Part 1 is HERE.
“Fine, if there are no volunteers it’ll be Vella, Kindle and myself.” You sigh and shake your head. It’s important the men respect you, and besides, getting up and moving might help you warm up some. At least that is what you tell yourself as you move away from the fire which was certainly helping in that endeavor.
Kindle curses as he retrieves his gear and steps out of the immediate glow of warmth, but you ignore him and approach Vella who is stoically preparing herself for the trip. The woman has been with the crew almost as long as you have, and she is the steadfast sort, reliable, but that isn’t the primary reason you chose her to accompany you on this little jaunt over the hill.
Your gut is twisting in your stomach, and you feel cold on the inside, deeper than just from the cutting wind. There is no reason to suspect anything is wrong at all, and yet something has your hackles up, and you haven’t lived this long by ignoring these impulses. You need Vella to have your back, and that means having a difficult conversation with her.
You lower your voice as you draw near. “Vella, I see you were a Dissonant.” You tap the side of your neck, just above the collar. Vella flinches and draws her own up a bit.
“Aye.” She says, her eyes coming up to meet yours. They’re gray, like a storm, and you can feel that you’ve stirred some anger in her. This isn’t a topic you discuss lightly with someone. Those who fail the schools of the Way don’t get cast out of society, but everyone looks down on them. Everyone knows those marked on the neck with the tangled heart were chosen to become Archons and failed. They were people who couldn’t accept the Way fully, couldn’t give themselves to the betterment of society.
You raise a hand quickly, gesturing for calm. You pull your own collar down and show the marking that you’ve always kept well hidden under high neck lines. “I am as well.” You glance back down the road where Kindle is standing, looking back at the two of you with impatience on his face. Beyond him you catch another flash of light in the distance. You return your gaze to Vella. “If something happens, I want to know if I can depend on you for resonance.” You cut to the point quickly, and Vella’s eyes go wide for a moment.
Quietly, but with a harshness to her voice that tells you she is not pleased to be having this conversation. “What makes you even think I can resonate, and if I can, that I would do so with you?”
“I’ve heard you humming the cantos quietly from time to time. No one who hasn’t achieved resonance would hit those points the way you do.” The Cantos of Telimore had been turned into children’s songs and tavern songs, but the precision of the original was something you just didn’t hear outside of the temples of the Way. You give her a meaningful look. “I wouldn’t expect you to do this unless it was absolutely necessary.”
“If our lives depend on it, but not a moment before. I like my life here. You know how the others would feel if they knew.” She speaks quietly, tossing her pack over her shoulders and adjusting the sword at her hip.
“Aye, I know.” You tell her firmly. “But if things get dark . . . I just want us to both be aware of what the other is capable of. Just a precaution.”
She glances past you, but nods once. “It won’t come to that.”
“Of course not.” You agree, but yet you’re having this conversation now, after all of these years aboard ship with the woman. You could have said something a hundred times over, any one of the times you heard her humming as she labored on her own, but now something is crawling under your skin. The night feels amiss.
“Are ye coming er not?” Kindle growls back at the two of you.
Vella pushes past you and starts along after the other sailor. “Hold, you arse! Pardon me for not being as eager to get frostbite this eve as yourself.”
You fall in with her, grabbing a brand from the fire, as you join Kindle on the road. With one last look over your shoulder, you start the march over the frozen packed earth between yourself and the what might finally be the passengers you’ve been waiting for.
The forest is dark, illuminated only faintly by the slit of a moon in the sky above that could work much harder at illuminating the area. There is no snow to cast it’s illumination about and make the whole world brighter, not yet anyway. That can’t be far off, not in this part of the world. You are certainly missing it in this moment, which is a laugh considering how you were just cursing the cold.
Kindle trips over a rut in the road and colors the air with his diverse vocabulary for a few moments. “Thank ye fer invitin’ me along.” He shoots an unhappy glare back your way. His shipmen’s tongue gets thicker when he’s angry. You’ve heard him drunk and happy speaking with far less of a ship’s slip on his teeth. “I was just thinkin’ I might be enjoyin a bit of a hike through the dank and dark.”
Ahead, the glow of two torches flicker for a moment, and then there is only one. Are they coming your way? It’s difficult to say. It’s still far ahead, another twenty minutes or so at as quick a pace as you can safely make in the dark.
“Kindle, hold your tongue for a spell. I chose you because I find you a loyal and steadfast man. Also, I know if I leave you alone with Dorby the two of your will be dancing off to find someplace private, or attempting to kill one another, and frankly I’m not in a mood to explain to the captain why I left with functional sailors and returned with two dead men.” You find yourself keeping your voice low, lower than you need to for what isn’t supposed to be urgent or private business.
“I . . . what . . . we . . . it wasn’t like . . . “ Kindle seems a bit flustered and at a loss for words. “Dorby’s an idiot.” He settles for after a moment more.
“Hah.” Vella’s reaction is almost light enough to make you think she isn’t feeling any of the tension that is hanging on your shoulders, but the short burst of laughter is barked so quietly that you can tell she is holding back. You walk on in silence for several minutes more, the camp so far behind you now that looking back makes it seem like a dot of light in the distance. If something went wrong, would you still be able to signal the others? You are no longer certain.
You give a quiet grunt and shake your head. Nothing is going to go wrong. This is just another job, like so many others before. You need to calm your nerves and steady yourself. Part of your job is remaining calm and collected, acting like you know what you’re doing even if you aren’t sure. Being out in the woods at night is spooking you. You are accustomed to life at sea, not wandering around the countryside in the frigid dark.
You and the others reach the crest of a hill and stop for a moment. The torch light is just ahead now. You can make out a figure moving down the road in your direction, but can only see one and it is difficult to make out more than a vague outline of whoever is carrying it.
“I can’t see the campfire n’more.” Kindle’s voice is uncharacteristically quiet, drawing your eyes back down the road the way you’ve come. You’d checked yourself not long before, but he was right. The campfire is gone. Had the wind finally stolen the flame? Your eyes come back up to the burning brand you are carrying. It has flickered at times as you’ve come this way, but it is still glowing.
“Something doesn’t feel right.” The words slip over your tongue as you look back at the approaching torch. “We should go back and find out what’s happening at camp. The . . . passengers will be along soon enough on their own. Come along.” You turn and begin to head back to camp as quickly as you can.
You’ve come this far. Whatever is happening you’re best served by seeing who these people are. Any number of things may have happened back at camp, but they are capable men and they don’t need you running back to dote over them like an overprotective father. “We’ll let them restart the fire on their own, come on. Let’s get this business finished.” You nod towards the approaching torch.
“Kindle, wait here. Vella and I are going to go forward and see this fellow coming down the road. If anything seems amiss I’ll dip my torch twice quickly. If I do that, you run back down to the camp as fast as you can and tell them to head back to the ship and alert the captain to haul anchor.” The crew and ship have to come first, and your gut is telling you that this situation is quickly falling apart. It won’t hurt to have a runner ready as a precautionary option.