It was either a monumental achievement, losing touch with Gaia herself so thoroughly that one could be considered lost, or a crowning act of stupidity and/or carelessness. This line of thinking came up several times during Eridanus' search of a supposedly missing kijikaiaku. He trekked across the vast Sahara, and had no luck - not even the desert scrub could communicate anything of use.
He was still picking grains of sand out of his long mane by the time he stowed away on a fishing boat, which was bound for far southern waters. The humans on board didn't suspect a thing, since Eridanus had made a careful effort to stay out of their way and hole himself up in the cargo hold.
Finally, he felt the boat come to a stop, and roused from his light trance. He stood, stretched, wings flaring out overhead, and then shook gently. His white wings folded shut, hiding once more the aurora-like pattern underneath, and he daintily made his way to the deck.
Above, the air was crisp and cold, and Eridanus shut his bright red eyes to breathe in the icy salted air. Humans milled about, dressed in thick coats, gloves, hats and pants, and set to work getting fishing nets and cages out. Leaving them to their livelihood, Eridanus walked over to the bow of the boat, and looked on ahead.
He knew, from long experience watching the world, that the ship would not move again for some hours. He had a mission to fulfill. He took a running leap, and unfurled his wings. Just before hitting the icy water below, a mighty flap lifted him, and he began his ascent.
His travel to the south pole had to continue, with or without aid.
The core was a warm and soothing place, especially for a weakened, worn kiji to rest in between excursions to the top world. Ravyne had had a longer life than his body implied, multiple deaths and resummons had made his body young and frail, but his memories mostly remained - memories of times when the Earth was not so peaceful. He'd chosen not to let the past embitter him, instead managing to retain his ability to wonder at the world around him, appreciative of the beauty of nature's many varied environments. Though most of his mental age were lacking in empathy, Ravyne's many resummons had seen him develop a strange mix between a War Alpha's detachment and a true Newborn's sensitive soul.
It was thus he bridged the worlds within his kind, and often helped diffuse the conflicts that occurred between the older and newer generations - for such sharp differences in empathy naturally lead to some...heated, disagreements.
The day was thankfully peaceful, however, and Ravyne had been hoping to take it easy, meditate so as to slowly regain some of his old strength. It was not to be.
"Ravyne," a very familiar voice broke the purple kiji from his thoughts.
Ravyne opened his eyes and looked behind him to see Kokoro, and behind his ancient friend, the core that housed Gaia. "Something wrong?"
"We've lost contact with Eridanus," Kokoro told him, voice calm, but Ravyne could see the touch of worry in his gaze. "While he's proven capable of returning to us in the past, he was searching for another who was lost."
There was only one reason Kokoro would be telling him this and not some other kijikaiaku. "You want me to go after him? Why not someone stronger, like Frostbite?"
"Frostbite is too preoccupied with other essential matters, as are most I would send on this. I trust your judgement in who to bring with you, Ravyne."
Ravyne bowed his head. "I am honoured, old friend." He stood in one, fluid motion, as though his long body were more water than anything. "I think I know who to bring."
A dark golden kijikaiaku, accompanied by flames, music, and odd symbols floating in haphazard fashion, entered the core in his usual deep-in-thought daze. Barely paying the presence of mind required to deposit the energy he'd gathered into the core, he still smiled at Gaia's loving touch in response. It guilted him that his tainted energy meant he had to distance himself a little, but it could not be helped - his summoners hadn't realized that Nyxathta's taint was so intrinsic. A warning from another world, one that hadn't been rescued in time like their version of Earth.
Vyxréth, was the marriage of the fallen and the recovered.
"Veex," a familiar purple kijikaiaku spoke, approaching him from the left of the core. "Could you come with me for a moment? There's something we need to speak of."
Blinking in surprise, the dark golden kiji gave a nod, wings pressing more tightly to himself as Ravyne lead him to what one could passably call a side room, of a sort. Such rooms were common in caves, and the ones near the core were often used by kiji to keep out of each others' ways when they wished to recharge, recuperate, or discuss things in private.
Ravyne didn't take long to explain things to him, and Vyxréth readily agreed - if he could be of use, he was glad to help.
Now they just needed the third member of the rescue party.
"Zerisint," Ravyne called the dark kiji over, once they were done depositing energy into the core. "Could I have a word?"
"Something tells me you mean to have several," Zerisint replied, lifting his head from his paws to regard Ravyne. He rose to his feet and uncurled his tail, then hopped off the warm rock he'd been relaxing on to approach Ravyne. "But yes, speak."
Ravyne first motioned for the dark kiji to follow him, leading him to one of the side cave rooms before turning to speak. He didn't want to cause others needless worry - Gaia wasn't fretting too hard yet, so the matter wasn't one to risk panic over.
"Kokoro approached me earlier. We've lost contact with two of our own - one we have no word on at all, the other was sent to search for them. That other is Eridanus. While he is quite capable, Kokoro felt it best to task me with gathering a team to serve as a sort of backup, just in case there's something more than an abandoned old research facility blocking Gaia's connection.
"I would have you and Vyxréth with me on this search."
"Hmm, a curious case." Zerisint's red eyes narrowed with a smile. "Sure. I'll come along. This sounds like it will prove to be more interesting than our usual duties."
Ravyne inclined his head. "Vyxréth is awaiting us outside."
It wasn't long before the trio was off, at first just having to make their way through the dense brush of the forest floor, which was easy enough for them to weave through. Even the eight-foot-tall golden wonder that was Vyxréth easily fit himself between branches, brambles, and leaves, as kiji were wont to do.
While either of the other two spent the travel time within the realm of thought, Ravyne instead focused on the world around them. Fallen leaves of fresh green and decaying brown littered the forest floor, worn deer trails breaking up the undergrowth where deer, foxes, elk, and other such beings had made their way between meadows and streams. Deciduous trees towered above, sunlight filtering through in patches, brown of bark and green of leaves and moss illuminated wherever the sun touched, broken up by the varied hues of fruits and symbiotic plants growing upon the branches.
Neither Zerisint nor Vyxréth paid much mind to the stream they passed, but Ravyne still took the moment to take in the clear water flowing over smooth pebbles, the faint rainbow the scattered sunlight created as it hit the mist of the nearby small waterfall just right. Birdsong gave an audial symphony to match with the visual, a chorus of thrills, tweets, and the loud crowing of the wild game fowl - Ravyne even managed to pick out the distant kroak of a raven.
The weather did not stay clear as the trio moved on through the forest, making their way on foot for the moment to where Eridanus had last been known to be. Sapphire blue sky became marred with first pristine, then greying clouds, and Ravyne noted that it would potentially start raining. He could feel it in the air, and the quieting of the birdsong confirmed it. Not that he minded the sky water, it was pleasant and cooling, and one of the many small things of nature he dearly appreciated.
"Storm's on the way," Vyxréth observed, more to break the silence than anything. "I don't mind the rain if you two don't."
"The rain is a gift," Ravyne said by way of reply, smiling.
"It doesn't bother me any," Zerisint said. "Let's press on, we've barely begun." He walked past the other two, sniffing at the air to catch what scents he could.
Ravyne too, paid mind to the scents on the air - it was laden heavy with wooden and earthy scents, accented with hints of the honey within a nearby beehive, tainted with the unfortunate odours of various forms of animal....waste, which Ravyne in his long experience was able to identify, for better or worse. But it had been some time since Eridanus had passed through the same paths, and his unique energy signature had long eroded from the environment.
some hours later...
The many thick trunks of the trees began to thin as the golden, purple, and dark kijikaiaku neared the treeline divide to the plains. Eventually, bushes gave way to grass, and trees to space and wind as rain continued to pour down in its nigh musical, relaxing pattern of random drops. Tall blades of grass swayed in the wind alongside wildflowers, queen anne's lace, and even a few sunflowers dotted the land, having survived the ravages of squirrels and chipmunks.
All three felt the disturbance as it began, for as energy beings they were very well attuned. The air before them flickered, and seemed to bend, and the rain stopped hitting the ground below the spot of distortion. Vyxréth moved in front of Ravyne and Zerisint, standing lengthwise so as to be a living barrier between them and whatever might be coming through. Head lowered, music quieting, his symbols hid behind him while his flames rested in front of him, wings half-unfolded defensively, the large kijikaiaku braced and waited.
"Save the lectures for someone else, I'm not Xarxus."
The day was a bright and clear day for springtime, though runoff was still swelling the streams and rivers from the mountains. The sun's currently-gentle warmth and the day's pleasant cool breeze made being outside far more desirable than it had been for most in the far colder winter months.
Devromos was in his humanoid form, leaning up against a tree within his sect's territory, cleaning his black blade as he talked with the others. Wanting to enjoy the pleasant day, he'd chosen to shapeshift away the excessive fur his natural Drakiri form had, though he still wore the Dhaebru robes his choker (he refused to call it a collar) provided. Gaël was sitting on an old tree stump nearby, while their kids were being babysat by some of the adult Dhaebru to allow both Devromos and Gaël something of a break from parenting.
Faladir lowered the hand he was using to gesture with, and sighed. "I forget you're not as into them." His wings tucked close to his back again, having been as animated as his arms during his speech.
"I was interested," Gaël said, offering an apologetic smile. "But if we're going to go, I'd like to just go." Like his husband, he had shapeshifted to his humanoid form. He brushed a long strand of white hair behind his pointed ear. Almost-invisible pastel hues colored his neck, and his body was traced with intricate silvery blue lines reminiscent of a flowing circuit.
"As soon as Ipala arrives, we can get started on the portal."
"If he takes much longer, I think I'll go see what's holding him up," Devromos commented, tail flicking to the side. "He might've just lost track of the time." The most likely reason for that would be if Ipala had gotten into a discussion with...pretty much any of the other science nerds in town. Though Sylvanus or Tsamur'sstar were the most likely ones for that, as Xarxus - or really, most of the others - would've probably asked at some point if Ipala actually had the time to get into a lengthy discussion.
"It would not be unusual," Faladir said. "I would appreciate you checking if he takes more than another ten or fifteen minutes to arrive." His own long whip-like tail swished languidly behind him.
Devromos inclined his head, then returned to polishing his blades - it was an old habit, one that gave him something to focus on and ground himself with. Whether it was passing the time, or venting the energy of emotions he didn't care for, it was perhaps one of his most persistent habits.
Thankfully, however, it was only another minute before Faladir and Gaël - and a few moments later, Devromos - picked up on Ipala's approaching presence.
Flying over in his natural form, Ipala was a bit unusual in appearance as compared to most of those who inhabited the town. And unlike most of unusual appearance, his soul did not originate from Etherium. Desaturated dark green wasn't often seen paired with a bright indigo, even amongst the reincarnated vhérga that had taken to wandering Galabastarin. But appearances aside, the mystic's landing was smooth and fairly quiet, an experienced flyer despite bookish tendencies. Then again, landing gently did make it easier to avoid losing his glasses again - that way, they didn't get jostled off.
"Sorry for the wait," Ipala said as he gave a sheepish smile. "I hope it wasn't too long."
"Not particularly, it wasn't half the day this time," Devromos replied, ignoring a random anger flare and putting away his polishing cloth, then sheathed the blade he'd been polishing. "Any final preparations? I've been ready for the past hour." His tail swished from his left to his right in one fluid motion.
"All is ready to go, if Ipala is," Faladir said. He smiled warmly at his friend. "Shall we begin on the portal, or do you need a moment?"
Gaël rose from the tree stump and went to stand besides Devromos.
Ipala shook out his feathers, then folded his wings. "I'm ready whenever you all are."
Devromos pushed away from the tree he was leaning on, the motion containing that deadly grace that trained eyes knew marked an experienced warrior. Or in his specific case, an assassin. Shadows darkened around him as he readied his power. "Then let's make the tether and get started."
"Very well." Faladir's lefvada patterns flared bright teal, and he began to weave the magic of the world around him, bending it to his will and shaping it into what he needed. A woven rope of white energy formed from his hand, and snaked through the air to Devromos, then wound twice around his right wrist.
"And there we are."
Devromos inclined his head, then held his other hand out to Gaël. Once his husband's hand was holding his own, Devromos took a step into a shadow, and they both vanished from the material plane.
The plane of shadow had many similarities across multiple worlds and realms - it was dark, colours were desaturated, and it was oft a twisted mirror of the nearest material plane. Galabastarin's was close to their void realm, but Devromos had long experience with the dangers - to him, this was home, more than anywhere of the true material. Gaël had once feared the darkness, but over time had come to accept it - in part through his relationship with Devromos. Which, the tiefling was glad for, as it meant he could share the land of his heart with him without causing fear.
Most would find it easy to get lost in the realm of shadow, it being a highly mutable place, and visibility was poor for any who were used to relying on any light at all. Devromos navigated it easily, knowing it by heart and intuiting the natural changes. The tether on his wrist was a long, metaphysical rope of a sort, providing a guiding line for Faladir and Ipala - it was to see if a more defined anchor was indeed safer than extensive calculations in crafting portals to previously-unknown realms.
Though for the first test, a variation of Earth worked well enough.
You holding up alright? Devromos asked his husband after some time, as while he could remain in the plane of shadow forever, Gaël wasn't truly meant for the realm, and sometimes it was harsh on those not native to it.
Gaël nodded, perhaps a little too quickly. Now that Devromos asked, he realized he was growing faintly nauseated, but it was ignorable. I am. He'd been keeping an eye on the scenery, and kept his astral senses expanded as far as they would go, constantly wary for danger in a realm that, for all he assured Devromos he was fine with, still instilled in him some grain of instinctual worry.
Devromos still picked up on some of that lingering unease, and he pulled Gaël into a one-armed hug, sending warm reassurance over the bond. We won't be here too much longer.
Gaël hugged back. Alright. Where are you leading us, by the way?
It feels like a variation of Earth, old Terra, Devromos replied, then paused a moment to more carefully attune to the planar barriers. The energy around it is calm and stable, so there shouldn't be too many variables for the portal. Closest thing we'll get to anything scientifically accurate for this, if I remember the scientific method correctly.
A variation? Like... an alternate version? Gaël wanted to confirm he understood correctly. I didn't even think that was possible...
Well, Alluani itself does have three variant material planes, so it's not unheard of, Devromos' mental tone was amused. Well, more than three, on a technicality, but only three really have much going on between them. The others tend to be more self-contained or guarded. No doubt Midnight or Xarxus know more on that than I do.
Gaël gave Devromos a slightly bemused look. ...Probably. He suddenly wasn't sure he was eager to see an alternate Terra. One part of him was curious, the other was scared. But, they'd come this far. Where were you going to make our exit point?
It's a few feet from here, the tiefling gestured to one of the more open areas of shadow, with fewer twisted trees or shadowy 'rubble.' I'll have to force my way through a bit, but it's clear of just about everything. Our arrival probably won't be going unnoticed, if the world's barriers are anything to go by.
Then I'll be on guard. Gaël looked to where Devromos pointed. I'm ready when you are.
Devromos nodded, then closed his molten-yellow eyes to focus. Taking a steadying breath, he held up the hand with the tether, and pressed against the barriers between the realms - there wasn't nearly enough material shadow for him to do his usual easy step-through, so he had to exert his energy over to the other side and make shadows and tear open a small temporary hole in order to breech through.
A bit energy-demanding, but Devromos had done more demanding things when not even remotely as healthy as he was now. At least he wasn't starving.
The wavering air the kijikaiaku were watching began to make everything behind it look desaturated and darker than it should be, then unnatural shadows shrouded it. There was a sense of tearing, though no sound was heard, and air of a truly bizarre scent issued from it like some manner of dark, stale breeze.
Vyxréth's red eyes narrowed as two humanoid figures came through it, both touching down on the grass as if they'd had to jump from a bit of a ledge. One was very pale, with yellow-white hair and blue eyes, taller than their shorter, far darker companion, whose black hair and yellow-orange, almost molten-coloured eyes stood in sharp contrast, as did the very dark skintone. The shorter of the two was also clad in long, purple robes trimmed with gold, and had an odd collar around his neck - one Vyxréth could sense was some sort of energy restrainer.
As the brief tear faded to nothing, the five individuals just stoof there for some moments, no-one wanting to cause a fight while also being on their guard.
Ravyne decided to make the attempt at diplomacy, sending his thoughts to the two newcomers - and though they looked human-ish, their horns and tails told him they weren't truly human. Though I cannot say we are well-met, I would know if you mean no harm. We are guardians of this world, but welcome you so long as you do not damage our home.
Gaël eyed the strange fox-like creatures, all of them standing at different heights, the gold one even taller than himself, and did his best to remain calm. He felt the words enter his mind, translated by the power of intent, and blinked twice to be sure that he had heard... the purple creature?
We're explorers, nothing more, he stated. My name is Gaël, and this is Devromos.
Zerisint's lip curled to reveal one sharp fang. He stepped closer to sniff at the air and stand beside Ravyne, and gazed upon the newcomers with wariness. You look like humans, but you're clearly not. What are you called? From where do you come?
We're... from a planet called Galabastarin, and our species is known as drakiri. We're able to shapeshift between our natural draconic-horse-like forms and a more humanoid shape, Gaël explained. He gripped Devromos' hand a little tighter.
Zerisint tilted his head to one side. Otherworlders. How peculiar. And you come for the sole purpose of 'exploring?'
Yes. We were testing a new way to anchor portals.
Ravyne was silent for a few moments, then walked around Vyxréth to be in front - both signalling the choice to trust and wordlessly telling his large golden friend to stand down. Vyxréth looked the two otherworders over again, then folded his wings and let his flames go back to their absent-minded circuit, though he kept his music muffled and his symbols behind himself for now, out of caution.
The purple one, meanwhile, sat calmly before Gaël and Devromos. I am Ravyne, this is Zerisint, here he nodded at the dark kiji behind him, and Vyxréth, here he gestured with his head to the large, golden one. We are kijikaiaku, guardians of the natural world given life and purpose by Gaia. I cannot speak for anything long term, but if your portal is to be temporary, and by your aura I see no deceit, then I feel it can be allowed to happen. I must ask, however, that you take great care not to upset the balance of our world, and that you take measures to avoid disrupting the flows of energy.
Devromos fought his frustration that he was entirely reliant on Gaël for this conversation, as while he could hear telepathy, he was not a telepath himself and so without a mindlink, he might as well have been voiceless. The frustration did not help his temper, but with long practice he kept it contained - and out of his aura, as he didn't want to agitate the kijikaiaku.
Um... We'll do our best. There's two more friends who should be appearing soon, Gaël replied.
"Once I set up the beacon on this end," Devromos muttered in Izhéra, then focused. Eyes closing, he flared his energy along the tether, then concentrated his energy as one brilliant point, giving Faladir and Ipala something more solid than a line to work with for the portal's destination.
Zerisint growled softly, but remained still, choosing to wait and see what would come of this magic trick.
Moments later, the rent behind Devromos wavered, lengthened, and then widened, myriad colors shining through. It stabilized into a clear doorway, one that allowed Faladir's tall, slender figure through, followed shortly behind by Ipala.
Faladir came to a halt next to Devromos, and looked upon the strange draconic fox-creatures. He glanced at his friends for explanation. Gaël quickly gave it over mindlink to both Faladir and Ipala, then gestured for them to introduce themselves.
Faladir's long ears flicked back slightly, but he wasn't about to say 'no.' He bowed at a slight angle out of habit, then straightened again, standing tall and proud. Greetings, natives of Earth. My name is Faladir, and we are here for what my companion says - simple exploration. I also would very much like to document the sights and experiences here, if allowable, for research purposes. Research that would not bring harm to anyone or thing, of course.
Ipala gave a bit of a deeper bow, and for now remained in his mystic form - an equine frame with three-toed hooves, bright indigo mane and wing feathers now well sodden against his back in the rain. I am Ipala, here for much the same purpose as Faladir.
Ravyne sat and pondered for a few moments, then gave a nod. Perhaps the best solution for both parties, then, would be to have the four of you accompany us. You would be able to observe our world, and we could keep an eye on you - we have had...unfortunate, experiences in the past, so trust does not come easy. We are on our way to the southern pole, so the journey in and of itself should offer plenty of opportunities to observe.
"Are you sure, Ravyne?" Vyxréth asked his friend quietly, in the language the kijikaiaku had themselves developed over time.
Ravyne looked to him. "We do not have the numbers in the area to drive them off, and I would prefer to avoid unnecessary conflict. While they might leave if asked, I would prefer to learn more of them and their own world - they might be the first to come here, but they might not be the last, and knowledge and allies will aid us greatly if there are less well-meaning individuals from their world who figure out how to come here. If they desire to come with us further than the polar cap, we will cross that bridge as we come to it. The time it will take to get there will allow for us all to understand each other better, and know more of who to trust."
"Great, that means ice and snow," Faladir sighed.
Gaël smiled sympathetically. "Makes me wish I'd actually brought clothes, but we do have magic. This version of Terra also feels... different, than my home did. It doesn't seem to have Arcana, but I can definitely feel something."
Zerisint listened to them, but didn't entirely comprehend their foreign words, perhaps because they weren't willing him to understand. He supposed it was fair, since his companions were doing the exact same thing at the moment right next to him. He turned to offer his own opinion to Ravyne and Vyxréth. "Ravyne has a point. Besides, if they cause trouble, we can just eat them." He grinned, revealing sharp teeth.
Vyxréth rolled his eyes, and when he spoke, his tone was exceptionally dry. "I would prefer to not have to vomit back up a rotting corpse, thank you."
Heaving a sigh, Ravyne shook his head. "Let's not start an inter-planetary war if we don't have to, you two."
"Neither of you are any fun," Zerisint replied, tail swishing idly side to side. "Alas, I jest. But looking at those folks... Do you think they're going to survive in the cold south? Should we stop at a settlement and let them get proper clothing like the other mortals wear?"
"Perhaps, it would do no harm to ask," Ravyne replied, tilting his head at his dark companion before once more addressing the four 'drakiri.' If you choose to remain with us on our journey, rather than returning to your home, would you prefer it if we stopped by a settlement so you can obtain some warmer attire?
"I'll be unaffected, but up to you three on that one," Devromos told his companions and husband, boxing his anger into a corner for later. Now wasn't the time for getting pissy over stupid bullshit. Not that...there ever really was a time for that, and not for the first time, Devromos wished his brain would get the memo.
"I'd appreciate the chance to get something more suitable for the climate," Faladir agreed.
Gaël ran his hand lightly up and down Devromos' arm. "I'd like to, too."
They both glanced at Ipala for his answer.
The physicist simply shrugged. "I came prepared, but if you two would prefer it, I have no objections."
Gaël smiled sheepishly at him, then at Ravyne. We'd like the chance, yes. Thank you for asking.
Faladir asked, What currency do the people of this world trade in? Do they accept gems, or gold? Something else?
Gems would be accepted, I believe. There are many currencies, and most engage in barter, Ravyne replied, tail slowly sweeping behind him, then he stood from where he'd been sitting. We are a few days' journey from the nearest settlement. If you are under-supplied, the game fowl have been slightly overpopulous lately, so a very mild cull would not be amiss. Their feathers and meat are of value to the other sapient beings of our world.
Many currencies, not a unified one? Interesting.
Gaël raised a hand to shoulder-height to draw attention to himself. Excuse me, do the three of you mind if I add you to our mindlink? It's a telepathic connection that lets us communicate over long distance, and without it, Devromos can't send his thoughts to you.
Zerisint tilted his head again. Curious. He should be able to speak perfectly fine - we understand words through one's will. Even the Earth's animals and plants can communicate with us.
At hearing this, Gaël's hand came to rest on Devromos' shoulder.
Devromos tilted his head, then chose to give it a try - albeit, in the language of the daeva, to truly test this outsider-like ability. "So even words far older than this world can be understood?" This time, he exercised his will along with the words, almost akin to how he would normally call on his innate supernatural and ñóvitét abilities.
Ravyne blinked at the strange, dark-sounding tongue, one that seemed to paint with raw concepts rather than communicate with specific terms, but nodded. We can comprehend those words, though what do you mean by them being older than our world?
The tiefling switched to Galabastarin's Common out of consideration for Ipala. "Vesdae is a language that is old even by cosmic standards. It's a language some of my ancestors spoke, and one that communes on energy wavelength as well as with words."
Zerisint's ears flicked back. I'm not sure how to feel about it. I do know that I'd like to move along, now that introductions are out of the way and a plan has been decided on.
Faladir's tailtip twitched. Getting out of the rain would definitely be nice. Shall we?
Gaël's hand slid back down to interlace with Devromos's. Yes, please.
Ravyne shook himself, then lead them all onwards. It was mostly a walk across the plains at this point, though they would meet more forest by the end of the day - the forest line wasn't exactly straight and even. The rain continued to pour as the seven of them made their way through tall, sodden grass and wildflowers, the kijikaiaku completely unaffected by the persistent wet. After about a minute of silent travel, Vyxréth chose to be considerate and spread his large, leathery wings as a sort of umbrella for their drakiri visitors.
As he did so, he released his concentration on his symbols and music, allowing both to freely settle as they would - though the dark, soothing sounds he emitted were occasionally eclipsed by the sudden booms of thunder the storm regularly made.
We will not have shelter for some time, he commented by way of explanation. But I can hold my wings out for hours.
Ipala smiled up at him. "Thank you, I appreciate it, Vyxréth."
Faladir thanked him as well.
Gaël was appreciative of it, and also said as much, then took the reprieve from the downpour to weave his magic to slick the water off him and his friends for a hasty dry-off. He dumped the water into the grass behind them.
Zerisint observed this, and asked, Why do your markings glow when you cast?
Gaël explained without really thinking about it, "It's a holdover from being reincarnated. I wasn't always a drakiri."
You remember your past life? What were you before?
"Part human, part eleshad. Eleshad are... well, they look more like Faladir, just without the wings or tail."
Is he also reincarnated?
"We all are, actually," Gaël said, and smiled nervously, realizing that maybe he was saying too much. But what would it harm, he wondered?
Zerisint paused midstep, and fell behind several paces while he considered the implications of Gaël's words. He shook his head, then moved along. And your memories of your past lives; are they clear?
"Yes." Gaël's hand tightened marginally in Devromos's.
Devromos returned Gaël's hand-squeeze.
Peculiar. When one of our kind dies, we may be resummoned, but the memories don't always stay intact. In fact, most of the time they are cleansed away... though remnants of the past may remain. Ravyne is an unusual case in this regard.
My mind survived myriad deaths, but my body was not left untouched, was Ravyne's response to that. I retained who I am, who I was, though I grew more empathetic. But I am far weaker - and plainer - than I was when Gaia first made me.
Faladir asked, "Can you tell us more about Gaia?"
Some. It depends on the questions you ask.
"Gaël said you told him you were 'given life and purpose by Gaia.' For what did Gaia create you? Who or what, is Gaia?"
Gaia is a celestial dryad, it was she who breathed life into this once-barren rock. Us kijikaiaku were made to restore the balance of life, and to safeguard it. Though the first of us - myself numbering among those - were first made in a time of strife, in this day we serve as guardians, not soldiers. And I pray it remains that way.
"What had thrown things out of balance? What was this 'time of strife' if you don't mind my asking?"
Ravyne was silent for a few moments before he responded. Kijikaiaku were not the first species to be chosen by Gaia as guardians and emissaries. That honour had once belonged to humanity, long before our kind were created. But as Gaia made humans able to be independent of her, they grew away from her over time, and as they did so, lost touch with why caring for nature was so important. Advancement after advancement destroyed flora and fauna alike, while the humans themselves eventually overpopulated the planet. And there was no-one regulating the energy of the world anymore, no-one to return the lost energy of those who died to Gaia, to continue the cycle.
Eventually, Gaia had to concede that desperate measures were in order, or she would die, and the rest of life on Earth with her. So the first of us, Kokoro, was made - an energy being, unable to be harmed by then-conventional weapons, and detached from suffering so that he could not be swayed as she could. What followed, ushered by him and the War Alphas, has since become known as The Thinning.
The purple kijikaiaku fell silent to let their visitors ponder that - it was ancient history, and not something they could really use against any kiji. Then he spoke again. I was a War Alpha in my first life. It was long, and it was bloody. We made war on humanity, and destroyed the civilization they had built. It was the only way.
Gaël stared down at the ground while they walked, mulling over Ravyne's words.
Faladir was less fazed by the information, more curious than appalled, and said, "It seems humans are wont to destroy their homes no matter where you are in the universe or timelines."
Gaël frowned up at him.
Faladir sighed, and softly apologized, then added, "Even you cannot deny history."
"It must have been... so many people, though," Gaël said, unable to help being saddened by the information. He broke eye contact and went back to staring at the ground.
Billions died, Ravyne confirmed, but his tone was gentle, sympathetic. Humanity's numbers today are far fewer, and are kept in check every time they forget themselves. We give the same treatment to other sapient species as well. Even our own are not exempt, if needs must, but as only Gaia can create more of us, we are the least likely to overpopulate. But all would have died anyway if nothing had been done - this way, some survived, instead of none.
Devromos wrapped an arm around Gaël, offering silent support. Death on any scale had ceased to faze him long ago, but that didn't mean he couldn't empathize with his husband - especially with the mage bond they shared.
History or not, in the present we can still change lives for the better, Devromos reminded him gently over their bond, and could only hope he was reassuring - some things, he could really only guess at how to make Gaël feel better, even after all these years.
"Not to speak little of a dark time, but perhaps another subject of inquiry is in order," Ipala finally spoke up, feeling it best to move the conversation onto something a little less depressing - while he was no less fascinated by this history, he had a bit more tact than Faladir. "How do the laws of magic work on this world? I can feel some differences as compared to Galabastarin, the world we come from."
Gaël nodded at Devromos' words, and wrapped his arm around his husband's waist. Still, he remained silent, choosing only to listen for awhile.
Zerisint was the one who answered. The beings of this world can impose their will upon the natural energy of the planet. In doing so, it is possible to manifest raw elemental might, or conjure materials, divine the future, and much more. It's easier if you have a physical body, unlike us. Focus-materials may also be used for easier manipulation.
"Focus materials of what nature?" Ipala asked, apparently taking the lead now on pestering their kijikaiaku guides with various questions.
Runestones, wands, tomes... Ravyne replied. Primarily, they serve as a focal point and channel when appropriately empowered for that purpose. The physical more easily directs willed energy, the non-physical more likely to have...'leaks,' in the control.
"So then, kijikaiaku aren't terribly capable with magic, without a lot more effort than a physical being?" Faladir asked.
With time and effort, a kijikaiaku can reach the same heights as anyone physical, but it is far harder for us to reach that point than it would be for you, yes. Our energy, when exerted, is inherently inclined to be more erratic.
"Any particular reason why?"
When we die, we return to raw energy. Most of our ability is already dedicated to keeping ourselves in one form, thinking, alive.
The unlikely band continued on like that for some hours, the drakiri asking various questions about the kijikaiaku and their world, and the kiji occasionally asking questions of the drakiri and Galabastarin in return. The rain finally let up, the storm breaking to allow moonlight to cast its own rare rainbow through the damp air, as the sun began to set. While the kijikaiaku had no need to stop, of the drakiri only Devromos was inclined to continue on - the others were less interested in pushing mortal limits if they didn't have to.
After some thought, Ravyne chose to allow camp to be made, leading them to a pleasant spot near the treeline that would serve well as protection. He offered to keep watch, while Vyxréth allowed his floating, smokeless flames to be used as cooking fires and heat sources with amusement.
What Faladir had had the foresight to bring along, was rations. He handed out food and drink to his companions, and even offered some to the nearby Zerisint, who declined with the reason that kiji did not need to eat or drink, and in fact, could not even if they wanted to.
They chatted for a while longer, until food was done and the drakiri were feeling tired enough for sleep, and then split up to find patches to rest in. Gaël kindly evaporated the rain from their planned sleeping areas, and then settled down in the soft grass next to Devromos.
Faladir's own lefvada patterns glowed while he concentrated, and a few seconds later all manner of tiny bugs crawled or flew away from their small encampment. He then put up a bubble-shaped barrier to keep the pests out, but would do little to keep their new energy-based friends from passing through as they pleased, and lay down to rest.