The Everwood remained as enigmatic as it ever did, wandering paths changing day after day. Kara was no stranger to its chaotic and shifting nature. Yet, there were times when even the Nargacuga scout could find herself lost in it, if momentarily.
Today was thankfully not one of those times. She backtracked along her planned route, convinced that there was nothing amiss. Yet, things changed quite suddenly.
Ahead of Kara on the trail was a small, pinkish female creature not of any species of gijinka that Kara recognises. Her body was something like a Congalala, except furless besides the top of her head, and way too soft to be the flesh of any fanged beast, and she was adorned with cloth like a Lynian, and she appeared to be looking around for something. At least until she paused, and now appeared to be attempting to address the tree next to her. The human's name was Izzy.
Kara's surprise would have been very clear if Izzy saw her face. She could easily swear she had passed this way - nope, she definitely did. To get to the final point of the route on her patrol, she passed through here already once, and it was an otherwise linear path. Thank goodness the Everwood seemed to be in an agreeable mood... She sniffed the air, unable to place the scent of the creature ahead of her, before crouching down and suddenly leaping forward. She landed directly behind Izzy, nose pointed upward, sniffing.
The scent was stronger, but there was still no way to place it. It was an unknown, and that did not sit well with her. Izzy probably felt the air pressure from her sudden approach, but Kara actually didn't make much noise if at all.
The human girl stiffened at a sudden breeze from behind her. "Gah, what's with the wind in this pla--" She turned...
As soon as Izzy turned, Kara leapt to the side, following the motion of the turn, and making sure to stay behind Izzy, all the while sniffing the air, as though further exposure to the scent would somehow ring a memory of what it was, even though that was impossible. Izzy could probably feel the intensity of Kara's stare at this point.
Before Izzy could get a proper glance at the black scaled creature, it darted to the side, then around behind her again, sniffing at the air.
"Wh-what are... why are you trying to sniff my butt?" The girl managed to get off, turning to try to keep up with her.
Hearing the tone as more curious and questioning than hostile, Kara leaps once more, finally landing directly in front of Izzy, suddenly standing up to her not-so-impressive height, a few inches short of Izzy's own. She looked intently at Izzy, her head moving as she looked from a wide variety of angles... none of her features looked familiar. A hairless Lynian, minus the mane at the top? Seemed the most probable shape-wise, yet still, that scent... there was just no placing it.
Melynx eyes stared at the two of them from a distance, before digging into the ground.
The creature finally came to a pause in front of Izzy. Black scales, black fur, red inner ear markings, what looked like half-formed wings extending off the forearms. Then she stood up on her hind-legs, to a full height just under that of her own.
"Damn, aren't you a magnificent creature?" Izzy commented stepping back unconsciously to take in the whole sight of this beast that just appeared before/behind her.
Noting the creature's bipedal stance, the girl's manners finally caught up with her. "Err... do you speak?"
"What... ARE you?!" Kara just couldn't keep the question unspoken any longer, "Not-Lynian, Not-Congalala, and that scent... I got nothing and that is not right because I don't get nothing!" She huffed, "Amateurs get nothing. I am not an amateur."
It did speak. A lot, actually. She seemed perturbed.
"I'm, um, a person. A human person, that is. Female. Do you have no humans in this part of the world?"
Izzy continued stepping back unconsciously, just in case this encounter turned less friendly. Where did she leave her pack again? Her eyes refused to tear away from the creature.
"Hu-man? Hu-man." Kara tilted her head, clearly confused, "Strange word. Never heard of it. Is it a new Lynian clan? Maybe foreign? Never heard of a Lynian named Um before either." She replied, "Also haven't seen any Lynians taller than me. This better not be a thing now." She muttered the last sentences.
Posted on 2016-03-19 at 00:17:49.
Edited on 2016-03-19 at 01:02:15 by Reralae
"Err, well I don't think I'm a Lynian. Probably. Most humans are taller than me, so if they're shorter than you..." Izzy trailed off. She backed slowly into the trunk of the tree she was talking to earlier and froze. Cornered.
"And my name isn't 'Um', it's 'Izzy'. I'm guessing you're not whatever a Lynian is, either, huh?"
Throwing the questioning back on her interrogator, Izzy took the moment to glance down--she could have sworn she left her bag in the bushes around here somewhere.
Kara sniffed, "Definitely not. I have wings, and claws, AND they are FULLY FUNCTIONAL," she emphasized as she held up her hands to demonstrate, which looked like a strange hybridization between a paw with a bird's claws, "But if you're not one, then I guess that means those two over there picking up your things aren't your friends then?"
It looked as though calling Kara a Lynian was a bit of a sore spot for the small Nargacuga...
"Sunovabitch!" Izzy's head snapped in the direction the not-Lynian pointed. She saw a pair of bipedal black cats, sneaking away with her backpack carried between them. They froze, realizing they'd been spotted.
Without a second thought, the seemingly defenseless girl bolted toward the pair. Both cats panicked. The one in the rear threw his half of the bag onto his companion and turned to face the girl. His companion, struggling to balance with the new load, more hobbled than ran.
Whatever the warrior's gameplan had been, he didn't anticipate the ferocity with which this seemingly harmless girl was willing to defend her bag. Her heavy hiking boot swung out without breaking stride. There was a visible ripple in the air where she connected, throwing the hapless cat tumbling across the forest floor. "My. Stuff."
The other cat was making surprisingly good headway for the load it carried and its awkwardly bipedal gait.
In one quadrupedal wing-assisted leap, Kara was right beside Izzy, "Good technique!" She complimented before pouncing in front of the remaining Melynx, suddenly twirling and smacking the Melynx directly back into the path of the approaching hu-man with her tail, "We've been through this! Paws to yourselves, you thieves!"
"And I know you two aren't with the Melynx Guild. Their members never enter the Everwood." Kara added
The melynx and the bag tumbled back toward Izzy's warpath, the bag landing in front and the cat behind. The human girl leapt through the air, putting her bag within her clutches just as the melynx recovered and tried to pull away.
The cat-like creature was surprisingly strong for her size, but Izzy had the advantage of determination. She hauled on the bag, pulling her knees back underneath her.
Determination and leverage.
Kara called something about guilds as she approached. Determination, leverage, and a much scarier cat.
The melynx let go of her end of the bag suddenly. Izzy flopped backwards, throwing the bag behind her. From all the abuse it had taken, one of the pouches on the bag came open, spilling a miscellaneous assortment of items on the forest floor.
The melynx pounced, hoping over Izzy to get at the stuff. She grabbed a pawful of roast chicken leg.
Turning toward Kara, she shrugged. "Eh, kitty's gotta eat." The melynx dove into the earth, her tail disappearing under the soil with her prize just as the nargacuga arrived.
Kara looked incredulously at what had spilled out of the one pocket on the bag, completely distracted now, "Wait. How does all of that fit inside of that?! Not. Sense. Make!" She quickly pounced beside the bag, now inspecting the backpack much more closely.
Unfortunately, it was enough for the other Melynx to get back to his feet and nab the rest of the chicken with his paw-tool, complete with victory dance, before fleeing.
The small fount of items that spilled out of the backpack included several small jars, some empty, some containing strange substances and specimens, a handful of unfamiliar (and probably some familiar) foodstuffs, miscelleneous small adventuring gear, and at least one heavy-looking rock about the size of a small rabbit.
Izzy picked herself up and dusted her skirt off. "What a mess. At least all they got was my lunch," she lamented. "Hey, thanks for helping me out back there. I never got your name, miss...?"
"Miss? Nonono, I don't miss." Kara shook her head adamantly, "If I missed I wouldn't have graduated, see?" She points at the violet insignia on her forehead, which oddly enough probably was at a perfect height to read and probably looked more like handwriting, of a rather graceful hand.
"Oh!" Izzy squeaked. "Mister. I'm sorry. I don't judge."
"Miss-ter? What is that? Sounds like someone who misses... a lot... professional missing? Is that a thing where you come from?" Kara asked, "I really have no idea what you are talking about."
"Uhh..." Izzy intoned as the Nargacuga questioned her. Panicked, her attention zeroed in on the purple markings. She struggled to focus, trying to read the insignia positioned squarely above the most intimidating pair of eyes in this forest.
"Ka-ra? You're name's ka-ra? Or is it 'care-ah'?"
"First one. Not the second one. I'm a Nargacuga scout and assassin, not one of those sweet and caring Felynes even if I'm small for a Nargacuga." Kara replied, "Speaking of which, I guess you technically do count as a strange happening in the forest, so I guess I ought to bring you in and report finding a hu-man in the Everwood."
"Uh--" Izzy paused halfway between picking up a small jar filled with a mysterious green paste. "...Okay. All I really need is a good map and an idea what part of the world I ended up in."
There was a slight motion from under a few things that caught both girls' attention. A rainbow coloured frog hopped out from below the debris.
"Crap!" Izzy cried. She fumbled after the creature, but it was too quick for her, darting into the underbrush and out of sight.
"Aww... poor Lord Herbert. He must have thawed out... I thought he was dead already..."
"Maps? The Felynes look after the maps. They don't explain the distances very well, so they usually come with us when actually mapping things out. Also the Rath can't write very well, so kinda falls to the Felynes for a lot of that stuff. Not that it would help much here. Can't map the Everwood." Kara noted, "Strange coloured frogs aside, we really should be going. The Everwood probably isn't a very safe place for a hu-man to be in. I mean, you don't have claws or anything that I can see. That was a good kick back there, but that was also a Melynx."
"Wait, you mean most things out here look as dangerous as you?" Izzy cast a paranoid glance out into the woods, pulling the straps tight on her bag again. "You know what, I've changed my mind. Take me wherever you want."
Kara grinned, "I like you. You actually said I look dangerous."
Posted on 2016-03-19 at 01:24:41.
Edited on 2016-03-19 at 01:27:01 by Reralae
The pace that Kara set as they walked back (or was it forwards? Direction seemed to be easy to get mixed up in the forest) was not that fast, as Kara was still on alert. One thing had changed in an area that she had been in, so she was not certain about the other areas.
She pointed out Bnahabra to Izzy as they made their way back, "See them? They generally keep to themselves and won't bother others unless they're too close."
Izzy's timidity faded quickly. With Kara as a guardian, she turned to staring with wonder at the strange flora and fauna in this part of the world. Some things were familiar, but some were wholly alien... like the gigantic insectoid 'bnahabra' who stared back at her for a brief moment before returning to their business.
As they reached the outpost, Izzy would recognize the building as looking more like an inn than a fort, and there was a clear rail line next to it on closer inspection. Kara's eyes, however, were looking at the red Gijinka waiting for them.
"Something's not right. That's a Rathalos. What's he doing all the way out here?" Kara muttered, quickening her pace.
Izzy instinctively tried to make herself smaller, as if to hide behind the diminutive 'nargacuga' (as she called herself). Was the rathalos here because of her?
"What does that mean?" Izzy whispered, “What does he want?”
"Must be news." Kara replied to Izzy before making her way closer.
"Ah, there you are, Kara." The Rathalos spoke, his reptilian eyes examining the violet marking on Kara's forehead to make sure it was indeed Kara.
"You're a long way from the front lines, captain." Kara observed, noting the insignia on the Rathalos's shoulder band.
"We've a report from Felyne outpost 3S. A raiding party has crossed our borders. Barroth and Velocidrome. Monarch Agano suspects it's a diversion, but we still need to route the enemy before they hit any settlements." The Rathalos replied.
"3S? If I remember right, that's not too far from here. You're here to handle the Barroth, am I right?" Kara asked.
"Correct, and we heard you were scheduled to return soon, so it was best to make contact with you before the attack. The Velocidrome will probably continue even with the Barroth distracted, so you're to stop their advance." The captain instructed.
With his message delivered, the Rathalos took to the sky, and Kara turned back to Izzy, "Well, looks like my report is going to have to wait."
Izzy did her best to follow the conversation, but there were too many unfamiliar names to keep up. "Wait, raiding party? Route the enemy? Is there a war going on here?"
"Not officially. But then, the Black Brigade has really never cared about formality," Kara replied, "Hey, Xiao! Did you catch all that? Which way to the nearest settlement?"
A Felyne wearing a rather detailed dress popped their head out of the window, "To the south east? You'll want to go that way." They offered, pointing a paw.
"Thanks!" Kara replied, taking a few steps before turning to Izzy, "You coming?"
Izzy's face went blank. "Me?" She didn't know if she was qualified to go to war in another country.
The girl looked from Kara to the inn. The cat creature (was it another melynx?) in the dress was beginning to stare at her as if she were the cat wearing clothing. For all Izzy knew, that inn was full of strange people with stranger questions that she would have no idea how to answer.
She turned back to the nargacuga. "Sure, I've been through basic combat training. How hard could a bunch of veloci-dromes be?"
Kara tilted her head, "You can fight? I know you don't have claws, and your fangs aren't exactly very threatening either, though nice to look at. Very white. Even Lynian fighters use something," She noted.
Normal people don't have claws or fangs, Izzy felt like saying. But then, in these circumstances that obviously wasn't the case.
Kara finished, adding "It's more that since I have to wait to give my report, I have to keep an eye on you to make sure you, you know, don't run away."
Izzy blinked. "What? Run away? Where would I even run to?" Her voice climbed with exaggerated outrage. She could think of a few places already, but that was hardly the point. The girl planted her hands firmly on her hips. "I'll have you know I may be cute as hell, but I bet I could kick any velocidrome's ass any day." Izzy's chest swelled with her bravado.
"Just, you know, let me know so I can get ready before we actually get there. Put my game-face on and all."
Kara grinned. It was not an expression of someone that was trying to call Izzy's bluff. Kara thought she recognized the feeling behind it. "You got it. Just as a heads up though, Velociprey and Velocidrome like to move quickly. Stay on your toes and don't let them surround you."
Kara then turned and lead the way along the path, towards where they expected the Velocidrome to show up with its pack.
Posted on 2016-05-20 at 00:20:03.
Edited on 2016-05-20 at 00:22:41 by Reralae
Izzy's softened her stance. "Got it." She raced to catch up to the nargacuga girl. "Any, er, notable weaknesses these guys have? What do they look like?"
"Blue, with red highlights on their skin. They're not very strong, all things considered, but very flighty. No I mean it, they like to hop around. Also they don't like the cold very much, not that that will help us here. The tundra is a fair way away to the north." Kara replied, chuckling as they walked along the plains.
Eventually, Kara stopped, her eyes narrowing. "Blue shapes. That's them." She immediately lowered her center of gravity, taking a more quadrupedal stance and eyeing their approach. Stealth was not an option at this point.
"That's them, already? Gah, when I said give me a signal I didn't mean thirty seconds before we actually run into them. No matter!"
Izzy stripped off her backpack, vanishing behind a tree.
A moment and several grunts later the strange girl emerged. She had replaced her brown jacket with some kind of padded chest armour, and added a leather armoured skirt over top her cloth. On her hands she wore large, thick leather gloves and her shoulders were topped with pads.
Despite all this extra padding, Kara noted that Izzy's felyne-like armour padding was missing in some vital components--she had nothing but her shirt to protect her soft belly, and her arms, legs, and head were left bare save for the goggles that sat on top of her head.
"Ta-da! So what do you think? Pretty neat, huh?"
"Closer to two minutes, a bit less. They run fast." Kara replied, before looking over and tilting her head, "Much better, but are you sure it's sturdy enough? You've been saying you're not a Lynian so I don't know how sturdy you actually are." Kara noted, before looking back ahead at the approaching shapes, "Looks like one drone, with a pack of prey. Definitely a raiding party."
"No, seriously, punch me. Give it a try." Izzy's eyes lit up with excitement. She couldn't help but get excited. She didn't register 'danger' very well.
"Punch?" Kara tilted her head the other way, "You're thirsty? Or you mean hit? If you mean the latter, well... if you insist." She straightened up, before twirling around, not as fast as she would normally, but still throwing a decent amount of momentum into her tail swing.
Izzy was caught off guard by the unconventional attack. Usually she had to convince people two or three more times before they'd actually hit her. Nevertheless, the armour did its job. Rather than contact directly with Izzy's soft, unprotected stomach, some kind of solid force blocked her attack.
Izzy fell over backwards from the force of the nargacuga's tail. Despite her insistence, her stance had been completely unprepared to receive the blow. "Oof. Nice shot," she remarked.
She wasn't down for long, in a moment she hopped back to her feet. "But see? Perfectly fine. Not even a scratch. Pretty cool, huh? I made it. It works off the same basic principles of a shielding spell, but instead it feeds back directly into my aura."
"Spell? Aura?" Kara looked a bit bewildered as she kept pace with Izzy's explanation, "I'm not following... but as long as it protects you, that is what is important."
"Oh, right!" Izzy picked up her backpack and thrust her arm into it, drawing out a foot of handle and some three or two feet of rectangular blade. The edges of the weapon seemed to be made of a grey metal like steel or iron, around a rectangular darker centre. At the 'tip' the blade flared out slightly, and had a rounded leading edge, more like an axe than a lynian's sword point. The blade seemed chipped or dented in a few places, but otherwise well-maintained.
Izzy planted the tip of the sword in the ground next to her. With the two-hand length grip, her hand resting on the pommel was almost level with her shoulder. "This I found."
There was no way that sword was in that bag just a second ago.
Kara just stared incredulously at the bag as Izzy pulled the blade out, "Okay, that, does not fit in that. Even Felyne Acorns have their limits, as much as they would love to advertise otherwise." Her ears flicked, "Talk later!" She lowered herself onto all fours again, leaping to the side and turning to face the approaching Velocidrome and its entourage.
"All enemies are food." The larger one grinned, making a display of its fangs, before leaping into the air. Kara leapt forward, avoiding the impact as the Velocidrome stomped down hard where she was standing, "That one moves strange." It noted, straightening up, easily taller than Izzy, but not by much. "Is fast."
Izzy looked up at the blue scaled humanoid and his yellow beak lined with sharp, pointed teeth. All sense of form and discipline were forgotten in the face of the monster before her. At the least her body adopted a fighting stance, product of one hapless instructor's frustration, as she slashed wildly at the drome with her sword. Despite the size and probable weight of the device, and the feebleness of the arms that wielded it, Izzy didn't seem to have much trouble hefting the blade.
"Get he-eh?" With the Velocidrome so focused on Kara, it was hit soundly in the shoulder. While the path of the blade was dulled by the firm scales of the grown drome, it still drew blood and caused the Velocidrome to recoil. It turned its head, "Felyne fighter?"
"I call dibs!" A bunch of the smaller ones called out, bounding forward and looking at Izzy intently.
"No, silly, focus on the black- Where'd she go?" The Velocidrome called the entourage to order, but Kara had already moved. In a direct mirror of the Velocidrome's attack, she was in mid air, but twirled around, making sure to land tail first.
The Velocidrome was launched into the air by the impact, landing a few good feet back away from both Kara and Izzy. A low growl escaped Kara's throat as her eyes darted around, eyeing the several Velociprey momentarily, before looking at the drome staggering back to its feet.
Izzy turned to the three velociprey closest to her. They were just a bit smaller and lacked the bright red crest their leader was sporting.
"Yeah, well I call dibs on YOUR FACE!"
Izzy's stance was a bit more controlled this time as she swung the heavy blade horizontally across the three of them. The first two were flung back by her attack, but the third hopped back just in time to avoid serious harm. Behind him another two stalked forward, eager to have their chance at the oversized felyne.
"Keh, keh," the velociprey chuckled as his companions flailed on the ground.
"You think you're so funny? Eat this!" Izzy let go of her sword with one hand and thrust it toward the third 'prey. A tiny meteor of white light shot out of her hand, striking the velociprey with enough force and surprise to throw him off his feet.
The Velocidrome stood back up, huffing as it clawed the ground with its feet, giving a short, bark-like roar. Kara's eyes narrowed as she shifted her stance. In a burst of speed, the Velocidrome was at Kara, clawing down and trying to bite, but Kara had already leapt back. Jumping forward, she spun around with her tail.
The Velocidrome reared back as the red crest broke off its head, "You'll pay for that!" It roared.
Kara remained silent, except for that fierce, low growl she made in response.
"Up you get!" A few of the Velociprey were helping their companions up, but now they were more wary about Izzy's range with that sword, trying to circle around her. If anything, they seemed more enthusiastic with the drome's rage. None were very keen to try helping against Kara though, and it seemed as though this larger Felyne was actually a decent threat to keep distracted.
Izzy realized that her actions had only attracted more attention. With the stricken ones back up and an additional two come to join (hitting seven right now), she was soon to be surrounded. What was it Kara had said about these guys? Not to do exactly that? Crap.
Posted on 2016-05-20 at 00:30:17.
Edited on 2016-05-20 at 00:33:09 by Reralae
The girl looked about for a way out of this mess. Kara seemed perfectly busy taking care of their leader. She turned to the pair sneaking around behind her. Izzy gave a valiant warcry and charged the two, blade upraised.
The three behind her saw their opening and moved in from behind while the two in front dodged to either side easily, doing exactly as Izzy had expected of them. Instead of wasting time trying to pin one of them down to strike while the others attacked from behind, she charged straight between them and out of the forming circle.
The three pursued her, closing in on her with their superior speed very quickly. Izzy knew that running from wolves only put you at their mercy, so she didn't entertain the tactic for long. She whipped around as soon as she heard their clawed footsteps behind her.
Her guess was right--all three of the 'prey were in the air, mere moments from landing on her. Following through on her spin she hefted the sword with all the force she could bring to bear. Though the momentum of three 'prey in mid-flight was nothing to shrug at, the force of the swing checked all three of them, though Izzy stumbled back to keep her balance.
The rest of the circle were following a little further behind, watching their eager brothers and sisters take the fall so they could study their enemy just as a few of them had taken the fall earlier.
The Velocidrome charged forward again, and Kara stood up on her hind legs, her tail swishing from one claw to the other. In an instant, the Velocidrome's claws were around the small Nargacuga's waist, and lifting her up. The Velocidrome's mouth opened.
That is when Kara struck, taking the spikes she plucked from her tail and stabbing them into both sides of the Velocidrome's neck. The drome recoiled and screeched, letting go of Kara, its claws dripping blood from where it had grabbed her. Kara dropped to one knee, before leaping up into a spin, catching the weakened area with a wing's bladed edge and decapitating the Velocidrome.
Her breathing quick, Kara leapt into the air, landing just behind Izzy. "Drop to the ground!" She called.
Izzy hit the deck.
Kara twirled, this time with her tail extended, spikes unsheathed and ready. After three volleys, the sound of flying blades stopped, and Kara dropped to one knee to steady herself, "Three. Damn. I should be able to do more than that." She winced, feeling the wounds in her sides and growling.
The gang of velociprey were mowed down by the nargacuga's spikes, each gijinka taking at least two or three solid shots. When Kara came to a stop, those well enough to move--only about two or three, not counting two more who had been waiting in the wings (total number now nine)--turned tail and left as fast as their legs would carry them, which for one was barely above a feeble limp. The remainder did not get up, though a few were still breathing.
Izzy sat up, surveying the wreckage that followed Kara. "Cool... I mean no, not cool! I had them on the ropes, girl, I coulda taken them!"
Izzy turned to Kara. The bravado fell from her face immediately. "Oh my, you're bleeding!"
Kara took a few deep breaths to calm the adrenaline in her system. She did not want to scare Izzy off, as much as her instincts wanted to trigger her own rage from both blood loss and blood lust. "I'll be fine." She finally replied, standing up properly.
"My pink ass you'll be fine, here, at least let's do something to stop the bleeding."
Kara side stepped back, evading Izzy's initial reaching for her, "If I'm still bleeding when we get back to the outpost, my pack is there. I'm not without medicine, if I need it." She replied.
"But what if you bleed out and die before then and I'm left out here all alone in this weird forest and--" Izzy bit off her rant at a sharp look from Kara. "Okay, fine, you're probably not going to die. Let's just get back to camp quickly before those goons come back with more."
One of the dying velociprey near Izzy let out a rattling breath. "Ewww..." She wiped her sword clean of velociprey blood and stowed it-- but not in the pack.
Kara chuckled, but winced at the motion, "Nargacuga don't die that easily. If I was brought low, you'd hear it." She added as they started making their way back to the outpost.
Posted on 2016-05-20 at 00:33:00.
Edited on 2016-05-20 at 00:34:55 by Reralae
As they made their way back to the outpost, a plume of white smoke was visible, also moving to the outpost. The steam locomotive arrived before Kara and Izzy, and once again, there was someone waiting there for their arrival. This time however, the figure was familiar, considering that Izzy was travelling with one already. Kara stared at the other Nargacuga that was waiting for them.
"Holy crap, Kara, I shouldn't talk, but you look tiny compared to her!" Izzy murmured to the nargacuga as they approached the outpost.
"Yes... I mentioned that I'm not that tall." Kara murmured in reply to Izzy.
"Mhera? Is that you?" Kara asked.
"Hey sis!" Mhera replied with a wave, looking up from one of the books that the Melynx beside her had open.
"What are you doing here?" Kara asked, looking suspiciously at her sister.
"I'm-" Mhera's beak crinkled, and she tilted her head, more or less crossing her arms before she said, "Sis, I smell blood. That had better not be yours."
"See! I told you! Now you're going to get an infection!" She scolded in a raised whisper. Without pausing she turned to the larger nargacuga. "You should see the other guys. Now those guys were bleeders."
Now closer, it was easy to see that Mhera looked about a foot and a half taller than Kara. Stronger looking as well. However, unlike Kara, Mhera did not have anything on her forehead.
"I decapitated a Velocidrome. It was a Black Brigade raid. Most of the blood is his." Kara replied with a shrug, "It scratched me before it died. I'll look after it. Xiao has my things." she offered by way of explanation, before going inside the inn-looking building.
Mhera sighed and shook her head as the door closed behind Kara, "Hasn't changed a bit; still as stubborn as ever," She turned to Izzy, "And she didn't introduce you either... well, I am Mhera, Kara's younger sister, and this is Maki, my Lynian companion." Mhera had pronounced Kara as 'care-ah'.
The Melynx looked up from the tome she had on her lap, waving a paw, "Nyaice to meet you."
Izzy's hand went reflexively to her pack on seeing the lynian. It would probably be rude to tell her not to touch her stuff, she realized. Rude and speciesist.
"Nice to meet both of you, too. Err... is she always this intense?"
Mhera nodded, "She is when she knows other people are watching her. When I saw you, I had hoped that she had at least finally picked up a Lynian companion, but it doesn't sound like it."
Maki's paw stopped as she looked more closely at Izzy, "Wait a minute! She is not a Lynian! She is-" Maki nearly threw the tome she was reading aside as she reached into her bag and pulled out another tome, flipping through it's pages.
"She is what?" Mhera asked, looking down at Maki.
Maki kept flipping, until finally saying, "She is not in my book!"
Izzy chuckled at the cat's antics. "To be fair, nobody I've met yet here was in any of my books either. I gathered from Kara that you guys don't see many humans around here."
Maki stood up and walked closer to Izzy, the Melynx's sharp eyes looking her over, "Stance... Lynian like, but no visible fur, no claws, pretty fangs, a mane..." Maki quickly pulled out a sketch pad and began making rough sketches of Izzy.
Mhera in the meantime looked down at the book Maki was going through, shaking her head, "No... Maki is a member of the Chroniclers. They record everything we've seen and know about, or hear about from the Chroniclers of other domains. If your kind are not in her book... well, it's very bewildering."
"It's exciting!" Maki added, "I'll get to make a completely new addition to the archive of known species!"
"Although, it'll have to be peer reviewed at least twenty times by members of the chronicler council, and at least verified by some other domains..." Maki's ears drooped slightly, "But still! Exciting!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up there, girlfriend." Izzy took advantage of the fact that she was still wearing a pair of very thick leather gloves to grab the lynian by the scruff of her neck like a regular cat, interrupting any further intrusive inspections.
"I got questions, too, so how about we propose a trade of information? You look like you know a thing or two about the world, and you probably won't ignore my questions with cryptic, meaningless answers like Kara. What do you say?"
Maki nodded vigorously, "That's what I'm here for! To gather and share knowledge."
Mhera nodded as well, "Which is why I'm to take over for big sis. Maki and I can take over scouting the Everwood, and if we figure out any other things special about it besides its chaotic nature and unable-to-be-mapped-ness, Maki can record it."
"So I'm recalled then?" Kara asked from the doorway. Her sides looked like they were bandaged properly now.
"Yep. They want you to report on both your recent scouting and the raid, and with you at Haven, it'll be faster for you to get to wherever you end up being sent to next. Her Golden Majesty said that specifically for all Nargacuga assassin graduates," Mhera confirmed.
Maki smiled, "Don't worry, we can still talk on the train."
The way the natives talked about it, Izzy was getting the sense that the forest was alive. That was a... moderately disturbing thought. An active genius loci with seemingly inscrutable whims and apparently a vast reach. Izzy cast a glance over her shoulder and shuddered, realizing for the first time that it wasn't the inhabitants that made it dangerous. Or well, it wasn't only the inhabitants.
"We're going into town, are we?" Izzy asked. She took her pack off and stashed her sword back inside. There probably wouldn't be much need for it in a civilized setting, and she bet was already going to be fielding enough questions without swinging around an oversized ancient sword. She left her armour on, though. It made her feel just slightly safer considering she was about to be entering into a world where a visible lack of pointed teeth and claws marked one as an easy target.
"Not just a town. Haven is the capital of this country. A fairly large city." Maki replied.
"I'll take my regular way back," Kara said, stretching her legs before securing her double-acorn pack's belt around her waist.
"Yeah, I guessed. Just don't wear yourself out, or I'm going to have Topaz stop the train and I'll carry you back to it. I'll be watching sis," Mhera told Kara.
"Yeah, yeah. Hasn't happened yet." Kara replied with a huff.
Izzy gets to find out just how far away from home she is
Maki sat next to Izzy on the train, with Mhera sitting opposite them, true to her word and watching out the window.
"All right, kit-kat, first question," Izzy said, taking a seat across from Maki. "Do you have any maps of this region on you and where can I get one for myself?"
"Just ask for one from the Chronicler's in Haven. We always supply spares in case any are lost. In the meantime though, you can look at mine," Maki replied, drawing a scroll from her bag and unfolding it on the table.
The continent itself looked roughly diamond shaped, though there were actual written question marks on the western side where the Everwood sprawled outward. Also a few notes about an Insect Kingdom and the Nargacuga Hidden Village with question marks in the Everwood. Moving away from the Everwood, the map looked much clearer, moving from woods to plateaus and plains up to the mountain range that nearly split the continent in half, and Haven clearly marked near the center of the continent. To the north was an expansive tundra, and to the south sand dunes and jungle. To the east was another forest, this one opening to a lagoon, with the harbour city clearly marked, and writing of 'Abyssal Kingdom' in the ocean by it.
With the map on the table, Maki withdrew her sketchbook, “I don't have a question for you yet, just don't move too fast so I can draw you.”
Izzy peered over the map on the table, being mindful not to fidget too much while subconsciously trying to strike a noble or thoughtful pose for the sketch artist.
"I've never even seen a continent like this one before. I suppose that makes sense, though, if anyone back home knew about this place, geography class might not be so boring."
Izzy pointed at the edge of the map labeled N by the compass. "This way is north, right? Marked 'Tundra'? Weird. You guys must be so far north here that it gets cold again."
Izzy shifted in her seat, eliciting a quiet noise from Maki. "Do your records have anything about what lies beyond this island?"
Maki rubbed a paw at her chin, "The Chroniclers of the Abyssal domain do talk about some of the other lands around. The ocean paths are well known to the Lagiacrus, after all. For example, one island must've been created by a massive volcano, because it's always on fire. I think they called that one Ingle Isle. Many smaller islands don't appear to be inhabited by much. As for other continents, well, there's of course rumours that the Black Brigade came from a different continent, but that's absurd."
Maki thought a moment before she nodded, "A lot of evidence points to this continent being the largest landmass on the planet, though not the only inhabited one of course. The ring of crystal islands seem to be home to a strange set of beings."
"The largest landmass? Are you sure? How have our people not run into each other before now if we each live in such large parts of the world, unless..."
Izzy trailed off, staring into space. Her eyes flickered with recognition as the pieces fell into face. "Oh," she said.
"Oh damn." Izzy sank back into her seat suddenly, holding her head with one hand, oblivious to Maki's protest.
The human girl stared hard into the trains floorboards. "I must have gone farther than I thought..." she muttered to herself.
"...it explains so many things..."
Maki stopped sketching, putting the pad to the side, before ducking underneath the table to look up at Izzy, "Uhm, human girl? Are you okay?"
"Oh, nothing, I just realized I may have slipped through the cracks of reality and fallen into another. Or maybe I found a passage to a distant, inhabited planet and you're all aliens." Izzy looked around the train in a daze.
"Maybe I've hit my head and this is all just a product of my own feverish imagination come to haunt me." She waved a hand in front of Mhera's face. "Somebody pinch me, maybe I'll wake up."
Mhera turned from the window to look at Izzy, before gently taking the outstretched hand, "If you fall out of your nest, what do you do?" She asks, "You still have what you bring with you, and your strength," She noted, poking Izzy's fingertip with the tip of one of her claws.
Yipe!" Izzy squeaked, snapping to and drawing her hand back before the sharp claw could penetrate her skin.
"Well, I'm not dreaming at least." She looked out the window at the passing scenery, pensive for a moment, "Man... I bet there is a ton of aetheric wildlife out there that's never been discovered by anyone. Present company excluded, of course."
A well of newfound energy suddenly sprung up from within Izzy's being. She stood up suddenly, going to the window.
"Hah! A-hahaha!" The human girl made an impressive amount of sound for her stature. She turned on Maki with a look in her eye and a striking pose that the small felyne was not soon to forget. "And you're going to get me started. Tell. Me. Everything."
Posted on 2016-05-20 at 00:48:53.
Edited on 2016-05-20 at 00:50:34 by Reralae
For her part, Maki was a fair teacher, but with her knowledge being primarily in gathering and compounding, she wasn't able to supply too much beyond what her books provided in other areas. One of the books that she had was the one that she pulled out earlier, being a brief, illustrated overview of the various races.
"There are more, which is to say the ones we call Elders, but they generally keep to themselves, and actually have two forms: one that looks closer to you or me, and one that is much larger and more wild. They're more like embodiments of natural forces than people," Maki explained.
"The races have their own traits, but there are a few mostly-shared things among them," Mhera interjected suddenly, "There's the rage aspect, which I'm sure you've already seen. It's fairly obvious for Nargacuga, with the glowing red eyes.”
"Wait, red glowing eyes? You're kidding me, right? No teasing the new girl now, I think I'd have noticed if Kara's eyes were glowing."
Mhera blinked, "You're joking. She was in battle and didn't-?" She looked a bit troubled, tapping a claw tip idly on the table, "I've never known her not to rely on her rage in battle," Mhera shook her head, "That aside, rage, as the name implies, is very emotional. The emotion is channeled with the stress that the body is under in order to amplify one's strength, speed, and endurance for a time," She explained.
"It that bad or is that good that she didn't do it? I mean, she might have. I was surrounded by the little guys at the time so I might have missed it," Izzy asked.
Mhera shrugged, "I'm not sure. If I had to guess, maybe it was because when she lets go, she can be very dangerous, and she was concerned about you. She can be more beast than not sometimes, especially in the midst of combat."
Mhera trailed off a moment, before nodding, "To return to what I was saying though, another aspect shared by many of the races has to do with size. Generally speaking, the larger an individual member is relative to the average, the more powerful they are."
"With Kara, well... that's why it's surprising to hear her not use her rage," Mhera finished, leaning back to look out the window at the black shape bounding along not too far from the train tracks, "She measures herself against what she feels she should be able to do, and uses her rage to close that gap."
Izzy followed Mhera's gaze, falling silent in thought.
"...No wonder she's so neurotic."
"That is what happens being the eldest of a litter, but also the smallest," Mhera murmured.
Izzy threw her hands up. "Err, no offense, of course."
Maki put the book on the table away, "I still think you should join the Chroniclers. You have a very curious mind," She said, reaching to poke Izzy in the forehead, "But that's up to you. Were there any notes you wanted? I should be able to copy some pages for you before we get to Haven if you wanted."
"Hopefully I'm not going to be here long enough to need permanent employment, but I'll take it under consideration. If it's not too much trouble, though, I'd like your field notes for identifying common flora and fauna, including note of their useful properties for combining."
Izzy scratched her chin for a moment. "...and if you have time, maybe your notes on nargacuga physiology."
"Nyao problem~" Maki replied, pulling out an empty book and starting to copy notes, while also leaving the book of species out left on the pages for Nargacuga for Izzy to peruse more thoroughly while Maki copied the other notes first.
Posted on 2016-05-20 at 00:56:26.
Edited on 2016-05-20 at 00:56:44 by Reralae
After a while, Mhera muttered, "I knew it," before standing up and going to the door, "I'll be back in a while. I need to talk to Topaz."
"Hmm?" Izzy looked up to see Mhera leaving. "What did she know do you wonder?"
Maki looked up, "What now?" She asked, before glancing out the window, "Ah. Well, if you wanted proof that Mhera wasn't just giving you an empty acorn, look out there."
The black shape that was moving with the train was now outpacing it, moving faster than before, with a small but visible afterimage from its red eyes. Izzy could also probably feel the train beginning to slow down.
Izzy watched the way the raging nargacuga moved. She was leaping from tree too tree, using her arm wings to glide at high speeds over the ground, followed by twin trails of red light seeming to trail after her eyes like the tail on a comet. Kara eventually moved ahead out of sight as the train slowed down and she outpaced the locomotive with her overexertion.
Izzy easily met and exceeded the few expectations placed on her as a child, even if her grades suffered whenever she lost interest in the subject. She couldn't imagine what drove Kara to push herself so hard.
After a moment the train caught up with the eldest Nargacuga, who had finally come to a stop.
After a while, both Kara and the train stopped. In the train's case it was a gradual stop as no brakes were applied. Mhera could be seen dashing out and picking Kara up, before returning to the train, and it began moving again. After another moment, Mhera returned to the compartment.
Izzy wanted to ask where Kara was, but she was probably resting, or maybe physically restrained, in another part of the train.
"Topaz says that we should reach Haven in just a couple of hours now," Mhera reported, sitting back down where she was before.
"A few more hours? It's going to be past dark by then. You mean that crazy girl was going to keep up running for the entire day?"
Mhera nodded, before chuckling, "And the thing is, it wouldn't be the first time. If she were in peak condition, she could do it," Mhera smiled a moment before it faltered and she reconsidered, "Although, it'd wear her out for the good part of the next day."
Maki added, "Also probably if she weren't trying to keep pace with the train."
Mhera nodded, "That too."
Izzy rubbed her head with one hand. "I don't think I would last very long in your world. The things you people do without using aetheric assistance just boggles the mind."
For a moment Izzy shared in the girls' exasperation with their older sister/companion. "I thought she was supposed to be recalled for a special mission tomorrow. She'd better rest up proper and not be relying on Energy Drinks to keep her going. She knows what that stuff will do to you if you have too much."
Maki grins and pokes Izzy in the side, "Don't say that! Lynians aren't nearly as sturdy or powerful as the others, but just because we can't match the physical might of other races doesn't mean we don't have our own niches. Science and technology are our friends."
Mhera chuckled, "It's true. That's why even the smallest teams have an even count of Lynians to others."
"All right! Science and technology are my friends, too!" Izzy threw her hand up to the small cat-creature to receive a high-five.
The night spent after arrival at Haven was, all in all, cosy. The thunderbug lanterns kept the streets lit under the starry sky, yet not uncomfortably bright, excepting the occasional flash of electric discharge. Despite it being the capital, there was not a whole lot of hustle and bustle at the time they arrived, due to various people beginning to settle down for the evening. Kara still looked a bit fatigued, but not as bad off as she otherwise would have been if she had not been stopped. She took the time to go to the scout barracks to file her report. In the meantime, Maki made sure to point out the Chroniclers Guild building to Izzy as they made their way to one of the inns.
In the morning, their breakfast, strangely similar to cereal, was interrupted by a Felyne messenger dropping off a letter with a visible gold seal at their table before dashing off, clearly a busy maieowkitty.
Izzy glanced down at the message, picking up Kara's mail without a second thought.
"Whoa. That looks fancy." She turned the envelope over in her hands, inspecting it. "Who do you think it's from?"
Kara reached over to retrieve the envelope back from Izzy, "Only mail that is allowed to have a seal that shiny is official, probably from her Golden Majesty," She replied.
"Heh." Izzy smirked, handing over the envelope. "Golden. Kinda got a theme going here, doesn't she?"
Kara held the envelope before biting a corner and ripping it open with a quick jerk of her jaw. Evidently she's used to opening envelopes this way. A stationary card fell out, same seal on it, with a quick glance indicating a request to meet at the misty gardens at tierce.
"Misty gardens, eh? Does it say who it's from? Oh! Maybe it's a trap and somebody's planning to ambush you!"
"You have quite the imagination," Kara chuckled, "It's probably so I can be briefed on the mission I was called back for, and yes, she does have a theme. It's hard for her not to given... well I won't spoil that for you. When you see her you'll see," Kara actually giggled, before finishing her bowl.
"Fine, maybe it is the boring answer, spoil sport. Do I have to go with you if you're just going to go talk to some people? Your boss said you had to look after me, but I promise I won't get into any trouble while you're gone."
"Spoil what? Hey, what's that suppose to mean? What are you hiding?"
Kara points at the card, "She would like to meet you as well. It is addressed to both of us, though I am not sure if your name is written like this."
Kara leans in a bit, "I'm guessing it's because she would like to know what a human is as well. She does have a particular curiosity, even if her position means that she doesn't fly far from Haven very often."
"Wait, I'm going to meet the queen?" Izzy squeaked. She slid down in her seat until her head was barely above the level of the table. "Eep."
Kara nodded, "Don't worry. She's not scary unless she means to be."
Izzy gulped audibly. "Right, like that's comforting. Here even the cute and harmless looking people have at least claws or fangs!"
Kara tilted her head, "Yes?" She looked confused, "And you have what you have. I can't see it, but you showed me it's there. It's part of you, right?" She asked.
"Yeah, sure, it's a part of me when I come armed to the teeth! You're right tho'. After all, how bad could she be if she's not trying to eat me, right? I've never met a real queen before. Or seen a real queen. She is real, right? Not one of those kinds that wave a people and go waltzin' around like celebrities. Meeting one of those would be pretty cool, too, though, I guess."
Kara tilts her head, "Well, I don't know any other queens," She pointed out.
* * *
The misty gardens as they were called were named appropriately because of the water features spaced evenly through the hedge labyrinth. Mistenflowers lined the arches that Kara and Izzy walked under as they made their way to the meeting place. They were definitely there earlier than the person who was going to meet them, but Kara's eyes kept sweeping across the different paved entranceways expectantly.
"We'll probably see her umbrella before we see her," Kara noted aloud.
"If you can see anything with all this cover. Not to sound paranoid, but you'd think this place was designed to make it impossible to see a sneak attack coming."
Izzy had slipped her goggles into place after a few moments in the garden. She was now fiddling with them periodically, staring distractedly at various feature, or vaguely off into the mists. Despite her misgivings, Izzy had come without her armour. She was no expert on social niceties, but she was pretty sure it was poor manners to come to greet a queen while arrayed for combat. Especially if said queen could probably crush you if suitably offended, armour or no.
"What do you call those weird flowers over there?"
"This is her favourite meeting spot actually. I suppose it's the same reasons why it'd be good for ambushes, but in the opposite direction," Kara muses, before following where Izzy was pointing, "Those? Mistenflowers. They like high altitudes and are very low maintenance, so often just used for decoration," Kara replies.
Suddenly she points at one of the hedges. At first it looks like the others, but as movement catches the eye a very not-hiding dome of grey lace can be seen moving towards one of the entrances.
"I do hope I haven't kept you waiting."
The absurdly wide lace umbrella was held up by a felyne that walked alongside the queen. True to her title, even with the sunlight dampened by the umbrella, the Rathian's scales gleamed golden, to the point that the scales along the top of her head made a natural crown for her.
"It was Ka-ra and Iz-eye, right?" She asked as she approached, "Written reports really don't give much of a sense for how names are spoken sometimes."
Izzy's jaw dropped. Had her eyes not been covered by her goggles, they would be popping out of their sockets. "That's her Golden Majesty?" she whispered to Kara. "Her name's a tad... literal... don't you think?"
Kara couldn't help it. She could not keep a straight face and had to laugh at Izzy's reaction.
Aurelia smiled, "My, I believe that's the first time I have seen you relax, Kara."
Kara rubbed her forehead and quickly recomposed herself, "Sorry about that. Izzy was just really surprised."
"My title, correct?" Aurelia chuckled, "Yes, it is a bit literal, but it's better to be literal intentionally than provide a false impression. Also makes it very difficult for anyone to use it falsely. Unfortunately it does mean I can be quite blinding to people when I don't wish to, hence the umbrella," She smiles at her companion felyne before looking at Izzy, "I am Aurelia, and welcome to Haven, young Human. Kara reported that you are very new to our land, but I do hope you haven't been too overwhelmed. Tell me, what do you think of what you have seen so far?"
“Well..." Izzy started. She looked down at her feet, pulling up her goggles absentmindedly. "Well so far I've had my stuff stolen by cats, I've nearly been eaten by a pack of weirdos, I've been sniffed more times than I can count, I've ridden on a train, I've studied the biology of a people never heard of where I'm from, and now I've come face to face with a real, live queen who is literally golden. All in all, I'd say it's been over all pretty exhilarating."
Kara prods Izzy in the side at the sniffing comment, "You would too if you used your nose for identifying quarry more."
Aurelia chuckles, "You should see my counterpart. He is silver," She pauses as though considering a moment, "It certainly says something about your kind that they can go through events that they could not have expected, and still persevere. I believe I have a request of you."
Kara tilted her head in suspicion, but Aurelia continued, "Our neighbours to the south have always been difficult at the best of times, but lately they've turned increasingly unreasonable. We are not expecting an Everwood approach, but if they go that way, Kara's sister will be able to warn us. I'm more concerned that it's a ruse, and that they'll strike at the supply line through the swamps that connects with the our primary harbour. Even if the Abyssal kingdom does not share our plight, they will have a vested interest in preventing the spread of the Black Brigade, and that harbour is our primary point of contact. I would like you two to investigate and counter their scouting parties if they are indeed striking there."
"Uh..." Izzy said. She glanced back to Kara. The nargacuga's face had fallen completely blank. At least she wasn't the only one blindsided by the request. "You meant Kara and her felyne, right?"
Aurelia shook her head, "I take a certain pride in trying to understand those I am responsible for. Kara, you will have a companion this time, and that is the end of it. Stop by the guild, and pick up supplies for the journey."
Kara visibly grit her teeth, but nodded, quickly bounding over the hedges as she left.
The queen sighed, sitting on one of the benches, "I was being honest earlier. It's rare for Kaera to relax, even if briefly. Mhera reported that you two have basically been together since you met. That is longer than any felyne has been able to stay with Kaera. She interacts with you differently, but this is not just about her," She considers Izzy more, "When I read Kaera's report, I considered what it meant. You somehow arrived to this place. More specifically, you either brought yourself here, or someone else did. If it's someone else, I do not know their intentions, and you finding them would be better than them finding you. But if it was you that brought yourself here, then you also have the potential to return home. A potential that could be honed through practical applications. Does this make sense?"
Izzy chewed her lip in thought for a moment. "Hmm... Not at all, no--but it certainly sounds like one hell of an adventure anyway. Uh, your majesty."
Aurelia smiled, "Well, my intuition is that if you are trying to return to where you are from, you'll be more likely to stumble across it than just staying here anyway. Perhaps literally, as far as the Elderwood is concerned," She pauses once more, "Kaera has a guardian's heart, no matter how much she might try to deny it. The first hatched usually do. No matter what happens, she will protect you." She stands up, "I suppose it's time to take care of other business. Look after her, won't you?" She asks, before walking back the way she came.
Shortly after, Kara bounds back with a silent thud, carrying a fresh acorn pack for Izzy, looking a bit exasperated, "Yeah, I know you have your own pack, but they didn't know that, so they lumped the acorn in as well."
The queen left before Izzy had a chance to ask her which way led out of the garden and back to where she was staying. Fortunately, Kara returned before that would have become a problem.
Izzy took the acorn pack unquestioningly. "So... I'm your felyne companion now?" She looked skeptically at the large acorn dangling by the strap. Perhaps it was her nerves finally catching up to her, now that the meeting had gone smoothly, or maybe it was just one too many strange things to ignore. Either way, Izzy burst out cackling. "Just what do they think I'm going to do with this? I couldn't even fit the contents of one pouch in this thing, much less store my collection!" Izzy's giggling subsided. "Oh, well, maybe I'll be able to put it to some good use." Izzy popped the cap off and peered inside. "Oh hey, there's actually some pretty useful stuff in here."
Izzy's attention returned to Kara. After that good laugh, she was feeling a bit more daring. Meeting with the most powerful woman in the land before lunch? She was on top of it. Join in the war of a people you barely know in a strange and hostile territory? Sure, why not? It's not like she'd been any stranger to danger back home. Only now the danger was infinitely more interesting because she had no idea what to expect. This would truly be an excellent test run of her devices.
"All right, kitty cat, what's the first item on the questing docket?"
Unlike the train ride from the Everwood to Haven, the train line towards the Abyss Harbour was far more active. Almost all compartments ended up full of either passengers or cargo. Before they left, though, Kara quickly spoke one more time with Mhera, "When you get back,"
"That's if, sis."
"No, when you get back, be sure to let them know what's going on, right?"
"Ol' Melos usually knows anyway, but of course."
"And get your mark. It feels weird that you haven't graduated yet. You're more than capable."
"Haha, okay okay."
With that done, Kara and Izzy had a compartment on the train to themselves as they traveled.
The train ride was uneventful, but decently long before they reached their stop, a point about two thirds of the way along the line, if the helpful map was any guide. Unlike the Everwood line, the train on this side travelled faster, which might have explained why Kara didn't attempt train chasing this time around.
Izzy stepped off the train. She'd been watching the clouds gather overhead before they pulled into the cave. "I'm going to get wet, aren't I?"
"Lagoon outpost. Sometimes also called the flooded forest, but it's not too flooded," Kara mused aloud as they disembarked, "Guess we might as well try our luck with one of the Gobul to hear if there's any local news. It'll be a bit of a trek to find one though."
"Not too flooded?" Izzy asked. "There's a river running through the train station! The water's over my knees!"
"Gimme just a sec, I need to adjust." Izzy sat down on a bench and began stripping off her boots. There was no way she was getting these fine stompers ruined by running through deep water. She tied the laces together and hung them from her pack. "There, I'm all set. At least as long as there are no vicious biting river fish or eels in this area. There aren't, are there?"
Kara tilts her head, "Yeah, the water's over mine too, but you can just-" She pauses as she catches herself, "No, I mean, I'd call it flooding if it was higher."
She considers Izzy's question, "Fish? Just the regular food size fish mostly. I wouldn't suggest eating any arowana though, and I haven't seen any eels."
Kara quickly leapt at a tree and climbed up along it, taking a quick look around, "… okay, south it is," She drops back down and points, "If we go this way we'll reach one of the lakes, and we can check if a Gobul is around. Speaking of which… how are you at swimming?" She asks as she starts heading along the way she pointed.
Izzy waded into the water a couple steps, looking up at Kara. "Let me guess, you're not even going to have to get wet, are you?" The water wasn't bad. It wasn't freezing cold, at any rate. At its deepest it almost came up to the hem of her skirt. She hiked it up an extra inch just to be safe.
"There was this frog pond near where I grew up, I learned to swim pretty well there, so I can if I have to. I'm better when there's no current and I don't have to worry about drowning."
Izzy made no bones about following Kara on ground level through the water. She was prepared to get wet, so she was hardly going to be shy about it now. Besides, there was something about the way the mud squished between her toes that reminded her distinctly of home.
Kara smiled, "Trust me, if you have fur you really don't like the feeling of it matting and… yeah. Just uncomfortable. Shouldn't be any strong currents in that lake though."
The going certainly got easier once they reached higher ground, as they took a detour around what seemed to be a branch in the river system, and the ground remained above water level as they reached the lake that Kara saw earlier.
As they went, however, there was small signs of things amiss. Namely disturbed vegetation, even some felled trees, though they were likely old or rotted to begin with.
"Ugh. I'd rather not swim but, they like to make their hermit huts underwater," Kara muttered as she steeled herself.
"The people we're trying to find live in huts under the water? What are they fish--" Izzy cut off as something dawned on her. "Oh, go-bul! Of course! I didn't realize it was pronounced like--yikes, that would have been a rather unfortunate name given... certain physical features.." Izzy devolved to muttering to herself for a second.
"So what's the plan--do we make a full circuit of the area and hope to catch somebody out and about? I don't know about gobul, but where I'm from, people don't much like it when outsiders just drop in."
Izzy glanced down at the lake. The water was murky with silt. She fidgeted with her goggles. She was pretty sure she just saw something large pass just under the surface a dozen yards to the right.
"Maybe we could ask one of the animals if they've seen anybody around? Preferably not something large and hungry like an aligator. Just for example."
Kara tilted her head, "Well, we wouldn't be crashing through their ceiling. Their houses aren't that flimsy. They're just underwater. That being said… if you can think of a way where we don't have to swim, that would be… much better than swimming"
Izzy scanned her surroundings. Mainly plants. Plants and bugs. She could try asking one of the insects, but even if she did get one that didn't fly off immediately, chances were very low it would have bothered to remember seeing anything much larger than itself that was neither prey nor predator. The plants, on the other hand, had excellent peripheral awareness--only problem, ironically, was getting one to notice the question, then waiting for it to decide on the answer. Most likely it wouldn't be much faster than just walking around the lake hoping to bump into somebody.
"Welp." Izzy looked out over the lake. "I guess there's really nothing else for it. We'll have to go under."
"So, we go change, then meet back here in fi--" the human girl turned Kara. Very suddenly she became aware of the full ramifications of a society in which fur and scale had invalidated most of the need for clothing.
Izzy's tannish face flushed with pinkish red. "Uh, er. Right." She coughed unconvincingly, staring at her toes. "No sense wasting time, then."
Izzy quickly stripped out of her armour and down to her undergarments and stuffed her clothing into her bag.
After she closed the bag she drew a seal in the air over the opening. "There. I've locked it off so nothing gets wet." The seal glowed for a moment around the mouth of her backpack, then faded.
Finally, Izzy covered her mouth with one hand and focused.
"And that should be everything." She threw her backpack over her shoulder and picked up her sword. "All set."
Kara looked very confused at Izzy's reddish coloration, "Your cheeks are red," She pointed out, "Is that supposed to mean something?" She'd ask, in case it was something that Izzy needed to be aware of. She wouldn't know really.
"Nothing! Nothing! Not a thing!" Izzy squeaked, suddenly shy, at Kara's inquiry. She turned partly away from her companion, failing to conceal that the peculiar colour was deepening further.
With a nod, Kara leapt into the water. Despite reservations about swimming, she actually didn't cause much of a disturbance along the lake's surface.
It didn't take too long to find a house that looked very out of place on the floor of the lake, with most of the silt actually hovering near the surface of the water rather than in the middle of it. It was strange looking, but didn't have a door on it. Instead, it was more like an underwater cave system, with enough of a lip that you had to swim up to enter, preventing most of the water from entering.
"Ey! Anybeast home?" Kara called inside.
"Aint my mess, I tell you! Razafrazzin outsiders making a mess out there! Not me!" Came the reply, the lantern providing enough light to give Izzy a full on look at the Gobul, and just how many teeth and hinting at how wide his mouth actually could open.
Whatever had been wrong with Izzy's face returned to normal by the time they made it into the water. Aided by her goggles, Izzy could see better than she expected, though still not very well all considered. Pointedly she noticed a rather large shape swimming docily away--though she didn't know what it was called, the epioth did not look particularly dangerous.
The gobul man swayed with a peculiar gait as he walked through the cave, causing the lantern dangling over his head to flail about haphazardly. It was only when he stopped moving to size the two girls up that Izzy's eyes had adjusted. It was like his whole body plan had been designed around his massive mouth, which he now kept closed in a tight frown. Even though he wasn't very much taller than them, he was almost as wide as he was tall, so he dwarfed the girls by comparison.
"Uh, what ain't your mess?" Izzy asked.
The fish man's small eyes turned to her. Suddenly she felt naked without her armour--more out of realization that her soaked undershirt would prove very poor comparison than out of any lingering misplaced sense of modesty.
"Oh no, you don't. Don't play me for a fool, you weird looking felyne! I did nothing. Get outta here," The grump huffed as he continued advancing towards Kara and Izzy.
Kara gave a growl in response, a low tone, but still distinctively a growl, "Calm down. I'm not here for you. What's with the outsiders you're talking about? Where are they?"
"Right in front of me I bet. What, knocking trees down willy nilly, scaring the food away wasn't enough for you? Got to get into my home too? What's your deal? Aren't you just a kid?" The Gobul stared intently at Kara.
Kara bared and grit her teeth, her eyes flickering red even with the low light of the lantern. If there was one thing that could press her buttons, it was comments about her height or apparent age.
Oh dear. Izzy stepped in, placing a hand on Kara's shoulder. "Let's see how talking goes, first. There'll be plenty of time to see who kicks who's ass later."
"And you," Izzy's tone took a decidedly more dangerous cadence. "You weird-looking fish! You call this grotto your home, do you? Why y'ain't even invited your guests in yet!" The small girl marched on the gobul, leaving behind dripping footprints. She came face-to-face with the rotund fish monster, standing on tip-toe to come close to the level of his beady eyes. "O'course I'd like be a might cranky if all my food had gone run away, too. Suppose that's why it took us so long to find any sign of life in these waters, that right? Something or someone's been scaring all the fi--err, food out of the water."
"So now that we're all on the same page, I'd thank you not to let your irritation overcome your better judgement such that y'd be threatening a couple of girls you mistook for children. Now how about y'be tellin' us all about what's been happening 'round here and let two Agents of the crown see if they don't just figure out your problems for ya?"
That last bit was probably the riskiest thing. Folks like this gobul were just as likely to spit in the face of any perceived meddling from the central authority, but Izzy was riding on the hope that he'd see the advantages of letting somebody else make his problems their problem and do the dirty work for him.
"Hold up there. Signs of life, y'say? Just gimme a minute here." Moving strangely fast for a rotund critter, he managed to shuffle past Izzy and was down the cave lip before either of them could react, bowling Kara back into the water in his haste. Who knew they could shuffle so fast? Kara quickly reappeared, growling at the unexpected plunge, and there was the sound of something like a very rapid wind storm echo into the cave, before it suddenly stopped.
Taking a breath, Kara rubbed the back of her head, walking closer to Izzy, "I guess he really was hungry," She tilted her head at Izzy, "Your voice seemed to change though when you were-"
"Ahhhhh~! That hits the spot!" The gobul waddled back into the cave, stomach visibly gorged with what must have been the recent meal, "You two are alright. Bloke yer probably after, sounded like 'e was headed north east, perhaps headed towards the falls."
Kara almost had the complete 'why couldn't you have just said that earlier' look to her face, but didn't voice it.
Izzy lent Kara a hand crawling back out of the water. Before the nargacuga could finish half her sentence, the gobul was back, now approaching a fully spherical shape with his latest meal. If before he came close to filling the entrance to his hut, now it was a fact.
"Just one, then? Headed northeast? That's... actually very helpful." Izzy rubbed her arm, the bravado from a moment ago gone. If she'd known the fastest way to his heart would have been through his stomach, she'd have packed a lot more food. "I guess we should go check it out right away. Thank-you, sir."
There was some manoeuvring to get past the engorged fishman before the girls could leave, and both Izzy and Kara found themselves standing flat against the walls while gobul came out of the hut's entrance. Izzy looked down at the water--she was almost beginning to feel dry already. Oh well, there was no point drying off down here. She pulled her goggles down again over her eyes and turned to Kara. "You ready?"
Kara nodded to Izzy, diving back into the water. Perhaps it was a good thing that gobul tended to swallow its prey whole - that meant there was no cadaver remnants awaiting either Kara or Izzy as they left and returned to the surface. Once they reached there, the surface of the water was busy being broken by the droplets the clouds decided they finally were ready to part with.
Izzy surfaced and moaned at the sky. "Oh good, it's not like I was looking forward to putting on dry clothes, anyway."
"Blegh, well, if I wasn't wet already this would be more annoying than it is," Kara muttered, her breath misting in front of her from the faint chill of the air. She paused, tilting her head upward to sniff at the air, "You'd better put your armour back on either way."
Izzy shivered, noticing the drop in temperature more now that she was out of the water. "Good idea. If it was just one guy who's been knocking down trees in this area, I'd better be in full gear."
The air seemed a bit colder, but that was probably just due to the rain. Stepping to one side, Kara took the opportunity to try and shake much of the water off of her fur, even though it was a futile gesture in the long term, seeing as the weather, even if it was currently a soft rain, would do its part in keeping her from being dry. Izzy likewise took the opportunity to get dressed again without Kara's observation. Which totally was a completely rational justification. Okay it wasn't but when you're from a culture that has a nudity taboo, it's a bit hard to shake off.
Kara leapt onto a tree stump just before the path upward towards the waterfall area. She stayed crouched on all fours, head raised to the air. "Damn rain, even this mist is masking scents. Guess we'll have to be ready in case they're there."