The spirit gaze was a discomforting and Sjel had little patience to fuss with its meanings. It being hurt was easy to understand. This one of fang and two-faces sounded sinister, even if the being seemed to miss it. As they remained, her environment grew less appealing.
”Very well, let us be off, then,” she said, giving into its wish, ”But I am no healer of spirits, you will have to keep yourself together and out of trouble.” At the first sign the being deigned to betray her, she would stamp it out. Until then, she wouldn't make enemies where there were none.
She set out further in the direction she had been going, following the tracks again. She had been making strides toward catching their creator and now the distance may have once again widened. She hoped that her new tag-along did not slow her down too much. Everything that had not come with the dark magic was a part of her sister, if Lys was lost, they were all lost along with her. To become overly fussy toward one such thing at the risk of the whole was inefficient.
The spirit seemed silent in response to that, though it dutifully followed her lead after she set out after the tracks. For the moment it was just a strange and unsettling presence; something behind her that rustled the brush and leaves behind her, but left no print in the ground, save for a trail of water that slowly froze to ice.
Whatever made the tracks Sjel followed had started off quick, making long, spacious strides, but then slowed and came closer together as they left the darker part of the wood. The trees here held few, if any, of those red gems. Her internal sense of direction (assuming that the wind was steady and there was no unnatural change in reality) told her that she was heading back the way she came; the approaching sound of running water confirmed it.
She crossed the treeline again and came along to the riverbank, about sixty yards from where she had crossed before. The fog was softening a little and she could see clear to the other side now—however, a few drifting flakes of ice from above told her that a different kind of problem was on the way. If one of Trottheim's powerful snowdrifts hit, the trail would surely get lost.
As it was, the only sound she heard now was that of the wind, the water, and her spectral companion's dripping—no flutes or little hooves running around. A look at the prints she had been following indicated why; they traveled down the river, and then met up with two more sets of tracks, these notably smaller. The three trails, now joined, led to the river's edge—then the small tracks disappeared while the large ones kept going, into the water.
It was hard to tell from here whether they resumed on the other side. The tag-along spirit, however, seemed to get more relaxed the closer they got to the water, and went to the edge, splashing an ephemeral hoof experimentally.
Back to the river. Things were not progressing as Sjel might have hoped. The spirit seemed uplifted, which she supposed was good. Actually, it was more than that. She really did feel more like smiling seeing the response that the area had for the being. Her sister's name proclaimed her the daughter of the river. Did this spirit, the one that at times seemed to bear some part of her image, feel this connection? The happiness and curiosity Sjel felt was stifled by her ongoing concerns.
She had yet to find Lys in a clear, obvious form. Now she had wandered away from the red gems, which was either a good thing or a sign that nothing of note was in this direction. There was nothing she would not fight for her sister. Nothing. But nothing was all she had here. There was no force to battle. Only tracks and friendly apparitions. Every moment only brought a new way she might lose her only lead.
Stopping where the small tracks ended, she looked up before moving into the water, following what she imagined the larger foot prints would have done if they continued and began to search for them on the other side. In here, even she could move above the ground, trackless and as silent as she willed herself. This search could all be for nothing.
”If this place is comforting to you, you can stay. I cannot promise it is safe where I go, nor comfortable,” she said to the spirit, though she did not turn to look at it. All of her focus was on finding her trail.
The water was cold and a little rough along the surface as Sjel stepped into it. At least, colder and rougher than it ordinarily was for this time of year. Once again she got the impression that everything here was made a bit bigger than she was used to, as though the world had grown by about six inches without her.
As she might have suspected, the larger hoofprints continued on the other side of the river, and not too much further on the smaller ones resumed their places at the sides. Whoever she was tracking must have carried the calves and forged through the river, much like she did. After that they went on in a straight line—towards the thinner forest and, if geography held, Trottheim.
Behind her, the spirit gave no answer for a few moments. It simply stood at the side of the river, watching her, apparently considering something.
"...It is neither," it said, and its voice sounded less thin and thready now, though it was no less an unsettling, distorted echo of her sister's. Yet something in its tone seemed to belie a fondness. "I remember... some, now. The water flows memory. Woodsmoke, iron-words... the iron taste of blood. ... I will join you later. It is home... but, home is..."
Something anxious hung in the last few words hung in the air, and the sentence drifted away. There was some shifting of the water as the spirit forged in after her. It let out a strange and low hum, like the melody of a happy song—yet as they forged ahead, the humming became muffled and distant, as if she were hearing it from under the water...
By the time Sjel reached the opposite bank, she didn't hear the other emerge after her. She was alone once again but for the sound of the river.
Sjel turned to see if her short term companion was now gone. It was as she suspected. In her reflection, she noticed that her mother's armor had faded for good. She wasn't sure exactly when it had done so. Her father's attached itself to her quickly and went away abruptly. Her mother's armor been different entirely, fading but with a lingering presence, reforming to weigh her down and at some point, taking its leave. She believed that if she tried, it would come again, but she found herself not desiring this, at least not for now.
There were no allies and no spectral gifts. ”The water flows memory, huh? A mystery to the end, then,” she said in a somber tone as she looked back at the footprints.
She placed her hoof inside the larger track and then the smaller, taking account of her size compared to each. Looking at them as a pair, it was easy to forget their scale in relation to her version of normal. Taking account of them, she realized she was unlikely to get her fight once she caught up. Tending to young made one protective, but Sjel had doubts that one protected their young and tended to captives. She was probably not following Lys' captor nor--
The calf from before... It was possible within this world that Lys might be accompanied by smaller caribou. But did Lys prefer to imagine herself larger than she was? Or had Sjel been holding her own size back?
She shook her head and trotted in the direction the tracks were set, giving herself a fairly rigorous pace. ”You, not you, another strange thing, it doesn't matter what is in this path, my sister, so long as there is one that leads to you, I will find it... I am Sjel, daughter of Jern, sister of Lys...” Despite herself, plates of metal formed again, this time, it was the light, maneuver friendly plates of her sister.
The trail led back past some familiar trees, over the dusting of frost that now grew an extra layer, mountain-borne winds blowing a light snow toward the seaside. It brushed across her back and under her armor, not exactly comfortably, but it was the sort of chill that made one feel hardy and urged them on. Familiar, at least.
As she trotted on, the sounds she had heard once before came back into clarity, while the sound of the river behind her drifted away—there was the sound of hooves, the clack of antlers against antlers and hammers against wood, shouts and laughs and a good deal of hearty thumping. It was odd to hear such liveliness from Trottheim, but that seemed to be where she was heading, and hear it she did...
On cresting one last hill from the tracks, it became starkly apparent why. Their little hamlet had grown.
While all their familiar buildings remained—the tavern, the boathouse toward the seaside, the long hall (and yes, even Sjel's own family home)—it seemed a number of other places, homes and smiths and craftshouses, had cropped up in between and around the edges. There were more fields of crops tilled behind homes and fenced in near the outskirts, and even from this distance it was apparent that harvests would be good, for the foliage was still green and vibrant even in this windy chill.
More than that, though, was what appeared to be happening inside the town itself. There were a good many caribou out and about, and they were with purpose; some carried lumber and rope, others boxes of tools, materials, fabric, barrels rolled through the paths. Poles were being erected, strings with colored banners hung between them. The smoke coming from the tavern, even in this good light, indicated that food was being cooked in good amounts. Something she couldn't quite see was being built near the center of town. And... unless her ears deceived her, there was even music in the air.
The caribou of Trottheim were prosperous. And some kind of festival seemed to be underway, or at least being prepared.
Unfortunately, it also meant that the trail was certain to be swamped out once she reached land where many other hooves trod. But at least now, she certainly did not lack for company.
It all seemed so wrong. A vision of home that was not her home and it had the markings of a celebration. Caribou milled around as if nothing was amiss, living their lives in this simultaneously foreign and familiar place. This and the young from earlier aligned well. It seemed this all must be Lys' idea of a possible future. Perhaps her ideal one, perhaps not.
With work and happiness all around her, Sjel's feeling of isolation grew. Every movement of her head brought the hope that she would see Lys, doing her best to help everywhere she could. Or any number of other faces that might be helpful. But more faces she saw, the more lonely she felt. Phantasms or not, it felt like Trottheim-and-a-half was an entire city where everyone couldn't care less that her sister was trapped inside of her own mind.
The armor clung to her, tightening as if holding on, holding on to her because she could not hold on to it. Her illusionary version of an artifact belonging to her sister.
There seemed to be no better plan than to play along. If these caribou acted as her kin might, her asking about Lys would not draw suspicion. That line of questioning was practically her catch phrase, save for the fact they were rarely parted long enough for her to need to ask another.
Either way, it seemed silly to continue following hoofprints in an area that would be covered in them.
She approached someone as they walked along, obstructing their path but giving them a pleasant enough smile. ”Hail, by chance have you seen Lys Årudsdatter? We seemed to have gotten separated... And pardon, but what is it exactly we celebrate today?”
With any luck, the answers would be straightforward enough that she would locate Lys soon after taking her leave. The festival was of little consequence to her, but knowing the setting of this scene could be the key that filled in any blanks that her chosen informant left out. Best to know as much as she could.
Last Edit: Mar 31, 2015 21:58:28 GMT -6 by coffeefox
As she walked through the town, a few other peculiarities became apparent. One thing of note was that there were those red gems again, if subtler; they were worked into the decorations, a little quadrilateral red shape in the tapestry, a wooden diamond painted red at the bottom of a string... none of the gleaming objects she saw in the forest, but the shape itself was cropping up.
Another thing was that, whatever was being built in the town center apparently had a good deal of wood. Lumber was being carried around, some of it cut, some without even being stripped of bark, but either way—it looked to be enough for a longboat. The woodcutters must have had a busy time of it.
The caribou she stopped was a younger bull hauling a cart containing a pair of barrels. He blinked a couple of times, then gave her a kind smile in return.
"Ah, hail, Jarl Sjel Jernsdatter, and good day," he said. "I have not seen her, but I believe she left with her calves to fetch more berries and kindling. She may be back by now? If you are looking for her, perhaps see to the skies, or at least her husband! Ha ha!"
His expression fell, though, and became concerned considering her other question. "And... we are preparing for the feast and fire tonight. Before the battle. Do you not remember? Have you had an injury, Jarl? Should we fetch the healer?"
Last Edit: Nov 8, 2014 3:41:20 GMT -6 by lys: plot twist: lys is in the barrel. this is the most elaborate game of hide-and-seek Trottheim has ever known
Her mind flipped in its casing. Jarl? Of all the things to dream, Lys had put her in charge of this inflated version of their home. Along with that came further confirmation that the young by the river were Lys' trueborn. But who was this bull that she called her husband? Someone they had met or someone she had imagined? Well he would face the Jarl's scrutiny once more when she met him--
That was just too strange.
”The feast before the battle...” she said quietly. In the waking world, she might have been excited by the prospect. A grand feast and a chance to finally prove herself on a true battlefield. In fact, even here she felt invigorated by the prospect. ”No, no healers will be needed. It has been a long day. Since I will have no trouble finding the sky, might you know where my brother-in-law is?”
She now had a time table. If this dream was allowed to pass to this evening, she would have to attend this feast. Either there was a dream version of her to speak with, or her absence might disrupt things in a way she couldn't predict. If the dram carried on until the morning, by the same reasoning, she would be wrapped up in the battle. A feast without a Jarl was unfortunate, a battle without a commander was a tragedy.
Although, a battle with a commander who had no idea what she was doing may be a greater tragedy. What did she know of these things? And what type of engagement would it be within the freedom of a dream world?
The bull nodded to her, his disconcertment easing at her admission. It was understandable for the Jarl to be tired, given the sort of preparations likely underway. Even so, there was a little worry at the back of his eye now.
"As you say then, Jarl," he said with a pleasant grin. "I believe I last saw him helping construct the pyre by the center. Is there any other help I can offer you? I am afraid I have not put in the taps yet, but you are free to our honey-wine, as always, should that wake you up a bit."
Behind her, there was some hearty laughter as a couple of cows tried to knock each other over. More carts of lumber passed the streets, headed wherever wood needed to go. A few calves were helping tie a pole in long strips of fabric, a strange spot of color against a foggy sky. The mood around Trottheim seemed to be quite good; if they expected to lose this battle, it didn't show very well on any faces.
Sjel would never try to take away the right of others to their songs of glory or any other ritual they had before a battle. She remembered fondly the celebrations she had been a part of. Most recently, the one before they had left this home, rather, their true home.
But it felt as if their merriment mocked her. Every laugh defied her purpose. It took every fiber of her control to keep playing this game. Even for the greatest of causes, she hated lying. She would do what she had to do, but she could not help the foul taste it put into her mouth. Fortunate that these were not true caribou.
”Another time,” she smiled, ”Thank you for your help. You have my gratitude.”
Without further delay, she headed off toward the center. As she looked upon the faces of those around her, she realized her folly. She would not know him by his face. A hit on the noggin and a lack of sleep might compromise much, but it would take a mighty blow to cause one to forget their sister's beloved. If he did not greet her, she would draw suspicion...
The armor no longer hugged her, instead it began to scratch her on the sides, even though the set it was mimicking was made well enough that this should not be happening.
Fortunately, the paths around town appeared unchanged for the most part. The route was an easy navigation, save for the unsettling presence of a home-that-isn't all around her, and faces at once familiar and strange around every corner. There were some she knew, but they seemed older, a little more weathered by time. This was not the Trottheim they had set out from; these were not the caribou she knew.
In any case, she found herself soon by what was doubtless to be the center of attention come nightfall; a large bonfire half-built, heavy logs around and across with stones around the bottom, with kindling and brush inside. A good deal of it was recognizable scrap from building projects, but some more precious woods, fresh holly bush and oak bark, were placed in as well—probably for smell.
When she got there, several caribou acknowledged her with nods and grunts, but the question of who she sought was not hard to figure out. There were a few bulls around, and a few cows, all set on different task—one bull with one missing antler was talking with a cow while they set up barrels of seawater, likely to put out any errant flames later, should anything catch that ought not. Another bull, this one slighter and with a magic mark, was setting stones out to denote the edge of the bonfire—singed clothing or fur was no good, after all. And another was carrying logs from a cart to the pyre, stacking them neatly around the kindling.
This last caribou was plainly the one. Not only because she did not recognize him—and she would certainly have remembered, because he was almost unrealistically good looking. The Equestrians might have called him a "major hunk." Tall, dark-coated and clearly strong, with a squared jaw and eyes so brightly gold they could tarnish steel, he looked straight out of a story about romantic heroes and brave adventurers. There was almost no way that Lys had dreamed up this bull carelessly.
However, he was also clearly the bull in question because the boy calf she had seen earlier was helping him, carrying kindling from the cart to the bonfire. She could see now that they were closer, the boy had the bull's dark coat and Lys' bright hair.
"Aunt Sjel!" he said upon seeing her, dropping the twigs from his mouth. "There you are! Sorry, mother came and got us... we said you were looking for her, you didn't get lost, did you?"
Last Edit: Nov 8, 2014 17:19:54 GMT -6 by lys: +10 Char
It gave her no comfort to be in a home that held none of her kin. She was half tempted to go to her home just to see the shades of her parents. Just a moment and she would have the strength to continue on properly. But she would need to have the strength within herself. A part of her feared what she might find in that place...
Well, Lys had not shortchanged herself one bit. Calling this bull handsome would be insulting. The greatest artist would fail to capture his form upon a canvas. Though, any painter given the opportunity would surely keep trying.
Had she the resolve of a true Jarl, he may not have distracted her much. A Jarl could not be swayed by appearances. But Sjel was young and unpaired. Her eyes were free to enjoy her sister's creation. She was saved from this by her nephew, who, for the features he borrowed from Lys, was every bit as distracting. Seeing her sister in a child would not soon get old.
This Aunt Sjel business would haunt her long after this dream was over. She swore it would.
”I am not the one who is lost,” she muttered faintly, ”I mean, no, I ended up finding someone else. No need to be sorry. But I do still need to find her. The sooner the better. Once she brought you here, do you know where she went?”
It was to be a chase around the town. Well, she hoped it was a chase around the town. Lys could have left town after bringing back her son. It felt as if her chase had become a game of hide and find.
”I would like to find her before the feast, if possible. Certainly before the battle...” Everyone seemed ready to engage this enemy. Sjel didn't even know whom they were fighting or why.
The calf tilted his head at Sjel's question, making that certain face that only a child can perfect when an adult is speaking nonsense. "If you didn't find her, how come you're wearing her armor?" he asked with all the innocence in the world. "I mean... she came here to drop off the kindling with me and Sjø, but you must have seen her, right?"
His father looked up at the odd question, though he finished loading another pair of logs onto the pile before he came over and shook his head, shaking off some of the heat of hard labor.
"Don't be rude to your aunt, Leif," he admonished lightly, giving the boy a gentle rub on the back. Unsurprisingly, his voice was deep and masculine, the kind of voice a mountain would have if they talked. "Forgive him, he is too curious, sometimes. She went to the seaside, Sjel, I believe looking for you? But she may have gone on if you are not there."
He blinked, seeming puzzled as well. "But... forgive me, the boy has a point. Why are you wearing her armor? Is your own in disrepair? I am sure for you, the smith will have it repaired by this evening..."
Lief, to his credit, looked like he was catching on a bit. "Um, mother didn't take her flute back... if you get it from Sjø you can probably find her with that. Or just annoy the ducks, if you want."
”I understand your confusion,” she said, stalling for time. Sjel took a deep breath. Nope. Nothing was coming to her. Why would she be in Lys' armor? She wasn't sure why she was in Lys' armor in truth; coming up with a farce was nearly impossible without a fact take half of.
”But the reason behind it is... Something that makes a lot of sense,” Yes, but what? ”And that something is...”
Any day now, Jarl. Before the next eclipse would be lovely.
”That it is a game we once played when we were younger. And I am surprising her by bringing back those memories.”
Well that was a great story. It seemed like the most boring game in existence. And it was a complete lie.
”Unfortunately, I did not see her before and I am not at the seaside, so she will not have remained. Where might I find Sjø?” She asked. She did not feel like annoying any ducks. This flute plan seemed to be her best move. As long as she took the best path between Trottheim and the seaside and played the flute, she should find her sister.
It didn't escape her that she was not a grand talent with the flute. She couldn’t worry about performing a masterpiece or even a praiseworthy show. No two flutes sang the same and she believed that Lys would recognize her own, as Leif said.
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