Rakhanar knew he was at his breaking point when he left the Velvet Lily. Stepping out into the biting cold air to find only big, fur-clad barbarians eyeing him with challenging regard was all it took. He pulled Wildstreak’s whistle from his belt and blew it almost desperately.
Sparkles, shimmering, and there was his friend, Wildstreak. The golden unicorn took one look at him and knew, too. When the stallion stretched out his soft nose to snuffle his shoulder reassuringly, that one act of sympathy nearly broke him. He stepped in to hug the stallion’s broad neck, burying his face in the silky strands of his mane.
It’s alright, Rakh, you just need to take a break. Somewhere safe.
Rakhanar nodded tightly, squeezing his eyes shut to hold back tears of frustration. He was feeling his youth but still his voice came out deep and rough, the voice of the man he was not. “Where? I don’t know…” Biting his lip, he paused to think. “Do you think I could get away with going back to Kelethin? They wouldn’t expect that. It would be like doubling back where they’ve already looked. And if I keep my hood up…”
That should do it. You need to be there, around the fae. Buddy, I can feel it, you’re about to explode.
Rakhanar nodded again, his face still buried in the stallion’s mane. “Yeah. Let’s get out of here.” He tightened his jaw, feeling a wave of heat ripple through him dangerously. “Now.”
He twisted a hank of the stallion’s mane in his fist and hauled himself up on Wildstreak’s back quickly, then pulled his hood up and lowered his head. As Wildstreak spun on his back hooves and moved out, his gait fast but smooth, Rakhanar tried to keep his gaze from falling on the threatening presence of the barbarians around him. If one of them said a word to him…
Red pulsing in his vision made the blue shades of the snow around him a surrealistic violet, and he was barely aware of anything but the icy wind whistling as Wildstreak carried him quickly out of the city of New Halas, through the caves and down the side of the mountain to the docks. At the magic globe he had to focus; he reached down from the unicorn’s back to touch it, his heart yearning for the only home he had ever known.
And then, through the blaze of star-streaks, the in-between, they were there. Surrounded by warmth and the greens and browns of the immense tree city, Rakhanar felt an immediate easing of the tension in his shoulders as he breathed in the sweet scented air of the fae homeland. The fae fluttering about chatting happily, the sparkles in the air, the sound of a flute playing in the distance, all of it worked to calm him. The red receded from his view and he breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Wildstreak stepped away from the teleporter pad at a calm walk, carrying him down the varying levels of the platforms and across the wide hanging bridges that connected them until he found the small, cozy Inn where newcomers were welcomed. Rakhanar kept his hood up and his head down as he negotiated with the treant who was the Innkeeper there, his voice low. Giving Wildstreak one last very grateful hug, he watched as his unicorn friend shimmered off to find a pasture, then turned to walk into one of the huge, hollowed out acorns of the home tree of Kelethin. Just inside the door and down the huge leaf ramp, he slumped down to the naked floor where he could rest unchallenged, exhausted by the struggle against himself.
* * *
In the morning his body was stiff and sore. Although he had always been active, swimming and running as he played in the forests of Faydwer with Siffy, it seemed that wearing armor and swinging a sword used different muscles and every one of them was complaining now.
Rakhanar got up off the floor with a groan, yawned, and stretched. He cracked his neck and rifled his fingers through his dark hair, then turned to rummage in his pack for breakfast. There was nothing but a hunk of bread and a canteen of water that the pixies had given him. That would have to do, for now. Ripping in to the bread with his teeth, he washed it down with the tepid water, then dug his new armor out of the magically enhanced pack. It wasn’t the shiniest set around, but it was practical and well-crafted. He pulled off his robe and shoved it back in the pack, then set to the task of gearing up, taking a little longer at it than he knew it should, but it was only his second time doing this. Leaving the gauntlets until needed, he finished strapping on his bracers, then turned to the door of his empty home, considering.
He didn’t have to go out there and risk being seen. He could use the guild call spell. Maybe there he could find something better than stale bread and plain water for breakfast.
Raising his hands, he drew the energy to him, through him, connecting, and his home disappeared in sparkles. That moment of in between suffused him, then he was there in the guild entranceway. No one there. Heading into the crafting hall, he found the staff already in. He followed the enticing aroma of smoked ham and pastries to find the buffet table between the forge area and the cooking stations freshly stocked. Zeroing in on that, he grabbed a hunk of ham. There was nothing to drink but eggnog, however, and when he leaned over to take a whiff, he could smell that it was laced pretty heavily with rum. None of that.
Wolfing down the ham, he headed into the Tavern, hoping to at least find a fresh supply of water. There he found the two people he least wanted to see: Lady Lilithna and Shialli. They were sitting very close to each other and he had the distinct feeling he was interrupting something intimate.
Rather than stop and make an awkward scene, he gave them a bare glance and kept on past them, aiming for the bar. He thought he might just glance around and head out again since there was no one to tend it this early and, though he was sure that a long-time guild member might be welcome to just hop over the bar and help themselves, he didn’t feel that was an option for him. He leaned over the bar, slapping his hand down on it as he scanned the barrels, licking dry lips, freshly salted from the ham. One was sure to have water, but it might as well be miles out of reach. He shoved himself away from the bar again, heading back for the crafting hall entranceway. It looked like he’d have to scrounge somewhere else to slake his thirst.
“Ah, if it isn’t our new, overly enthusiastic fighter.”
The snide comment came from Lady Lilithna. Rakhanar was almost past them, having adopted Lady Lhasa’s military stride, but at this he stopped and turned slowly on his heel.
The black robed female glared at him, smirking, and Rakhanar just stared back for a moment.
He flicked up an eyebrow. “M’lady.” Don’t let her get to me. Or at least don’t let it show. He laced his fingers in front of him and cracked his knuckles casually. Nodding slightly, slowly, he added, “Need anything else killed?”
She actually looked just a tad taken aback. Then she chuckled, while Shialli, at her side, just continued to glare.
“Might be. We’ll just have to make sure we don’t aim you toward the wrong targets, won’t we?” she purred.
Now he smirked. “That might help.”
“Well then. Orcs. Orcs are always disposable. We were planning a little foray into the belly of a dungeon swarming with them. There shouldn’t be any friendlies popping up for you to ‘accidentally’ slaughter, so… Perhaps you can come along.”
Glad for the chance to redeem himself and relieve the tension that was already nagging at him, he gave them a dark smile. He turned smartly and strode away again, his armor shifting with a slicing sound as he moved, its unfamiliar weight not slowing him at all. He felt their eyes burning into his back.
“I’ll get my sword.”
* * *
Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a The Real Me ))