Chapter 98 – Unexpected Connections.
It was four days after their crossing of the border between the kingdoms that they finally arrived at the capital of the Southern Peaks, Winters Haven. Built on the icy shores of a lake that Ueana did not know the name of, and stretching north from it, it wasn’t as large as she had been expecting, for a capital city at least. The water of the lake was stormy blue, matching the colour of the sky, fed from the river that flowed down from Gaia’s Wall. She could well imagine that the lake completely iced over during the colder months of the year, the theory supported by the patches of ice that she could currently see on the lakes surface, and the lack of boats in it. Stone walls, built into the water itself, zigzagged across the lake front, buildings built right up against the edges of said walls. A few of them looked to be warehouses, the rest more residential, with the squat multilayered feel that she had already seen in the settlements, and smoke coming out of the chimneys. The entire city seemed to be built from stone, the tiles of the roofs included, though there were ample trees strewn throughout it, sprouting up everywhere where there seemed to once have been some spare space. A chaotic patchwork of green and greys. There were farmlands outside of the city proper, stretching out and adding to the colour of the landscape, but much smaller than what she was used to seeing, the crops unfamiliar at a glance. Well, they had to be given the climate.
The castle of the royal family was easy enough to spot, sitting in the middle of the city and towering above everything surrounding it. It had the same squat and compact feel about it as the rest of the buildings she had seen, even with its six canonical towers that rose up from it, flags featuring two crossed spears and a snow white bear that fluttered in the winds from their peaks. Guards with large pole arms and as heavily rugged up as the citizens patrolled the lengths of the battlements, ballista mounted at the middle of each.
The clan’s temple complex sat on the opposite side of the lake to the city. While the bulk of the buildings were the same as what she had come to expect, low and compact except for those housing the familiars, the summoning temple itself was an ornate affair that seemed to be wanting to defy the common trend and have more in common with the nature of the land. It was tall, angular and thin, stretching up into the sky, numerous sharp spires glowing an eerie blue in the days sun, icicle and snowflake designs decorating its walls. If there had been such a thing as an ice queen, then that is what Ueana would would have expected her to build. The summoning temple was situated right at the lake front, a sheet of ice expanding out into the lake from it, the rest of the complex sitting back from it.
Having finished their fly over of the city, they swooped into the clear area in the middle of the clan’s complex, their dragons landing neatly and folding their wings back as they hopped down from them. Even Fleur, who look somewhat awake. Just, Coorie moving in to support her. The earth crunched underneath them as they made their way towards the receiving area, the cold seeping up through Ueana’s feet as her heat tried to melt the frosty layer in return. There was no way that their presence would have been missed, all clans always had at least one rider on watch at every complex. Sure they were all warriors, but information was a weapon in itself as well. Sure enough, a young rider ran out, skidding to a halt just in front of them. She looked like she was in her late teens, and she was shivering in spite of her efforts to try and hide that she was doing so.
“Umm. Who are you?” she finally asked, after standing there and waiting for someone to say something, Asher just standing there and staring back at her.
“Lady Knight Asher of the Demon Hunters. Tell Starlight that she really should have come out to see us herself.”
“And the others?” the girl asked meekly, wilting under the lady knight’s gaze.
“The rest of the Demon Hunters of course.”
The girl, looking rather confused and worried, turned and scampered back into the warren of buildings. Ueana blinked, surprised. Asher was being rather blunt, more so than usual. And she had referred to them as demon hunters. Okay, it was sort of technically correct, but. Well, she wasn’t to question it at the moment, rocking on her feet to try and avoid a little of the cold at her feet. This was about the worst that it had been so far. Not succeeding, there wasn’t really anywhere else she could put her feet and her armour didn’t allow her heeled boots any more, she pulled more of her magic to herself, reinforcing her body, licks of flame starting to dance at the tips of her ears and tails.
There were a few other riders around, along with a couple of familiars. The ones that had been present when they had landed, and a few more that had made an appearance since.
They were getting looks. And not just the ‘hey look it some guests’ kind. There were whispers too, she was sure of it. Ueana shivered, staring at the ground, wanting them to go away. She didn’t want to be here, to be stared at, thought of in that way. As some kind of beast. A freak. A monster. There’d be blood everywhere, tears, and loss.
‘Don’t go down there. That’s not what they’re saying. Show that pride that you have in yourself,’ Callisto said to her, trying to be assuring in his own way. But did it really work, when they were an aspect of yourself? She could feel tears on her face, her magic intensifying.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Corrie stated, now beside her and squeezing her hand, a half awake Fleur taking her other. “Don’t worry about them. We’re the ones that matter right? And apparently we’re Demon Hunters too,” she added with a smile. “I like the sound of that.”
Ueana smiled at them, letting some of the magic fade. She had started pulling too much, and her hair had started taking on the aspect. “Thanks,” she murmured back, shifting over to help support Fleur.
‘Stand straight and tall. You are the one and only Pyrefox, and proud of it.’ Ueana smiled at her familiar too. Sure, she’d give it a try. The others were still there, looking, but she tried focusing on the direction that the girl had gone.
Asher had started to grumble, tapping her foot irregularly, small waves of power flowing out from the point of impact, by the time that the girl returned, Lady Knight Starlight in tow. Starlight looked just like she had last time Ueana had seen her, platinum blonde hair with sliver streaks, sharp features, lithe figure and silver lips that were just a little bit alluring. She stared at the group, a look of surprise on her face.
“Yes, I do believe we need to talk,” she finally said, turning and motioning for them to follow. “Your familiars can wait there.”
‘We’ll be fine here,’ Callisto stated, stretching his wings before folding them back, a faint glow in his mouth as the flames dancing along his scales seemed to multiply. Kitni on the other hand decided that he wouldn’t be, squirming out of the saddlebag and scampering across the ground and into her arms. Ueana chuckled as she picked him up.
“It’s been a while, Asher,” Starlight said as she settled down onto a nice velvet sofa opposite them, stretching her legs out and dismissing her armour. And then stretching the rest of her as well. Ueana blushed, noticing that Starlight did in fact have a really nice figure, now that her armour was gone. And then shook her head, trying to bury it in some corner of her mind. She had two lovers of her own, and both were beautiful in their own way. Especially Coorie. Who also seemed to be blushing a little as well. Fleur on the other hand had closed her eyes, comfortably leaning in against Ueana, her hands buried in one of Ueana’s tails that she was holding against her chest.
“Show some decency,” Asher grumbled at the other lady knight, arms folded across her chest. “There are others here you know.”
Starlight laughed, light and melodious. “I’m sure they’ve had more trysts than you, even at their age.”
Asher glared daggers at the silver rider, who responded with a sly smile, slowly running her fingers up one leg.
“It wasn’t going to work out,” Asher stated grumpily, staring at the painting covered wall.
“It still could,” Starlight said, a sad look in her eyes, her hand halting, resting delicately against her leg.
“We’re from different worlds.”
Armur coughed uncomfortably, staring at both lady knights. Asher slumped back into the sofa while Starlight gave Armur a curious look before swinging herself around and sitting properly, one leg daintily cross over the other like Coorie often did, her hands delicately laid one in top of the other.
“Did you do it again?” Starlight asked.
“No. Stop it Starlight,” Asher growled, the air taking on a sharp tinge.
“Ash...” Starlight said, her face awash with sadness. Even with her posture and power, she looked... vulnerable.
Asher drew in a deep breath. “Look, not here, not now. Please.” There was a strain to her tone.
Starlight rose, her body glowing as she summoned her armour, and then sat down again. “So be it. Business then.”
“They were with you at the delegation,” Starlight said, looking at Ueana. “I have many questions, but the main one is, why are you here?”
“To talk with Kyril.”
“Okay, I had a few guesses, but I wasn’t expecting that,” Starlight admitted, looking a little shocked. “She’s out at the moment, but I doubt that will be an issue for you. Why Kyril though? There are plenty of talented, and dare I say, more experienced riders here.”
“Something that we saw at the delegation makes us believe that she will be able to help us out with a query.”
“There is more to it than that.”
“Yes there is, but please don’t ask.”
Starlight tilted her head as she looked at the other lady knight. “Demon Hunters huh. Something happened didn’t it.”
Asher shook her head. “Yes, and no.”
“For all your efforts, you never saw eye to eye with them. It was only a matter of time. Why not...” Starlight started before abruptly stopping. She tried to smile, but her eyes were telling a different story. Starlight blinked, and frowned. “What did you do? We can ill afford an incident between the clans.”
“It’s not directly related.”
Asher frowned and sighed. “I killed a hatchling.” Starlight’s eyes opened wider.
“Because she was trying to kill me,” Ueana said quietly. “It’s as much my fault.”
“No, that it is not,” Asher stated sternly, looking directly at her. “She had well and truly crossed the line.”
Starlight looked between the two before reaching a conclusion. “I will not ask any further. You were never one to act without cause, and even given all that has happened, I believe in your judgement. For that aspect at least.”
Starlight’s gaze returned to them, Ueana shrinking back into the sofa. The inevitable question and judgement.
“Ueana was it? You look different now. Better.” At least for that Starlight’s smile seemed genuine.
“We... We had a personal encounter with an Ancient,” Ueana answered, ploughing ahead before she faltered again. “Or two. It left me changed, and like the deep dragons, I am no longer fully human. A Pyrefox, but still a rider as well.”
Starlight nodded. “I can feel their marks on you all. Especially you three. Is it related to the most recent pulse at all?”
Ueana shook her head. “No, not really. At least, not this form. The pulse was just as they had said. The return of the Dawn Angel. Surely you felt that certainty as much as we did.”
“Yes, that I did, and others have confirmed it. But, all of those who were at the delegation were there for a reason, because they were either in positions of power or were more sensitive. I doubt that you fall into the former, and that that was all of it.”
“Yes, there is more,” Ueana sighed, “but it is rather personal. Between the three of us, and related to our encounters with the Ancients. I don’t really want to talk about it, sorry.”
Starlight looked at her, and then at Coorie and Fleur. “You three an item then?”
Ueana, Fleur and Coorie nodded.
Starlight gave them another smile, sweet and heartfelt. “I hope it works out for you all. Poly relationships don’t always work out, but somehow, for you three, I sense it might be different.”
She looked back at Asher again, a flash of sadness quickly hidden. “And that there is a lot more going on than you are letting on. I can only pray that you might consider opening up to me at some point.” Starlight paused, stretching, the light of the room glinting off her armour. “Kyril was sent to the Cythis Mines, to deal with an unusual infestation. The others that went with her have returned, saying that she wanted to probe a little deeper. I doubt that she’ll be overly long, but if she isn’t back by morning I will give you directions to the mines. In the meantime, please stay the night. I know that your leader isn’t overly fond of them, but I am sure that they rest of you would appreciate a real bed.”
Asher arched her eyebrows, before looking over at them. “Perhaps, this time, you may be right. We accept the offer.”
Ueana was in fact surprised, but neither was she going to complain. Nudging Fleur awake, she stood with the others, Fleur rubbing her eyes as she stood, then leaning back into her. Ueana chuckled, gave her bondmate a kiss and then helped her stay up. She was grateful that a servant of the temple was summoned to show them to the guest rooms rather than an actual rider, but thinking on it, that was usually the norm. She had never had to be on guest duties at the next, and as far as she was aware, neither had either of the other two. The servant, a young boy who was probably in the middle of his teenage years, kept on stealing glances at her, but she just gave him a brief smile and then proceeded to ignore him. Male servants inside the temple was unusual. Sure, most professionals they ended up with, like blacksmiths, carpenters etc, often were male, but they worked in the complex, rather than inside the living quarters and admin areas. The personal staff were usually female. Well, at least from her experience. It just fit in better with the whole rider shtick, and avoided any unnecessary complications. Then again, perhaps one of the lady knights here had a particular taste in the staff, or they just trusted this boy that much. Ueana shrugged to herself.
They were only a short way from the meeting room when Asher stopped, a contemplative look on her face. “You four go on ahead. I... there is something that I need to do.” She turned, and started to walk back the way that they had come. “Boy, make sure that we’re shown where the stables are,” she added. “Bonebreaker will accompany the others.”
Asher had not returned by the time that they had had a meal and were ready to turn in for the night, not that they were really concerned. She was a lady knight after all, and at the least, she seemed on familiar terms with Starlight, whatever that actually entailed. The familiars were settled in, Bonebreaker included, though they did complain about not actually being with them. But that wasn’t practical here given that they didn’t have any dual dorms, and from what had been observed, no one here talked with their familiars either. A gift that was perhaps theirs alone. At least for the moment. Which was a little sad, Ueana sure that most riders would happily embrace it if they knew that it was a possibility. But that was outside her power. It was almost pure coincidence for Asher and Armur, and definitely not their direct doing, even if their positioning had been rather convenient. Ueana, Coorie and Fleur had claimed the largest bed they could find, getting the room to themselves, while Armur was in the adjoining room, another bed there for Asher for when she eventually turned up.
The bed was indeed super comfortable, the three of them falling asleep in a tangled mess. Ueana’s tails certainly had their advantages, and it turned out that they were a lot more tired than they had thought, dreams claiming them straight away. Warm, pleasant dreams. Dreams of each other.
Dreams that were shattered as a cold blast threw Ueana off the bed and tumbling on to the floor.
Ueana groggily sat up, staring at the bed. Coorie was doing the same from the other side, the only one still remaining on it being Fleur. Who was sitting up, looking at them confused, her ears twitching, her tail swishing across the sheets.
Then the realisation hit, a huge smile spreading across her face.
“This. Is. Awesome,” Fleur declared exuberantly.