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Unquenchable: Part Three


by haannsolo

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It had been a bright, sunny day, but now the weakening light barely streamed in through the thick clouds surrounding the Darigan Citadel. And windy. At the moment it had died down to a soft breeze, tossing Ryddlle’s feathers and fur gently from side to side; however, it had been far more powerful and promised to be again. He dreaded the night, when he would have to try and find shelter in the forest. Why hadn’t he accepted Darigan’s offer of spending the night at the Citadel? Now, it seemed ludicrous. Still, he could hardly go back, knock on the castle doors, and ask to be let in. There was always the larger part of the Citadel, the place where all the people lived…

     No, he told himself sternly. He had made the right decision. Until he at least knew what had happened to the village, he would not be able to rest.

     Deep in his thoughts, he was surprised and jolted entirely back to real life as he collided with something big.

     It was girl on a Uni, apparently a messenger. No ordinary one, though.

     Even her riding breeches and tan leather jacket could not disguise her beauty, and the grace of her confident demeanor. Ryddle recognized her as an Usul, a species he had seldom come into contact with. But this one was different. Perhaps it was the fire in her eyes that gave her away, or her elegant white Uni steed, despite its humble trappings. Whatever the case, Ryddle could tell that this was no common country girl acting as courier for Lord Darigan. Somehow he could see her as a finely-dressed court lady…and even a friend…

     Which was why it seemed a pity that she was glaring daggers at him.

     “I – I’m sorry,” he said hurriedly. “Lost in thought, I suppose.”

     “Sorry?” she snapped. “You should be! You swagger through here like you’re Lord Darigan himself, and without a thought you just bump into my Uni like that, and don’t you think that he might have feelings too, even if you’re too stupid to understand them!”

     Having said all of this in one breath, she subsided, still looking furious and glaring down at him. Her Uni seemed much more serene. He gazed mildly at Ryddle, then lowered his head to begin foraging the stone for grass. The girl jerked it back up again angrily. “Aren’t you angry, Raquin?”

     “Certainly, my lady,” replied the Uni pleasantly. It seemed strange to Ryddle that any creature could take such treatment so calmly.

     “I said I was sorry,” he said after a minute’s hesitation.

     “Has it ever occurred to you that sometimes sorry isn’t good enough?” she said haughtily. “There is only so much I can take from a scoundrel like you. What are you even doing, leaving here? Are you trying to escape from Darigan, or something?”

     “Actually, I’m not a citizen of Darigan,” Ryddle offered timidly. This Usul was having the exact same effect on him that Sylver always did – instead of making him angrier, such unfair annoyance merely made him want to back down quickly. “I’m going to… Meridell.”

     Suddenly her entire air changed. “Oh, are you going to Meridell too?” she said, her words unnervingly charming and bright. “Why don’t we travel together? It will be faster and easier. You never know what you’ll meet on the roads.”

     Ryddle was completely taken aback. “Um – well – it might be kind of out of the way for you…”

     “Not at all,” she said easily. “It can’t be, I’m going as far as I can, all the way across Meridell. Message for old Skarl.”

     Still vainly attempting to find a solid reason for denial, Ryddle opened his beak and shut it again, shuffling his wings guiltily. How could he tell her, without causing her to lose her temper again (horror of horrors!), that he simply didn’t want to travel with anyone? Did he even have the heart to refuse if he failed to dissuade her?

     She took his silence for an affirmative answer. “All right then, let’s get going. But I think you’d better tell me your name before we start off. Otherwise we might have a few problems on the way, don’t you agree? Imagine if we met someone. Of course it’s only proper that the gentleman introduces the lady, and we would be in quite an embarrassing position if you didn’t know it.”

     “R – Ryddle,” he stammered. “But –“

     “That’s settled then,” she said, sweeping away his protest like a stubborn speck of dirt on a clean floor. “Ryddle, that’s an interesting name. Did your parents name you, or are you one of those with owners? Oh, don’t tell me, you don’t have an owner. You’re far too scruffy. If you’ve got an owner, I must say they’re not doing an especially good job of taking care of you.”

     “I had an owner once,” Ryddle said shortly. He didn’t feel like explaining anything to this insistent creature. “I don’t anymore.”

     “That must be terrible,” she said dismissively. “I wouldn’t like to have an owner. Well, my name’s Aryallis, and I have certainly never had an owner.”

     “That’s…a pretty name,” Ryddle ventured.

     Aryallis beamed at him and kicked Raquin the Uni forward. “Why, thank you. I always think it’s so very nice when people give me compliments, particularly shy people like you. It makes one more sure that they actually mean it, and aren’t just saying it so that they have something to say. I don’t understand why anyone would say something just for the sake of having something to say, do you? I always find there’s plenty to talk about, and most of it really needs saying.”

     I’ll bet you do, thought Ryddle darkly. All he said aloud, however, was, “Hmm.”

     “Is that all you can say? It must not be very interesting not to be able to say anything except for ‘hmm’. Then again, I suppose we mustn’t begrudge other people of the little they’re able to say. I’m glad I’m not shy.”

     If Aryallis was shy, Ryddle thought, he would overthrow Jeran as Champion of Meridell in the near future.

     Somehow he predicted that it would be quite a long few hours until he could set up camp.

***

     Contrary to Ryddle’s dark predictions, Aryallis had in fact proved quite amusing, and not as annoying as she might have done. One thing was certain: nobody around her could be bored. She talked of wings, shoes, Lord Darigan, clouds, birds, faeries, inns, chokatos, and marrows, along with many other things that Ryddle failed to remember. Ryddle himself had not contributed greatly to the conversation – if it could be called that; his responses had included the occasional, “um”, “hmm”, and “I think maybe”.

     He was pleased to discover that there was a great difference between being alone in the forest and with another person, even one not necessarily of your own choosing, the main point being that any form of companionship banished fears of all things ghostly. Still, by the time Aryallis announced that it was time to find shelter and snatch a few hours of sleep, Ryddle was quite exhausted.

     They found a convenient hollow under a sort of haven created by large shrubs. The thorns were sharp, Ryddle decided firmly after receiving sharp reprimands from several, but could be avoided easily enough. He flopped down on the opposite side of the hollow from Aryallis and shut his eyes, waiting for sleep to come.

     To his surprise, it would not.

     Something was bothering him. What?

     He searched the events of the past hours for a time until he recognized the cause of his uneasiness, although he had no idea why it might make him uneasy. It was Raquin. The Uni had not even come into the shelter; presumably, he was standing outside to face the weather. And why did he never say anything? He served as Aryallis’s steed, and nothing but Aryallis’s steed. Oh well, Ryddle thought sleepily. Maybe there was such a thing as a perfect servant.

     Darkness faded in, and all was peaceful. He knew he would find them…he could feel it…

     Then he heard a strange voice from somewhere in the darkness, and suddenly it became not peaceful, but frightening, concealing whatever might be out there. “We see you,” whispered the voice. Ryddle felt himself shiver, and he wanted to run away so badly – but there was nowhere to run.

     “Don’t try to hide,” chimed in another voice. This one was soft, smooth, crackling with malice and the power to enforce it. “Don’t try to run, Ryddle. We will always find you.”

     “I don’t understand!” he cried, whirling desperately around for some break in the endless night.

     “Oh, but you will,” snarled a third voice. “Wait until we’ve finished with you. You will certainly understand there. He may have escaped…and him…so we will guard you all the more fiercely.”

     “Yes, Ryddle, yes,” came the first voice again, filled with glee. “We will protect you, protect you from everything that might put you in danger. And who knows…if you decline our aid, perhaps they will not survive.”

     “You know who we speak of,” said the third voice. “We know who you hold dear. Sylver, perhaps? Ah, what a lovely creature. So full of spirit.”

     “That’s right,” the smooth voice agreed. “Ryddle, dearest, we would hate for you to lose her. We understand how painful it might be.”

     “So all we’re going to do is ask you a favor,” said the first voice. “Just a little favor, Ryddle…”

     “I’ll never help you!” he screamed. The darkness was closing in, the walls of solid blackness crushing him to nothing…

***

     “You shouldn’t have dreams like that.”

     A cool, pleasantly alive voice chased away the darkness, and light beamed onto Ryddle, filling him with a relief so strong that it was almost pathetic. He sat up and blinked the sleep from his eyes. A dream, that was all it had been. Just a dream. However horrible.

     “Aryallis?” he said groggily.

     “Well, you don’t think I’d have switched names overnight, do you? I’m not entirely sure of your opinions on the subject, of course, but I think that would be very silly. Anyway, they say that you have bad dreams when you’re feeling guilty, and unless you are a very unusual sleeper, you were having a bad dream.”

     Ryddle got up. Now that he had recovered from both the dream and the realization that it was only a dream, his mood was distinctly on the grumpy side. Possibly a side effect of not getting enough sleep. “So I was having a nightmare,” he snarled. “What about it? And why should you care?”

     Aryallis looked slightly alarmed. “Don’t get angry,” she advised him quietly, taking him aback once again. This was not the bad-tempered girl he’d bumped into, or the aimlessly chatting Usul he’d traveled with. He wouldn’t have guessed that she could be serious, but apparently she could.

     “What?” he asked in confusion.

     She handed him a bowl of something that strongly resembled soup. She waited until he had taken a bite or two – it was actually very good – to continue. “Unless you want to stir people up against you. You probably haven’t recognized this, but you do look extraordinarily like Kass when you lose your temper.”

     “I do not,” he muttered, dipping his spoon into the thick liquid and flipping it over to watch the soup drip back into the bowl. “I’m much smaller than Kass, and I don’t look anything like him.”

     “You are much smaller,” she conceded. “However, maybe it’s just being a Darigan Eyrie, but you do look like him.”

     “I do not,” said Ryddle. He was quite sure of this. All the same, a small suspicion was forming in the back of his mind. What would happen if other people thought the same thing?

     He finished his breakfast quickly, and they set off without exchanging a single word.

***

     It was well past midday before Ryddle and Aryallis reached a small town, one of the landmarks of the journey. Not that Ryddle’s was very long, of course; or at least, assuming that the villagers had remained somewhere near the former village.

     They had hardly spoken since leaving the hollow, aside from Aryallis asking Ryddle coldly if he would please walk more to the right of the path, and the atmosphere between the two travelers was noticeably strained. The small sound of Raquin’s hooves clip-clopping on the cobblestones made the silence seem all the more poignant.

     Ryddle quickened his pace as his ears caught the sound of laughter and cheering. It sounded as though the town was having some sort of celebration. Perhaps, if it was something like a festival or harvest, they might even be willing to hand out a few tidbits for free. If all went well, he and Aryallis wouldn’t be journeying for very long, but you could never be too careful, especially when it came to food.

     Aryallis was obviously thinking the same thing. Digging her heels impatiently into Raquin, who complied immediately by lifting his gait to a brisk trot, she rode ahead of Ryddle to the edge of the village square.

     It was only too apparent that the people were celebrating something. A huge banquet table was set on each edge of the square, covered in a rich array of savory delicacies.

To be continued…

 
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Other Episodes


» Unquenchable: Part One
» Unquenchable: Part Two
» Unquenchable: Part Four



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