We reached Adernas around midday, but did not enter until late afternoon. My paranoia was acting up, so only Adra and I entered the town proper, while the others stayed back, due to a bit of uncertainty with Rai’s banishment. The only thing Giro had said was that Rai was no longer welcome after the New Moon, an event that happened almost two weeks ago, so I had proposed that two of us went ahead to ascertain things. I doubted it was some sort of trap - using the banishment as an excuse to attack or something similar - mainly because it would be pointless to create a trap in such a way, but I was lacking the information to make useful predictions, making me stay on the side of caution.
Lenore had overflown the village while we waited, making sure that no Jonari were using it to resupply, who’d ask uncomfortable questions, if they saw Sigmir. Of course, we could not rule out the possibility that they had been in the village and left, after asking the villagers to capture us, if they had an idea what we had done.
Overall, the whole thing could become a problem, or it could just be my paranoia, making up problems that were just that, imagination.
When Adra and I entered the village, the welcome was warmer than last time. No spear was thrown, no screaming people, but someone had to have notified Giro, as we were quickly met by him and another hunter. I stepped forward to receive them, while Adra stood back a little, staying vigilant.
“Greetings, Morgana. I see you have returned. Was your hunt successful?” He asked, seemingly unconcerned with his son.
“Greetings, Giro. Yes, we have brought low our prey. I think you will be proud to hear that Rai has shown bravery in combat and that I personally trust him to fight beside me, to watch my back.”
When I said that, Giro smiled for a moment before regaining his calm mien, but much more interesting was the fact that the other guy scowled for a moment before regaining his calm.
“That’s promising. Let me introduce you to Kallik, brother of Dero. He’s one of our best hunters. I’m sure he will be glad to hear that his brother was avenged.”
It took me a second to place the name Dero, before remembering that it was the name of the hunter that had been Rai’s partner and slain due to Rai’s inexperience and, as they called it, cowardice. After the time I had spent with Rai, I was more charitable, placing most of the blame on inadequate training and upbringing and not an ephemeral quality like cowardice, even if there was an attribute called Courage.
“Greetings, Kallik” I gave a slight nod to him, which was returned, before focusing back on Giro. “Can Rai enter the village again? You said he needed to prove his courage by fighting the nymphs, which he did, but I don’t know your customs. Does he need to provide evidence or is his word enough?” I asked, hoping that the word would be enough. While we had collected more than just a few heads, I had no great desire to show them off in some morbid display of massacre-
“Yes, he can enter the village and tell of your exploits. But what do you mean by evidence?” Giro asked.
Instead of answering, I pulled out one of the severed heads I had stored in my bag, drained of blood so it wouldn’t make a mess. The process of draining the blood had caused the head to shrink, reminding me of the voodoo-legends I had heard about. The combination of the shrunken state and the fact that the nymph that the head had belonged to died in a great deal of pain due to my mind magic, made this one the most gruesome sight of them all.
The look on Giro’s face made the discomfort of handling the head worth it, first a second of confusion, then realisation followed by a mix of disgust and fear. Kallik looked shaken as well, convincing me of the next course of action. My instinct told me that Kallik was trouble - or maybe it wasn’t instinct but rational thought. If he blamed the death of his brother on Rai, redeeming Rai would not go over well with him.
Thus, I would move forward with the classic tactic of shock and awe. With that in mind, I summoned the shadows, channelled through runes of devouring, flowing from my hand to encompass the shrunken head and devour it. My eyes turned black for a moment, when I had to activate Overflow to channel enough power but I doubted that it took away from the display, as I had also let my full presence of a being of the first divide leak out. When the shadows faded, there was nothing left of the head, not even a drop of blood. I had experimented a little with it, and the amount of power was large - and even larger when there was power left in the matter I wanted to devour - but for bodies, most of the power was in the blood, and I had drained it before.
The shock-part of my display was done and I had something special in mind for the awe. Flipping my hand, so my palm pointed skyward, I used simple runes of Ice to create something new, using my Ice-Magic to shape it. It was a rather complex shape but I had no need for great durability or substance, only looks. After a short time, a small bird was sitting in my palm, it was only a sculpture but I was not done yet.
Bringing the sculpture to my mouth, I blew my breath onto it, using magic to make my breath mist and linger around the sculpture before fading away.
In a soft voice, I spoke to the bird in my hand, “Go, tell the others that they may enter the village.”
The bird started to move and after a second, took off flying towards the forest, leaving a glittering trail of sparkling ice drifting in the air.
Looking back at Giro and Kallik, I saw that my little parlour-trick had been successful. The only reason the bird had ‘flown’ was that I had used Ice-;Magic to move it around and keep it aloft. The movement in my palm, the flapping of it’s wings, all just show. But, judging by the wide-eyed look on their faces and the look of surprise on Adra’s face, it had been convincing. What they didn’t know was that the bird had turned into a simple, ballistic projectile once it had passed out of sight, plummeting to the ground, and that the real signal to the others had been sent using my connection to Lenore.
I would have to look into summoning magic; creating real Ice-Golems seemed worth pursuing, our mounts were something like that, magical shells animated by a summoned being. Depending on the exact mechanics, magic like that might be the most powerful of all, if one had enough time to grow one’s forces. But that was an idea for another time.
With the bird flown off, I focused back on Giro. “They will be here soon. How exactly will this work? You banished Rai without any ceremony, will there be one for his redemption?”
Giro seemed insecure for a moment and Kallik looked angry, before giving a short goodbye and leaving.
“I… don’t really know. It is tradition to banish cowards until they have shown their courage but I don’t think anyone ever managed to do so. I will discuss with the other old folks how my son can return to the tribe.”
While he talked, the others had left the forest and were walking across the cleared expanse towards the village.
“Why don’t you go into my house to warm up, I’m sure my wife will be happy to see Rai again. She was morose the whole time he was gone.” he offered.
“Sure, we can do that. I’m sure Rai is happy to be back.”
Adra and I linked up with the others and together, we walked towards Giro’s house. Once we got to it, I let Rai lead the way, feeling it was appropriate that he entered first.
“Oh, my baby!” A wail echoed through the village the moment Rai opened the door and became visible. We hadn’t really a chance to enter, as his mother had rushed him, engulfing him in a hug and sobbing as she clung to him.
There was quite a bit of embarrassment on his face, but he dutifully hugged his mother back, even as she started to fuss. He even managed to corral her out of the way, so the rest of us could enter and get out of the cold.
When the fussing about her baby started to turn into nagging and moaning about the fact that her poor baby had been forced out to prove himself, I had a strong suspicion about why Rai had been so entitled when we first met.
At the same time, I was looking forward to the drama that would ensue when Kallik and his anger clashed with Giro’s cunning and the protectiveness of Rai’s mother. Luckily, we had front row seats for that particular performance.