(Welcome to the second season! Whether you’re picking up from before or joining us anew, we’re happy to have you along for the ride. Click here for the previous section, or here to go to the beginning.)
The wagons of the Varroon Troupe roll ever onward. They slowly trundle along the main road, wheels bouncing over rocks, as the caravan leaves Paakoponde behind. Even as the Eternalist capital fades into the distance, the boggy mist of its outland remains. Without the shardflies around to brighten the haze, it becomes all the more foreboding. Weather like this often heralds the arrival of trouble… whether its bandits, a broken wagon wheel, or a wagon wheel strategically broken by bandits.
Fortunately, this isn’t a concern for Ane, at least at the moment.
She has some time to herself in the wagon, something that’s often in great abundance. The only difference is that now she shares it with the spoils of her prior adventures: a cheerful little slipshell totem and several large bundles of puffroot. The slipshell is currently sitting beside one of them, reptilian eyes gleaming, looking rather pleased with itself. Given the dream Ane had the other day, it must be rather fond of smoking.
In a moment of indulgence, Ane even sprinkles a little puffroot over a coal in her katagon brazier. Without hands, the slipshell can’t really smoke puffroot, but maybe it — or whatever entity it represents — might enjoy being offered some nonetheless.
The little statue seems quite pleased, at least judging by its expression. Even though it’s just stone, the curve of the smile and the divots of the eyes are just inscrutable enough to make the imagination run wild. Even a slight shift in shadow or heat can make the difference between a stoic line and a silly little smile. Right now, it seems both sagacious and grateful. The incense also lends an odd little halo of haze to the creature, as if it’s taking in the fumes and basking in them. Thusly pleased, it sits silently while Ane goes about her tasks.
Now, she sits on the vulre hide in front of her stove, wrapped in her blanket and holding a hand full of cards. The remainder of the cigarillo is perched between her lips, sweet, silvery smoke rising and drifting on the chilly, humid air. She narrows her swirls as she hums at the cards, shifting the cigarillo to the other side of her lips as she moves one particular card to the front.
The Shard, The Sailwhale, The Twisting Root, The Paenarch… All upright, all in their positive aspects. Luck, contentment, industry, tradition.
And then there’s this one. The Clap-vole reversed.
Where The Clap-vole represents partnership, symbolizing the little cooperative circles where the voles clack and crack hard-shelled nuts together, The Clap-vole reversed takes a more sinister bent. There, the partnership is no longer that of fat, happy clap-voles cracking nuts together — it’s clap-voles and okkapli, the enormous, wasplike creatures that use the clap-voles to hatch their eggs. It is exploitation, and danger brought by good intentions.
For all intents and purposes, things seem to be going well for the caravan. Paakoponde netted them a tidy profit, and more puffroot and appohs than they know what to do with.
So what’s next…?
Ane exhales a curl of smoke, as her fingertips brush The Clap-vole’s round, chubby, painted cheeks.
Hopefully it won’t be a large, hellish, stinging horror that likes to gnaw out a person’s flesh and lay their eggs inside. That would not be an ideal follow-up to any good trip.
For the most part, she leaves a lavender silk scarf tied to the latch of her window-shutters to signal the supply riders when she gets hungry enough. Unfortunately for her, she’s often bored enough to lose herself in reading, drawing, divination, or meditation, so she frequently finds herself hungry long after the food has been eaten and the long-necked alosins dismounted.
Luckily she still has a couple of appohs, though hers have started to go a bit soft and mealy by now. At one point, she debates bothering Brair for some of his — she can’t figure out how to clamber between wagons while carrying some puffroot to strategically abandon on his porch, though, so she doesn’t follow through with the idea.
Fortunately, the alosin is often quick to come at her signal. At one point, less than even ten minutes after she put up the scarf, Ane’s window is visited by a lone mercenary on alosin-back. The chainmailed, curl-horned callosian rides the bounding beast up to her window, then settles it into a trot at the same pace as the load-bearing trumba.
“Rations!” He calls into the window, and passes a parcel in through. Within is a fairly meager meal, just barely enough for most people: salted meat with some foraged greens and berries. Fortunately, the caravan is pretty well stocked after hitting Paakoponde. It’s better than some times in the past, at least, when it was all pemmican and knobs of what was either very old bread or very strange cheese.
“‘Rations,’ he says,” she murmurs, as she opens the parcel.
They treat this like a forced military march.
Such is the way of mercenaries. Generally, they always seem to get worse when there’s way too many, or far too few. There’s a happy medium where they’re content, but not too uppity, and this certainly isn’t it. Thinking back, not many people joined up to defend the troupe back in Paakoponde… At this point, there are still fewer guards than there was prior to the shadowlands — or worse, fewer than even there was before Pellas. Glancing out the window, it seems they can’t even cover the entire train.
Given the way that one rode away so quickly, it seems like they’re a tad anxious… This must be a rough place in the route. Given what Ane has seen, it does make some sense; Paako hardly even used town guards, let alone anyone to watch the roads. It’s all well and good to rely on monks to defend a town square, but they do nothing for the miles and miles of road heading out of the region.
The caravan goes on like this for about half a week, before the wagons finally begin to roll to a stop. The mist has begun to lift, though some of it still clings to the landscape as a vague haze. A simple glimpse out the window shows that the caravan has moved quite far. The forests of Paakoponde have completely receded, giving way to chilly highlands. While this is certainly no mountaintop, it seems the wagons have ascended up a plateau of sorts. Gazing in one direction across the grassy hill, one can see all the way back to the great forest.
In the other direction, there’s an old, familiar sight: the tall, gray octagon on the horizon that represents Rhytalo. Ane has never been very close, given its general intolerance for circuses and the like. But it’s always been a sight to see even in the distance, with its layers upon layers of citadel walls, its massive chime-towers that dispense low, slow moving shapes on the far plains… And occasionally, when one listens carefully, they can hear the signal chimes that supposedly move the city’s golem garrison.
This far out, the caravan is safe from the umbrella of Rhytalo’s crushing authority… but also outside of its protection.
(Thank you for reading and please like, share, and comment below if you enjoy! We love to hear from you.)