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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 37

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

I’m curious what the Eladrin means, but it somehow feels wrong to ask for clarification. “Alright, I suppose it’s your skin,” I say instead. “Should I wait for you here?”

Rhiannon nods. “That will do.” Not one to dwell on sentiment, she turns and continues up the slope, pushing past ice-laden fir branches to head for the collection of monsters meandering outside the cave’s entrance.

If she’s frightened, I cannot tell. Watching her walk away alone doesn’t sit right with me. I drop to a knee to get on Shadow’s eye level. I stroke the side of his face with my freezing fingers. “What do you say? Do you want to go along and watch over her? She thinks it’ll be safe, but you never know.”

Shadow looks back at me as though we’re about to play some game to which I haven’t yet explained the rules.

“Go, Shadow!” I point in Rhiannon’s direction.

His front paws leap that way but he immediately leaps back, thinking I’ve somehow tricked him but ready for another round.

I shut my eyes, trying to dismiss the oncoming frustration. Of course, he’s a wolf and I’m a human – there’s no reason why he should understand me. I turn to the tree the Grackle’s perched on and pick out his dark feathers from their camouflage. “Shouldn’t you at least go with her?”

The Grackle caws and takes flight, flapping his way toward the cave. I look to Shadow once more. “Things might be easier if we could talk to one another, you know.” I nod in the direction the Grackle flew. “Maybe you could explain that one to me.” Although those were the words I thought, what actually came out of my mouth were a series of yips and barks. Shadow stretched his lips and whimpered in response.

What in the Nine Hells? Hovering between excitement and panic, I concentrate on my desire to communicate with my four-legged companion. “Shadow, if you can understand me, go watch over Rhiannon.” Once again, the words come out in an impressive impersonation of wolfspeak.

Shadow barks and extends his front paws in a stretch, then straightens and stares at me intently. After another bark, he darts off through the low branches, bounding across the icy mountainside toward the cave.

Staying behind the tree cover, I peek through to watch. I can see at least three of the stony constructs, standing in close proximity. Rhiannon is about to walk past them, and I hold my breath, hoping the fast-approaching Shadow doesn’t negate her non-threatening air. The Eladrin hesitates for only a moment, then slips into the cave beyond my view. None of the monsters move, and in another few heartbeats, Shadow has caught up and follows Rhiannon inside.

I exhale and lean against a trunk, glad that at least the first obstacle has been overcome. But what just happened? Did I spontaneously learn to speak wolf? If that was the case, I didn’t also learn to understand it; Shadow’s responses held no extra meaning for me. I will have to experiment further to be sure, but whatever the case, one thing abundantly clear to me is that I’m no longer living in the same world I was a moon ago. It’s as if a blindfold I’d been wearing my entire life has been torn from my eyes.

I suppose all I can do now is wait. While that comes naturally to me after years of hunting, relinquishing control does not. Even though I know the result might be fatal, part of me yearns to find the Heart of the Mountain as well. I am able to suppress the desire, but only because my survival instinct is stronger.

Time stretches on slowly, the sun hardly moving in the sky. To conserve energy, I finally clear a spot of snow and ice and sit down, giving my legs a rest. My mind wanders to what might be going on in Treehorn Hall while I’m away. The Shadowwolves are likely celebrating our victory – and Hagen’s probably taking all the credit …

The Grackle is the first to return. He flies past me, lands on a branch and caws, just to make sure I didn’t miss him. I rise and creep back to the tree’s edge to peek toward to cave entrance. Rhiannon is halfway back, Shadow walking at her side. Both appear unharmed.

I vigorously rub behind the giant wolf’s ears as soon as he’s within reach. “Were you able to discover anything?” I ask Rhiannon, relieved to hear myself speaking Illanese.

She nods. “Much. The cave leads down to a chamber. Both its entrance and the hillside, as you can see,” she glances over her shoulder, “have guardians. None of them reacted until I drew near the Heart. They moved when I stepped close, so I backed off.”

“What does it look like?” I’ve never seen the Heart of a Mountain. Indeed, I had no idea they existed prior to our excursion.

“A large geode,” Rhiannon answered. “A hollow, spherical rock,” she explained, no doubt responding to the blankness of my expression. “It has been cleft in two, the crystals that line its inside exposed.”

“And that’s bad?”

The Eladrin shrugs. “For your kind, apparently so. I think I may be able to seal it, but it will take more power than I currently command.”

“Well, how do we make you more powerful?” I expect the answer seems obvious to the Shapers, but I’m ignorant in these matters and they shouldn’t expect otherwise.

“Sahd increases with the phases of the moons,” she explains without judgement. “We should return when Criesha is full and I will try my best to heal the Great Mountain.”

“We? Don’t get me wrong, I’m behind our mission, but my presence here seems to be a liability. If the monsters ignore you but attack me, why would you want me along?”

Rhiannon crosses her arms and looks slowly from me to Shadow. “I suspect when I actually touch the Heart, the monsters will react differently. I may be seen as a threat, then, and need you to protect me. It will take some time for me to complete my spell, and I’ll be vulnerable for the duration.”

“Well, that’s ill news.” I look down at Shadow as well. The Grackle caws. “I could barely handle one on my own – you really think I can fight my way through half-a-dozen?”

The Eladrin shrugs. “We have until the full moon to figure that out.”

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