Within the distance a figure can be seen stumbling and finding trouble with walking, occasionally falling to the ground, barely being able to pull themselves up. Painful calls of help can be heard emitting from the figure, but they start to end sooner and sooner as time goes by. The figure eventually stops to a standstill, supporting themselves on a nearby tree, holding their stomach. The screams have stopped, and the figures movements are becoming sluggish and weak.
Not too far away walks a cloaked traveler. Their features are obscured and they seem to be scanning the area with each step. They walk silently, feet making nary a sound until the sound of a voice reaches their ears. Quickly discerning the source, they turn towards the tree and dash their within moments to inspect the origin of the voice.
As the traveler turns to the tree they can quickly understand what they're looking at. The figure is of man who is in an extremely damaged state, their clothes ripped and torn, soiled in blood and dirt. What remains seems to be barely shirt, a hood that is hanging at the seams, and a mouth cover that is so soaked with blood, the weight is pulling it off. The mans body is covered in lacerations and wounds, and they are almost unable to make a single sound as they gaze onto the traveler. "Pl-please... help me..." The man slowly begins to fall to the ground from the three, howling in searing pain.
"...Hold still." The traveler draws a circle in the air before placing a hand on the wounded man's head. "...Beyond my capabilities. Sweet Anodyne." A pale light flows from the traveler's hand, closing many of the lesser lacerations, but not many of the larger injuries, as a pleasant warmth fills his chest.
As the traveler does so she can feel an odd shift in the air, which quickly dispels after the man mumbles something. The man lets out a breath as he is healed to an extent, and holds back a yelp from his body contracting in response to the breath. "Th-...thank you..." The man pulls himself higher to his feet, gritting his teeth as he nearly falls back down. "Conqueror...failed...dying....too weak..." He seems to be speaking random words, and the air becomes heavy.
"Oh, another vagrant soul." A deep voice rumbles from the bowels of the earth. "Ah, the Astral Tool! How are you, fading one? Enjoying what will be your last time in a woman's arms?"
The man seems to panic as he hears the disembodied voice. The bloodied face mask finally falls off as another howl of pain escapes his mouth. "I'm not...not ready...please, whoever you are, don't let me die..." this seems directed at both the woman, and the voice.
"Hold on." The pale light grows stronger as the cloaked woman puts more effort into the healing spell.
"And why should I? Your goose is cooked... Unless you are willing to entertain me, that is. I'm interested in this little web you've been caught in. How will you ever escape it? I wonder if your life is even worth continuing as things are now..."
The man tries to relax as his wounds heal and close, but he soon coughs up blood. "Internal..." He pushes his back against the tree, clenching his fist. "I will get past it...I could be the spider for all you kn-" His words are interrupted by another cough of blood, and he stays silent. "I can go on..."
"A spider trapped in its own web or so the story goes, but nonetheless I can see you keeping me entertained before your true time comes. Sleep and you'll find your second chance so to speak."
"Delirium. This is worse than I anticipated."
The man looks up to the helpful traveler and gives a bloodied smile. "I'm...I'm Vulkas.." He closes his eyes and soon falls asleep, seeming dead if he wasn't breathing.
"...Someone intervened." The traveler inhales sharply before hoisting Vulkas over her shoulder and carrying him to a small cottage not too far away. There, she inspects his injuries and notices that many seem to be completely sealed, both internally and externally. "Still pale however. Severe blood loss and fatigue."
Vulkas seems to stir occasionally, mumbling things in his sleep about promises and failure. It seems to be the words of a mad man, due to seeming completely random. Some time later he finally wakes up, inspecting his body and stretching.
"You're awake," notes the cloaked figure, "Are you well?"
He takes a second to be respond, regaining his senses. "...I'm not sure. I hope so, however. Thank you." He stands up, expecting some sort of pain, but soon finds he's fine.
"It is of no consequence. Stay here for as long as you need."
He seems confused for a second, but nods. "Where on Echo are we, exactly? It appears my mind is...still foggy. The whole situation appears to have transported me somewhere else from where I once was." He looks at his tattered clothes, looking distraught.
"Northernmost point," is the reply he gets as the cloaked woman produces a book, more of a journal than anything else, from their clothes and flips through the pages. "If you require clothing, wait a moment and I have some ready for you."
"Good, not too far from the..." He cuts himself off. He looks back to the woman, and gives a forced smile. "Very well, who are you, by the way? I don't believe I caught your name."
"Adel." She continues to flip through the pages until she finds a blank one and rummages in her cloak for a pen. "You could probably use a bath. There's a tub around back and soap with cloth to clean yourself with."
He nods and begins to walk to the back. "Thank you again Adel, I'm not sure I would be alive if not for you." His face seems to twist, remembering the odd voice that was speaking to him.
"You would have lived. Maybe not ending up in the same shape, but you would have survived."
"Depending on what happens I might end up explaining to you what likely would have ended me, even after me surviving said wounds. Apologies if I'm coming off strange and lost, but its likely for the best as of now." Vulkas gives no calls of what he could be meaning or referring to, and heads to the tub. Soon after he begins to bathe.
Adel waves him off before adding to the tiny book. "No sign of him here either... Recording results for later."
Moments later he finishes and calls from the back "May I have those clothes now?"
"Just a moment," replies Adel, closing the book for a bit. She draws a symbol in the air, which quickly produces a set of clothing, before walking to the back of the cottage to deliver them.
Vulkas quickly took them and got dressed after drying off, taking a few moments before coming out. "Do excuse my curiosity, what made you help me, anyway? Most people I've met would have just acted as if I was not there."
"Not in my nature. I'm not wholly altruistic or kind, but I won't sit around and let someone die if I can help it." Adel glances at him briefly. "Besides, who am I to judge whether or not you should have died there or not? I know just as much about you as you do me, meaning I have no basis on which to judge you."
He regards Adel with an appreciative smile, nodding. "I must state I'm quite comforted by that, I believe there should be more beings who have an outlook like yours." Vulkas remains silent for a second before opening his mouth. "...You aren't from Echo naturally, am I correct?"
"Not a native of this plane, no." Adel shrugs. "It's not a hard thing to discern."
He seems to chuckle ever so lightly, but quickly regains his composure. "Ah, no. I would have to agree with you there. Regardless if you aren't native I do hope you've been finding Echo adequate. Have you come here by your own leisure? Its not the easy feat." Vulkas glances to Adel as he finishes talking, keeping his face relaxed.
"I'm looking for someone, someone who probably doesn't exist on this plane. I woke up here years ago, how long ago I don't remember."
He bites his lip. "I really shouldn't be trying to get myself into things like this." He stops and thinks for a bit. "I could see if I'm able to assist you with finding them. Of course it may not work, but there's no reason to not give it a try."
"It's fine. While the thought is appreciated, you probably have more important things to do than wander around the world with a stranger dozens of times to find a single person who may or may not be here."
"Very well, and...whether it's important or not I'm still deciding now. From what I can tell it's a definite yes. Good luck with finding them though." His face finally gives some emotion as he talks, seeming confused and oddly somber.
Adel nods briefly in response before going back to writing in the small journal.
The somber look quickly goes away as he turns from Adel, gazing around the cottage. "One thing. I must say that I think I will end up staying here for longer, there are things I must sort out and...investigate. This is fine, yes?" Vulkas continues looking away, waiting for a response.
"As long as it doesn't get you killed or take more than two weeks. I'm packing up and changing locations, cottage included, in two weeks. You're welcome to follow, but if you don't it isn't an issue."
"I must assure the injuries I sustained earlier generally doesn't happen to me. It was simply an...accident. And I'll have to see within those two weeks as to whether I'll be following or not."
"Fair enough." Adel closes the journal and puts it away within her cloak. "There's a room near the tub that you can use for the duration of your stay."
"Thank you, I'll get myself acquainted and likely rest. There're a few things I still need to run by within my mind." Vulkas walks back to the tub and gives a slight gesture with his hand, continuing to walk. After he reaches the room near the tub he looks around, letting out a breath of air.
"It'll be dark soon... Almost time for my other job to start."
He soon sits on the bed and closes his eyes, and starts to almost trace the areas of where his wounds once were. "So foolish...what have I done...?" He hears a familiar voice. It sounds alien, almost mechanical. At the very same time its comforting and unsettling. "Wonders, my dear friend. You must realize we were close to our goal. I look forward to when you decide to try it once more." Vulkas growls but collects himself, and lies down on the bed, beginning to doze away.
Once night falls, Adel silently slips out of the cottage and returns to the tree from earlier. Something warped him here, otherwise he would have never found this place... What's this? She picks up a metallic box a dozen meters away from the tree. He must have dropped it before he got here. Sealed, so no one can open it without bending some rules or Something close.
She looks around once more before lowering her hood and gazing at the sky. "Astra Asterism." Teal lines and circles cover the sky, forming a map of sorts. "Not here..." An x appear in one of the circles.
Vulkas begins to stir in his sleep, slowly getting up. "Nightmares..." He leaves his room and after realizing Adel was not inside, he exited the cottage and noticed the teal lines and circles. He sat down nearby, simply watching.
"Hm..." The lines and circles shift around in the sky at a slight gesture. "It's not here either... Or here or here or here..." countless x's form in the circles as the map in the sky rotates. "That leaves this area and that one as well." Two areas glow golden on the map.
"Strange Magic..." Vulkas continues to gaze upon Adel's work, taking notice of the two golden circles.
"Then it is decided. That mountain will be the first destination, then the cloud sea." Another faint gesture causes the map to slowly fade away. "Hm? What's this?" Adel picks up a small satchel tied shut. The cloth it is made of seems worn and dirty, but remains intact. Possibly his. The strange thing is how I didn't notice it before..."
He eventually sits up, walking over closer to where Adel was. "Apologies but I couldn't help myself but ask, what are you doing?"
Almost immediately he finds a sword at his neck and a startled look across Adel's face."You were supposed to be asleep... Not that it matters now. Go back inside." There is a finality in her voice that says she won't be answering any questions. The sword fades soon afterwards.
Vulkas keeps himself relaxed through the whole scene, simply nodding and deciding its best to keep this alone for now. "Nightmares. But very well. Sorry for intruding." He turns and heads back inside the Cottage.
"At the very least it wasn't in the middle of the Asterism, else there would have been time wasted. I'll confront him tomorrow, but for now..." She takes a look at her outer layer of clothing and grimaces in disdain. "I should clean up."
Vulkas takes one last glance around the cottage as he heads back to the bed, trying to drift off to sleep. "I need to play..."
Adel proceeds to dress down before entering the bath, relaxing in the water before touching the tattoo like crest on her upper back. A faint shock ripples from it and she nods faintly, as if recalling something, before exiting the large tub, drying herself, switching to night clothes and going to sleep in the chair from earlier.
Hours pass and Vulkas awakes, not realizing he passed out soon after his urge to play. He feels relief as he had no nightmares, however the event that occured is still plaguing his mind. He got out of the bed and stretched, reflecting over his current situation. He quickly left his room, and headed into the main room of the cottage.
"You're awake." Adel doesn't open her eyes when she addresses him. "I take it you slept well."
"Well, yes. Good? Probably not. Regardless it could have been worse." He turns to Adel, seeming hesistant. "What was that magic, yesterday night? I've never seen it before."
"Something you're better off not knowing about at this point. If the time comes, I'll tell you about it, but until then do not bring up the subject if you wish to stay here as a guest." Adel's tone is final. "That being said, if there is anything else you wish to know about, I'll be forthcoming if possible."
Vulkas sits down on a nearby chair, running his fingers through his hair. "During the time of you finding me, did you happen to hear a voice...?" Vulkas doesn't look at Adel, seeming to focus his eyes on his hands. "A disembodied one, coming from nothing. It sounded amused..."
"I did not," she replies. "I did, however, sense interference."
Vulkas says nothing else before tapping his fingers on his legs. "It seems to be that it wasn't just you that willed me to live. I had thought it seemed strange, but nevermind. By the way, considering you're letting me ask this many questions, I'd be accepting enough to answer some of yours if need be."
"That bridge will be crossed when it is."
"Understood..." He sits in silence for a few seconds. "Other than the interference, was their anything else that seemed to be an anomaly?"
"Nothing big, at least nothing worth mentioning." Adel opens an eye. "I found a satchel outside. Is it yours?"
"No...? I don't recall any form of satchel, even when I stumbled over to the tree. Did you check it's contents?" Vulkas sits up, tilting his head.
"No, but other things had me preoccupied."
"Yes, I do remember that. Do you think it'd be best for us to look inside, then?"
"It's up to you."
Vulkas seems to make a somewhat quick decision. "Might as well I suppose, somehow I doubt the result of us checking could be worse than what I've lived. Hand me the satchel."
Adel gestures to a corner of the room, where the satchel sits.
He sits up and makes his way to the corner of the room, reaching for the satchel and hesitantly opening it, investigating its contents.
A long chain is visible and seems to stretch far longer than the satchel is large. The chain is coiled in such a way that it fills the bag almost entirely, but makes no jangling sound.
"Peculiar.." He lightly shakes the bag to check the sound once more, but stops when no jangling is heard. He reaches into the satchel, grabbing onto the chain and pulling out the coil.
Eventually the chain ends in the blade of a kama on one end, pitch black but engraved with runes.
Vulkas places the satchel down as he inspects the weapon, feeling the chain and eyeing the blade, eventually noticing the runes. "This is... extraordinary..."
"Quite the find then," surmises Adel.
"Generally I don't tend to exercise the use of weapons, but I have to say I might now." Vulkas coils the chain and inspects the weight on the end, glancing at the crystals before heading back to the chair.
"So long as there is conviction behind the blade, it cannot be judged by the laws of good and evil..." Adel speaks in a faraway voice.
"Correct, but regardless of conviction, actions will always hold a consequence." Vulkas glances to Adel, trying to get a read on her.
Adel's eyes seem misty, as if a memory had been stirred. Her rigid features seem to have softened and she seems relaxed.
Vulkas can't help but find the woman intriguing, wondering about what she could possibly be recalling. "Have you experienced such a time, where you questioned your conviction?"
"Long ago... Long before I arrived here."
"If its not too personal, I must say my attention has been caught. Mind indulging?" His tone of voice is sincere.
"When I was younger, it had been instilled in me that I needed to be perfection, that I needed to be the best in all fields, with no equal. Up until the incident that sent me here, I believed that wholeheartedly." A distant smile forms across her face. "Then I found myself alone, desperately alone. Solitude has a way of making you look back at yourself and see what you're lacking in and in my case I recognized that the path of perfection was a lonely one, lonely beyond compare. That was when I realized I needed to change."
Vulkas can't help but feel pity, almost recalling his own past as she speaks. "I have felt nothing but loneliness throughout the years....despite not being alone." He bites his lip, holding back his words. "The things we desire always contain a hidden price, and that price can be utterly devastating. Your desire was understandable, and your price even more."
"I wonder what price you've had to pay... Then again it may be best to keep that to yourself."
"I've no reason to, and I might as well return a tale of my own. I know the pain of being alone well, but that wasn't my price. I was an orphan..." Vulkas' face seems to turn into one full of sorrow, nearly clenching his fingers. "...I'm sorry, I thought I would be able to tell that story now. It seems I can't. I've had too many prices to pay, for too little."
"Someday then. Maybe you should get some fresh air."
"Yes, thank you." Vulkas gets up and regards Adel with a faint smile, and walks out of the cottage.
"...Old scars remain raw, even with time to soothe them."
He takes a deep breath as he walks, gazing onto the tree in the distance. "Never again..." Vulkas closes his eyes as he pulls out a black ornate violin along with a bow, resting the violin on his shoulder. Soon after he begins to play a song that is slow yet happy and light hearted in tone, but as it goes on gets darker and darker, speeding up in tempo.
Adel uses this time to change into her standard attire, discarding the simple nightgown and dropping it into a small bin. "I should head out soon."
Vulkas continues to play and the red and green designs begin to glow, the iridescent eye on the back starting to glow as well. The song gets louder and louder, and Vulkas seems to be putting more effort into it.
Adel begins to warp out of the cottage, but stops when she hears the song. She quietly steps outside the cottage, unaware of the brief wriggling of her shadow.
Vulkas is now moving and walking as he plays, seemingly in is own world. Despite occasionally looking at the cottage's general direction, he appears to be unaware of Adel.
Adel listens quietly to the song, closing her eyes and gently swaying with its melody.
He continues to play as the song begins to slow down, seemingly becoming lighthearted again. The designs on the violin stop glowing and instead pulsates, eventually ceasing all together soon enough. Vulkas turns once more and takes notice of Adel, nearly ending the song abruptly, but ends up finishing it off nicely. "...I didn't expect you to have come out as well."
"I was going to run a few errands when you started playing," she replies. "It was a nice song, what made you choose music to express yourself?"
Vulkas smiles, before his violin simply fades into the air. "Defense, pain, convenience, all of these are answers I must say. However the most prominent answer would have to be a bond. I've always loved the sound of a violin, and I've always been compelled to play. Funny, I feel closest to myself whenever I do. It feels right, does that make sense?"
"It does," she affirms with a nod. "Sometimes certain actions help you understand or express yourself better. Playing your violin does that for you."
Vulkas' body seems to relax as he hears her agree. "Do you happen to do anything to express yourself?"
"I used to write, more than the notes I take."
"Hmm? Whats stopped you from writing now then?"
"Any time I do, I lose my work to fire."
"Apologies, are you speaking literally or in a metaphorical tone?" Vulkas seems curious, albeit unsure.
"Literally, regardless of what the content is. Once it was because my original residence was burned down, another time it was confiscated as heresy, yet another time it was blown into a fire place by a sudden gust of wind. The list goes on."
"That's...unusual. I'm sorry to hear that anyway. I'm sure you're an excellent writer. If it weren't for the unfortunate fires I'd be happy to ask if you could share some of your writing with me."
Adel gives a dry laugh. "Maybe someday. It's been so long that I may be a bit rusty."
"Just means more things to re-learn, and possibly new things you never even knew or considered before. Do you have any memories as to what you wrote initially?"
"Then at least not all is lost. I wish you luck in case you ever decide to write again, mainly luck towards your work not setting ablaze." Vulkas lets out an odd chuckle, somewhat amused with himself. "...Still that's unfortunate."
"Probably the world's way of saying that it isn't the time." Adel shrugs.
"Maybe, maybe. However occasionally the world isn't always correct." Vulkas sits down, looking to the distance. "But who am I to say so?"
Adel contemplates something for a few moments. "I'll be back in a bit. Watch the cottage for me."
"Sure." Vulkas nods as he turns to the cottage, tilting his head as Adel seems to leave.
All at once the woman vanishes, leaving behind a fading blue whorl.
Vulkas quietly inspects the blue whorl as it fades, before turning back to the cottage. He takes out the recently discovered weapon, and examines it once again.
Inspecting the whorl results in Vulkas feeling a mild tingling sensation across his body before it fades completely. He feels both drained and rejuvenated by it, but not to the extent of either changing his physical health.
His brows furrow as the he finds the feeling strange. "How curious..."
Adel returns about half an hour later, carrying a large sack over her shoulder.
As Adel returns, she can clearly see that Vulkas appears to be practicing with the weapon, the hook flying and swerving in the air, while Vulkas' movements are akin to a dance.
"High combat potential... Hmm..." She waves at him before entering the cottage, sack in tow.
He stops testing out the weapon and waves back, soon continuing.
Once inside, Adel empties the sack onto the ground, revealing a length of rope, a pick of sorts, dried meats and fruits stuffed in jars, a medium sized sack of sifted grains, a thick set of furs, thick woolen cloth and tanned leather strips bound in twine. She nods at the goods before producing a set of needles, a spool of thread, a tiny set of scissor and a round rim pair of glasses. She makes her way to a closet and draws out several bundles of cloth before returning to the area where she set out her tools. She prepares to cut the cloth before remembering that she was missing a tool and sets the scissors down to look for a measuring tool.
After some time, Vulkas eventually takes a break, beginning to head back to the cottage. He takes one last look at his weapon before putting away, clearly content with himself. Right before he opens the door to the cottage, he knocks. "Just checking, am I allowed to enter at this time or should I remain out here for the time being?"
"You can come in, but watch your step."
"Noted, thank you for the warning." he opens the door and walks in, somewhat confused by the mess of supplies. "Preparing for something, yes?"
"Trip into the mountains soon," replies Adel, having tied the measuring tool around her waist and added a pencil mark as she spoke. "Warmer clothes need to be made."
'I can be of assistance, I've had to tailor clothes before, but it was quite some time ago. Regardless any help is always good."
"It's fine, I do this fairly often," she replies, a warm smile forming on her face as she jots down the taken measurements on a small scrap of paper. "Your offer is appreciated, however."
Vulkas replies with a smile of his own, oddly seeming to be thinking about something. "You're welcome, and I'm glad to hear that. Any reason why the mountains need to be headed to?"
"Looking for something there. I used my map to detect its location last night."
"Ah, I remember. Shall I remain here or would you like me to accompany you on the trip?"
"If you wish to go in thirteen days, you may come along."
Vulkas seems to make no hesitation. "Of course, really I don't think I have anything else to turn to."
"Hm... then make a set of warm travelling clothes. I'll give you any of the tools you may need."
"I assure you I won't need to, cold or hot temperatures don't affect me at all, really."
"I see. Do you need food or the like?"
"To an extent, yes. Not a lot so you'll be able to have most of my shares."
"Then I'll let you pack that. Rationing food is harder when you aren't sure what the appetite of other people is compared to yours."
"Ah true, I'll be sure to pack soon enough when needed. How long is the trek?"
"Five days, not including the climb to the summit, which can be anywhere from four days to two weeks depending on the weather."
"We can only wish for the best then. As for now I'll prep as soon as possible for the journey."
Adel nods before cutting out rectangles of cloth and setting them aside. She does the same with the wool, only cutting much thinner strips out of it instead of large rectangles.
"...Do you remember much about your childhood? Apologies if that's personal, I'm just curious." Vulkas seems reluctant to ask the question.
"...My childhood consisted of being groomed to rule a kingdom. From the first glimmer of sunlight to the start of the coming day I was trained and taught to be perfection."
"A kingdom, oh? I didn't expect you to have been royalty. I'd have to say that life sounds..dull."
"Harsh, dull and repetitive."
"Apologies you had to endure it. What happened to this kingdom? Since you're no longer with them."
"It up and vanished one day," she replies, "Then I found myself alone on this world."
Vulkas squints, clearly thinking. "..Just, vanished? Where exactly was this kingdom then? You've already told me once before you are not of Echo, where do you originally hail from then?"
"Another Plane. I'd name it, but there have been no records of it with a consistent name in this plane."
Vulkas' face twists as he hears the word plane. "To be bluntly honest the last word I want to hear right now is plane, but for the sake of this I shall hold off on my discontent. I have...experience, in a separate plane."
"I won't pry."
"Thank you, however I'm sure I'll be able to tell you the exact details at some time. But about this kingdom, what was it like?"
"Prosperous. There was no poverty, namely because the land was fertile and there was a set rate of exchange for every commodity and good and the agricultural industry had created a system that didn't draw too much from the land's vitality, but created enough of a return for people to not go hungry from too little production or any of the negatives associated with that.
"The technology district had merged with the medical district to create cures for all things ailing the people, eventually curing mortality- or at least extending it to the point where people could get bored with their lives. Teleportation became the way to travel, given its ability to maximize the efficiency of time, and doors eventually disappeared from homes.
"Crime was nearly nonexistent due to strong law enforcement and a general lack of want for excess. Theft was never an issue, but violent crime was an issue every once in awhile, along with the usual affairs between lovers, which seemed to be the most prominent issue based on demographic studies. No one was perfect, but so long as the peace was kept, no one was expected to be so.
"The military was run by nobles, with the king having the final say in what the military did if and when conflicts of interest arose. Nobles were primarily militant families, but a small group was composed of merchants, diplomats and the leaders of the agricultural and technology sectors. The king and his council of six elders stood over them and oversaw the kingdom with the aid of the lords presiding over the districts." Adel seems to know this information as if it were the back of her hand.
Vulkas' body seems unreadable as she goes on, taking in everything she's saying. "And it all just vanished in a day...does the person you're looking for have anything to do with this kingdom?
"He was a candidate for the throne, as was I. Different background however."
"I see. Was he the only one to survive the disappearance of this kingdom other than yourself?"
"I'm hoping so..." Adel pauses from her tailoring for a moment.
Vulkas glances to Adel, noticing her sudden change in action. "I take it you didn't enjoy the company of most in that kingdom."
"In the shadow of prosperity lies darkness. For all of its wealth and glory, everyone was essentially placed in a caste and limited to a single role. Attempting to escape that role, as invisible as it was, would lead to 'accidents'. This was especially true in the upper court, where moving improperly or against expectations lead to... Unpleasant experiences. Some of the nobles and elders seemed to enjoy punishing those who acted out of role, almost reveling in the suffering dealt. But even then, the ones causing the most harm had their own agendas. You could tell that much by their reactions to ideas and passed proposals."
"I think its given behind such grand and beautiful opulence will always lie malicious intent. I'd likely have the same views as if if I were in such a situation....would you say things are better now the way your life is now, compared to then?"
"In general. It's lacking in some areas compared to before, but in others..." she glances at him briefly. "It has improved."
Vulkas' face seems to take a lighter tone as she talks. "I'm delighted to hear that, at the very least. Improvement with cons is better with pros with retrogression."
Vulkas stays quiet for a second before turning back to Adel. "..How long have you been by yourself, Adel?"
"A long time. Decades, possibly centuries. Time is a blur to those who aren't touched by it."
"..Sometimes being alone can be the most ideal company, Adel. Do take it from me."
"Solitude is not weakness, however purposely isolating oneself can cripple."
Vulkas stays silent after the statement and seems to laugh to himself. "Very true, very true...let's just wish that a healing process comes soon"
Adel nods before going back to tailoring her mountain attire.
"..Sorry if this is personal, but what would you say is your most precious memory? Of course you do not have to go into full detail."
"I've never thought about that. I don't believe I have an answer."
"Its quite fine, if it helps I don't think even I can answer that question as well. I tend to be curious as to what events people hold close to them, it can reveal lots about someone."
"Ah, their values and possibly their morals."
"Mhm. Although even then I never judge their answer, Regardless of values or morals, a precious moment can be the very thing keeping a person together."
Adel nods. "Sometimes the smallest things have the largest effects."
Vulkas' voice turns quiet as he speaks. "Like a conversation."
Adel nods again before going silent to focus on making the new garb.
"..I've decided that after this trip, if I've explained things to you more i'd like to show you something. A better way to understand firsthand of my situation, if it is fine."
"We'll cross that bridge when we do."
"Of course, I just preferred to give a fair notification before I did so so it didn't seem abrupt."
Vulkas looks around the cottage, his foot silently yet quickly tapping. "What do you do to spend time, anyway? When things are not busy, I mean."
"Read, star gaze, hunt occasionally, temper myself... Depends on the day."
"Ah, well have you ever taken the time to just make a simple exploration here and there? I tend to find it's a good way to spend time."
"It never interested me. I've done so once or twice, but it never has been very interesting."
"All a matter of preference, of course...I don't think I've actually taken the time to star gaze, to be honest. I'm usually always busy."
"At first none of it makes sense, but after awhile constellations and star systems pop out to you."
"That can be said in regards to many things, but I imagine the stars would be quite rewarding to understand more from an...aesthetic point of view. Hopefully I can try it sometime."
"Someday sounds better than never, so I will look forward to the event. How is the garb turning out?"
"The coat is finished. The tunic and leggings not so much."
"They seem to be coming out well so far, if its any consolation."
"As long as they aren't too small, things should be fine."
"Would you prefer me to do something else while you work on it so you have more focus or no?"
"It doesn't matter to me. Do as you please." Adel speaks briskly.
"Very well, I'll be meditating nearby then, interrupting me when you're done or need something from me is fine, by the way." Vulkas gives a slight nod before leaving the cottage, and sitting outside nearby.
Adel returns the nod before going back to work.
Vulkas takes the time to reflect on recent events, and as he sits three different colored whisps seem to be orbiting around his body.
Adel begins to line the cuffs and hems of the new attire with the fur, having already sewn in the wool between to layers of softer cloth. She sets the leather strips beside herself, preparing to use them next.
As Vulkas meditates, one of the wisps which is a sickly green color seems to be more more active and larger than the other wisps, moving much faster. At the same time Vulkas currently looks uncomfortable.
Adel applies the leather strips to specific parts of the attire that may suffer greater damage. Her needle glows a faint blue as she works, signifying that magic of some form was being sewn into the clothes.
"I said, never again. never again shall you tempt me." All of the whisps suddenly dissapear as Vulkas gets up, giving off a clearly upset and somewhat furious vibe. He takes a few seconds to calm down, before promptly going back into the cottage.
"What's on your mind," asks Adel, not looking up from her near complete work.
"...I suppose there is no point in waiting for any longer to explain to you." Vulkas sits down near Adel, sounding strange. "As you already know, there are multiple planes than the one we all reside in currently. In my case, I've been...caught up in a plane known as the Astral Plane. Its tie to our world is excessively strong, but also quite weak at the same time. Most will never experience the Astral Plane, and to be fair most shouldn't. However...since my beginning I have always been an adept in the Astral realm, and manipulating it. I'm not sure why, I've never trained in it before. To my dismay this...attracted the attention of specific beings. They told me they were the very Lords of the Astral Realm, and needed my help. They want me to help release them into our realm. I never thought this to be a good idea, but recently...I made a vast mistake. I fell into temptation and attempted to release one. I made a poor choice. You see, there are three Lords. Apparently there used to be four, but there are three now. They all seem to balance each other out, but the one I chose to release had a devastating effect. To me, and the surrounding land for miles. Apologies if I'm not explaining this to the best I can, but I will try. Any questions so far?"
"So that's why you were near death when you arrived in my territory," remarks Adel. "Continue if you would."
"Yes. When I attempted to release this Lord, known as the Conqueror I..failed. However something tells me my failure was most fortunate. The very force of attempting to simply release him nearly annihilated me, and sent the surrounding landscape into Oblivion. I cannot imagine the sheer force of destruction that would happen if he was released. However...since the accident, I've come to terms that the Conqueror is...stronger and more influential in our realm than he was before. This is troubling, as the balance between our realm and theirs could be thrown off. With my help, however, it seems I can maintain balance. The only reason I was near your territory was because I blindly transported myself away from the destruction with nearly the last of my energy. I'm never going to attempt such a thing ever again. Regardless, they will never stop asking, I don't know why. From the very beginning they've always asked..."
"I see." Adel finishes up her work before turning to face him. "Is there anything else I should know?"
Vulkas looks to Adel, clearly thinking. "Just, do be careful around me. With how active the Conqueror has been I doubt he wouldn't do anything to those around me. From what I know the other lords are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen. Regardless it's good to be cautious. You're most vulnerable when sleeping or in some sort of dormant state. The last thing I want would be for you to get hurt."
Adel smiles briefly. "Your concern is appreciated, but I can take care of myself if need be."
Vulkas gives an odd smile in return. "Of course, I wouldn't doubt that. I like to always provide warnings even if they might not be needed. Anyways, thats the general idea of my current predicament...I don't think I'll be getting out of it anytime soon."
Adel nods. "Depending on what happens tomorrow, we may end up leaving sooner rather than later."
"Oh?" Vulkas tilts his head. "Why would that be?"
"Just a feeling..."
"Lets hope that feeling isn't a premonition of something bad to come, then. How is the garb, by the way? Finished yet?"
"All that's left is to try it on."
"Oh good, from what I can tell so far it looks good."
"It should be good."
"I imagine that means most if not all is ready for the trip then, yes?"
"All but supply rationing. That can wait, however."
"Good then, always great to get things done ahead of time though, but yes rationing can wait. For the time being have you had anything else you've been planning to do? Thirteen days is quite the time."
"Hmm... I could think of a few things..."
"From my time on Echo, the possibilities are almost endless. I'll see what I can come up with as well."
Adel nods before yawning. "I'm retiring for the day."
"Very well, I'll likely be up for a bit before resting as well. Great progress was made today, I must say though."
"Indeed." Adel disappears behind a corner.
"Sleep well then, Adel." Vulkas spends time meditating and staying in deep thought, before heading to his room and getting into the bed, finally falling asleep.
Adel quietly dresses down to her night clothes before falling into dreamless sleep.
When the morning comes, Vulkas is oddly energized. He heads out into the main room of the cottage.
"Oh, you're awake," notes Adel, running a towel through her hair. Today she wears a plain white dress as opposed to he normally cloaked garb.
Vulkas nods, although seems a bit tongue tied when seeing Adel. "...Yes, and thankfully without nightmares, I'd say it was likely the best rest I've had in quite some time."
"That's good... Something on your mind?" She looks at his face curiously.
"I do not think so, just feeling strange, for some reason. I doubt it's anything truly important." Despite what Vulkas says he still takes time to think, the same expression he had when he walked in. "Hmm. Anyways, did you rest nicely?"
"Ah, yes. A dreamless night, but otherwise restful."
"Glad to hear that, by the way is that feeling you had yesterday still lingering? You seemed troubled by it."
"It's just a hunch, but we should go soon."
"Very well, if it means anything I'm ready to go as soon as possible. Do say the word."
"I'll let you know when. Until then, I'll be rationing the food out."
"Ah good, I was meaning to ask something by the way. This journey once its over and we sort out what must be done on the mountain, what happens after?"
"Depends on what I find. I can't exactly say yet."
"Understood, then. I might go around to explore the area today, get a better idea of the surrounding land. Oddly enough, I haven't been in this area before..."
"The surrounding area is hilly, enough to warrant the title Crown of Hills by the locals. It's more northeast than anything else, but falls toward the central most region."
"Ah, you misunderstand. I do not mean explore the area purely physically. The Astral Realm and our realm are almost layered upon each other, you see. Certain aspects of it can seep through, but cannot be seen. I'm going to explore this area in both realms at once."
"I see. I shouldn't have had too much of an effect on either."
"Maybe, maybe not. Regardless your info is appreciated. In the meantime what do you suppose you'll be doing?"
"Rationing, trying out the new garb and investigating the box I found."
Vulkas tilts his head. "Box?"
"Ah, you never saw it," realizes Adel. "On the night I found the satchel with your arm, I found a small box as well. I never got around to opening it yesterday."
Vulkas makes a noise out of confusion and curiosity. "Could it have been left by the same person who left the satchel, then? Either way hopefully it isn't harmful if it were to be opened."
"Shall we open it then? Pick a deity and hope nothing bad happens."
Adel nods and pulls the box from a corner and taps the top before opening it and recoiling almost instantly. "A Dark Sigil... How Dreadful."
"Dark Sigil? I assume its a seal of some sorts? A mark?"
"It's a symbol from my home, one that preludes calamity..." She moves something around in the box before her back straightens and she takes a deep breath. "We have to move. Now."
"Very well, but I insist you explain to me what is wrong sooner or later. Where will we be going then? The mountain?"
"Aye, wasting time will see whatever is on its way upon us before we can react." Adel draws a symbol in the air and the entire cottage begins to glow blue as objects begin rearranging and ordering themselves into neat and orderly formations. "Out of the cottage, else you'll be crushed."
Vulkas nods as his body shifts and fades away, teleporting outside of the cottage.
Adel joins him soon afterwards, the cottage collapsing into a minuscule sphere that flows into her arm.
"Quite convenient. Lead the way then, if we are to make haste."
Adel nods and glances at the sky before dashing towards the horizon.
Vulkas quickly catches up, oddly enough on a horse seeming to be made various mystical energies, with another by his side. "I asked for some help, by the way. Jump onto the other one."
"The thought is appreciated, but I'm faster on foot than with a mount." With that, Adel increases her speed, now surrounded by a pale aura.
Vulkas smiles to himself as she speeds off, and the other horse merges into the one hes currently riding, which now heavily increases in speed and catches up to Adel. "Ah good, regardless if you ever feel the need to rest or if you ever lose stamina, tell me." Vulkas falls back slightly, letting her lead the way.
She gives a faint nod as she continues forward before veering right.
Vulkas follows adamantly as she turns. "What are the chances of some sort of dark being chasing after us...?"
"It's a possibility, but there are worse things that could happen."
"Lovely....just send a fair warning in case. Will we still be in danger eventually once we reach the mountain?"
"Hard to say with preemptive action being taken. Hopefully not, but most likely yes," answers Adel, continuing straight ahead.
Vulkas remains silent as he follows, occasionally looking around as if on edge.
Adel suddenly goes down a steep slope, disappearing from view for a moment.
Vulkas continues to follow, the horse being unaffected by the steep slope.
Down the slope is a sea of dead trees and frost. The air is frigid and sharp as a blade, as if something was watching intently.
Vulkas squints and quietly takes out the Twilight Siphon, keeping on guard. "This is not right."
Another outsider. Will you, too, brave the path of frost or will you turn away? A cool voice rustles through the air, echoing and resounding through the trees. The air feels different here, cleaner than the fresh air from the hills before, but colder and foreign.
He remains on edge as he inspects his surroundings, taking in the new but strange atmosphere. "You...do hear that as well, correct?"
"Aye, it appears that we've overlapped with something's Personal Domain. Not an Elemental or standard inhabitant of Echo, but nothing I recognize from my home either," says Adel, "Tread with care."
"I'm no stranger to this all. I shall remain vigilant." Vulkas seems to eye his new weapon.
Adel nods slightly before proceeding, the air around her swirling.
"The voice mentioned path of frost. I can only assume it shall get colder as we tread."
"A blizzard," mutters Adel, continuing forward. "A heavy one..." The wind only picks up as she moves.
Vulkas attempts to see how large the forest is, mapping out the area with astral manipulation.
Vulkas is able to sense that the forest, while only relatively large, is being twisted and distorted by the power of the domain holder. While there are no jumps he can detect in terms of footing or positioning, gets the feeling that a wrong step will lead them back to the entrance or send them to a far corner somewhere deeper within the forest. Judging by an annoyed huff from Adel, it isn't difficult to imagine that she has come to the same conclusion herself.
The wind whistles loudly around them.
Vulkas squints his eyes as he stops mapping out the forest, being more attentive to the path they take. "If only I could narrow down the owner."
"No use. Whatever method they are using to do this to the forest is probably a fair bit weaker compared to what they are using to conceal themselves," says Adel after a moment. "I don't believe that their intention is to harm us, more than it is to test us." She quietly continues along after that.
Vulkas keeps his attention focused. "An inconvenience, but I was I'm sure we both intend to pass nonetheless."
Adel nods quietly, taking a few more steps before the wind grows wild around her. "Stay back."
Vulkas keeps away from Adel. "Is this test targeting you in a way or is it something else?"
"Testing something," she says, continuing forward only to disappear once the wind obscures her from sight. Several moments later she reappears behind Vulkas. "I was correct then. It is a puzzle."
Vulkas seems annoyed, but stays calm. "I haven't been paying attention for an exact pattern yet, what have you gotten so far?"