It had been quite a while that I had pushed my Avatar in such a physical manner over a long period of time. We had been continuously moving through the night, making just a short stop for breakfast, and to allow me to step into the real world for a moment, before getting back on the road. When the afternoon was rolling around, we were only sustained by stubbornness and magic. Both Adra and myself were using our magical abilities to keep us going, with me trying to regenerate our weary bodies, mainly Rai’s and my own, while Adra was using a skill that worked in concert with the ancient road’s magic, further reducing the effort needed to place one foot in front of the other.
When I tried to focus my mind enough to make a guess at the distance we had covered in the last day and night, I was unsure. It felt as if we had crossed hundreds of kilometers, constantly walking at a fast pace but I just didn’t know. I was reasonably sure that we had seen towns not too distant from the road but had ignored them in favor of moving along.
“We should head into the forest, soon.” Adra suggested when the sun was slowly starting to go down.
After needing a moment to push my tired mind into gear and do anything but command my body to set one foot in front of the other, I realised that she wanted to find a good spot nearby and rest for the night. In the morning, we would head away from the road, moving through the wilderness for a couple of days, giving us near certainty that the centaurs wouldn’t be able to catch us.
“Agreed.” Sigmir muttered, sounding as tired as I felt.
“Lenore, could you take to the sky and look for a good spot?” I mentally asked one of the two beings that were rested. Ylva had walked with us for most of the time but once we had needed to use magic to keep us going, she had returned to her Hallow, just to make sure we had a rested combatant if needed. Lenore, on the other hand, had simply stayed in her Hallow, pondering the experiment we had conducted the night before.
“Gladly, I’ve been channelling Astral Power towards you for hours, I’ve got a headache.” she complained and left her Hallow to appear on my shoulder. Her departure made me realise just how much power she had been moving when I had thought she was asleep. I mentally apologised for thinking she had been a lazy bird but I wasn’t sure if she had heard me, I was just so tired.
Still, I stubbornly kept placing one foot in front of the other for a little longer. When Lenore came back, sharing the image of a small lake in the woods, maybe fifteen, twenty minutes away from the road, I almost fell over, the relief that we’d be able to rest making me stumble.
“Lenore found a good resting spot.” I announced, sending wordless gratitude over the link to my spirit-companion.
“Thank the Ancestors.” Simgir mumbled, a sentiment mirrored by the other two.
Knowing where to go and with a little help from Lenore and Ylva, who had left her Hallow as well, we stumbled into the forest, trying to avoid making tracks. The knowledge that we’d be able to rest soon allowed Adra and me to push once more and use our magic to make sure that no traces remained of us, leaving the road.
Soon, we reached the area Lenore had found and we more or less collapsed once we had put down our packs. None of us had anything left, so instead of starting to cook something, we just gnawed on some of the jerky we still had and shared some bread, while drinking a lot of water. Just sitting there, leaning against Sigmir, I was almost falling asleep, letting the images from Lenore filter into my mind, letting myself drift in her awareness.
The clearing she had found was a beautiful one, a decently sized brook, most likely swollen with recently thawed snow, feeding a clear lake. Around it, there were various different plants, some already in bloom, others barely sprouting buds. Using my own nose, I tasted the air, marvelling at the earthy smell of nature. As I was drifting there, I noticed something else in the air, a subtle taste of magic that made me take notice, pushing my mind back into a slightly more alert state.
Standing, I let my nose guide the way, my eyes still closed but there was something here. Where, I wasn’t quite sure but I had a feeling so I turned towards that feeling and realised that it was coming from the lake. Using our mental connection, I shared my impressions with Lenore and asked her to join me. Once she was on my shoulder, I tried to look through her eyes and thought there was something. What it was, I had no idea but it warranted caution. Tasting the air again, I tried to figure out what I was tasting, trying to understand it. Behind me, the others had shifted into a slightly more active state but none of us were in any condition to fight.
“Greetings, I apologize if we have disturbed your Glade. It was not our intent to barge into anyone’s home, we are merely weary travellers, looking for a place to spend the night.” I said, speaking into the empty air above the lake, most likely looking like an insane person. For a moment, nothing happened and then bubbles started to disturb the quiet surface of the pond and a female figure broke through the surface.
My first impression was that she reminded me of Adra, Kallista but also of the Nymphs and Dryads of Tegi. In contrast to them, she seemed to be a little more fluid, for lack of better word, where they were almost looking as if they were made from wood, this figure had a blue-ish tinge to her existence. Not quite as if she was made from water but that I was looking at a being of life and water was obvious.
“Such a polite greeting for one who barged into my home. You smell interesting, young one. Who might you be?” the being asked me, sounding both intrigued and cautious.
“Again, I apologize. You can call me Morgana, a Traveller from distant places and a Student of the Grandmother, Guardian of Neyto.” I introduced myself, dropping a not-so-subtle hint that I had some backing, if the Grandmother’s reputation reached this far.
“These are my companions, my Student, Rai,” I gestured to the somewhat cautious looking beastman, “my friend, Adra,” I gestured to the dryad who looked both intrigued and afraid, “and finally, my mate, Sigmir. What might we call you?” I asked, still being very polite.
“I guess I can make an exception for once, at least if you explain to me how you stumbled into my glade. Normally, my magic keeps everyone but the animals out.” she said, sounding a bit more friendly and I thought I had noticed a glimmer of recognition when I mentioned the Grandmother.
“While I am not sure how your warding exactly works, I would postulate that it happened because we were guided here by two spirit-beasts. I will introduce them in words that I can pronounce and conceptualise, these are Lenore and Ylva. Lenore saw your glade from the air and guided us here.” I explained and the being nodded in understanding.
“That might be the reason, curious, curious. You can call me Leneira, the Pegaeae of this lake. Well met.” she finally returned the greeting and I let myself relax, reasonably sure that if she was intent on doing us harm, she wouldn’t introduce herself.
“Well met, Leneira. While I would love to converse with you some more, I’m afraid that my mind is currently not up to the task.” I explained, desperately trying to suppress a yawn.
“I can see that, the four of you pushed yourself quite a bit. Sleep and in the morrow, we can converse, I have a feeling that your tale will be an interesting one. If it is, I might even allow you to bathe in my lake, letting some of my magic seep into your body. But only if you manage to entertain me.” Leneira said, her voice tinged with laughter.
“A most curious idea. For now, I wish you a good night.” I said, not sure what entertaining her would entail.
“Sleep well, knowing that no harm will befall you on this glade. This, I promise you.” she said, sounding more serious than at any point before, making me take notice.
Sadly, by now the small reserve I had mobilised when I had noticed her was used up and I barely managed to stumble back to Sigmir and once I was cuddled up to her chest, I simply fell asleep.