The Dawn Patrol

By the Fire's Light

Camped alongside a river deep within the Heartwood, there were six fitfully sleeping figures, watched over by a woman made of stone and vine. Gwind was pensive during her night watch, keeping her back to the low-burning cinders of the evening’s fire to keep from staring into the night-blinding coals within. She was torn from her reverie when the warmth of the fire suddenly became something noticeable and almost comforting, rather than simply a symbol of it.
“Sorry, you looked cold.” Tall and heavily built, Cerlissa stepped around the shadows to stand in front of Gwind and gestured, asking if it was alright to sit.
Gwind looked up at her friend and gave her the smallest of nods. Her eyes were filled with sadness, the silence of their team leaving each of them to think over what had happened to their Emperor. She looked back off into the darkness, unsure of words to say. Her hand reached out of her cloak and patted the ground beside her, in case her friend had not seen her small nod.
“Sit,” she said quietly.
“So…” Cerlissa fidgeted uncomfortably as she settled herself. After uncomfortably looking at anything except each other for a few minutes, she opened her mouth… and closed it. Took in a breath, hesitated, changed her mind and said, “That’s some language that fell out of your face back there. You know, entire languages are generally first or second date kind of stuff. I’m surprised I didn’t already know you spoke… whatever you and that elf were speaking.”
Gwind hesitated before speaking, “It is called Valiraurin.” She looked at Cerlissa, “It came to me, over time. It wasn’t something that needed to be brought up.” She looked away from her again. An uncomfortable look on her face that almost seemed like pain.
“Valiraurin? Like the forest?”
She nodded her head slowly but did not look at her. “Yes, like Valiraura.”
Cerlissa looked down at her boots, unsure what to say for a moment. “Gwind, you know I trust you. I want to say that you can take your time and what not, but…” she rubbed at her face, obviously uncomfortable. “Look, when you and Lucan had that… moment. I got jealous. Gah, this hurts my ego but you’re my best friend and I was out of the loop and now I want you to make it better. Just give me something.”
“What is there I can give you, Cerlissa? I don’t know anything, you know that.” She looked at her, her eyes searching as if she wished she could find the answers by looking at her friend.
“Just… something. Anything. What freaks you out so badly? I saw you get all fidgety in Safeport, what was that?”
“You mean after I was training Shaye?” She shook her head as she thought back. “That was…” She looked back out into the darkness. “I’m not sure. I heard a voice.”
There was a pause while Gwind looked at anything but her friend and Cerlissa looked pointedly at Gwind and waited.
“I think the forest was speaking to me, Cerlissa.” Each of her words held fear.
“What did it say? I are you sure it was the forest? Or was it something in the forest?”
Gwind shook her head, the memory upsetting her. “I don’t know. Shaye heard it too though, so I wasn’t imagining things.”
Cerlissa’s face softened as she suddenly realized how closely she was getting to cracking Gwind. She didn’t want to push too hard, but she felt she’d waited long enough. “We have enough to run from. There are enough enemies that we can’t stop. I think it’s time to start sorting some of this out so that it doesn’t slap us in the face at the worst possible time.”
“There is nothing to sort out!” She looked towards their sleeping companions and lowered her voice again. “I don’t know anything. I woke up there and I ran, and I have never looked back.”
“Yes, you have. You looked back at Safeport and you were too afraid to even mention it. You know that it’s calling you, and you know the call is stronger when you’re near. So Those are things you know, and the more information you have the better. You don’t have to do this alone.”
“What if I don’t want to know? I have this life now. And all of you. There are over a hundred years of my life that I don’t know what kind of a person I was. I could have been as bad as RedHammer.”
“Do we have the luxury of not knowing? What if you were as bad as RedHammer? Can we afford the extra animosity? There could be enemies out there, or friends. There could be an entire army ready to stand for you and I think it’s worth the trouble to find out.” After a brief pause, Cerlissa looked at her again, “I’m not asking you to walk into the heart of the forest itself, Gwind. I’m just asking you to stop running.”
Gwind stood up, her body tense which made her rocks look like they had grown a little and she turned away from her. “I would have taken him there, if he had asked. But even he was opposed to the idea. No. No, I’m not going back there, and I’m not leading more of my friends to die.”
Surprised at the sudden reaction, Cerlissa stood as well. She held her hands out to appease her and said, “I’m sorry, Gwind. I didn’t mean to… wait, what?”
Gwind looked at her, confused about what she was asking.
“You said ‘leading more of your friends to die’. Who died?” Cerlissa was starting to get excited, but was very pointedly keeping it contained.
“I was talking about the Emperor…” She closed her eyes as she spoke.
Silence engulfed the space between them. Cerlissa froze in the middle of her movements and an unspoken, unspeakable pain erupted from that silence. Finally, Cerlissa seemed to give up.
“We didn’t kill him, Gwind. It wasn’t our fault.”
Gwind shook her head, not wanting to hear it. “It doesn’t matter. My point was I was warned that none of you would be safe if you entered Valiraura.”
“Like I said, I’m not asking you to go. I just…” Cerlissa blew out the rest of the air in her lungs and took in a new breath, “I just don’t want to be blindsided again.”
“I don’t know how you expect me to remember.” She slowly sat back down.
“I don’t. I mean, I just wish you’d talk to me about it. Or something. I don’t know.” Cerlissa threw up her hands and began to pace.
Gwind was staring at the ground, a pebble that she stared at rolling around in small circles.
“I think I may have been born there.”
Cerlissa stopped pacing and turned, surprised that Gwind had anything more to say. “Really?”
“There is a connection that I feel to those trees. I do not feel it anywhere else.”
“Wow…” She came back and sat next to Gwind again, a little of the nervous tension gone. “Is it a good connection or a… ‘good riddance’ kind of connection?”
She shook her head as she watched Cerlissa sit down. “I do not know. I am terrified at the idea.”
Cerlissa blew the excess air from her lungs again and rubbed at her face. “I’m sorry I pushed. I’m just scared… you know, like all the rest of us. I was kindof hoping you could make it all better.” a wicked grin cut across her face, “like when I screwed up with whatserface’s boyfriend and you beat the tar out of her for me so I wouldn’t get in trouble again.” She let out a short bark of laughter and tried to smooth over some of the emotional uproar. “I promise not to push so much if you promise not to hide so much, okay?”
Gwind was smiling at the memory before she responded, “I suppose if I think of anything I can let you know.” She made a face as she thought, wrinkling her nose. “There was a second voice.”
Feeling like it was okay to be interested again, Cerlissa waited patiently for more information. After a moment, she realized it may not be forthcoming.
“The forest spoke it’s name… but I didn’t realize it at the time. When I heard my name called, it didn’t sound the same.”
“What on earth does that mean?”
Gwind shook her head. “I do not know, but it was… male.”
“The forest is a man?”
“No, no. The forest was separate from the man’s voice.”
“A man from the forest called your name?”
“I guess, that’s what it sounded like. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s what I remember.”
“You said earlier that the forest spoke its name. What does that mean?”
“Exactly what I said. The forest was saying it’s name.”
“…Or was it saying your name?” Cerlissa’s eyebrows creeped up her forehead, making a face that told Gwind that she was half joking.
Gwind looked at her then away, her face turning from sadness to a frown. “Nevermind.”
“Come on, I was only partially joking. You could be the Cursed Queen of the Neverwood for all anyone knows.” Cerlissa put her hand on her chin in a mock-thinking pose, “Or, you could be some mage’s pet project. Giving life to a svelte stone statue such as yourself. Keep an open mind, hmm? How do you even know that your name is Gwind? You told me you didn’t talk to anyone before you fled the forest. Or maybe you have many names and Gwind is only one of them.” When Gwind didn’t reply immediately, she pointed at her, “See? Except none of it explains why you’re so afraid, and all the speculation in the world won’t give us any answers. But, it might give us some ideas. Now, was it just your name or was there anything else? Did you feel like you recognised the man’s voice?”
Gwind looked down, not wanting to answer the questions, she knew her name, and she knew what she was. She was Gwind, an earth Valcanii, and she had thought she knew the voice but she couldn’t place it. It wasn’t from her past in Utica. It wasn’t from her time with the Emberguard. “I couldn’t place it.”
In a flat tone, “Didn’t sound familiar at all, huh?” Cerlissa looked at Gwind suspiciously.
“It didn’t, Cerlissa.” Gwind’s voice was growing frustrated again and her body tensed.
“Uh huh. Is that why you’re rubbing your palms like that?”
Gwind stood up. “Stop acting like this is an interrogation!”
“It’s not an interrogation, but if you don’t want to tell me something, I’d rather you just say so instead of being lily-livered about it.”
“Well maybe it’s none of your business! maybe it was familiar! But I don’t know it! So if it was from my past oh well! I don’t care!” She heard their companions stirring at her raised voice, an uncommon thing for Gwind. Cerlissa shot up again, trying to shush her, but she turned away. “You be the look out.” She said as she began to walk away from the campsite.
Cerlissa’s face met her hands with a slap as she realized that she’d done it again. “Don’t go too far?” was the only thing she could think to say in apology.
Gwind continued without a word in return, heading into the trees of the Heartwood.
“What was that?” Bauldred mumbled, startling Cerlissa and causing her to turn and flap her hands like a little girl. He was standing by the fire and rubbing his eyes from the tumultuous sleep that everyone suffered from.
“That,” Cerlissa said, after recovering from her embarrassing reaction. ”Was proof that I am an idiot.”

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