By the time the meat was ready, it was evening and the sun was beginning to set.
Picking the thin strips of smoked wolf meat off the two stands, he packed them into a cloth bag that he had been using to carry food.
While working, his eyes wandered over to the young hvaral who was watching him attentively. The beast had woken up around noon, snatched a few choice pieces of meat while they were still being smoked and disappeared back into the sky. Yet just like before, it had returned to lie by his fire and was now watching his every move.
“Can you understand me?” Kaidus questioned, and like a statue, the youngling simply stared back without any indication of such a thing. “Where are you parents?” He enquired as he finished picking up the last few pieces. Again, nothing.
“Here. This is the last of it for you.” Instead of storing the meat away, he extended his arm out.
“Shrraaaa!!” The beast’s mouth flew open and it displayed its dark wings, trying to make itself look larger and more threatening.
“Alright, fine. Here.” He tossed the three pieces of meat over to the serpent without moving any closer.
The snake lowered its head to the ground and flicked its forked tongue outward twice, then slowly tucked in its wings and quickly grabbed at the food.
After making sure that he had everything, he picked up a small bundle containing the horns and metal tails of the five kavaks and tied it to his pack. Turning to the serpent once more, “Well then. I don’t know what happened to you before, but take care of yourself.” He grinned and the fire pits flared up, consuming the two smoking stands he had constructed that morning. The young hvaral sprung backward, using its wings to propel itself away from the flames while hissing at him in surprise.
With those parting words, a pillar of wind erupted around him, shooting Kaidus into the air. The young serpent shrieked and began beating its wings as fast as it could, trying to catch the abnormal wind, and to follow.
Soaring through the clouds–without relying on Zion–the wind spirit zipped alongside him, flying energetically and ever ready to catch him should he will it.
Kaidus turned to his side to see the young serpent fervently flying alongside them, trying to keep up. It was snarling at him. Not in its usual threatening tone, but one of panic and shock.
He swerved over and the serpent quickly stopped in mid-air, fluttering haphazardly to hiss at him—as if reproaching him.
“Surprised?” Kaidus grinned, looking at the startled youngling before continuing his flight as Zion’s laughter resounded around them.
Once again, the beating of wings sounded behind him as the small winged serpent attempted to follow.
As they continued through the air, “Kuuuuruu!” There was a weak cry.
Looking back, he saw that the snake was quite far behind them. Oddly, it was making panicked noises, as if trying to draw his attention. Kaidus slowed down to allow the youngling to catch up.
“Guh!?!” As soon as it did, the beast swooped over to him, latching onto his neck and coiling itself around it. Surprised by the sudden attack, Kaidus stopped moving. Its elongated body was expanding quickly, and he could feel heat pulsing through the serpent. “… Tired already?” He questioned with a pained smile, and it hissed back while carefully trying to fold its precious wings. Attempting to uncoil the beast from his neck, it tightened itself, unwilling to let go. With a little force he pried it away, and the young hvaral fluttered tiredly, making frightened noises.
Instead of releasing it into the air, he held up his left arm and the serpent immediately coiled around it, hissing angrily with its outstretched head. “Why are you following me?”
“There’s no need to get angry. I was never going to drop you.”
“Kruaaaah!!” It roared.
“Enough. That is deafening.” He commanded and mana surged through his body, giving his eyes a threatening glow as a show of dominance.
The young serpent immediately lowered its head and went quiet, silently staring back at him as if understanding what to do by instinct. As it did so, a burst of wind exploded along his arm, throwing the youngling’s wings open and causing it to tighten its hold.
“Hsssss!” Two golden eyes followed the wind, hissing menacingly.
Zion began laughing playfully, swirling around the young drakall and threatening to pry it off.
“Stop it. Both of you.”
Turning to look at him one more time, the snake coiled its upraised head alongside its body, holding onto him tightly. Two pairs of scaly leathery wings also folded along the length of its coils, covering his left arm like a black bracer. It flicked its forked tongue outward a handful of times, then without further disagreement, closed its eyes.
“Selfish little thing aren’t you?” Completely ignoring him, the thing was already trying to sleep.
With a puzzled smile, Kaidus shot forth through the darkening sky—with a young drakall around his left arm.
His destination was Maverus, the capital of Malpaars.
The rings he had taken from Eril had yet to call for their master, but with the information obtained from elder Shradech, he was interested in this unknown advisor who had taken their place beside the new king. The chances of them being a member of Tal’hrus were quite high, and he still needed to find the piece of the Nyzacus shard that belonged to Eril. In their encounter he had neglected to ask the man about it, but such minor complications could easily be remedied.
Having spent the whole day watching the fires and lazing around while waiting for the food to smoke and cook, it was going to be a long night.
Throughout the night, the young serpent would leave whenever it was well rested to fly beside him and Zion—as they coursed through the air. And just as it did before, it would screech and call for him whenever it fell behind, latching onto his arm whenever he got close enough. Like an abandoned child attaching itself onto someone who fed and cared for them, it was unwilling to let him leave it behind.
At times he thought it had departed, only to turn around and see two golden eyes shining dimly in the moonlight beside, or behind him. Like the predator it would one day become, it followed him in the darkness, moving silently and swiftly.
“Wait, what’re you-?” Kaidus stopped in the air. The one who had been flying beside him was now moving along his back and digging into his pack. Taking off the rucksack, the youngling had already chewed through the thick cloth. “Ah… Why?” With a displeased voice, he pulled it out of the bag, holding it between its first and second pair of wings. “You’ve put a hole in…” His mouth twisted into a smile, seeing that it was helping itself from the smaller bag containing the smoked meat. “You actually remembered where I put it?” He chuckled, recalling how it was watching him earlier.
“KUUuurrrr!!!” The serpent cried out, stretching its head toward the opening.
Reaching in, he pulled out two pieces and handed one to the young serpent. “For opening a hole in my bag, this is all you’re getting for now.”
“Kuuururuuuu…” It slowly took hold of the piece given to it and retreated along his right arm, moving over his shoulder to coil back around his left.
“Hah… so you can at least understand when someone is unhappy with you.” A thought surfaced in his mind and Kaidus smiled. Repositioning the bag so that the hole was covered from the inside, he watched as the serpent swallowed the piece of meat whole before covering itself with its wings once more.
Eating his own, he stared into the distance. It would be dawn soon, and he himself was quite tired. “I guess I should make camp.”
By late morning, he awoke to find the young serpent peacefully sunbathing near the opening of their shelter. It looked quite peaceful, and there was a content look on its face.
Trying not to stir it, he began rummaging through his belongings quietly. After putting the map away, he glanced over to see that the young serpent was already moving in his direction. Instead of moving to him, it went straight for the hole in his rucksack.
Grabbing onto its tail to keep it from entering, he took out the food bag. “?” The bag looked smaller. Grabbing a fistful, he placed them before the serpent and took another for himself.
As it did the previous day, the young hvaral continued to follow him. Surprisingly, it had stopped hissing and screeching whenever he got closer. Instead, it was even starting to crawl onto him, using him as a form of transportation. Instead of flying and resting, it was content to ride him through the air without leaving to spread its wings.
The next morning,
“… What is this?” Kaidus looked to the young serpent, then pointed to the half empty bag of food.
He had found the snake earlier that morning sleeping atop the stone shelter that he created. It looked engorged, and was sleeping with what looked like a very satisfied face. Pulling the food bag out for breakfast, a sizable amount of the smoked meat was missing, and there was another hole.
“Kraaauuu….” The youngling arched its head and looked to the sides with a disinterested face.
“No wonder it looked like there were less yesterday. You’ve been feasting while I’m asleep haven’t you?” He accused, but the cursed beast simply flicked its tongue out. “I know you can at least understand this much. Don’t even try to worm your way out of this.” He added, returning a stern gaze. To help with the disciplinary action, his mana was pouring out, turning his hair and eyes silver and giving off an air of disapproval.
Drakalls were intelligent creatures, and he had seen it for himself. The youngling was amazing and a thing of beauty, but it would have to learn quickly if it was going to keep following him.
“Shrrraaaaaa!!” It replied hastily, as if wanting nothing do with the discussion.
“Enough!” Kaidus roared, and the young serpent immediately went flat on the ground submissively. “Now, if you are going keep following me, there will be rules. You will learn to obey my commands, or I will leave you behind. Simple as that. Do you understand?”
It flicked its tongue and slowly slithered over to him. Peering into the bag of meat, it arched its head once more. “Kuurrlll…” With a soft growl, it looked up at him with its two golden eyes.
“You will eat when I eat and there will be no more of this. You hear me?” He grabbed two handfuls and placed them before the snake. “Since these were your kills in the first place, this is your share along with what you’ve eaten.” Holding the bag up, “and this is mine. As payment for cooking and ferrying you. Take it, and we part ways right here. Right now. Otherwise you will start learning how to behave.”
“Krauuuuu!!” The youngling roared, and the shockwave knocked over the small pile of meat. Sniffing it, it quickly devoured the food. After doing so, it thrust open its wings and took to the sky.
Kaidus watched as it vanish into the distance. “Farewell, little one.”
Removing his thoughts from the young serpent as he sat down for breakfast, he took out one of his rings and began infusing mana into it. It was to show Vick that he was fine, and for the man not to worry. He thought briefly about the group in Esperen, and wondered if they were doing okay. Pulling out the other rings taken from Eril, he looked through them to make sure none had attempted to contact him.
By his will, the stone shelter submerged back into the ground after he was ready to depart. He took one last look at the sky, toward the direction where the young drakall had disappeared earlier. “May we meet again.” With a smile on his face, he lifted off the ground.
Like the days before his meeting with the youngling, he soared through the sky with abandon, not having to wait for anyone or anything.
As evening approached, he spotted a village sitting atop a clearing. It was not marked on his map, but it was a thankful sight. There were patches of fields all around the settlement, and he could see that they had recently just harvested.
Lowering himself, Kaidus descended at a distance from the village and walked the rest of the way.
“Halt! Who goes there?” A man shouted as he was within shouting distance. The man was standing atop a wall made of wood. All along the fortification, wooden spikes jutted outward from holes and even the top of the barrier, disallowing any would-be intruders.
“Just me, sir. May I please enter?” He replied, trying not to sound too out of place.
“Who are you? Where did you come from and what business do you have in Reigun?”
“From the west. My name’s Kales Raifer. I’ve been hunting in those mountains, and have some items I wish to trade or sell.”
“A hunter? A boy like you?”
“Not a boy no more, sir. Am a man.” Kaidus replied, puffing out his chest.
“Anyone else with you?!”
“No sir, just me.”
The man stared at him suspiciously, before turning around and shouting to someone else. The small gate opened, and a different person was standing there waiting for him.
“Show Mantir your wares and don’t do anything funny!” The first man shouted back.
Walking up to the gate, he unraveled the small bundle of kavak horns and tails, and presented them before the man.
“Hmm… some metal, and these… horns? And two pelts?” The second man inspected them carefully. “What were you hunting? These are quite small.” The man took out one of the pelts that were being used to wrap the bundle.
“Iron-tailed kavaks, sir.”
“Iron-tailed kavaks?” The man narrowed his eyes at him, then looked to the sword at his side. “And that is?”
“My sword, sir. It is what I hunt with.” Kaidus quickly answered.
“… Make sure it stays in its sheath.”
“Very well.” The man stepped aside to allow him passage. “Welcome to Reigun. Just let me warn you. Any mischief, and it might cost you your head.” The man added as he passed.
Inside the walls, it was a small village. With barely twenty buildings, he was able to find a little shop selling all manners of random items without any trouble.
“Oh, look at this one. It’s quite large.” An old woman spoke excitedly, picking up one of the horns. “This size and curve,” the woman bit it. “Ooooh, firm too. It’ll be perfect for fertility powder.”
“No, no, no! Kavak horns are for stomach medicine, you old crone. You’re thinking of cadrain horns.” An old man, presumable her husband quickly corrected
‘Stomach medicine? Fertility powder?’ Kaidus wondered to himself. He had never heard of such properties in the horns before. Horns were great for ornaments, and were usually sought after by skilled carvers. As for medicine and fertility, it was either they knew something he didn’t, or the old couple were overly superstitious. “So… what can you give me for them?”
“Them?” The old man jerked his face up to look at him.
“For the tails, horns, and pelts.”
“No pelts. No tails. Only the horns.” The woman quickly replied, carrying the horns away. He silently watched as she returned with a handful of metal. “For the two big ones, five each. For the other smaller eight, two each.” Without waiting for his consent, she dropped thirteen double bits into his hand and walked away.
“Twenty-six? They’re at least four per small horn, and eight each for the bigger two. If sold to someone who could work with it, I can easily get more than that.” Kaidus replied, looking at the sum in his hand. He was not low on money, but the amount was only a fraction of what he should have gotten.
An ornament or charm carved out of the horns would easily be worth twenty to thirty erns each, depending on the level of craftsmanship.
“Good medicine should never be withheld from the people, young man. Shame on you! Your parents too should be ashamed!” The old man rebuked harshly, eyeing him with a look that seemed to cry out “do you want the villagers to die?”
“Hah…” He looked over to where the old lady had gone and she was already busy crushing the horns, trying to turn it into medicine. “I got it…”
After walking around some more, he found himself a rundown inn in the center of the village. After a little negotiation, he was able obtain another twenty erns, and a room in exchange for the five iron tails and two pelts.
The village was rife with activities the next morning. As he was eating, he could hear children and people clamoring outside, running to and fro, shouting about something.
“Taron! You have to come quickly! The guards have captured a drakall!” A man exclaimed as he burst into the empty inn.
The innkeeper turned to look at Kaidus, then walked out the door.
‘Captured a drakall?’ The curious words swam through his thoughts. After eating and gathering his items from his room, he left the inn to check what all the commotion was about.
“Kruaaaaaaa!!” An exhausted and familiar noise sounded through the air as he got closer.
His body tensed, and Kaidus began running. “Kuuuuurrrrrrr!!!” It gave off a frightened screech, and he knew what it was. Without caring about those around him, he pushed through the wall of people until he was at the center.
There was something struggling inside a net and he quickly stepped closer to it.
Pitch black with a green stripe going down its back, a young hvaral was entangled inside. Its wings were bent oddly, and it was crying out in fear.
“Stand back boy. It may be small, but it’s very dangerous.” A guard cautioned.
Ignoring the guard, Kaidus stepped even closer. “You followed me?” He questioned, and the young serpent immediately struggled in the net to look in his direction.
“Kuuuuurr…” Like before, it lowered its head and went completely silent.
Disregarding those around him, Kaidus quickly bent down to unravel the net.
“What are you doing?!” Someone shouted.
“Stop!” A guard quickly tried to stop him.
Instead of complying, he stood up and quickly pulled out the xeberite sword, prompting the guards around to immediate pull out their own weapons.
With one smooth motion, he shredded the net before the guards could do anything and sheathed his weapon. “Forgive me, but this little one here is mine.” Infusing mana into his voice, he made sure all around them heard. As if on cue, the young serpent frantically slithered out of the net and climbed up his legs, moving to coil itself around his left arm.
“Shrraaaaaaa!” Safe, the young hvaral began hissing angrily at those around them.
“Stop that. No one’s going to hurt you.” He coaxed and the youngling turned to face him once more before going quiet.
Looking around them, the villagers were all staring at him and the serpent around his arm. None of them wanted to get closer, but a few of the children were looking with faces filled with glee and amusement.
Kaidus looked down at the net and saw that there was something else in there. Bending down to pull the mesh away, the half-eaten body of a hare was on the ground. Looking closer, it had already started to smell.
“kruuuu…” The youngling on his arm made a low growl and he immediately understood that it was his half. Albeit rotting, the young serpent had brought it along, carrying it and following him all this way. “I see…”
It did not understand what he was saying then, but it had certainly understood that he was unhappy with it.
Two golden eyes stared up at him meekly, looking very tired. “I guess I should commend you for coming all the way here by yourself.” Upon his words and relaxed tone, the youngling curled its head around his arm and attempted to fold its wings as usual. It growled as one of them refused to fold, and he saw that the wing was broken. Placing his hand over the serpent, he quickly restored it.
Without waiting for the villagers to question or apprehend him, a powerful gust blew through the air, kicking up dust and forcing people to shield their eyes.
In the midst of the confusion, he took the sky, vanishing into the clouds.
Those who were out in the fields or far enough to watch the unusual dust storm saw, as an enormous serpent rose from the center of the villager, rising up and swallowing the clouds before disappearing.
Away from prying eyes, Kaidus watched as the exhausted creature attempted to sleep. It had probably been flying all day and night with very little rest, just to catch up to him. “Guess I’m going to have to give you a name.” He smiled.
The wind began blowing, and within it, a knowing laughter. Not in its usual playful tone, but one of understanding. One that understood the depths of such words.