Chapter 77 = The Winged Ones
Disclaimer: With one exception, all characters here are of my own invention, but the original idea of Yoshies, Birdos, etcetera, are copyright of Nintendo, and I make no money from writing this.
The snowfall kept up its heavy onslaught, forcing them to walk what might have been a relatively short flight through the mountains, stopping in every cave they could find to warm up and rest. Skafria seemed to be most annoyed, not because of the cold, but because there wasn’t anyone around he could bite, and gave Darkmark an angry look every so often to make this clear to him. Darkmark went exploring as much as he could, but couldn’t find any sign of what he was looking for, nor any more inscriptions on the walls. However, as they drove deeper into the nigh-impassable terrain, he could feel something off in the distance… something powerful, beckoning to him…
He was starting to lose hope, hope that faded along with the feeling in his arms and legs. He was forced to squint as they forged their way through the mountains, holding a hand up to protect his face, and he couldn’t tell where Skafria and Yoshata were – if they were even still behind him. He kept looking to the side, hoping to see a cave, but visibility was poor and the cold was getting to him…
I can’t die here, he thought. I’m not done yet… I survived a vampiric wizard and a high-ranked assassin, I can survive a little snow…
Those words echoed though his mind as he fell into the freezing white blanket on the ground, too numb to get up or call out…
Tsi-Lau, however, was not so bothered by the cold. Having grown up in a city covered in snow the year round, and now with her vampiric protection and her chi to aid her, it didn’t bother her in the slightest as she followed them. Having set off a day later than they did, she ate away at their lead by flying longer than they did and stopping not as often. Already she was entering the mountains, ignoring the snow trying to push her back.
She had merely left without being seen or noticed, assuming she would be taken for dead when her sensei’s body was found and hers was not. She didn’t care any more… she only had one thing to carry out, the one thing Darkmark had committed against her sensei… vengeance. She couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt Skafria, but Darkmark could fall to her if she took him by surprise… and perhaps Skafria would sympathise with her, for their common distinctions as vampires would make them singled out, unable to live normal lives…
She thought of her sensei’s note and what had been written therein. The last words bothered her… a sign that even she had had her problems, that as an assassin she had feelings she could never show to anyone, not even herself…
‘I love you, Valina.’
What had she meant by that? Tsi-Lau hoped that it was a platonic expression of thanks for her friendship and understanding, but at the same time that explanation seemed insufficient… but the thought of what deeper meaning those words might have had sent a chill through Tsi-Lau’s nerves, and she continued onwards, forcing herself to think of other things, like the upcoming conflict with Darkmark… if she could ever find him…
Darkmark felt something soft against his skin. He was so warm and comfortable, he was sure he was dreaming he was back in his home in the Shoreside Village. So long ago it seemed, before his life had taken a horrid turn… any moment now, Alziana would come and rouse him from his rest, urging him to go play with her outside in the sunshine, or come and see a surprise she had for him… perhaps to ask him yet again if she could accompany him on his next journey into the forest… or maybe it was cold outside, and she wanted to snuggle with him for warmth… but whatever reason she might have had for being there, her presence always made him happy…
Or maybe he was with Shiala again in the hotel in Corvan, having only dreamt the most horrid nightmares of what would happen to them both… she would be next to him, waiting for him to wake up so she could cuddle him and kiss him, so bright and cheerful, always optimistic…
The memories brought a small smile to his face, but it quickly faded when he forced himself to open his eyes and look around to see where he was. Evidently he was in a cave, but there was a fire nearby and he was underneath a large pile of blankets, lying as close as he could without any risk of the fire setting them alight. He could see Skafria slumped against one wall of the cave, apparently dozing, and after sitting up he spotted Yoshata lying on her side wrapped in blankets similar to the ones he had.
A call from behind him caught his attention, and he turned to see a dark blue Yoshi, darker than Skafria, standing straight with a spear in his right hand. Upon his back was a set of magnificent, fluffy white Yoshi wings, folded neatly, giving him a very proud and majestic look as he stood in place.
“Glad to see you regained consciousness. Another few minutes, and the frostbite would have been too severe for your recovery…”
“Where am I?”
“You’re inside our aerie. It’s the only place we are safe any more… if the humans wish to cull yet more of our kind, they must scale over a thousand feet of sheer rock first without being spotted, and none so far have come close. Your friends tried to carry you, but they didn’t get far before one of our scouts spotted them and called some help… you’re very lucky to still be alive.”
“I… uh… thank you.” Darkmark stammered. “How many…?”
“Not so many.” The winged one replied. “It’s dangerous up here, but infinitely less so than on the ground where they can get us. This network of caves is being tunnelled further into the mountain all the time, but even so our numbers do not grow by that much… we have looked for another site to set up a second aerie, but as of yet no suitable areas have been found… and it’s hard to sustain the people we already have up here. We grow those medicinal plants to keep us healthy, but they are unsuitable as food, and we rely on a good store of food to last us the winter…” He sighed. “But, it has come early this year and looks like it may last longer than we expected. Extinction is not an option, but I hate for us to have to resort to theft…”
“Are you the leader?”
“No, no.” He said, shaking his head. “I’m old enough to be; a hundred and twelve years, but the leader is older than most of us. I know him well, but he left quite a few days ago with some of our comrades to look for supply carts… to have any chance of finding them, he’ll have to go quite a ways out, and if he’s found… well, I try not to think of that. He will not be back any time soon even if he is successful, and it is not something he wanted to do either, but… given that or letting ourselves starve to death…”
He coughed twice, shivering a little and exhaling a stream of breath that condensed in the cold air. “My name is Karva, by the way.”
“Just Darkmark will do…”
He nodded, resting his spear against the wall for a moment to rub his hands together in an attempt to warm himself up. “I miss my family. I had a wife and two children, but the humans caught the little ones and my beloved died in an avalanche. It pains me so much to say goodbye to them, even this long after, but I must do my part to keep us going… I have some idea of how the ferals feel now, never able to settle down with just one person because of their limited numbers.”
“I knew a feral once…” Darkmark said sadly. “She too died, ultimately at the hands of the humans, but directly from an anthro.”
The winged Yoshi took a deep breath, narrowing his eyes slightly. “They used to live along with us. We coexisted here in the mountains for our own survival, but they betrayed us to try and ensure their own safety… and they never got it either. Now they are as far into the mountains as you can go, clinging desperately onto their hope, wondering, like us, why we have to suffer so… yes, they brought it upon themselves, and they did inadvertently send many of us to our deaths, but nobody deserves what we or they have to put up with…”
There was a low rumble, and he looked down a passage to his left, from which the most natural light came, as opposed to that from the fire. “Another earthquake… they have never been this frequent before. I wonder if there are any dormant volcanoes in this mountain range. It’s a horrid place to be in, let alone live in. Why are you here?”
“I’m looking for the Underworld entrance.”
“Why? Not even the snow stays there. The land and air around it is poisoned with evil. I have seen it once from the sky, and do not wish to again.”
“I’m not really looking for it directly.” Darkmark said, correcting himself. “I just need it as a reference point… I’m actually looking for some ruins nearby, but I don’t know where they are.”
“Ah, the psychics… unfortunately, unlike us or the Anthros, they didn’t make it… why, are you an archaeologist?”
“No.” Darkmark said bluntly. “I’m a psychic.”
To emphasise his point he brought up his right hand, surging with energy he charged, and released it with a flash of light in the form of a fireball, aimed to deliberately miss the Yoshi and hit the ceiling, which it did. A scorch mark appeared, barely noticeable, and the winged one looked at it in awe before turning back to Darkmark. Before he could say anything, the brown Yoshi removed the Octagram from his saddlebags, and flicked it up into the air with his thumb, watching it sparkle in the light of the fire before catching it and putting it back in his saddlebags.
The effect was not quite one which he had expected. Dropping his spear, the winged Yoshi fell to his knees and looked up to the ceiling, with one hand on his chest and the other held upwards. “By the gods, we are saved!” he cried, “The saviour has come!”
He bent over onto his front and looked up at Darkmark. “If there is anything we can do for you, please, do not hesitate to ask!”
Darkmark waved his hand impatiently. “No, no, it’s fine. All I ask for are the directions to the underworld and a little more time to sleep…”
“Of course, of course.” He murmured, getting back to his feet, and scurrying off down into the network of passages.
Darkmark slumped onto his side and drifted off again. As he became calm he felt the presence again of an immense power, closer now, calling for him to come to it… pulling him towards it…
“Soon…” he murmured, “I will find you… and you will be mine… and all shall burn at my feet…”
To be continued…