It was a wonderfully breezy, late spring day, the air that just-right temperature that induced folk young and old to desire the great outdoors, to enjoy the sun, clear skies, and gentle breeze. The remaining dampness on the ground from last night's rain slowly evaporated to the clear air, shadows slowly growing shorter as mid-morning began to approach noon.
The village was a happy one, if hardened by its frontier status - with minimal outside aid to be expected, its inhabitants had to rely on each other for support and supplies, to rebuild in times of disaster, to expand when families were had or newcomers chose to settle down in this still young settlement. Though its walls were high to shield Draklings from potential megafauna attacks, the gate itself was wide open, the guards relaxed and cheerfully greeting what few visitors came.
The western edge of the village transitioned into forest, while the eastern end was open to the plains.
It was a pleasant, if somewhat odd, change from the familiar colder lands Sylvanus had grown accustomed to in his newest reincarnation. He kindly returned the guards' greeting at the gate, and walked steadily on in. Despite his mass, he made little noise other than the usual crunching of dirt under his hooves and the brushing of grass. He earned quite a few odd looks from the townsfolk, what with being covered in so much metal and sporting six long, tentacle-like metal appendages along his back.
He caught a few looks of wonder and awe from children, whose mothers drew them along and away. He couldn't help smiling to himself, even though he doubted he was going to find a trace of what, or who, he sought.
Still, he had to try. He started asking around town about possible sightings of any of his friends, first inquiring about an albino man, who perhaps was travelling with several others. It took roughly an hour before someone had an answer that made his ears prick up.
"I saw someone like you describe with Theodeth. You should go talk to him," a middle-aged, dull brown Drakiri told him.
"And where can I find this Theodeth?" Sylvanus asked. His voice was a deep baritone, just shy of being bass, though he had long made effort to keep it from being loud to other Drakiri.
He was given directions to Theodeth's home, which also happened to be the local clinic and infirmary. Interest piqued, Sylvanus thanked the helpful Drakiri and went on his way.
It was with a dozen questions in mind that he shortly found himself knocking on the doctor's door with one of his mechatens.
"Kéveith, could you get the door for me?" a soft-spoken, low baritone voice asked, too quiet through the door for a normal Drakiri's hearing, but which Sylvanus' augmented hearing readily picked up on.
"Sure," a lighter voice, clearly female, replied. "Think it's Sand Dune again?"
There was a sigh, though it belied fondness as well as exasperation. "Knowing Dune, it may well be."
Some moments later, the carved, warm-coloured wooden door opened, revealing a warbred keirolté - while her extremely pale, unmarked coat made her unusual, it was her silver eyes that belied her as a true rarity to those familiar with her kind. She blinked at the metal-coated Primal, then smiled up at him. "Well, you're definitely not Dune. You're the exact opposite of small. Still, there anything we can help you with?"
Sylvanus blinked down at the keirolté - it had been quite some time since he had encountered one. Still, it was a pleasant surprise. He smiled. "Yes, actually. I'm looking for some old friends and heard Dr Theodeth might know them."
"Theo's currently putting some herbs back into preservation, but you can come in if you're not in a rush." Kéveith stood aside to let him in, even as she continued talking. "You're one of the only Drakiri I've heard call Theo 'doctor,' I hope the formality doesn't mean someone got injured."
It was a bit of a tight fit to get through the doorway, and Sylvanus had to tuck his mechatens in close to avoid knocking anything over once he was through. "Only being polite," he assured Kéveith. "Speaking of which, my name is Alexander Sylvanus, but most call me only by my last name."
"I'm Kéveith, nothing fancy about me," the keirolté introduced herself with a smile, then lead Sylvanus down the hall to the sitting room. While the hallway was large enough to accommodate the primal, the sitting room was more readily comfortable for someone so large. Warm wooden furnishings enchanted for sturdiness were wide, clearly meant to seat either many or those who were quite large, though the cushions looked to be hand-made. "Nice to meet you, Sylvanus. Though now you have me tempted to call you Alex instead."
Sylvanus smiled. "Please don't." He found a place to sit, and let his long mechatens coil up behind him along with his even longer tail.
Kéveith chuckled, then took a seat aside from him. "Who is it you're looking for? I see everyone who comes and goes here, so I might be able to help while Theodeth's busy."
"An albino man by the name of Sholto, and anywhere from one to five other travelers he might be with. I was told someone who matches his description was seen with Theodeth not too long ago."
"Oh, he and Sage were here a few days ago," Kéveith replied, blinking. "I'm not at liberty to say what about, but they're both fine. Prefers an anthro form, five foot eleven, pale as a ghost, has crystals for scales and horn, that the Sholto you're looking for?"
Sylvanus' ears perked up once more. "Yes, that sounds like him. Do you know where he and Sage have gone?"
"They've been living nearby. Sage moved in when the village was founded, found Sholto in a forest somewhere and so he came to stay. Fastest romance I've ever seen. Theodeth knows their address."
"They have a longer history than you might guess." Sylvanus' tailtip wagged slowly. "As do I. How long has this village been here? Still seems rather new."
"Oh, about thirteen years or so." Kéveith gave a shrug, folded wing rising and falling with the motion. "I haven't been here that long, but Theodeth has been here almost as long as Sage. Since he's the only healer who's ventured here, he's taken it upon himself-"
It was then that the sound of hooves walking calmly on a wooden floor were heard, and Kéveith's ear flicked in the direction of the door before she turned her head. The Drakiri that came to stand in the doorway was more or less average in height for a Kainu, a pleasant-looking chestnut with simple, stripy markings of white and dark brown that went down his back, streaks of dark brown also running through his mane. Metallic, forest-green scales brought out a man who might otherwise have seemed plain, pale yellow eyes taking in the scene - and Sylvanus' appearance - with an observant, friendly calm.
"Good morning," the Drakiri greeted Sylvanus with a smile. "Were you the visitor looking for me? I am Theodeth, healer and herbalist."
Sylvanus nodded, returning the smile. "Alexander Sylvanus, engineer, medic, and scientist, among other things. I came in search of some old friends, and it turns out you're the link. Though, I'm curious now, are you the sole doctor here?"
Theodeth inclined his head, and moved to take a seat near Kéveith - revealing his fluffy, feline-like tail as he did so. "I am, though I have been training Kéveith here, in case I ever become indisposed. Times are hard on occasion, but it has been more than worth it. Who-"
Kéveith met Theo's eyes, and the two were silent for a moment as the keirolté gave him a telepathic information dump. The Kainu was silent for a few moments longer as he processed it, then inclined his head as he looked back to Sylvanus. "Sage and Sholto are in good health, and they check back here regularly. It is likely that they are out at this time of day, but you may stay here to wait for them, if you like."
"Are they supposed to check in with you today?" Concern crept into Sylvanus' voice. "What for?"
Theodeth was silent for a few moments and his head tilted towards Kéveith. What can you tell me of his aura? the kainu asked through the mindlink.
Brilliant, kind, eccentric...concerned, no sign of malice, the keirolté replied. I don't feel he means either of them any harm, and I feel that he is a friend to them. His song supports this.
Theodeth gave a mental nod of acknowledgement, and it was this information that directly influenced his decision as he answered Sylvanus' question. "Sage is pregnant. Too early to tell how many eggs, but she's been fine with barely any morning sickness."
Sylvanus' scaled eyebrows went up. "Well, they got busy fast, didn't they?" he chuckled softly. "In that case, thank you for seeing to them. I'm sure they still manage to get into all sorts of difficult matters."
Theodeth smiled. "I wouldn't be a healer if I didn't care, and they're far from the only trouble magnets in this village."
"That somehow doesn't surprise me. Have you been caught up in any of it?"
The Kainu fell silent for a bit, remembering all the various misadventures, some of which had very nearly ended in tragedy. He nodded. "On a couple of occasions, it was fortunate I was there. I'd have lost some good friends had I not been."
"How frequently does trouble occur around these parts?" Sylvanus' tailtip swished gently. "I can't imagine much happens way out here."
"Monthly attacks from various strange creatures, including demons, Sand Dune's ill-thoughtout adventures, random wildlife attacks from creatures your size or larger...no, nothing much happens at all." Theodeth could not help his sarcasm.
Sylvanus grinned. "I see. Indeed, it sounds very dull. You must get extremely bored."
"Terribly, that's why I bury myself in books when not tailing those about to do something potentially stupid. Mostly Sand Dune."
"I sense fond exasperation with this one. A good friend, at least?"
"He is. Dune is intelligent when he applies himself and a good friend to have, but his common sense is severely lacking. He's also a klutz."
"So what you're saying is he's your most frequent customer."
"He and Pyralsartine, though Pyral isn't as frequent and does have some sense."
"I hope Sage and Sholto haven't caused you much trouble...?"
"They're two of the least frequent. They've only been here because of injury once, the rest has been health checks and arcana studies together."
"Oh? And how are the studies coming?"
"Quite well. Sage has taken to alchemy, as his spells seem to consistently fail. Sholto's a natural like I am."
"Ahh still with Sage? That's a shame, but it's good to know he's pursuing alternatives. When are they supposed to come for their next check-up, by the way?"
"Late today, or early tomorrow. Depends on if someone needs more urgent care before then."
"How late today are you expecting?"
As if to answer Sylvanus' question, there came a knock at the door.
Theodeth went to rise, then stilled as Kéveith beat him to it. The keirolté swiftly took to her feet and trotted off to answer the door. Theodeth took a moment to process, then smiled and stood up fully himself.
"That might be them now," he said to Sylvanus. "A bit early, but not unusually so."
Sylvanus rose as well, several of his mechaten clamps clicking open and closed. He grinned. "Well, I hope they'll appreciate the surprise."
An all-too-familiar voice reached his pricked up ears, and he started to head for the front door.
"Good afternoon, Kéveith," Sholto said, smiling down pleasantly at the keirolté. "Is Theodeth busy with someone? These are some large prints."
"Actually, a friend of yours came looking for you," Kéveith replied with a smile of her own, then stood aside to let Sholto and Sage in. "He's with Theodeth now, they're probably not far behind me."
Theodeth followed after Sylvanus, managing to keep pace with the Primal's long strides.
"A friend?" Sholto repeated as he stepped inside. Still holding onto Sage's hand, he put some distance between themselves and the nearest doors. "Who?"
"Would you like to guess?" Sylvanus asked, unseen from the other side of the doorway that led to the conversation room. He then poked his large head through, and flashed his startled albino friend and Sage a toothy grin.
Sholto could only stare on for a few seconds, and remembered to try reading the Primal's aura. Before he fully overlaid the special sight over his vision, Sylvanus poked several mechatens through the doorway and wiggled them, grinning wider.
"Sylvanus!" Sholto exclaimed. He grinned, and released Sage's hand to approach his long-time friend. He wrapped his arms around the pale, thick furry neck, and Sylvanus carefully raised a foreleg to return the hug as gentle as he could manage.
"It's good to finally see the two of you again," Sylvanus said softly, though his deep voice still filled the room.
"And you, as always." Sholto stepped back.
Theodeth smiled and kept to the side with Kéveith to let the trio have their reunion. How these three knew each other, he had no idea, but it was clear the trio were old friends. He could feel Kéveith's faint purring as she stood next to him, their bodies touching as they tried to avoid being in the way (Primals were big), and he had to hold back a chuckle. Of course she'd be so pleased at such a heartfelt reunion.
Sage had been just as startled as Sholto, but that was quickly overcome by joy as his husband identified who the Primal was. Letting out a short laugh, he joined in on the hug. "It's been too long."
“It really has,” Sylvanus agreed.
“Where have you been? How long have you been on— I mean, well... here?” Sholto asked.
Sylvanus nudged Sage gently to get him to back up, then came the rest of the way into the room and sat down, and curled his long tail around his legs. “It’s been some centuries. I was raised in the north, but my travels have taken me just about everywhere on this planet. I’ve been searching for you and everyone else wherever I go, though admittedly it’s been so long that it’s become a passive habit to simply ask after your likenesses rather than actively seek you out wherever I happen to stop.”
Sholto smiled softly. “I suppose none of us make ourselves easy to find. Sage and I have only been alive a little under two centuries. What led you to this town?”
“I was in Korkenu south of here, and heard of a new settlement I hadn’t yet visited. Naturally that needed rectified.”
“So pure coincidence,” Sholto mused. “If we’re lucky, that’s all our reunion is this time.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I could use a little action.” Sylvanus then grinned and added, “I would say so could you, but I learned Sage is pregnant, so I know you’re getting plenty already.”
Sholto blinked and raised an eyebrow at Sylvanus. “That’s hardly your business or your brand of humor. Have you been around Reid lately?”
“No, actually, you two are the first of our group I’ve finally rejoined with.”
"Time does cause changes," Theodeth finally spoke up, voice soft as he stood by the doorway. "Kéveith told me his aura and song cleared safety, which is why he knows even that much." A quiet pause, then, "Would you three like some time to yourselves? Sage appears to be fine, so unless there's been a concerning development, the checkup can wait for later."
"I've been fine," Sage replied, giving the healer a reassuring smile.
“That is good to hear,” Sylvanus said.
“A little time would be nice, yes,” Sholto answered Theodeth.
Theodeth inclined his head, then closed his eyes. First his horn, then the rest of him glowed softly with a pastel green light, then within moments he was in his anthropomorphic form. Lanky, leggy, plantigrade (which was unusual for a true Drakiri, as most preferred digitigrade), and with a facial structure somewhat similar to Sholto's, it had been a bit of surprise to Theodeth and Sholto when the two had first met. Now, though, only one person in the room was likely to be at all surprised. "I'll be in my lab making medicinal supplies if any of you need me."
Sage nodded, but said nothing in response - there wasn't much for him to really say, and words had never gotten easier over the years.
Once Theodeth had departed, Sylvanus smirked and said, “Well, now it’s just awkward if I remain in this form when the rest of you look more human. One moment.” His spiral horn glowed deep, blue sapphire, which then swirled around his bulky, metal-clad frame. In moments, he took on an equally bulky, humanoid shape, bearing the face familiar to his friends.
“I hadn’t realized how much I missed you,” Sholto said softly.
“It is wonderful to see you both alive and well again. Do you think Theodeth will mind if we use his sitting room?” Sylvanus looked about for Kéveith.
Kéveith smiled and shook her head. "Theo won't mind. And don't worry about the furniture - all of it is enchanted. You're not the first Primal to visit, and Dracus aren't exactly lighter." Her tone was amused.
“No, they aren’t. Thank you, Kéveith.”
Now having the clear, Sylvanus turned and gestured for the other two to follow him back to the other room. Once seated, he smiled at Sage and said, “So, finally in a body with innate magic. How are you liking it?”
Sholto bit his lower lip, but let Sage speak for himself.
"It's...I can feel some things, but I still can't cast," Sage was slow to respond, and he couldn't entirely keep his disappointment from his voice. There wasn't even frustration, and he was honestly resigned to it. "No amount of studying or practice has gotten me anywhere. I can feel when there's energy nearby, but that's it - the threads of this world's magic are as untouchable to me as arcana and ñóvité were before. My horn is about as useful as the average twig on the ground."
“Oh, I... I see. I’m sorry, Sage.”
Sholto laid his hand over Sage’s.
“Wait, then how are you shapeshifting?”
“I cast for him,” Sholto answered. “We’ve mostly remained in these forms since we met. And, I won’t be changing us between forms again until after Sage has had our children.”
“I see. A wise decision - I’ve heard of a few miscarries related to shifting. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s a very real risk. How far along are you, Sage? It’s always difficult to tell with Drakiri.”
"About, five, five and a half months?" Sage wasn't quite sure of when he'd gotten pregnant, as the hormones were barely even affecting him this time around. "It's been a very easy pregnancy, thankfully. But it's made it a bit difficult to tell exactly when it happened."
“So you’re due in a handful more months, then.”
Sage nodded. "And then it's waiting for the eggs to hatch. Which is...strange to think about."
"You get used to it. If you like, I can set you up at home with an incubator. It wouldn't be the first I've built for a couple," Sylvanus offered.
"It, wouldn't be a bad idea," Sage replied, looking over to Sholto.
"No, it wouldn't, and it would ease some concerns I've had," Sholto agreed.
"Very well then. Are you two living in this village?" Sylvanus asked.
"We are for the foreseeable future. We've a few run-ins with danger in the area, but it seems safer than some of the other areas of these lands."
"Does it? Why not take on better human forms and move into a human-fortified settlement? They're typically stronger built than Drakiri dwellings, I've found."
Sholto wrapped his hand tightly around Sage's. "Yes, and then we have to worry about poachers of all things when I can't make our horns invisible. I'm not good enough with this world's version of arcana yet."
"I see... Perhaps one day, then? It would be safer to raise a family in than the wilds."
"Do you spend so much time around the humans of this world?"
"I do. I've earned a bit of a reputation for myself, too." Sylvanus grinned.
"Though it doesn't seem to precede you like it used to. Have you been laying low?"
"Sholto, I might be more versed than you in this world's arcana, but even I need to be cautious. Too much attention, and even I need to start worrying. I've been alone a long time and I simply don't have the resources I did on Terra."
Sage was silent for a while as he thought. "I think, this town might become a centre for avanlaz activity - all centred around here, coincidence after coincidence, and more than a few dark horses out of nowhere, and it seems a hotspot for the unusual 'special snowflakes' who tend to become avanlaz." He looked to Sholto. "Remember Pyralsartine?"
It was Sholto's turn for some quiet contemplation. There were a lot of interesting people they'd encountered in their short time here. "Perhaps moving isn't a bad idea. What do you want to do, Sage?"
Sage honestly didn't know. "I'm...not sure. It might also be better to wait until after our eggs hatch and our children are older, before we move. The roads can be dangerous, and if what happened to you on our way here, happens to me on our way out..."
Sholto's grip on Sage's hand tightened more.
Sylvanus raised a brow. "What happened on the way in?"
"We... ran into one of the local beasts, and I wasn't prepared. It almost made a meal out of me. Were it not for Sage's quick thinking and Theodeth's magic, I may well be on my next reincarnation journey already."
"You, not prepared? That's almost more worrisome than the threat of the wildlife."
Sholto stared down at the floor. "I've..." He sighed. "I got too comfortable. Things were peaceful for so long, that I let my guard down. Nothing major has happened to us in over a century. Meeting each other was the biggest event, and only after that did I begin to see trouble again."
"I see... And now that I've found you two, things might really begin to pick up. I hope we find everyone else soon, before events spiral out of control. Speaking of which, Sage, what happened to your arm this time?" Sylvanus asked.
Sage blinked, then looked at his mechanical limb. It'd been a part of him for so long, through so many reincarnations, that he kept forgetting that as a Drakiri, it technically wasn't supposed to be there. "Nothing - my egg was nearly stolen by some poachers before it hatched, and spent some time near the barrier of Modasheu. The energies leeched into my egg and my parents of this cycle were worried. I hatched out healthy, but a Mystic with a mechanical leg - my father's a bantam Kainu and my mother's a Sprite, for this cycle."
"That... doesn't even begin to make sense, but alright," Sylvanus sighed.
Sage could only shrug. "The energies from Modasheu seem to go entirely against sense. The barrier's weakened a lot now near the village and in some places has gone down entirely - it's heavy on the bioluminescence and very bizarrely-shaped fungi. And it feels...strange. Not evil, but....kind of like a toned-down Limbo, really."
"That is both worrisome, and, sounds like it's worth a field trip," Sylvanus suggested with a grin.
"Not when we have children on the way," Sholto replied strongly. "And likely not after they've hatched, either."
"Ahh fine, fine."
Sholto sighed softly, and his grip on Sage's hand finally loosened. "Where are you staying, by the way? The hotel?"
"Not yet. I decided to do some looking around first, and I'm glad I did."
"Our house isn't very big, and our furniture's not enchanted like Theodeth's is, but you're welcome to stay with us if you like."
"Are you sure? I don't mind staying at the hotel."
"It's fine, and it'll be nice to have us under the same roof again," Sage reassured Sylvanus with a smile.
It was then that Theodeth gently knocked against the wooden doorframe. "Sorry for the interruption, but I'm about to head out for a moment to see if Pyral's willing to fetch me a few things I'm running low on. Thought you might want to know. Kéveith will be staying here."
"That's fine," Sholto told Theodeth. "We can head back to our own house, if you want."
"I think I can trust you to not do anything stupid in a medic's home." Theodeth smiled at him. "You're free to stay or leave as you wish." He then looked to Sylvanus. "Also, I couldn't help but overhear part of your conversation as I was coming up the hall. If you want to go on any field trips somewhere dangerous, usually Wapana, Pyralsartine, and Sand Dune are all more than happy to tag along." A pause. "And chances are, I'll be coming along as well. All three of those individuals really should keep a healer with them."
"I will consider them. If you want to come along, I won't tell you 'no.' It'd be nice to have another doctor around - perhaps we can even teach each other a few things," Sylvanus replied.
Theodeth paused for a moment, then smiled again. "And it'll be a relief to not be the only person here who knows what he's doing."
Sylvanus chuckled softly. "I can sympathize."
Sholto raised a brow. "I hope you're not referring to us."
"You two? No, never. I'm sure Theodeth is talking about the medical field."
"I am," Theodeth clarified, then gave the two Mystics an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, I never meant to imply you two are incompetent. You're far from it."
Sage chuckled. "It's fine, Theo. I think we'll live." He gently rubbed the back of Sholto's hand with his thumb.
Sholto allowed himself a small smile, and nodded.
"Well, you'd best find that Pyral fellow. Never know when a life-or-death case will walk through the door," Sylvanus suggested.
"Stars, don't I know it..." Theodeth sighed, then inclined his head and made to leave.
"Poor Theodeth," Sage commented once the Kainu was out of earshot. "He's been putting his entire soul into this village, and I don't think most even notice quite how much he neglects himself."
"If he's the sole doctor, I'm not surprised. If the two of you aren't planning on leaving anytime soon, perhaps I should settle here for a while as well," Sylvanus mused.
"It would be reassuring to have you around again all the time," Sholto said.
Sage nodded his agreement. "And it would give us more time to catch up with each other, too."
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to have a second home built in a developing village. I could contact some of my friends, bring business this way..." Sylvanus pondered, tapping his metal fingertips together. "It would grow, and with enough money brought in could be made as safe a place to stay as any human settlement."
Sholto smiled. "That does sound nice, but that will take years."
Sylvanus shrugged. "We have that kind of time. And, I will be here to help protect the town during its development." He grinned. "And yes, I do still travel with an arsenal."
"Where is it? You don't seem to have it with you at present."
"I hid it outside the walls. Buried, for now. Can't have the local fauna digging into my cases and running off with shiny things."
"Then why don't we go fetch it while there's still daylight, and return to our house? You can get settled in there and stay with us till you have a home to call your own."
"A good idea." Sylvanus stood, and his long tail swept behind his metal legs. "Shall we?"
Sage chuckled and shook his head, but he was smiling. While it likely meant that things were going to get very hectic again, it felt like old times, and it felt good. "Yes, I think we shall."