The start of a journey
Skylax tried to look small. He was used to drawing attention, what with the distinctive shark fate had painted on his side, but he didn’t exactly enjoy it. It tended to give others the wrong impression.
As usual, though, he didn’t succeed. There were so many vayrons assembled at the port of Udreim, simply too many eyes to avoid them all. Most of them were younger than he - he hadn’t quite felt ready for his trials, or perhaps for facing all these other youngsters, for rather too long.
He stayed close to the walls of the warehouses opposite the ships rising and falling on the cold grey sea, even in this safe harbour. He’d need to find a companion. There wasn’t anyone his age in the little village he had grown up in who hadn’t already passed their trials.
He felt a little sick with nerves.
When someone snuck up to him - at least that was what it felt like - he startled.
»Apologies,« said the gold-and-black runner now right next to him. »Are you perchance still looking for a companion?«
»Uh - I am, yes.« Sure, this one was as good as any other. At least he wouldn’t have to go around asking. »I’m - I’m Sky.«
»Agneta,« replied the other. »Can we agree that it’s better to be safe than quick?«
»Sure. Yes. Definitely.« Skylax didn’t even mind his relief seeping into his voice. The thought hadn’t even occurred to him that this might be one of the competitive ones, and he was glad he didn’t have to reassess.
»I’ve already got provisions,« Agneta continued, nodding indistinctly towards the nearest alley leading into town. »Do you still need anything?«
Half an hour and a rather embarrassing shopping trip - he should have gotten organized before, shouldn’t he?! - later, they were on their way towards the mountains towering inland.
They hadn’t gotten far before-
»Hey! Wait wait wait! Please!«
Skylax turned, half-worried he’d done something wrong. But all he discovered was a young blue vayron, a bundle hapharzardly slung across his back, dashing towards them.
The new one almost slid to a stop, out of breath. »Sorry! Are you guys here for the trial? Can I come with you? I slept in, everyone’s already gone…«
Agneta caught Skylax’ eye, an amused sparkle in her own. »I’d think so, what do you say?«
»Sure, of course.« Skylax smiled down at the smaller runner, guiltily relieved that someone else didn’t have their ducks in a row. »What’s your name?«
His name was Floe, and it quickly turned out that he would save him and Agneta from trying to figure out smalltalk, because he chattered on non-stop. He told them about his village (which was only slightly larger than Skylax’) and siblings (of which he was the youngest), and he did it with such enthusiasm Skylax couldn’t help but find it endearing. On top of that, he was grateful for the excuse to keep quiet, while Agneta chimed in with a remark or two.
Time passed quickly while they were suchly occupied, and dusk was slowly beginning to fall. They had made good progress across the as yet fairly easy terrain, and Udreim was already on the horizon.
They’d get one more night of comfortable sleep before they’d reach the mountain foothills tomorrow - if all went well, that was. Skylax tried not to worry; Agneta appeared so confident and at ease, and Floe so cheerful and excited, even after a day’s journey, that he found it surprisingly easy.
Well rested after a night at a cheap inn completely overrun with trialers, they continued early the next day. The road was still fine by Roenden standards, and Floe resumed to talk.
Agneta, clearly finding the constant noise tiring but too polite to say so, scouted ahead, at times barely within sight, then falling back again to check in with them. Skylax, though, couldn’t find it in himself to agree with her, and Floe appeared oblivious.
The hours passed as they journeyed on at a reasonable pace for someone who had never undertaken such an expedition - which Skylax was glad for, because that definitely was him - and Skylax was so lost in the flow of Floe’s words that his question hit him like a shovel to the face.
»What do you want to do after this?« Floe chuckled. »I can’t do all the talking around here, can I?«
»Ah - uh.« Skylax felt more like a bumbling fool by the moment. »I haven’t - I don’t really have big plans. I think I’ll just stay on my parent’s farm, help out, you know.«
»I’m going to be a sailor!« Floe chirped.
»Really? I couldn’t do that.« The words slipped out before Skylax had the presence of mind to stop them.
Floe gave him a quizzical look, and Skylax explained, half against his own will, »The sea is scary, isn’t it?«
»I mean-« It was only a moment, but Skylax noticed the way his look caught on the markings of his side; he had way too much pratice in spotting it. »I suppose, but it’s also full of adventure!«
»Yes, I suppose,« Skylax said, certain he had just revealed himself as a coward and that was all Floe was going to see in him now. Thankfully, at least Agneta had drifted back into their vicinity for a distraction.
»What about you, Agneta? What are you going to do with your life?«
»We should look for shelter,« Agneta said smoothly; Skylax wasn’t sure whether she hadn’t heard Floe, or... no, she probablty hadn’t heard Floe. »It’s going to be nightfall soon.«
She was right; the sun had long set behind the mountain in the west, while the range they would attempt to cross tomorrow was towering before them, swallowing the sky. They had been travelling uphill since they left the port, of course, and the incline had been become steadily more noticeable, but the real challenge was yet to come.
Agneta ended up being the one who ended up finding them shelter under a rock overhang. Together they constructed something of a cover for it from sticks - trees were still abundant at this height, thought they could already see the vegetation dwindling up the slopes - and earth - also soon to be replaced by rock. Skylax was glad to do the heavy lifting, and Floe was quick to find them good materials.
They cuddled up for warmth - nothing any Roendean would find unusual - and fell asleep, dreaming each of the ascent to come.
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