Chapter 15

Two days passed and Nadie arrived at the beach quicker than anticipated. Allowing the breeze to swallow her up in warmth and sand, she took a short moment to breathe it all in; she missed the beach. The brief happiness that filled her turned to sorrow as she looked out to sea, towards the direction of the sacred island. Nadie turned her attention to the beach, as she scanned to find a particular fallen tree, then walked along the sands until she was within vocal range.

“Helloooo!” She called out, but no one answered. Sighing, she called out again, “I have come to borrow a boat!” Nadie looked back out to sea, “There is someplace I..must go.” She said to herself.

“I have nothing for you, hunter.” a small but commanding voice emerged from the modest hut.

Nadie studied the old wyverian, the same wyverian she stole a boat from in her youth.

“I wasn’t sure it’d be you,” Nadie said with her head hanging.

“Yes, I still exist here, and I remember you. Older, yes, but your face is the same.”

“I have come to make amends, I wish to return what I took.”

The old wyverian’s brow cocked, “Is that all you have come for?”

Nadie took a quick, deep breath, “No, I have…a request.”

He scoffed, “Of course you do.”

“A real request, I have no intention of taking anything.”

“Did you have such intentions all those years ago?”

She looked him in the eyes, “Yes, I had already decided to do whatever it took, even if it meant by force.” Silence fell, “For what it is worth I am sorry I stole your boat, there is much of my past I regret, Gatekeeper.”

His eyes lit up, “You remember my name.”

She nodded and looked at him and then back out to sea, “It’s alright, I will swim.”

“Oh-hoh, if you were going to swim, why bother coming to me to borrow a boat in the first place?”

She smirked, “I suppose…I. I am not very good at coming out and apologizing straight away.”

He smirked as well, “That much is clear. You were lucky to survive swimming in these waters before, but you should not tempt fate again. This sea protects the island and its people. You may borrow a boat on one condition.”

Nadie nodded for him to continue, “You must leave all your possessions here, you must not take any of your belongings with you.”

Without pause, she dropped her bag and began taking off her pouches and weapons. She only hesitated when removing her hunter’s knife. Hesitant to part with it, she placed it carefully on top of the pile. The only bag she kept contained the dragonwood carvings. “This comes with me, but it does contain my belongings.” She held it out to him, “You can inspect it if you wish.”

He nodded, “We are a people of trust. I am choosing to trust you.”

She nodded and fastened the pouch to her rope belt. 

Gatekeeper nodded and ushered her to his boat. “I trust you remember that this boat is made of special wood from the island itself. When at sea, it naturally moves towards the island, as if trying to become one with it again.” He spoke as if telling a grand tale. “You may row, but do not steer the boat, let it take you. This sea is full of mystery, but it always welcomes its people with open arms. Always.”

Nadie extended her hand to his, “Thank you, this is more than I deserve.”

He took her hand and shook it, “You should go now, the currents get more violent as midday approaches.”

She set out to sea, waving to Gatekeeper, wondering what the ocean would hold for her. Would it be welcoming, or would it reject her? With uncertainty in the air, she continued forward, rowing and following the current. A strange sensation washed over her, as though she would be able to navigate the waters if the boat could not. However, she wished to return to the island respectfully, and in doing so she would follow orders. Resisting the urge to take control, she allowed the sea to choose her path, though she did she was never particularly patient and rowed when possible.

Nadie rowed while the current took her down a roundabout passage. As she approached the island, whirlpools quickly formed all around, but the boat weaved around each one like it sensed when they’d appear and disappear. Just as Nadie thought she was past the moat of whirlpools, one formed right in front of the boat’s path, and unlike the others, it was too close to avoid. Instinctively she reached to steer but stopped herself. ‘Trust…’ Quickly she brought up the ores and held on as the boat hit the whirlpool and spun wildly. Her grip tightened as she tried to keep her weight low and the ores safe. On the fifth cycle, the whirlpool released the boat and spit it out on the island side of the sea. 

She held her hand to her mouth as if keeping herself from getting sick. ‘Let’s not do that again.’ Nadie had never been great on-water adventures. The island was within reach, but still unattainable. Shaped like a tree stump emerging from the ocean, the island was completely made up of roots that grew upside down, from a sacred tree under the water. There was no soil, only dense, and even denser areas of root systems that once reached a certain height, growing in on themselves. The ‘beach’ had been created over decades by floating debris that got caught in the one water accessible clearing and through time developed ‘land’.  

Nadie rowed quietly, following the tall roots creating an intricate wall around the island. She knew eyes were watching her every move, but she continued through the grove until she reached the only accessible beach. Swiftly she hopped off the boat and dragged it ashore, securing it to a sturdy root. She surveyed the area, it was peaceful and calm and she allowed herself a moment to watch the light’s rays slowly wander through the branches. But soon her admiration was clouded by past actions on her first visit to this sacred place. 

Sighing to herself, Nadie made sure her pouch was still secure and began to climb up, twisting and turning through, around and over the thick roots. Up and up and up until she reached the top. She was so high the strong winds nearly blew her back towards the water. She took a few deep breaths, the air was fresh and sweet. Even the pure air in her untamed forest did not compare. Appreciating the glorious root-scape, she relied on memory to plot her path, and with her eyes decided her exact route. Her goal was well hidden from all outside angles, but she was confident that she could navigate, even after so many years.

Balancing on vines and roots, she managed to travel a decent distance before noon. Using memory and sense of smell, she found an area she could begin traveling into and through the thick, almost impenetrable island canopy. This island was unique in sight alone, but it held unseen secrets. The true island lay beneath the water’s surface, and through centuries of careful care, remained habitable. The under-island also housed underwater tunnels to the surrounding islands. While it was possible to enter the surrounding islands safely by air, the tunnels were the only official entrance ways to them. Nadie would need the Wyverian’s blessing to hunt on their sacred lands, and that was the one thing she was sure she would not receive. Still, she had to try.

Deeper into the labyrinth she weaved, occasionally stopping to listen in different directions. She could almost hear a beat in the distance, a comforting pulse that pulled her towards it. As she was about to continue the direction she had been, Nadie decided to follow the faint sound into the darkness of thick, woven roots. Barely able to navigate by sight, she felt around and carefully moved forward. The roots made for a difficult path, but Nadie determined to continue towards the mysterious pulse. A whistle rang, echoing through the root cavern and she stopped to ascertain its originating direction. 

Just as she began following the sound, she heard a footfall and stopped to speak into the dark. “Are you a guardian?” She calmly inquired, knowing someone was within sound’s reach. “I am here to speak to your elder, I am unarmed and mean no harm.”

A breeze drifted into the dark tunnel and carried on it the scent of flowers and salt. Nadie shifted her weight in anticipation of a possible attack, but calmed herself, ‘I am the enemy here, remember that.’ 

“I,” she began but a low, commanding voice cut her off.

“Follow.” She trailed behind as the mysterious figure made just enough sound to guide her through the darkness. Carefully Nadie navigated the darkness to trail behind the sounds of her escort. Only after she came into the light did the tall, robed wyverian show himself. Nadie recognized him as the wyverian tasked to guard her during her first visit to the island, she remembered he always had a dour look on his face, but in her case, he had reason to. She had raised her weapon to him in the past. They studied each other in the light, and although Nadie began to get uncomfortable with the pause, she remained silent.

“You have learned to reign in that young tongue of yours.”

She nodded and was about to speak, but he raised his hand.

“The elder will decide your fate, save your words for him.”

Nadie followed him, respecting his desire for silence.

Kid sneezed abruptly, jarring him free of his studies. About to call out to Nomad, he remembered he was the only one in camp. He had been feeling better and reassured Nomad that he could spend a day on his own, allowing Nomad to take Mugen herb picking. Mugen was a faster learner than expected, and they had used up an impressive amount of materials in a short amount of time. Almost proud to call Mugen his disciple, Nomad was excited to teach him the art of proper gathering.

Thunderclap had been away from camp for a few days, which was common. Kid had already cleaned out his stable the day before, thinking the Zinogre might be back for the night. The camp was only moderately messy and Kid was confident that he could clean up a portion of it even in his condition. Grabbing his crutch, he got out of bed and hobbled to the growing pile of dishes. “I can do this easy,” He mused to himself as he dragged a stool over to the station, plopping himself down. Exercising his bad leg he began to scrub while practicing out loud the calls he was learning.

The Guardian ushered Nadie through the gates of the hidden village, and like the guardian, the village seemed mostly unchanged. She had little time to sightsee as he led her towards a small hut off to the side and pointed to a figure in the distance. 

Nadie looked out into a small field and watched as a wyvarian uprooted a rare vegetable. Aware of her presence, he inspected his harvest and only acknowledged them after he had placed it into a basket. Standing he brushed some dirt from his pants and carried the basket over to them. The guardian bowed slightly and then his eyes darted towards Nadie, to which the elder nodded and looked her up and down. He was the same, even after a decade; young, with kind eyes. If he had been human he’d look no older than his mid-twenties, but as a wyvarian he was much older, but still young by their standards. Standing two feet taller than her, his figure seemed to tower over Nadie, however, his demeanor emitted a peaceful countenance and was not at all intimidating. She recognized him as the same young elder she had been so disrespectful to in her youth. Saying nothing she let out a deep breath, almost outwardly expressing her regret. 

Smirking, he turned and waved the guardian away, leading Nadie himself toward their great hall. The path to their elder hall was directly through their village, a path she had once walked before. Silently she followed as she felt every villager’s eyes upon her, she wondered if anyone else knew who she was and what she had done. She was sure they did, they were obvious in their glares. Or could it simply be that they received so few visitors that her presence was just an anomaly? Regardless, she stood tall and remained silent as she entered through the great doors that led farther into the depths of the sacred island.

Once through, the doors closed, banishing the natural light. The corridors were lit with many candles and the sounds of their footsteps echoed through the long hall. Even her breathing seemed amplified, something she had forgotten. After many familiar twists, turns, and gradual declines,  the hall ended and filtered into a large room lit with a thousand lights. She stopped at the entrance and studied the walls, walls made up of hundreds of small carved wooden blocks, pieced together, documenting their vast history. She tried to see from where she was if the holes she made long ago were still vacant, but those areas were obscured. 

The young elder walked to the center of the room, placed his basket by a carved wooden throne, and sat, leaning his head on his hand. She stood at the entrance as he studied her and finally he broke the silence. “The harvest this year is coming along nicely.” He looked at his bounty

Caught slightly off guard at his chosen topic, she had little to respond with.

“…”

“Did you know that this island’s will chooses to accept or deny visitors?”

She nodded, “Yes, I remember you saying so.” Nadie looked to the walls while speaking, but the spaces were still obscured. “I remember much of what you said.”

“Such as?”

He had her full attention as she brought her eye line to his. “You said many things. Such as ‘this island will always accept its own people.’”

“You said a great many things as well, though, I wonder how much was true.”

Her eyes darted away, “I…said things both true and false. I felt I needed to win your favor at any cost.”

“And so you did. Win my favor that is.” He noticed her transparent discomfort. “You seem tense.”

She cleared her throat, “Forgive me, there is much on my mind. I did not think…I would be accepted here a second time.”

“Our sacred island has willed it, therefore it is so. I trust you will speak only truth?”

She nodded, “I have come for truth, partially.”

Nodding he saw her past self standing exactly where she stood now, “You’ve grown well.”

“I’ve grown, yes, well, I am not too sure.”

Silence lingered between them.

“You may speak freely, but only if you come closer. I do not enjoy raising my voice.”

Nadie walked closer, but still not to the young elder’s liking. He waved her in until she was within a long sword’s distance. 

“There, that is suitable. So, tell me young hunter with anger uprooted from her heart, what brings you?”

Nadie knelt on her knees and sat on the ground, “I have come to…ask two things. I do not deserve for you to hear either, but I request you hear them both.”

His head tilted but he remained silent as she went on. 

“There is a boy who needs help, and to help him I need permission to hunt on your land.”

“You could easily hunt without it, why are you asking?”

“Because as a child I wronged you and this place, I will not repeat that folly. I will only hunt with your permission.”

“And if you don’t get it?”

She remained silent, holding the urge to beg, “Then I must go elsewhere.”

“I almost believe you.” He was not being unkind, he was simply unsure if she meant it. “What is the second thing you wish to ask?”

“I humbly ask for you to release any ill will towards me for stealing a part of your precious history. Not for my sake, but for the boy’s. You openly welcomed me into your home and treated me as family, and I repaid that extraordinary kindness by stealing a part of your people’s heritage…and even more regrettably is that what I stole was lost.” She took up her pouch and opened it revealing its contents. “These can never replace the ones I took, but I have recreated them to the best of my abilities.” She held them up for him to see. They were crudely carved but it was clear that she had studied the originals very meticulously. Taking one into his hand he brushed his fingers over the decorated sides.

“Follow.” He stood and walked towards the far wall, letting his fingers run across it. “More pieces have been added since you were last here.” He stopped to show her, “Here we see the arrival of an honored guest, a village celebration, and,” he looked to her as he spoke, “The same honored guest’s theft in the night.” 

She looked at her own deeds now memorialized in the history of their wall. There wasn’t much after that.

“It seems,” he continued, “we will be able to conclude that story with an epilogue of how the honored guest returned them.” He walked towards one of the holes. “She who stole from our past should return them.” Nodding Nadie took the proper block in her bag and slid it in, fitting perfectly, though looking a bit crude in comparison to the surrounding carvings. One by one she replaced the blocks until her bag was empty and the wall was whole again. The young elder looked to see her holding one more block than she had stolen. Noticing where his attentions fell, she lifted the block up for him to see.

Nadie sighed, slightly embarrassed, “This one…was more an offering…it depicts how the originals were lost.”

He took it into his hands, studying the story told by carved pictures on all sides of the block. Smirking, he scanned the wall and let his eyes rest on a particular spot. “This will fit nicely here.” He said as he slid it in.

They both stood in the presence of the wall of history but she found herself laughing, which caught the attention of the young elder. 

“I was never much of a carver, that was Adira’s gift.”

“Yes, your young friend who perished. What became of your quest?”

She met his gaze, “I am still on it.”

“I see.” He turned away from the wall, “This boy is important to you, is he yours?”

She shook her head, “No, but does he have to be blood-related for it to matter?”

Smiling, the young elder’s eyes became sharp, “You have returned what you stole and we hold no ill will towards you, so I will offer you a choice.”

Nadie held her breath as he decided what his verdict would be.

“You can either hunt on our land to retrieve what you need to help the child,” Her eyes grew a little in surprise, she had not expected him to be so agreeable. “Or, I can tell you of your blood family, who you know nothing of.” Her brow furrowed, it was not something she’d ever had hoped to resolve.

“How do you know of my family?”

“You do not think we would not know all we can of the one who stole records of a sacred beast.” He let it settle before adding another element. “Your blood relations still roam this world.”

For a split second, she entertained the thought of knowing where she came from but dismissed it almost immediately. “I…ask for hunting privileges.”

“Do you not wish to know who you are? What people do you come from? What land they call your own” As a Wyverian, these were all extremely important to an individual, but Nadie shook her head.

“My family is what I make of it. Blood relations or no, I chose my family and am lucky for it. My people…are from everywhere and nowhere, and I know who I am. I am Nobody.” She smiled, “I mean no disrespect, but there is a boy I must be getting back to before he gets himself into trouble. So with your permission, I have an akantor to hunt.”

The young elder smiled in response, “I see. Then I will escort you through the underbelly of the island. There is a labyrinth of tunnels but you will not be lost. It is a journey in itself, you must tell me of the ailment the boy suffers from while we travel.”

“Thank you.” He slightly nodded and turned, but she grabbed his sleeve, “No, truly, thank you.”

“There is no need to thank me, I am only expressing the will of our land, but you are welcome all the same.”

Kid wiped his brow, proud of the small task completed; the dishes were washed and set out to dry. Sitting on the stool, still doing his exercises, he tried to find another task he could do that wouldn’t be too strenuous on his leg; Kid had promised Nomad that he would not over-exert himself while Nomad was gathering. His energy was returning in abundance, but his body still could not accommodate his desire to run about. “I guess I could do some laundry…” he told himself as he checked the water basin, making sure there was enough cleaning water but noticing they were running low, “Maybe not…” 

Sighing he looked towards the volcano, where his accident occurred. Remembering the ferocity of that teostra, Kid closed his eyes to focus on anything else. He thought about Nomad’s stories of Vojin, how he overcame a great wound. Trying to focus on the thought of recovery, a noise distracted him. As he turned to welcome Nomad’s return, his body went stiff and he held his breath in. Only meters away, an iodrome stood with its attention on Nomad’s hut. It moved closer towards it, obscuring Kid from its eye line. 

Kid’s mind went blank as the iodrome walked deeper into the camp, closer to him. He was completely helpless, his leg was in no condition for him to take a stand against the monster, and he didn’t have the ability to sneak away unnoticed. His only hope was to stay still and pray the iodrome would not see him. His eyes watching its every move, Kid willed with all his might for the monster to not turn, to just go back the way it came.

But the iodrome turned towards him, and Kid’s heart fell as it screeched into the air, and began charging towards him. Pumped full of adrenaline his wits returned and Kid quickly bolted from his seat, grabbing a freshly-washed iron skillet. Dodging the iodrome’s initial lunge, he knew the best option was to keep as much distance between them as possible in hopes the drome would get bored and leave. With great accuracy, he hurled the skillet with such force, the iodrome’s head buckled backward. Unfortunately, it was not enough to ward it away, and after recovering from the blow, the monster continued the chase.

Grateful for all the ‘games’ Huntress made him play with dromes, Kid hobbled on his crutch as fast as he could, throwing anything within reach until there was nothing left. The only thing keeping him from getting pinned was the practical knowledge of its movements, but even Kid could see that the iodrome would eventually catch him. He needed to make some kind of stand, but his duel blades were too far away, and there was no other weapon around. 

By torchlight, the young elder ushered Nadie through the labyrinth of underwater tunnels until they finally reached the entrance to the underwater volcano. Mounted beside the entrance, on a large carved wall, were three ancient weapons. The young elder placed the torch into a hole in the wall and then motioned to the weapons, “You may choose one of these three to hunt with. They hold great meaning for our tribe; the hunting spirits of our ancestors have imbued them as they have been passed down from generation to generation.”

Nodding, Nadie could tell they were powerful, raw weapons. Though the great sword and duel blades were fine choices, she defaulted to what was most comfortable and reached for the longsword. Feeling its weight and balance she nodded to herself, it was a fine weapon and not seen much in the modern days. Strapping the long sword to her back, she turned towards the young elder who blocked the doorway. 

“Once you have what you need, return through this doorway.” He pointed off to the side, “There is a small pool of water that forms in a natural cascading pond, please wash the weapon with that water before placing it back on the wall.” With little ceremony, he walked towards her, but stopped before moving past her, “I will wait for you in the great hall, I hope you remember the way back.” Almost teasing, he walked into the darkness of the labyrinth, but his voice echoed, “I suggest taking a refreshing drink from that pond before you enter.”

She looked to the darkness where he had disappeared. Understanding his meaning, Nadie scooped up the water in her hands and lapped it up, it refreshed her immediately. She ran her wet hands over her face and head, checked the longword strap, jostled her shoulders a bit to test how it felt, then walked to the door. With great effort Nadie pushed them open, feeling the heavy rush of heat and sulfur push against her frame. Protecting her eyes from the sting, she forced herself through the doors, allowing them to close quickly with a loud, deep thud. Surveying the area, it was clear where she needed to go. 

Not long into the trek, she spotted it in the distance. ‘It’s been too long since I have seen one in person.’ Nadie watched as its massive legs lumbered across the lava, making its way to solid ground. As the lumbering monster moved onto land, she could feel the ground tremble from her safe hiding place. It was larger than she had ever seen, ‘I suppose you are safe from hunters in this place, I am sorry I have come to disturb your existence here.’ Sighing, she stood and trotted towards it, remembering a humorous akantor hunt. Shaking her head, smiling, she said aloud, “It’s not like I have flash bombs anyway.” 

The akantor noticed her approaching and let out a curdling, mountain shaking roar, causing lava to rise from below the rock and burst through it. Nadie weaved through the lava spurts as the akantor’s front legs settled on the ground and with no hesitation, she unsheathed the long sword and aimed for his feet.

Surrounded in poison puddles Kid’s options were fewer, the limited areas he could reach had no weapons to use against the iodrome. The only thing left he had to defend himself was his hunter knife. He’d only have one chance, if he could time it right at the moment the monster lunged at him, he’d have to hit the eye. Dropping his crutch he balanced his weight, forgetting all the pain shooting from his bad leg, he stood ready. With hunter knife in hand, he waited.

The iodrome lunged at Kid, who was completely focused on what he needed to do. Waiting for the last possible moment, he moved to the side and slashed down with his knife. CLANG. His eyes widened as the hunter knife snapped in two against the iodrome’s hard head, leaving him weaponless. The idorome staggered to the side but was mostly undamaged and Kid stood before the small monster with a strange sense of peace. He was wounded, the iodrome dazed. Closing his eyes he put his hope on one last option, an option he hadn’t entertained until this very moment.

The akantor swept its huge tail and followed with a few swipes as Nadie dodged out of the way. While it was a powerful beast, its movements were slow and she easily navigated through his attacks. Only when he burrowed underground, did Nadie take time to scour the area and collect bits and pieces she had dislodged with the long sword. Keeping a mental record of what she already had, and what more was needed, Nadie readied herself for the monster to reemerge. Clawing its way from underground, the akantor charged her for the third time, but it was tiring and with only a few swipes of her blade, the monster toppled over. Her blade shone with a red hue, and she unleashed a series of deadly strikes as the akantor floundered on the ground. Only a few more strikes and the akantor would be hers, Nadie unsheathed her blade for the final series of blows.

A distinct whistle echoed through the camp as Kid blew as hard and loud as he could. The iodrome lunged for him again, but he dodged and again whistled a series of calls, hoping for a miracle. If only his leg weren’t damaged, he could take down this insignificant monster with ease, but the pain was reaching a point he could no longer ignore, and his movements were slowing rapidly. Barely able to stand, he hobbled up the slope, looking for anything new to throw at the monster, keeping it a bay a little longer. The iodrome in quick pursuit, Kid fell over himself into a pile of straw, and braced for the inevitable; his leg could take no more. He took a deep breath and watched the iodrome bearing down on his sprawled body.

Like a flash of lightning, Thunderclap lunged at the drome mid-air, catching its neck in his massive jaw. With a vicious grip, he shook his prey wildly, clamping down as the iodrome tried to claw its way free. The zinogre released the drome, flinging it across the camp, and stood his ground as he roared into the sky, letting the intruder know whose territory it had wandered onto. The iodrome wobbled to its feet and turned to limp away. 

Pacing a few steps back and forth, Thunderclap huffed and snarled, in case the drome had decided to return, but once satisfied his territory was secure, he sniffed around and turned to Kid, who was laying in his straw. Kid started to let out a few muffled laughs, but then as the adrenaline finally wore down, his body trembled. He couldn’t tell if it was from pain or from fear, but he kept repeating, “Good boy.” 

Thunderclap huffed again but moved in closer to properly sniff Kid, who had a hint of Iodrome. When Kid felt Thunderclap’s cool, wet nose on his head, he reached out grasping the zinogre’s jaw, and began to cry. Still repeating “Good boy”, Kid refused to let him go, even when the zinogre’s head jerked backward. “Good boy”, was all he could say aloud, but in his heart and mind, he thanked Thunderclap for saving his life.

Nadie emerged from the underwater labyrinth and allowed her eyes to adjust to the great hall’s candles, where the young elder sat awaiting her return. She placed the torch back on the wall, where it had come from, and walked towards the throne. Breathing a bit heavily from the excursion, she stood in silence until he felt inspired to talk.

“You spared the beast?” He finally commented.

She nodded, “It wasn’t necessary to kill it, would have served little purpose.”

Smiling the young elder nodded, “Would the young you have been so magnanimous?” 

She smirked, “Probably not. An akantor of that size would have garnered many bragging rights. It would have been too tempting to pass up.”

“The moon has peaked, you must rest in our village this night, and tomorrow we will send you off as a friend of our people.” 

Nadie nodded in agreement, it was the best option and she needed to fully rest to begin her travel back through the wasteland and up the mountain again.

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