Aya stretched, long and languid, gazing up at the morning sky. The orange, pink, and red made her smile. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing to bring her down, no sounds of the elvish city, no voices telling her she was evil or cruel or a monster. Just the sounds of morning birds, the burbling creek nearby, the mountain breeze rustling through the trees, and the unhappy grunts of her traveling companion as he woke.
She turned her gaze to the mountain looming in the near distance. Only another day’s hike before they reached the base camp. So far, the trip had been uneventful, which was both good and bad. There was nothing for her to worry about, but it gave her plenty of time to think about her last few minutes with Munae.
The Shadowcat shook her head. She did not want to start her day with that elf on her mind. At this point, she hadn’t decided if she would return to Silverwater and her love or not. She was still angry. And hurt. And sad.
Aya decided to try to focus on the task at hand, and the climb to come. For every Shadowcat, to be called to visit the mountain shrine, to visit the spirit there and achieve some form of spiritual enlightenment was a gift and a dream come true. Or it should have been. For Aya, it was a release and something she dreaded. She could get away, live for herself for a while, but she was the furthest from spiritual that anyone could possibly be and didn’t even believe the shrine or the spirit existed. Why she was called, she had no clue. She wasn’t even certain why anyone would put a shrine on top of a mountain inhabited by mountain dragons. It was lunacy all around.
Her companion’s second grunt drew her attention. Iyden stuck his head out of his tent, peering up at the sky and then at Aya. “It can’t be six am yet. Why are we awake?” he asked.
Aya chuckled softly, brushing her paw back over her head. “It’s a long trip, Iyden. We need to make the base camp before nightfall, and we can only do that if we leave soon.”
The Grey Warden Shadowcat pulled himself to his feet, stretching much as Aya had. He was as typical for his Shadowcat breed as one could be – calm, quiet, stubborn, not a morning cat, protective, and loyal to a fault. He was a short, stocky tabby-striped grey feline, built like a tiger. Aya knew that if she weren’t the sort to prefer women, he would have come after her long ago. As it was, they loved one another like siblings.
“Ugh. Remind me again why I decided to go with you.”
“Because you love me.” Aya patted Iyden’s bare shoulder and walked toward the creek. Kneeling, she splashed water over her face and head, rinsing the night off in the best way she could in a creek barely two feet deep. She would have to find a pool or something to bathe in soon. She felt grimy.
Iyden joined her a moment later, towel in paw. “It’s been an uneventful week. Do you think the rest of the trip will be like that?” His bath was very similar, and he grumbled under his breath about being dirty.
“No,” Aya answered, standing and taking the towel from him. “We’re going up a mountain, for one, and we’re both forest cats. The mountain is inhabited by dragons, for another, which we don’t have the means or ability to deal with. And we’re visiting an imaginary spirit at a shrine-shaped rock, for a third, so we can get an imaginary gift of who the hell knows what.”
The other cat snorted. He was fully aware of how she felt about spiritual anything, and this trip. “Well, I suppose we can hope nothing goes wrong, then. Quick jaunt up, quick slide down, and home we go. Right?”
Aya snickered. “One can hope.”
“Munae, where are you going?” Myria stood in the doorway to her sister’s room, watching her bustling around, packing bags and boxes and, well, everything, it appeared.
“To the mountain,” Munae answered without looking up, shoving another scroll into the already full pack and frowning at it.
Myria stepped into the room to look around. “The mountain? Whatever in the world for?”
“Research? Munae, you have never left the city before. What in the world do you think you’re going to research on the mountain?”
Munae finally looked up, eying her sister in mild annoyance. “There are ley lines up there.” She turned the pack over, dumping its contents, and began to repack it.
Myria looked confused. “Ley lines? We know about those ley lines. Why do you need to research them? Is anyone going with you?”
The younger Moondancer unfurled several of the scrolls, reading them briefly before rolling them up again and setting them aside. “Some of the mountain dragons up there have unwittingly tapped into them. I want to know how, and what the ley power has done to them.” She avoided answering the other question.
Myria blinked once, then burst out laughing. “Are you insane? You’re going to go research ley-powered mountain dragons?” She made air quotes with her fingers when she said ‘research’. “Alone?”
Munae, suddenly looking and sounding rather irritated at her sister’s constant barrage of questions, snapped, “Yes, I am. They could be a danger to themselves, others, or the city. And yes, alone.”
Myria’s laughter stopped short. “You are insane.” She looked around the room, head tilting slightly. “Does Daddy know? And why do you need to take everything? How are you even going to manage that if you go alone?”
Ignoring her sister for a moment, Munae picked up a pile of books, dumping them unceremoniously into a box. She rummaged around another stack of books and scrolls, finding another pack beneath them all. She finally looked up again. “Yes, he knows. He’s not happy, and that’s why he’s not helping me in here. I’m not taking everything.”
“You’ve hardly talked to Daddy in a week, and certainly haven’t gotten along with him.” Dawning suddenly seemed to strike Myria, and she stepped a bit further into the room, enough to close the door. “This has to do with Aya, doesn’t it?”
Munae stopped short, her face growing hard. “This has nothing to do with Aya,” she snapped again. She was certain she would never see Aya again, and she was dreadfully hurt. After a moment, she added more quietly, “And everything to do with Aya.”
“You miss her, don’t you? Are you going to look for her?”
“Of course I miss her.” Munae’s anger came rushing back. “No, I’m not looking for her. I don’t even know where she went. I’m tired of thinking about her and being sad. I just want to get away and do something for myself and go… do something worthwhile without her being a constant presence in my mind. Is that fine with you?”
Myria held up her hands. “I’m not stopping you. But you are insane, going alone. Will you at least take someone with you? Take Damarius.”
The younger elf eyed her sibling. “I’m not taking Damarius. He’s a draconian, and if you’ll recall, I’m going to visit dragons. They don’t get along well. Besides, he works for the sun elves.”
“Fine. Take Evian then.” Evian was their older brother, and he disliked them both.
“Hah! No. I would rather go alone.”
Myria threw up her hands. “Take Torian. Someone? Please?”
Munae once again appeared to ignore her older sister, instead reaching for a small scroll on her desk, then turning to hand it to Myria. “While I’m gone, will you move all my belongings to this house?”
“What?” Myria blinked, taking the scroll and staring at it. “What’s this?”
“It’s an address.”
“Yes, I gathered that. To what?”
Munae’s eyes narrowed. “To a house,” she repeated slowly.
Rolling the scroll back up, Myria’s own eyes narrowed. “You’re moving? You’ve lived here at the university your whole life.”
“Agh!” Munae threw her hands up and resumed packing. “I did say I wanted to do something for myself. That is part of it. I’ve grown up. I’m getting out and living my own life for a change.”
“And how much of this is for Aya?” Myria waved the scroll.
Munae whirled around and stared down her sister. “This is for me. Me. Not for Aya, not for you, not for Daddy, not for anyone else. Me.” She slumped onto the bed. “I don’t even know if I’ll see Aya again.”
“Do you want to?”
“Oh hell, Myria, I don’t know. Right now, I don’t want to think about her. Look, if you’ll move my belongings, I’ll take Torian.”
The older sibling stood there, thinking, for a long time. Finally, she asked, “Does Daddy know?”
Munae snorted softly. “No, goddess, no. He’d lock me in here.”
“Wait.” Myria’s eyebrows lifted. “You want me to move your stuff, and Daddy doesn’t know? How do you propose I do that?”
“Get help, do it at night. I don’t know, Myria, I just know I’m not coming back here when I get back, and I’d like my belongings to be there.”
Myria sighed. “Take Torian, and I’ll do it.”