The beautiful woman stepped from the cascading waterfall, glancing left and right at...
|Rounding the bend, Blackbird had to stop and catch his breath. He was getting too long in the tooth to scale such high mountains without the aid of a paved path or sturdy mount. The oppressive heat and musty humidity weren't helping. Droplets of water pooled and fell from his brow. His hair matted itself to the sides of his face where it hung down damp with sweat. The journey to find his lost charges had taken him to many corners of this unfamiliar continent, but the brilliance of this tropical place paled them all by any comparison.
Reaching into this backpack to draw out the waterskin, Blackbird was angered but not surprised to find it empty. He would have to seek out water, and soon if he wanted to find a suitable camp before darkness fell. The irony of his situation was not lost on Blackbird. Finding one self halfway to the peak of a mountain when water ran downhill would be a tough position for anyone. Forward to the peak, or back toward the brook he passed hours ago?
Blackbird drew a deep breath and pressed on. If the clue he sought was over the next ridge, and he missed it - for water - he could never forgive himself. Rising over the rocky crag piled at the top of the ridge Blackbird took a moment to soak in the view. He leaned back against a tall, thick cedar in awe. The massive tree swayed in the gentle breeze atop the ridge line. Down the slope opposite the one he just scaled, Blackbird saw a giant meadow of soft grass, wildflowers, and camellia bushes. The backdrop was a sheer cliff of darkest stone sliced in the middle by a bright ribbon of a frothy white, cascading waterfall.
Blackbird approached the pool below the misting waterfall. Above him stood columns of ice and snow like towering guards flanking the beautifully swaying curtain of fluid ice. The depths of the crystal clear, frigid pool could be easily plumbed with the naked eye. At the bottom of the deep water glinted a naturally refined collection of sparkling iron, silver, copper, and gold. Mingled amongst the precious metals, a sparkling star field of gems caught and reflected the light of Sol.
Shaking his head in utter disbelief, Blackbird knelt down before the waters and dipped his waterskin in to be filled once more. He scooped several mouthfuls of the mountain top waters into his hands - cleaned his face, neck, hands and drank deeply from the pool. Without notice, a woman appeared from behind the curtain of the waterfall. When Blackbird next looked up he was startled and fell backward into the thick trunk of a massive olive tree.
The beautiful woman stepped from the cascading waterfall, glancing left and right at the towers of ice columns that surrounded her amid the burdensome heat of this tropical land. Blackbird began to question his sanity and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands. A stiff wind began to blow a blend of snow and warm mists into his face which further blurred his view. The two lock eyes briefly and the woman's mouth opens wide. Blackbird hears the words "Seeker! I am the Water and the Wind." And before she closes her deep blue lips together again a tremendous concussion of thunder explodes around Blackbird. The towering guards shake and drop layers of ice and snow down into the clear pool below. A bright and blinding light explodes from her eyes bathing the entire area in pure white light. The light continues to emanate, grow, and consume all the space in the green valley - including Blackbird.
With a sudden jolt Blackbird sits up and the thin animal pelt used to blanket him at night drops to his lap. Waking in the rough Mine House structure he started a few days earlier, Blackbird is slapped in the face with a strong wind and rain storm. The intensity of the storm continues through the deep darkness of night. The storm never relents, relinquishing Blackbird to a sleepless night trying to stay dry. He must finish off the Mine House soon by completing the walls, door, a cart entrance and some windows. He will need to properly affix a solid roof too. Anything is better than sleeping out in the harsh elements of this place.
At the first sign of morning light Blackbird abandons his post at the shack work site and enters the small mine nearby. A forge and fire await him. The few lumps of iron he has located will be put to good use as large nails for his home. Blackbird begins work at the forge, and is happy to have the experience of the last few days at the abandoned fort. He now understands the forge and other tools littering this cave much better. While searching for clues to the missing settlers he arrived in this deep valley and the mine almost presented itself to him. A momentary distraction from his larger mission would serve to better equip him for the job he must complete. Cleaning out the mine's tools and resetting the forge from years of neglect and disrepair, Blackbird begins to take personal ownership of the mine. Over several days at the fort he learned how to best use and maintain these blacksmith tools. As he went about the task of collecting and refining the silver ore at the fort, and carting it back to the Mine house, he was getting a firm footing in this new place.
Hunger overcomes Blackbird as he completes the last of the large nails. Putting tools away and finished products in his small cart, Blackbird leaves the cave for cooler fresh air. Scrounging around the backpack, chests, and carts he is unable to locate any food suitable to a meal that will abate his hunger. Wandering about in the shrubs and bushes nearby takes Blackbird on a cross country hike searching for food. He gets further away from his camp and finds himself alongside a wide cobblestone road. In the distance a large cart, drawn by two oxen, approach and stop next to Blackbird.
"Aye. What are you gettin' at then?" asks the grubby middle aged man. He is much heavier set than Blackbird, and doesn't look hungry in the least. "Well then?" he barks.
Blackbird responds the only way he knows how - by holding up a single, scrawny, badly bruised, apple he has recently found. And rubbing his stomach. "I'm starving friend... Haven't eaten properly since I arrived. Uhh. Days - nay, perhaps a week or more. Well anyway - I'll move on then." He turns away from the man on the cart and begins to leave the place.
"Here now. Wait son. Come on! I won't be the one to deny you a meal. Up in the cart then. Let's go - haven't got all day. We're busting rocks and making stones for Elevation. The season is right, and the blessings are upon us." Blackbird embarks on the cart as a passenger and before he takes a seat, the man snaps the reigns. The oxen explode forward and then settle into a slow but steady pace.
Upon arrival the rotund driver waves over a priest who is present. The tall priest serves Blackbird a fine meal of bread, fish stew, and fruit. The combination alone sets energy coursing through his veins. Which is good - because the food comes at a cost - crushing rock shards into stone bricks with a dull rusty chisel.
Whenever he came to Safety Harbour, Blackbird was inclined to try and pick up news or lingering stories concerning his charges. Had they passed through this area? Where might they be now? Were they ever seen around these parts by anyone still living here? Usually, no valuable information was obtained. But he did meet several fine people on his multiple trips into Safety Harbor.
It was on that first afternoon that Blackbird's path changes ever slightly. While talking with others gathered around the stone pile, Blackbird met a very forward priest. While exchanging work for several meals, some cotton, and healing covers Blackbird was a captive audience for this eager priest's conversion message. Like it or not.
During a meal break the young priest who brought Blackbird some food and healing covers began to talk with him about Vynora. As the priest described his goddess in sweeping detail and rapt devotion, he slipped between a conversion speech and a soliloquy! "Vynora, our goddess and guide, will help you seek the answer to that ancient riddle, just as we help her in her quest to know everything." he'd say. And in the next breath paint the picture of a woman both stunningly beautiful and magnificently powerful. The priest continued, "Therefore most of us are peaceful and strive after a calm and orderly way to gather knowledge."
Somewhere between the vivid imagery painted on the canvas of his mind - and dream memories swimming through his soul - Blackbird realized that this goddess was the very same woman of his dreams! The priest closed his verbal love letter to his goddess while cleaning up the pottery bowls which held the cool fish stew. "You are welcome to join the followers of Vynora!" were the words Blackbird heard. And with that he was converted to the faith of Vynora - goddess of Knowledge, Creation.
The priest instructed Blackbird that Vynora's assistance would help speed the process of cutting the stones, and so it had. Blackbird continued to call on Vynora to restore his strength while working. She offered encouragement to keep him strong while smashing stones and building relationships with the priest and people of Safety Harbour.
Soon the trips to Safety Harbor became more social and interrupt the chores of refining and hauling the silver away. Spending so much time with unproven acquaintances was risky to Blackbird's newly refined ore stash. And he knew there was a risk every time he left camp. All the while he continued to transit back and forth between the Mine House, Safety Harbour, and the Abandoned Echo Fortress.
The Mine House was being built up wall by wall, and Blackbird moved several storage bins into place for the refined lumps of silver headed this way soon. To aide in the massive haul, he built several small carts. Blackbird made multiple trips back and forth to Abandoned Echo Fortress to retrieve the refined silver lumps. And he spent time at Abandoned Echo Fortress packing loose useful gear he found there for transit. Blackbird would often call on Vynora for strength and encouragement while refining the silver ore and hauling it back to the small camp.
On the first bright morning following the completion of his Mine House, Blackbird set about to setup a small farm to help restore strength and get more work done faster through better health. The process of setting up a Farm House near Greyholme seemed the best idea. The fields there would be eager to feel their soil turned once again. The layout of a successful farming operation in the past was evident from the scattered equipment. He built a structure over an abandoned floor - and made significant repairs. While raising the frame of the structure, Blackbird fought off a stalking Black Wolf for several days. The wolf stalked around Greyholme Farm House, and followed Blackbird back and forth to the Mine House on several occasions.
On one such frame raising the brazen wolf walked boldly into camp and took a swipe at Blackbird's exposed back while he wasn't looking. Taken by surprise Blackbird suffered significant damage and fear shot through him like an archer's bolt! He quickly dropped all his tools and the frame which rattled to a rest on the stone slab floor of the house. The wolf gave pursuit, and never let up. Through the familiar glade, and past the open fields, up and over a steep embankment - the lurking Black Wolf had chosen his next meal and intended to enjoy it.
Blackbird bolted down the embankment and shot forward toward the door of his recently completed Mine House. He was trapped. Inside the Mine House. And night was setting in. No food, no water, and no weapons to mention that would deter a starving wolf. What would he do if the wolf breeched the frail windows? How could he survive if the wolf pushed through either of the makeshift wooden doors? As the beast paced about the property, sniffing for penetrable weaknesses, Blackbird was reminded of what would become his last trip to Abandoned Echo Fortress.
Toward the end of the supply and salvage gathering, several Lava Spiders moved into the region. Blackbird was chased into Abandoned Echo Fortress with few escape routes - and even fewer strands of hope. The only form of assistance was miles away to his knowledge, and thanks to a few well placed blows he was dangerously close to death.
Blackbird was able to out run the Lava Spiders around several adjoining corners among the shops and storehouses of the fortress. He led the creatures away from the stashed gear on the waiting carts. Anything that was not already on those carts might never leave Echo Fortress. Then again - if Blackbird wasn't careful - he'd never leave this place either. Eventually a pair of guards passing by heard the commotion, or spotted smoke rising off the backs of the foul arachnid. The guards approached with caution, and took up the fight. They soon dispatched both of the deadly spiders and aided Blackbird in bandaging his wounds. Once they were on their way Blackbird breathed a sigh of relief.
He collected the last of the abandoned gear and departed Abandoned Echo Fortress - never to return again. When the Lava Spiders came, Blackbird now recalled, he had not called on Vynora for help. Why not? Hadn't she always been his goddess to approach in times of need? And hadn't she always answered faithfully - even when his faith lacked? What about now? Would she answer his cry for help in the tiny wooden shack where she first made her presence known?
Blackbird silently bows his head while the stench of the Black Wolf's breath creeps in through the wall planks. Amid the clawing and scratching at the base of the wooden frame, Blackbird maintains his focus and performs his meditation. And just as the harbinger of death howls at the pale light cast by Jackal, Blackbird cries out loud to Vynora for safety and help! Moments later a terrifying cry rips from the jowls of the monster as it's blood spills onto the newly fallen snow beside Blackbird's cabin. The guards came to rescue him once again. Only this time - he knew it was Vynora that sent them. Blackbird stood to thank them, as his eyes watered with joy and passion for Vynora. Blackbird thought he could get used to this faith thing.