an odd gesture but, after sharing a glance and a shrug with Tayne, Haiiro mimicked it. "Be safe."

"You, as well," Haiiro nodded, turning back.

::Well, that went nicely well,:: Tayne commented.

Torshael and Tekasynos, left where they'd stopped, were both silent until Haiiro and Tayne were as small and distant as the people at the campsite, itself. Tekasynos rummaged in one of the bags with a foreclaw, fishing for one of their water bottles, and Torshael tried to find the coolest part of the ground to stand on.

The infernal finally offered the water to Torshael, dangling from the claw by its strap. " ... sorry," he sighed.

"What in the world do you have to be sorry for?" Torshael asked, surprised. "Thanks," he added, scooping the water down and unscrewing the top. He'd been trying not to think about it, but he was extremely thirsty.

" ... that you're stuck out here with me...."

Torshael, in the midst of greedily gulping down water, paused to look over at him in surprise, then lowered the water bottle and padded across the sand to pat his shoulder. "Tekas, all I mind, really, is my brother teasing me. There's nothing wrong with your company-- and really, I don't mind letting them handle the meet-and-greet duty, either. I'm feeling far too hot and tired to be particularly charming." To Torshael's mild dismay and discomfort, Tekasynos didn't even answer him. " ... Tekas?"

"Hmm?" It was more a grunt than a reply, as the infernal made absent patterns on the ground with a claw. "Sorry... guess I'm not much of a conversationalist right now."

"As long as you're all right," Torshael replied with concern.

"Yeah... I'm all right...."

Unconvinced, but uncertain just what else he could do to get the infernal to talk to him, Torshael decided not to press him for the moment. Haiiro and Tayne were on their way back; they'd probably get moving again, now, anyway. He just gave his forearm a friendly pat and went back to sucking down water.

"We've got a better direction," Tayne called ahead as they approached. "Whenever we're ready, we can get moving. Shouldn't be too much farther, now."

Tekasynos just nodded wordlessly, to another concerned glance from Torshael. He gave the water one last longing look before offering it to his brother and bond. They must have been thirsty, too, and by the time he got it back it was almost empty. Torshael made a face at it.

"Rested up, brother?" Tayne asked him.

"As well as I'm going to be, I guess. At least it's cooler now."

"Better get moving, then, before it get too cold. Up you go, then. Tekas, you ready to move again?"

"Mmmhmm," Tekasynos agreed, nodding once before rising to a crouch. Torshael actually managed not to clamber on his way up the infernal's shoulder. Haiiro followed him up.

"Planning on napping again?" he asked teasingly.

"I didn't plan on it last time," Torshael replied peevishly. "And it's much nicer out, now. I'll probably be fine."

"Maybe for our next stop," Tayne suggested from the ground with a wicked grin, "you can be the pack mule."

"Only if you do for the last stop," Torshael countered, settling himself on Tekasynos's shoulders again. "It's only fair."

"Just you wait, Tekas," Tayne chuckled. "You can be buried in glowing white fluff. He's got more mane than any supernal ought to be allowed."

Tekasynos looked away quickly without a comment, obviously uncomfortable with the bantering. Torshael could have kicked his brother for being so callous; unfortunately, he couldn't reach him. "So where am I headed?" Tekas asked, changing the subject entirely.

"South-southwest. That direction." Tayne pointed and, once sure Tekasynos had seen it, shifted back into a winged lion. "After you, big guy."

"It's past that village," Tekas pointed out. "Should I fly or go around?"

"Take your pick," Tayne grinned, crouching. "It's the air for me, though." And he took off with a leap and a few heavy wing-beats of his own.

"Er, I've never flown with someone else before," Haiiro said, eying the ground nervously.

"I can't imagine Tekas would let us fall," Torshael said confidently. "Go ahead, Tekas, if you want to. You haven't flown in too long, I bet."

Tekasynos nodded back to them and spread his. He took to the air surprisingly easily, and with a good grasp on the lowest of his spines, Torshael felt secure enough. Haiiro wound up with his arms thrown tightly around his bond's waist, but after they found a comfortable altitude and Tekasynos settled into a lazy-seeming glide, he started to relax. Torshael was just glad that flying created a cool wind, and made absolutely no move that might suggest he wanted them to land. Thankfully, since Haiiro managed to master his nervousness and start to enjoy himself, too, they kept to the air for the remainder of the journey.


Chapter Twenty-Three

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