First Quarter Moon (on or about Nuwmont 5, 998AC)
With the exception of a steady drizzle of icy rain, Nytdain passed uneventfully. Demarra’s trail cut across the fold in the Black Peaks, rather than following it, so the roadway was clear of rockfall, and we made good time. I sensed some sort of magic at work, not of the Spheres, nor from the lands around, but somehow connected to the road. Demarra simply smiled her knowing and enigmatic smile, patted my cheek, and shrugged before taking a bite of my waybread when I asked her about the nature of the magic she seemed to be working.
“We do not question what simply is,” she said. “The sun rises in the morning. Do we know how this is?”
“Everybody knows that Ixion rides his chariot across the heavens and gives us the day,” Gilliam said, and Varis nodded his agreement.
“Ixion?” Silva asked. “Nieah, nieah, nieah.” She leaned forward, and picked up one of the sticks in the kindling pile. She scratched at the muddy ground, drawing circles within circles. “Atra Sollux,” she said, pointing towards the center of the bulls-eye. “Atra Mystara.” She pointed to the third ring. “Yada valate Mystara…” She stirred the stick around the third ring, spinning it towards the left. She glanced up, her smile fading as she saw the blank looks on most of our companions’ faces.
“Savages,” Aurora sighed, plucking the stick from her sister’s hand and tossing it into the fire.
Demarra called a halt some hours before sunset. We could both see and hear the mighty Achelos, winding its way from down from the Black Peaks, but the Darra insisted we wait until first light to make for Three Axes.
At the mention of “axes,” Silva gave a shuddering sigh, and pulled her cloak tighter about her shoulders. She did not eat with us at the evening meal, though not for lack of Aurora’s trying to coax her to at least take a few spoonfuls of the stew.
She spat something sharp and chilling in Ancient Thonian when Aurora pressed, and stomped off to the vardo.
“No,” Demarra said, laying a hand on the shrike’s shoulder when she made to rise and follow her sister. “Leave her be for the night.”
“She is not herself,” Aurora insisted. “I do not see how the mention of the ford would affect her so.”
“She probably thinks upon her two dwarven friends,” Ana said. “Those two cared for her when she first arrived. Kept her safe. One of them is dead, now.”
The shrike cocked her head. “She knew they were frail, mortal beings.”
“They were her friends,” Ana insisted.
“She should know by now not to grow too attached.” Aurora sighed. “I shall have a talk with her.”
Demarra kept her hand on the shrike’s shoulder. “No. You will stay here, and leave your sister to her grief.”
Aurora’s hands closed into fists, and her breathing quickened, but the Darra’s gaze did not waver.
“It is only one more life. Hardly something to be so upset about.”
Demarra’s slap seemed to even cause the fire to pause in its crackling.
“Unlike your kind, Shrike of the Fourth Guard, we are only given one brief lifetime, to make of it what we can. We do not return, except by some miracle of the Immortals, and they care for us nearly as much as you seem to.”
Demarra stood up, turned towards the vardo. “I revoke my invitation to share my roof. I forbid you to pass my threshold.”
Aurora was on her feet. “You cannot do that! My sister—“
“Try to follow me if you will, sidheling. See if your dragonstones will protect you from your own nature.”
“Is in no danger this night,” Demarra said. She climbed the steps and shut the door behind her.
Aurora took a step after her, raised a hand towards the latch, then hesitated, before lowering her hand. She spun, and sat down hard on the top step.
“I will stand guard here tonight,” she announced, as if that had been her intention all along.