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Archives: The Golden Egg

Chapter 10: Morning on the Road to Dragon Scale

    Talen gave a soft stretch, though he made sure not to move his hips at all. It had been nearly three hours since they had been talking and Naclia had laid her head in his lap to sleep, which obviously he didn’t mind. He looked down, watching her sleep, as the sun began to rise in the far distance. Glancing up, he narrowed his at seeing the sun. He looked back down at Naclia, despite what he thought, he couldn’t resist, one of his hands came around, lightly running his hand over her hair.

    Oddly, despite how she had been weakened the day before, Eliamn was the first to rise. The shamaness stirred from her bed, fussed over her clothing and then stood up. She silently looked around the camp, rolled her bed covers, attached it to her luggage and then lifted her pack over her frail shoulders before quietly heading out of the camp and into the woods.

    Talen’s eyes caught Eliamn getting up, surprisingly enough she was the first of all of them despite how she was feeling yesterday. “Morning,” he whispered with a wave, obviously not trying to move considering how Naclia was laying. The last thing he wanted to do was wake her up. Eli responded to the knight with a small wave of her own, but after that, she disappeared into the trees.

    Aiden woke to the light, apparently he had found a spot right in the rising sun. With a groan, Aiden sat up and rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t had a full night’s sleep, but it was enough to function on. Looking around the camp, he saw most people were sleeping, but Eliamn was walking off into the woods and Talen was sitting on on a log with Naclia apparently sleeping in his lap. For some reason, it struck a cord with Aiden.

    He climbed out of his bedroll and pulled on his boots, then went over to Talen and Naclia. “What is she doing sleeping here?” Aiden asked Talen.

    Talen looked down at Naclia, then back up to Aiden as he approached them. “Well, she woke me up for my shift, and she stayed up with me to talk. We talked for awhile, but eventually she got sleepy again, and...well this is where she choose to sleep. She laid her head in my lap and fell back asleep,” he said scratching the back of his head nervously. “Is anything wrong?” he asked.

    Aiden chuckled at Talen, his earlier frustration fading away. “Oh, alright,” he said. “Don’t worry about it,” he added, waving his hand dismissively.

    Naclia woke up to voices and suddenly sat up, wiping her mouth. “Huh? Hmm...mornin’,” she murmured. The elf stretched, then scratched her head. She hopped off the log while unbinding her braids and went back to her bedroll to prepare for the day.

    Talen was surprised that Aiden would chuckle at him, he had seen a sign of frustration on his face earlier, but that had apparently faded away. Whew, am I glad he wasn’t mad... he thought to himself. As his thoughts finished in his mind, he looked to the side, seeing Naclia sitting up. Obviously all the talk had woken her up. “Good morning,” he said to her with a smile.

    Lyassa, whom too had been awoken by the talking, pushed herself up to her feet and rubbed her eyes to get the sleep out of them. “Good...morning,” she said to them as she was waking herself up. The priestess was looking around, as she continued to snap herself to waking up, the sun was blinding to her because of this.

    Waking up, Rylan looked to the others. He had slept peacefully, despite being around others. Packing up his gear first, he then stood up. “Morning, sleep well?” he asked them, seeing that some of the others were not up yet.

    Kima yawned and stretched out on her branch. She sniffed around her person until she was satisfied that she wasn’t moved or touched. She sat up on her branch and began to groom herself like a cat, the young wildling taking broad licks across her exposed skin and nipping at the loose patches. Everyone else seemed to already be up and about but Kima wasn’t feeling all to sociable this morning. She then noticed Saga’s sleeping form and leapt down from her perch, rushing over to him on all fours she bashed her head into his hip to wake him and continued her rampage across the camp and scrambled up another tree. Satisfied with her handiwork, she resumed grooming herself.

    Saga rolled onto his back after he had been head-butted in his hips. His eyes grew wide open with his mind in a state shock. He spent a minute trying to figure out what happened to wake him suddenly and only a few words came to mind; “Eli, I think your food just had a party in my stomach. It ended in a bang.” Saga sat up and shook his head as if that would make the shock disappear. He then noticed that he wasn’t the only awake, and embarrassed because he had hoped no one would hear his odd but colorful statement.

    “Kima!” shouted Aiden, reprimanding the girl. He had turned around as she ran down to Saga and saw her head butt his half-brother. “Come here!” he commanded, pointing at the ground at his feet.

    Naclia jolted up as Kima ran into Saga, but Aiden quickly called her and Naclia focused on preparing for the day. Both of her braids were out now, and her long golden brown hair fell to the back of her knees. Suddenly, she realized that Eliamn was gone, now that she was more conscious. “Hey, where’s Eli?” she asked the group.

    Talen answered Naclia, raising a hand to point to the trees, “Last I saw her she went up there, haven’t seen her since she woke. Perhaps wanted to be alone, who knows?”

    “Hmm...” Naclia looked into the woods pensively. “Well, if she’s been gone awhile, I’m not going to take any chances.” The ranger headed into the forest after Eli. It would be better for another woman to check on her for modesty’s sake, rather than another man.

    Kima ignored Aiden while she hid from her sneak attack on Saga. She chattered around like a squirrel, hoping that he’d be fooled by the animal noises. She picked at pieces of the bark and put them in her mouth giving the tree a small kiss where she peeled the bark off. She chattered like a squirrel a bit more but stayed hidden. If she was crafty enough she could sneak around the camp back to where her original spot in the other tree was.

    Aiden sighed as Kima ignored him. “It’s too early for this,” the elf groaned and rubbed his forehead. “Let’s get camp packed up and a little food in our bellies,” Aiden told everyone as he began to walk toward the bushes Kima hid in. Of course, her antics weren’t fooling him.

    With his hands on his hips, Aiden paused near Kima’s hiding place and looked down at the girl. “Kima...come out here.”

    Kima pouted and crawled out of the tree. She looked at Aiden sideways, giving him a half smile. She shrugged and pursed her lips. “Mher mher mher merr...” she mumbled.

    Kima made no sense, but Aiden reached down and patted her head. How in the hell do I punish her? he thought. “Don’t hurt Saga again,” he chastised the best he could. Hopefully she would understand, she seemed to understand similar orders, but he had to be careful with how he worded them.

    Kima pouted a little more, then suddenly sprung up onto his chest and planted a kiss on his mouth. She wrapped her arms and legs around his torso to make sure that he couldn’t pry her off. “Kima,” she purred, rubbing her face on his.

    “Ooof!” Aiden grunted as Kima pounced on him. He gave a chuckle after catching his breath and hugged the wildling back. “Let’s get some breakfast, alright? We have to get moving soon.”

* * *

    Naclia walked out of camp and into the forests, scanning the trees for a sign of the shamaness. She was sure Eli was just taking care of some morning business, but Naclia decided that caution would be best considering their quest.

    The shamaness’ tracks were rather easy to find. Even though Eliamn was a lightweight wearing supple footwear, the earth was soft enough where she had meandered to allow for an indentation or two for Naclia to guide herself by, not to mention some brushes and plants had seemed disturbed by the passage of the elf. One plant had been obviously uprooted with its roots expertly cut while another berry bush had its fruits nearly picked clean. Above, merry bird calls were exchanged amongst the branches as more sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy.

    Naclia found evidence of Eliamn’s passing, and it looked like the shamaness was gathering food. The elven ranger was put at ease about her companion, knowing she likely wasn’t hurt or lost, but only busy.

    Hearing a rustling among the treetops, Naclia glanced up casually to see a squirrel scurrying along the branches. As she passed the tree, suddenly a small branch cracked and fell to the ground, but there was a soft thud of something else as well. Naclia spun around to see the same squirrel collapsed on the ground breathing heavily. It was silent for a long moment, but once it caught its breath, it started screeching in pain, but it didn’t move. Naclia’s heart fell and she ran over to the broken little rodent.

    As it sensed something large approaching, the squirrel desperately crawled away, but its back legs were limp. “Oh no! Hold still, I won’t hurt you!” Naclia cooed, but the squirrel was too terrified to pick up on her empathy. It wasn’t getting anywhere fast, and Naclia was able to pick it up. The squirrel sank its teeth into her fingers, and the sharp incisors pierced her gloves. Naclia bit her lip and bore the pain, she wasn’t going to let go of this creature, not when she had a priestess to heal it.

    Not too long afterwards, Eliamn cautiously peeked over some bushes, her violet eyes wary slits before she recognized Naclia. The shamaness walked around her cover, re-sheathing her small knife before striding over to Naclia’s side. “What happened?”

    The squirrel had calmed down enough to release Naclia’s finger and lay defeated in her arms. She turned to Eliamn, showing her the squirrel she was cradling. “It just fell out of the tree!” she said, incredulously. Who ever heard of a squirrel falling out of a tree? “Its hind legs won’t work; I think it broke its back. We should take it to Lyassa.”

    Eliamn nodded. There didn’t seem to be anything else they could o here, so, she turned and walked back toward the camp. “Then let us make haste.” Every second they saved a a second the squirrel wouldn’t have to suffer. Cradling the squirrel close, Naclia hurried back to camp with Eliamn.

* * *

    Naclia and Eliamn returned into the camp in a rush, and Naclia held a squirrel in her arms. The little animal seemed calm, but only because it was in shock. “Lyassa!” Naclia called the priestess and went straight to her. “Please help it! I think its back is broken.”

    Aiden turned around as he heard Naclia and Eliamn rushing back. The two elves went straight to Lyassa and Naclia presented a wounded squirrel. What now? he wondered, but carried Kima toward the fire.

    The priestess looked at the squirrel and took it with both hands, softly letting it lay on her open palms. She frowned, it seemed in so much pain, though it did not struggle. “Marfa, please lend me your power to heal this gentle creature,” she murmured as she went into her trance.

    Seeing the squirrel being attended to, Eliamn smiled slightly to Naclia and returned to the rock she had slept next too, bringing out the roots and berries she had collected so she could make them edible.

    Once the squirrel was healed, Naclia gently took it back from Lyassa and cradled it to her chest. It didn’t struggle, and it seemed rather sluggish, however, it was healed. Naclia could only assume that it was recovering from shock.

    While the squirrel recovered, the elf held it close in her shadow, giving it a dark, warm place. She massaged it gently with her gloved fingertip, and it began to nap. Naclia waited patiently for it to rest while Eliamn and some of her other companions set about preparing breakfast and cleaning up camp.

    Rylan had been off gathering something other than dried food while the drama with the squirrel occurred. Once he returned, he placed some fresh berries and plants down, unaware the Eli had been doing the same. “That might be better than rations. Will we be leaving right after we eat?” he asked, his voice was especially cold sounding this morning. It was nothing to do with the others, he was just uncomfortable with the idea of going into the city today.

    Eli frowned at Rylan. “Well, you found tracks yesterday. I would have assumed that you would have led the others to this Roess person.” She hazarded a look toward Aiden and Naclia. “You are still planning to go after him and this Lord Cavendrel, do you not?”

    Rylan looked at Eli and was even colder and annoyed by her frown and remark, he knew the direction and not the location. What she said was rather uncalled for, even he could not tell everything from day old tracks. “I do not know the exact location, I only know the direction they were headed in. The tracks were also a day old, so they have an fairly strong advantage over us. I do intend on seeing this through, though you presume to think I know more than I have given. Let’s just forget this discussion happened, you know I must remain calm at all times Eliamn.” He stared at her and waited for a response, she had managed to illicit some tiny semblance of anger from him. This was not a good thing, she of all people should realize that given his affliction.

    “What else do we have?” Eli questioned, making sure not to sound abrasive—she was baffled he could even lose his cool at her faith in him as a tracker... the rest was really just common sense. “The trail is a day old, like you said, but we have no insurance that we will find more information in the city. If we backtrack, they might gain even more of a head on us. Do you not see that the trail you found is probably the best chance we have of tracking them down while there is still time?”

    Rylan realized she was just concerned for their goal, though time was against them and the eggnappers were probably on the move again. His concern was losing the trail and having to find it again, that would slow them down even more. “All I found was the trail heading north. Going back to find more would be giving them even more time to get ahead of us. I follow the trail as I find it, if we do not catch up to them soon the egg may be unrecoverable. Besides, it does not help us to continue on empty stomachs, that I am sure you can agree with,” he replied now the usual expressionless voice.

    If he had more, he would have gone out and scouted ahead of the group. He could only do so much, and they seemed rather thorough in how they operated. Perhaps she may be onto something as well, and a second look might turn up more evidence. “They work efficiently in their travel. They might be challenge for any tracker to keep the trail. Do you feel we may have missed something? I will look again very quickly if you are willing to help prepare the meal.”

    “If you would please.” Eliamn nodded, making a gesture toward the berries, roots and wild tubers she had gathered; she didn’t think they were that bad off—either in supplies (which they could gather) or talent—and she meant to convey it clearly to the centaur:

    “Do not forget that this group has three trackers and the help of spirits,” the shamaness pointed out, showing him three fingers for emphasis. “It is not as if there is no chance of following in their wake with these assets if we know where to start looking.”

    Aiden had freed himself of Kima while the camp prepared to leave. Eliamn spoke to him, but she and Rylan began talking before he could respond. She wanted to follow Roess, but Aiden was trying to think of other ways to deal with the situation. Aiden stepped over to the elf and centaur.

    “I want to head to Dragon Scale and try to find out who Mur-Cavendrel is. It seems Roess has taken extreme measures to avoid detection. Not even your strongest searching spell helped us find it. I think he has some how been warded against spiritual or magical spies,” Aiden spoke up. “It’s not as if he can make a dragon omelet, or risk destroying it. Dragon eggs are incredibly durable. Roess can’t be able to break it, so the egg will be safe for now.”

    “He must have hired skilled help to do this, if he can make his trail almost completely vanish. I agree that we should head onward, perhaps somebody in the city will know something.” Rylan had been opposed to gong back from the start, though he gave in so that Eliamn would be satisfied. He did know a little about social situations, though he was still quite inept at handling them. “I will have to go into the city as well, though I will be of little help there. I believe Minstral will be meeting us there, maybe he found what we are seeking already.”

    The blonde shamaness had a healthy dose of skepticism about Aiden’s knowledge of how durable dragon eggs were, but she inwardly admitted she had no clue herself—she just wasn’t as confident that the egg really was all that durable. She also had no great expectations from the half-elven minstrel.

    Thoughts about the egg and going to the city had her reflect on the motivations of Lord Mur-Cavendrel, or whomever really was behind the abduction. Orchestrating the theft only for the sake of greed seemed like a weak excuse to risk so much; there had to be some ulterior motive that would require the mastermind behind this to require the egg, especially if it was to use as the component for some magic.

    Eliamn wasn’t sure of how she’d made the leap of logic to assume some spell caster was behind this, but it made some amount of sense: human nobles could surely purchase the needed education to become sorcerers. Someone also blocked her shadow seeking ritual, like Aiden had mentioned. No one should normally have been expecting a dark spirit-based divination spell and yet she had been blocked cold. This wasn’t some dabbler in sorcery they were dealing with.

    Eli frowned. All that educated guesswork was getting her nowhere with the important pieces of the puzzle still missing. “I do not like the idea of losing the trail when it is the only tangible clue we have, but moving ahead to search for the mastermind has some merits,” she admitted grudgingly. “All we have amounted to so far is tailing and reacting to the abductors: if we take a more aggressive stance in our search, we may be able to profit from it more than if we would just tail them... Naclia, what do you think?”

    “I think that trying to track Roess on the backroads is a lost cause,” Naclia replied, stroking the squirrel’s head. It was beginning to stir, but it seemed quite comfortable in the elf’s arms. “If we learn who Mur-Cavendrel is and where he is, we could go straight to him and wait for Roess, or figure out the best route. We don’t know if he really going north or south or east, or what. Sure, the trail went north, but he could turn around to throw trackers off. Or it might not even be him.”

    “Going to Dragon Scale might indeed be a sound decision then, considering the circumstances.” Eliamn finally agreed.

    “Well, that’s settled,” Naclia stated and stood. “The squirrel seems to have recovered. I should take it back to the forest.” The ranger was cradling the little squirrel, and though it was quite conscious, it didn’t seem in any hurry to leave its savior.

    “I will go into the city as it seems the only path we have, though I may seem uncomfortable it will be fine,” Rylan replied. He could not avoid cities all of the time. Even he had to make the occasional foray for supplies, and to trade goods he had caught or found for money. Seeing the squirrel, he watched it, he had more respect for nature than for the atmosphere of the city.

    “Then to Dragon Scale we go,” Naclia said and rose from her seat on the log. “Let me go release this little guy and we can get ready.”

    The ranger returned into the forest and set the squirrel on a low hanging branch. It seemed reluctant to leave her and gave her a lingering look, but with a little encouragement, it dashed off into the tree and disappeared among the foliage.

    With the squirrel taken care of, Naclia returned to the camp, ate a little breakfast with the others and helped pack everything up. They had gained two horses which hadn’t been assigned yet, but had originally been intended for Eliamn and Naclia. However, now Saga had joined the party and would need to ride with someone. Eliamn was not an accomplished rider and insisted that Saga could have her horse and she would ride either on Rylan’s back or with Aiden or Talen. So, Naclia kept her horse and Saga was given the other. Eliamn settled on riding with Rylan for the moment, since Kima had chosen to cling to Aiden. The riding situation settled, the party left their camp behind and rode on westwards, to Dragon Scale.

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