Expedition to Free a City
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After a long flight back to the mainland, Velveteen had veered off and taken his own path. Only Hulda and Salmon remained, but they soon lighted down on the slightly warmer portion of Wyvera in the Fyrelands. They were still up rather high in the mountains where the air was chilled, but it beat the frozen tundra. When Salmon landed, he let his wings droop down onto the ground. He was out of breath, but followed Hulda as she walked up to a warm lodge with an attachment specifically made for Stryx.
The warmth inside blasted into their faces when Hulda opened the door. Inside were half a dozen Stryx of all sizes. They turned to look at the two newcomers. One face in particular lit up with recognition, and Arizona Twilight - an enormous gryph - began to saunter down the center hall of the stables. She pulled Hulda up against her chest with her wings, fluffing up to help warm the much smaller hawk. “Hello, love,” the sooty Stryx said with a chuckle. “It’s good to be home.”
“You’re shivering, my dear,” Arizona responded. “I told you it was much too cold to be investigating the area now. I’m glad you’re not hurt… did you find anything?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Hulda responded. She smirked, then cast her gaze upwards towards the pinkish harpia who was following timidly behind her. He looked uneasily at the other Stryx, feeling very out of place and unsure of himself. “Twi, my love, this is Salmon. Salmon, this is Arizona Twilight.”
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” the gryph said, bowing slightly. “You can call me whatever short nickname as you wish.”
“Uh…” Salmon fluffed up his feathers, then looked to Hulda for any kind of guidance. She didn’t appear to have any. “It’s good to meet you, too.”
“Velveteen and I found him in the ruins… though, there is far more at play here than just Corruption near a ruined city. When we approached, we discovered the whole town was enclosed in a spell - or a curse, as Salmon here likes to call it. I broke through it only to discover it was very much alive and well, though its residents are trapped.” She pushed away from the piebald female’s chest, looking up at her lover’s mismatched eyes. The intensity of the hawk’s gaze was something most birds shied away from, but not Arizona. “As much as I would like to rest, we need to assist him in breaking the curse… and soon.”
Salmon dipped his head, anxiously bobbing it. “Yes… I’m not sure how long I have. The curse is temporarily broken, but neither of us are sure how long we have before it regains enough power over the city. I don’t know what will happen to me when that occurs. Nobody has ever escaped the city before me.”
“I have an idea for a spell that could at least last us enough time to ensure that we have time to study before any harm comes to him,” Hulda explained. “But we need to gather supplies quickly.”
Arizona nodded in understanding, casting a sympathetic glance towards Salmon. “Then we should go out immediately… though I would advise we get some assistance.” She turned around, looking across the other Stryx in the loft. She spotted a velvet lycan who was just waking up for the evening. Walking over to him, she nudged him with one of her massive talons. “Hey Vainglory,” the gryph said, pushing him a bit harder when he ignored her. “Get up. You’re fresher than the rest of the Stryx there. We need your help.”
The bat Stryx raised his head, his mop of cream and black hair looking frizzy. He reached with one wing to brush it out of the way so that it only covered one of his eyes. “Huh? Why should I?” he asked before his mouth stretched wide in a yawn. He settled further into his spot, seemingly uninterested in helping.
“Because I said so.” The gryph gave him a harder kick. She was gentle enough not to do any damage, but if looks could kill, the sharp glare she received from Vainglory would have incinerated her in seconds.
“Twilight, dearest,” Hulda purred, pushing past the salmon feathered harpia and the large twilight piebald gryph. “Let me assist.” From the satchel she’d carried on the expedition to Salmon’s home, she pulled out an amulet. The charm it carried was that of a Stryx’s talons, clutching a vial which swirled with blue and red smoke. At points, the smoke appeared to morph into avian and bat breeds of Stryx.
This caused Vainglory’s eyes to brighten. “What is that? Is that one of your potions?”
“Even better. It’s a Genetic Alchemy Amulet. They’re very hard to find and even harder to create. I’ve noticed that you’ve had your eye on that lovely female corva. I imagine you’ve felt unable to pursue her, given your differences.” The lycan was listening with rapt attention now. “This… would change all that. Perhaps if she knew you could actually father chicks, she’d be more willing to give you a chance.” As if to tease him, Hulda held it closer. Salmon watched with confusion, while Arizona just smirked. The bat Stryx apparently couldn’t resist, reaching out to take the amulet with one wing, only to have it pulled away. “Nuh uh, I’m not just giving it to you.”
Vainglory gave her a withering glance and scrunched up his face in disgust. “Okay, I see how it is. You want me to help? What did you want help with?”
Hulda looked to her mate, gesturing with one wing that Arizona could speak. The pied bird stepped forwards. “Ah, yes. Alright. We need to go out and hunt for ingredients to help this bird here free his village from a curse,” she explained. “I think what my mate here is getting at is that if you assist us, you’ll earn this amulet.”
“That’s exactly it, yes,” the hawk confirmed.
At first, the vitiligo Stryx looked unconvinced, but Salmon jumped in. “Please. We could use all the help we can get… and I’m not sure how much time I have left before something horrid happens to me. I can’t offer anything, but I am asking for your assistance. Please.”
After a moment of hesitation, Vainglory nodded. “Alright, then. I guess I don’t really have a choice. I’ll do it… for the amulet and for you, uh… what… what was your name?”
“Salmon. Thank you, thank you so much.” The harpia pulled the bat into a tight hug, squeezing him to the best of his ability. Despite the irritation and disgust on the velvet Stryx’s face, he tolerated the hug for as long as it lasted before Salmon let go.
“Yeah. You’re welcome, I guess.” He grimaced, but then shook himself as if to reset. “My name’s Vainglory. You can call me whatever you want.”
It wasn’t long before the four had equipped the tack they would be using to carry the items they found on the expedition. Salmon looked exhausted, as the stars were now starting to glitter above and the dying light of the sun was fading over the horizon. His wings ached and he wanted nothing more than to sleep, but he was determined to help despite the insistence of the two female birds. That, and Vainglory was less inclined to go with if Salmon wasn’t willing to join them. It was much too boring and grating to be with the the lesbian couple, according to him. Perhaps if Vainglory hadn’t insisted, he would have been sleeping soundly in the toasty warmth of the loft’s straw.
Because of Salmon’s exhaustion, however, the small flock had decided it best to walk and not fly. Hulda had prepared a lantern for each bird other than herself. They sparkled with dim magic, contained carefully through spells. The hawk took point, with Arizona in the back to protect the rear. The mountains were not a safe place to be trekking, especially at night, but they had a job to do.
“We’ll need to find more of these.” Hulda held up a stone in her talons. It only just glowed a dull red. “They’ve been infused with corrupted magic. They’re very rare, but very powerful. Just be careful, they-”
A loud popping sound interrupted her, followed by a shrill scream. Vainglory was cowering under Arizona’s wing, wide eyed. “What the hell?” he asked, his voice shaking.
“That was what I was going to warn you about. They’re very volatile. They explode if you don’t first neutralize them.” She wandered over to Salmon to hand him what appeared to be a bag of pain dust. She proceeded to hand one to Vainglory and then to her mate, pecking her lightly on the cheek when she passed. “This will neutralize the magic while you handle them. Once they’re put in my bag, they should be safe. I’ve infused it with that dust.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about that first?” the bat explained, rolling his shoulders back and trying to recover from his bruised ego.
Hulda rolled her eyes and turned around, apparently not keen on answering. Salmon, however, looked to the piebald gryph next to him and asked in a soft voice, “Why didn’t she tell us that upfront?”
“She didn’t think any of you would find a stone so fast. They’re uncommon, especially in these parts,” Arizona explained. She began to peck around at the ground, lifting rocks with her talons and moving brush aside to search beneath it. When she found a handful of worms, she scooped them up and tossed them into a pocket of her bag. Salmon gave her a disgusted, confused look. “They’re a key component to my love’s spells. She doesn’t need them for this one, but she’s always thankful to have a few extra.”
Salmon nodded, but then looked back at the small hawk ahead of them. “Uh… what else are we looking for?” he asked.
“Ah! Excellent question. Witch hazel is something I need to line my pockets with. It’s one of the key ingredients I used on the spell that allowed us to enter into your city.” She pressed her beak against the ground, appearing to inhale its scent, before being led to a clump of the plant she was searching for. “The scent is unmistakable.” Clutching the plant in her talons, she pulled. The hawk then handed a portion to both Vainglory and Salmon to smell.
The bat wrinkled up his nose and nearly gagged, but then nodded and stuffed the thing back into his bag. “I could smell this from a mile away. You guys don’t have near the same level of smell as I do. I can focus on this if you guys want to focus on those… exploding… rocks…” He shuddered a bit, but then went to sniffing out the witch hazel without confirmation from Hulda or Arizona. His nose was much more developed than the avian variant, and so once he pushed his nose to the ground he quickly began to follow the bitter scent of the plant.
The hawk allowed this, instead beginning to pick at the dirt in search of the corrupted stones she so desperately needed. There were small flecks, but very few pieces which were actually useful. The annoyance on her face was clear as she continued to find pieces that weren’t in any way useful. She appeared not to have the patience to instruct anyone any further, completely ignoring Salmon when he tapped her shoulder with one wing. Instead, she just continued her search.
“Don’t take it personally,” Arizona told the pink-feathered harpia. “She’s in one of her moods, unfortunately. Sometimes during scavenging trips she’ll get frustrated when she can’t easily find what she’s looking for.” The big gryph shook her head, then began to strip bark off a nearby birch tree. She placed it in the bag she brought which was slung around her waist. “If you’d like to help me with this, you’re free to.”
“Oh… uh… alright. Why does this help us?” he asked. He struggled to use his oddly shaped beak against the tree bark and so inside began to use his talons. “It doesn’t seem like it’s anything magical like those corrupted stones. Witch hazel makes sense to me too… sort of… I know herbs have been used in healing for a long time.”
Arizona nodded, understanding his confusion. She pulled off a long strip of bark before answering. “It’s the key ingredient of the pulp used to make her potions. They say these are trees which have a deep connection to the gods, which is why they are uniquely white in colour. It lends them to being particularly powerful in potions… or at least it’s what they say. Hulda is convinced of it, but I’m not.” She snorted a bit, letting Salmon stuff some of the bark into her bag. “But she’s the expert, not me. I only know the basics.”
The answer seemed to satisfy Salmon. The pair worked together, moving from tree to tree as the bark was stripped away. Arizona explained to him that too much bark removed would cause the tree to die, and thus they could only take a limited amount. Hulda continued to collect rocks, straying from her mate and the harpia in order to investigate what appeared to be a promising pile of stones, where she did in fact find several pieces large enough to be useful. Nobody knew where Vainglory had disappeared to… at least not until several minutes later. He emerged from the bushes, leaves and sticks tangled in his long mane.
The piebald gryph chuckled as the bat returned to the group with a massive amount of the herb he’d set off to collect. The absolute disgust and vitriol the bat had for the task was apparent immediately in his burning eyes. As soon as he reached Arizona, he spat the plant out in front of Hulda. The hawk said nothing, but did at least offer him a grateful nod.
The lycan moved back towards Salmon and Arizona, appearing to pout. “Are we almost done here?” he asked. “She’s insufferable and I can’t get that disgusting taste of witch hazel out of my mouth.”
“Well… you were the one who decided to try and find it,” Salmon pointed out with a soft laugh. He’d switched from pulling bark back to looking for the slivers of stones. He appeared to have a knack for finding them, as he’d already helped Hulda add to her collection already. “I could have done that, but you didn’t stick around to ask.”
Vainglory twisted his face up in disgust. “Yeah but you don’t have a nose like I do. You birds can’t smell at all.” He puffed out his chest a bit. “It was a job for mammalians only.”
“Yes, well… thank you,” Hulda said, joining the group after a moment still searching through the dirt and stone. “It’s appreciated. I think we should have enough of everything to get going now, if everyone’s ready.”
“Good gods I am!” Vainglory groaned, letting his wings droop to his sides. “I wish I could say I enjoyed this, but I didn’t. Still… it should be worth it for that amulet.”
2562 Words for Hulda 12922, Arizona Twilight 9402, and Salmon 12146
2019 Words for Vainglory 12071
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