The wild garden was quiet, and Fiel had fallen into the most peaceful of sleeps, cradled in a bed of green, lulled by the gentle stream nearby, warmed by the little griffon sprawled over his lap like a thick blanket. Not that he needed him for that, the place was cool enough.
The Gilded Hollow. What a glorious place it was.
Fiel had joined the Vanguard Of The Silver Dawn a few months prior, upon meeting again with the captain after a few years of not suffering each other’s company.
The norn found him changed, though not in a disagreeable way. Still gruff. Still skittish like the dog who knew too much of the stick, and not enough of the treat. Although now he was lumbering around with a new companion in tow, an odd –but aren’t they all? In Fiel’s eyes, at least– and cheerful little sylvari with a crown of branches for hair.
Genjl. Genjl of the Roaming Hands.
That’s how Fiel called him. Not to his face, of course, though he probably wouldn’t have cared, the little thief.
Now the captain was watching over him like a tired parent with and over-enthusiastic child; now telling him to put a coat on, next running after him before he jumps over a minotaur bull’s back. And the waving. The twig was always waving. At anyone, or anything. A cheerful, polite little weed. It would be precious, if Fiel didn’t find it idiotic.
Genjl wanted to join a guild, and Jesse Ironwood followed. And so Fiel followed soon after. How could he not?
A bunch of broken do-gooders with dreams beating in their hearts and scars mapping their backs and shadows clinging to their heels, bringing justice where there was none, stealing away to lick their wounds in the dark when they were done. Of course he would fit right in.
They brought him to wondrous places, those people, places he would have normally avoided: beyond the Caledon forest, across Dry Top and the Silverwastes, deep within the Maguuma Jungle, and even back into the damned Shiverpeaks.
Together, they reclaimed from the pestilence of the Jungle Dragon a forgotten ruin of the Exalted people, a golden temple hidden away inside a wide cavern, sat atop a cerulean lake like a jewel atop vibrant blue velvet.
Everything in sight glimmered and glistened, from the golden walls to the golden floors, from the golden sculptures to the golden bridges. Not even Nature, with her million creeping green fingers and her hair of blossoms, could smother all that glow. The lone shaft of golden sunlight that managed to break through the few cracks in the dark roof overhead bounced off the golden spires and broken golden columns, and at noon, it almost seemed like a second sun rose under the earth.
The light from the fires of the few torches that the guild placed here and there seemed magnified over the aureate metal, turning the arches into frozen sprays of glowing red-gold magma. Even the water seemed to shimmer, reflecting the gold like thousand jewels and sequins.
Golden, gilded, gold.
So much yellow would strike a skritt dead.
There was where the norn decided to nap.
He was sinking, deep between the centennial roots and the soft moss, his body swallowed by Mother Tyria while his spirit was swallowed by Sleep, twin brother of Death.
Suddenly Fiel woke up with a start. Something shifted over his lap, and pulled him back into the world of the living. His eyes foggy, he immediately stood up.
He thought at first that the little griffon had suddenly found a butterfly, and jumped off him to give chase. The griffling was bigger now, stronger and spry, but he still did not know how to use his wings.
If he jumped off a waterfall and into the lake…
Fiel rubbed and rubbed his eyes, until he realized: they were not troubled from sleep. The whole cave was filled with thick, pale-blue mist. The walls of the cavern, not so long ago visible on all sides from all the reflected light, were clouded from his sight.
The norn had stepped forward in his impulse. He felt lighter, somehow. And the air… it too felt strange, as if he didn’t need to draw it into his lungs. As if he was breathing through his entire body. He looked down at his hands. They were there, but also… not. Like a foggy simulacrum of themselves, constructed out of colored smoke.
Fiel had been transported into the Mists. Or at least, his spirit had.
A distant cry tore through the air around him, tore through him.
Out from the mist a shape appeared, splitting the white veil apart like a drop of ink through milk.
A large raven flew over his head, cawing once more. His call was soft, yet it reverberated through Fiel’s whole non-body like a gale, an explosion, an earthquake, and he knew who He was. He circled around and the norn knew he had to follow.
He walked, then ran, they leaped from boulder to platform to keep up. As he suspected, his not-quite-there body inside the Spirit’s dominion did not follow the rules of the normal world. He fell hundreds of feet but did not get hurt, the raced with the raven’s shadow for what felt like hours, never quite catching up, but did not tire. He was not even in the Gilded Hollow anymore.
He was in a forest, ancient and wise, with trees as wide as the Great Lodge of Hoelbrak and ten times as high. The norn felt dwarfed among their gigantic mossy roots, like an ant crawling among the wrinkled knobby limbs of venerable beasts.
Finally, the raven softly landed over one of those roots, and Fiel was able to get close. He skidded to a stop, taken aback by what he saw.
On the ground next to the raven, a large wolf was sat.
He had a coat of grey and black, with an ornament of white over his throat, and He too, was known to Fiel, despite the norn meeting Him for the very first time.
Wolf and Raven were discussing with each other without word, and Fiel heard them despite them uttering no sound. He could not, however, understand what they were saying to each other.
The norn stepped forward, keeping a respectful distance.
Both Spirits turned to look upon him, and Fiel lowered to one knee expectantly.
He knew Raven. He followed His path and heeded His teachings as best he could. Fiel bore His semblance over his neck to honor Him, and sometimes His skin in times of great need. Raven knew Fiel, and Fiel knew Raven.
The norn was not used to seeing Wolf, much less talk to him.
Presently Raven talked, with the unspoken tongue of the Spirits, one that was felt rather than heard.
His words felt like a cold morning breeze in the mountains, they smelled of dust over vellum pages, potions brewed in the dark, secrets dug out from broken bones.
Listen close, and observe
Listen close, and observe
I don’t understand
Listen close, and observe
Raven cawed, and Fiel knew He was laughing. A gentle laugh, the kind one would let out when a joke was uttered and only they got the punchline, confident the rest would eventually understand.
It was then Wolf’s turn to speak, though His voice had trouble reaching Fiel.
His words felt like the warmth of a companion held close, smelled of fur curled over a bed of leaves, of the child pressed against its mother’s breast, of blood spilled in victory and shared with blood.
Pa c k
Lo s t
P a c k
Wolf… I do not understand. I am not lonely, I do not seek a pack
Fa m il y
A sudden inspiration struck Fiel.
Whose family? Who is it that lost their pack?
A violent wind blew the norn back. It caught him at his chest and ripped him from the forest, catapulting him through roots and lake and golden walls, back into his cradle of moss and feathers.
He crashed back into reality as little Mercer landed over his chest, nearly catching the frog that had crawled there.
Fiel flailed and almost fell off his verdant nest, nearly punching the startled lil’ Mer as he reached out to grasp onto something.
He breathed hard like the drowning man finally breaking the water’s surface. Disoriented, nauseous, his head and heart on fire and his ears ringing, he was still thinking about the Spirit’s words.
He could have sworn, also, right before reality pulled him away, that he had caught a glimpse of two other shapes among the roots, standing back, observing.
The powerful grace of a great cat, and the stout, imposing strength of a bear.
* * *
He worked on them all day long, barely eating, and never taking a break.
Mercer tried to get his attention, tried to bat the little knife off his hand and get him to play with him, to no avail. Fiel kept gently pushing him away, even hissed at him once, and Mer had to content with playing with the fringes of the norn’s leather sarong.
Eventually he brushed the last bit of wood shaving away with his cramping hand, and settled it down in the row with the rest of them.
Four little wooden statuettes, four animals, four Spirits of the Wild.
They had visited him in a dream, invited him to their domain, spoke to him. And while he was puzzling the meaning of it all, their cryptic words, their sudden apparition, he was overtaken by the need of carving their image into something.
And even that, he felt, was very important…. for some reason.
What those were for, he would know it in time, Fiel was sure of it.
But for now, he only knew he had to take care of a little needy ball of fluff and feathers before he tore all the decorative fur off his clothes.