Torshael and Tayne's Story: A New God for a New Mission
Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight
The light was dim, in the cavern where they'd reappeared, but it wasn't so much darker than the night-time forest that it was impossible to see. There were even actual sources of light, patches of pale glow on the walls. And, of course, Tekasynos's eyes. It would be impossible to lose the infernal in the dark unless he closed them.
The cavern itself was about the same size and shape as the clearing they'd just left, and even had its own version of the stones from above-ground, as well. It was more of an alcove than a self-contained room, with a single path leading out.
"Well, looks like we're here, then," Tayne said, sounding gruffly pleased.
"Thank you, Tekas," Torshael added with a smile to the infernal.
Tekas nodded in response, looking around as if expecting something. After a moment of the rest watching him, puzzled, he went to one of the stone markers and picked up a large, heavy-looking stick laying beside it. With a brief inhalation, he breathed a small jet of flame at the end of it, where a stone there seemed to catch it and light up like a torch. It made a descent-sized circle of light around them, enough for even Torshael to see in. The light glittered off the rock walls and ceiling, catching in veins of lighter colors: the patches above them especially, like light-collectors, some kind of naturally luminescent crystal forming out of the stone.
"I didn't know you could do that in human form," Tayne commented curiously. "Handy." The infernal shrugged wordlessly, though it made sense that, without no fire magic ability, he'd have practiced something else enough to make good use of it, no matter what form he was in. At least he didn't get offended by the comment.
Haiiro, one of the packs slung from his own shoulders and somehow not crushing his wings, moved out onto the path-- which, unlike the rest of the cave, was smoothed for travel by the hand of something intelligent. "Well, we might as well get going if we're going to find Ixin," he said. He led the way, with Torshael and Tekas and his light not far behind. Tayne continued to offer Irithin support, bringing up the rear, as was his usual preference.
"Have you been here before?" Tayne asked from behind Tekas, once they got moving. "I wouldn't have even thought to look for that torch... thing."
"No, it was written on the stones," Tekas answered, removing his glasses again. "Even the most prepared traveler can forget things from time to time."
"Suppose so," Tayne agreed, then fell silent again.
The issue of Tekasynos wasn't far from Haiiro's mind-- he felt guilty for having read the infernal's thoughts, but anything that disturbed all of them so much as Tekas's misunderstandings and strange moods seemed like it was important to know, especially since it seemed to be rapidly getting worse. He hadn't-- quite-- grasped what exactly the problem was, but he could see around the edges of it, saw many of the pieces of it-- embarrassment, focused attention, concern, a certain quickness to be hurt, discomfort, even a little admiration... they had to add up to something big-- and knew that, soon enough, it would wind up whole in his head. But until then, he couldn't let it distract him, though it was hard. They had things to do.
Though the caverns seemed perfectly natural, and ranged in size from a height comfortable for Torshael's human form but only just to a size where Tekasynos in infernal form could have walked without ducking his head. The tunnels were not quite so varied, nor quite so large, but they were more obviously artificial: enlarged from what would have been natural, added to when the original passageway ended, and certainly evened out for more comfortable travel. Though a full-sized infernal or even supernal could not have walked inside them, they were more than tall enough for smaller dragons, like the local ones bonded to members of the Order.
Before long, the "road", as it were, diverged, as roads tended to do. There was a convenient marker probably identifying which tunnel went where, repeated in a multitude of languages, but Haiiro couldn't read a single one. He wasn't particularly adept at reading, not having had a lot of practice, but not even his bond with Torshael suggested a translation. So, he looked expectantly at Tekasynos: he had been able to read the stone markers before, and he was a resident of this world where he and the supernals were not. "Can you read these?" he asked hopefully.
"Mmmhmm." Tekas didn't bother to take out his glasses this time. "A few of them are familiar. One of them even happens to be the 'common' language, they just have a different writing system. Mori appears to be broken up into different areas... does Ishtar's journal mention anything like that? If not, we might have to guess which way to go...."
"It can't be too far, or Ishtar would have given a different entrance," Haiiro mused.
"She said she'd gone to someplace called Rhukyl," Tayne spoke up, as the one who knew the journal best and kept it on his person, when it wasn't in a pack on somebody else's back.
"That one, then," Tekasynos pointed, and they turned to the right and the more southerly extension of the tunnels.
After another few minutes of walking, the tunnel turned into a large cavern-- and Haiiro stopped short, holding out his arms-- and wings-- to stop the others behind him. There was something else in the cavern with them, at the far end, hidden by darkness... but Haiiro could hear its breathing. And it was something big.
::What is it?:: Torshael asked, thankfully silently, and Haiiro replied the only way he could: by relaying what he heard and the sense that they were not alone. Tayne, somewhere behind them, didn't quite mutter a "Fallen curse it", but it was so close to the surface of his thoughts, "on the tip of his tongue" even, that it seemed to Haiiro almost like he had.
Haiiro sent his own thoughts questing ahead, trying to get a sense of what lay ahead of them from its thoughts. There were no boundaries to block him, and the mind he felt was-- innocent, child-like. Whatever the source of the thoughts and the breathing was, it was guarding something-- though just what, Haiiro couldn't get a clear image of-- and would attack "bad people" and make them "go away". Well... he just hoped he and the rest wouldn't be considered "bad people".
Sharpening his vision and, like Tekas, blowing out a tiny candle's worth of flame to hover over his outstretched palm, Haiiro made his cautious way closer to whatever it was in the darkness. Halfway across the chamber, he had finally pieced together his first real idea of what guarded the path. It was large, with a sinuous appearance to it, covered in rows of spines and mottled black scales that shone in the faint firelight. Its claws were particularly long, its head shove-shaped, and its pale blue eyes attentive.
More importantly, the wide tunnel it was guarding-- quite large enough for the creature itself to pass through-- was not the one in their path, unless they were supposed to turn here. Their path passed the guard and curved away in another direction. Haiiro sent back a cautious summons to Torshael that it should be safe to continue, and his bond started to follow, nudging Tekas gently for him to come, as well. ::It's not guarding our tunnel,:: Haiiro heard him explain silently.
The creature-- dragon-kindred of some kind, Haiiro guessed-- tilted its head as he approached. It didn't seem hostile, but it also shifted sideways to partially block his way. Haiiro paused, for a moment unsure of what to do-- but it still didn't look hostile. Well, when all else failed, be polite: it was harder to consider one a "bad person" if one was polite. So, Haiiro bowed slightly, holding the pose long enough for the creature to lower its head and sniff him delicately. He straightened when it tilted its head, nostrils going back to their regular size and shape as it apparently finished testing his scent, and watched it consider for a breath.
Then it started... purring, was the only thing Haiiro could think of to call it. It didn't sound in the least bit threatening, however, and he smiled a bit at it. "Safe, am I?" he murmured softly.
The rest of the group was coming up behind him, now: he could see the growing light from Tekas's stone torch. He just hoped they would be accepted, as well. The creature chirped wordlessly at them and gave each one a repeat performance of sniffing and weighing the scents, to what end, Haiiro could only guess. It took but a moment with the two supernals and a breath longer with Irithin, but when it reached Tekasynos, it paused and whirred confusedly.
"He's safe," Haiiro assured it gently, even daring to pat it gingerly on the neck-- and trying not to recoil at how cold it felt, reminded instinctively of Ishtar's ice and the chill of the death she'd caused. "He's with us," he continued soothingly, nonetheless, "a friend."
The creature gave Tekas another sniff, tentatively, then backed off with a little reluctance. "Thank you," Haiiro told it, then motioned for the rest to come along.
::Don't take it to heart,:: Torshael's own reassurance to Tekasynos echoed along their bond, ::you're more than your species, no matter what a guarding animal thinks.:: Tekas just nodded, but as he didn't seem too miserable, Haiiro tried not to think too hard about him at the moment.
What followed felt like an eternity of walking. Haiiro, giving a conservative guess, thought it might have been three or four miles-- but without any means to mark the time except his own footsteps, and his own lack of experience with walking long distances on two feet instead of four hooves, he had no idea how accurate his guess was. No one else offered any suggestions-- there wasn't much talking at all, in fact. So, it felt like forever and a day before the tunnel finally broadened into what could have passed for one of the main thoroughfares on Star City itself, and opened into an enormous cavern-- so enormous that Haiiro had no idea how the roof stayed up, with nothing to support it. He stopped at the edge of the tunnel-- miniscule compared to the mass of open space in front of him-- to stare.
"Well," Tayne said, coming up behind him as the rest of the group caught up, "looks like we found civilization at last."