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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 36

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

“I wasn’t sure you’d make it,” Rhiannon says from a few paces down the mountainside, her tone neutral.

My breathing is still ragged from the fight, and I look at her over my shoulder. “All the more reason to maybe help?”

The Eladrin shrugs. “I didn’t want to antagonize it. You seem to be the only one it had a problem with … and I did bring you your sword.”

“Thanks,” I grumble, then look back over the devastation of the Rock Wyrm settlement. “Well, it’s not hard to imagine what happened here, given the strength of that monster.” The recent rush of battle still insulates me against the pain of my own injuries, though I know there’s more discomfort to come. “Normal steel doesn’t seem to stand a chance.”

“And I doubt that was the only one,” Rhiannon adds. “The Grackle was right. If the spirit of the Great Mountain unleashes its anger beyond its own slopes, neither of our peoples will be safe.”

“So what do we do now?” I slip the Founder’s Blade back into its harness and walk gingerly across the ice to retrieve my hunting knife. “There’s no one left to answer our questions.”

“Perhaps the Great Mountain itself can tell us what’s wrong.”

“Oh, have you heard mountains talk before?” I’m in no mood for fey gibberish – the sharpened edge of my knife has a large wedge chipped from it.

Rhiannon shrugs, seemingly unperturbed. “I’ve heard the trees and streams of my forest. I don’t see why the mountain should not have a voice.”

“You’re right.” I shouldn’t be so judgmental. I know firsthand that the wind, the grasses, the clouds, can all communicate. You just have to know how to listen, and maybe that’s what I’ve been doing a poor job of lately. “So how would you suggest we find the mountain’s spirit?”

“I don’t know,” she replies. “Perhaps he can tell us.” She points at a bird flying overhead and for a moment, I think we’ve circled back to the whole ‘voices’ conversation, but evidently we are being visited by the Grackle.

He lands on the thatching of a collapsed roof and caws, then flies behind the ruined hut and emerges in human form. “I see you were able to defeat one of the Mountain’s monsters,” he says. “Good. I had hopes when I first saw your sword that it may do the trick. Our ancestors clearly choose you to help save our clan, Brahkis.”

“Enough of that.” I’ve changed my mind about destiny and would rather focus on figuring out what needs to be done, using our own faculties. “Do you know where to find the spirit of the Great Mountain?”

The Grackle nods. “I think so. There is a cave about two-thirds of the way up the slope. When I was first scrying on the area, I saw several of those monsters issuing forth from it, one after the other. I believe that cave leads to the Heart of the Mountain.”

“So, are you here to lead us?” I ask. “It sounds like you know your way around.”

“I am too far from my magical source to cast spells of much use, but I can still shapeshift … at least for now. I may be stuck in one form temporarily if I stray much further, but I will aid you as I can.”

“By all means.” My knee and arm are starting to hurt, and I’d like to get moving as soon as possible.

“Follow me, then,” the Grackle says, transforming back into a bird. He caws as he flies up the slope, landing on a fir tree to wait for us.

“After you.” I gesture for Rhiannon to go first, then watch as her exceptionally light steps leave virtually no trace on the icy ground. I know she’s slighter than me, but it’s like nature doesn’t even register her presence.

We wind up the slope, picking out a path with the fewest obstacles, but the snow only gets deeper. After another hour, it’s halfway to my knee. The going is slow and my boots are wet. Shadow walks in my footprints, his fur looking even darker against the pristine backdrop. I know the Rock Wyrms have other settlements, but we must have missed them because we’re too high now for villages. At least, I can’t imagine choosing to live at this altitude.

The air has thinned and my breath has become ragged. Even though the world around me is frozen, I’m sweating from the exertion of the climb. The Grackle continues his game of follow-the-leader, teasing me with every jaunt to the next tree branch, making me hope it’s the last.

Most of the time, I’m watching my step, but I look up when I catch the movement of Rhiannon’s hand reaching toward me, signaling me to stop. She is silent and still, so I hold my position, trying to calm my breath.

Rhiannon is at a curve of the mountain where I can’t see what lies beyond. She crouches and takes a few more steps forward, but I try to remain patient. Sweat runs from my forehead to my cheek. She watches and then, finally, backtracks. The Grackle flies over my shoulder, landing nearby.

“More monsters,” the Eladrin says. “They seem to be guarding something. This may be the cave that leads to the Heart of the Mountain.”

The Grackle caws in what I assume is agreement.

“How many are there?” I’m already worn out, and even the thought of battling more of those brutes exhausts me further.

“At least three,” she says. “I think you should stay here.”

“You want to face those things alone?” I know Rhiannon is a capable enchantress, but it would be a simple matter for one of those monsters to tear her to pieces.

“I don’t think they see me as a threat. At least as long as I do neither them, nor the spirit of the Great Mountain, harm.”

“Because you’re Eladrin?”

“Because I’m not human,” she corrects. “I don’t think Shadow would bother them, either. We haven’t seen any wildlife maimed.”

It seems a risky supposition, and the logic bothers me. “If you think the Great Mountain will only harm my people, then why did you come in the first place?”

Rhiannon gives me a trickster’s smile, and her large, solid-colored eyes mask her intentions. “I didn’t know until I saw and felt it.”

“Well, then, why do you continue now?” I ask.

She shrugs. “Because you’ve changed my mind.”

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