The Early Days: Part 2



  • Disclaimer: I still offer no defense for this story's literary qualities. Or consistency. Or accuracy to the game and TS world.

    Fun side note: the unguent is loosely based on theriac, a supposed antidote invented by the Greeks that contained dried scorpion, snake, etc. on the premise of 'like cures like.'

    ~-~-~

    “Agne, look what I – ow!” I reeled back and rubbed my forehead where I’d clonked it on the doorframe. “I keep forgetting about that.”

    Agne chuckled from inside her hut. “You’ve grown, girl. Better get used to it.”

    I ducked into the shadowy room and thrust out my hand to show her a slightly crushed white blossom. “Look. Everything grows so early here. It’s wonderful.”

    She inspected the blossom through cloudy eyes. “Someone’s in a good mood.”

    “Of course I am. It’s spring finally.”

    “I’ll say it again, girl. No one’s sailed out of Cademia in years. Don’t get your hopes up.”

    “Too late. They’re already up.” I set a ceramic pot of sticky yellow gum on the table and flopped onto the floor. “Terebinth resin, just like you asked.”

    Agne sniffed the pot and set it on a rack over the fire. “Good, good. I just need one more thing before you run off to the city. This one’s going to be hard.”

    “Do I have to go to the tar pit again?”

    “Worse. A wolflizard colony.”

    “What? Why? They're scary.”

    She gave me a toothless grin. “Like cures like, girl. Wolflizard venom can only be cured with wolflizard flesh.”

    “Ew.” I made a face. “You Cytherans have weird medicine.”

    But I set out before sunrise the next day for the colony Agne directed me to. It was a fair hike from my campsite by the River Sitia, and I had to get there before they woke. I set a wire snare in the bushes and climbed a tree to wait.

    The lizards finally slunk out from their hiding spots, slow and sleepy in the cool morning air. One stopped under me. I lowered a chunk of raw chicken on a string, praying wolflizards couldn’t climb trees.

    “Come on,” I whispered. It flicked out a long tongue and stumped forward on its six legs. I wiggled the string, luring the lizard toward the hidden snare. It came closer, closer –

    The lizard squealed. It squirmed, lashing its tail back and forth, destroying the foliage nearby. The others hissed and swarmed toward it.

    I pulled the meat back up and swept my arm in a wide arc. Water flooded the forest floor. The wolflizards turned and ran as a current gushed toward them. The trapped one beat its tail, spraying fountains of water into the air.

    I slid down from the tree, landed with a splash and stood on the lizard’s tail. Carefully, I grabbed its scaly throat. “Sorry,” I whispered as I snapped its neck. “But you’ll save someone’s life one day.”

    It was probably just as well my winter clothes were ruined. My leggings would have been too short by now. Agne had sewn the rags into a loose shift dress, but I soon discovered I hated wearing a skirt. It snagged on bushes and made it harder to climb trees. I’d switched back to my cropped shirt and shorts as soon as the weather got warm enough.

    Yet even they barely fit. The curves on my chest and hips were a stark change from half a year ago when my ribs jutted through my skin like the timbers of a ship. As if dealing with a new body wasn’t enough, the sight of my bare skin was a reminder of the tattoos that should be there. I’d knotted a strip of cloth around my arm and pinned two feathers to it until my tribe’s bird crest could be inked there during my initiation.

    I hid in my cloak as I walked along the riverbank to Cademia, passing fishermen, women scrubbing clothes, children watering goats. In my eyes, I was nothing without my tattoos – no tribe, no identity, not an adult until I was marked. In Cytheran people’s eyes, I was just a blue freak. May as well avoid the stares while I could.

    The shoreline seemed the best place to start looking. I hesitantly approached a few people gathering seaweed and asked if they’d heard anything about a ship. They seemed baffled at the question. I wondered if I hadn’t learned to speak Cytheran as well as I thought.

    So I headed into the city proper, wandering past an age-worn stone castle and down dusty lanes, going wherever the crowd seemed thickest until I found the Commons. It was just as loud and busy as I recalled, but I didn’t see any passengers or crew members from the ship. I waited at the notice board in the centre of the courtyard, listening in on people’s conversations as they read the papers nailed there. By sunset I had learned nothing.

    I didn’t let that dampen my hopes. There was still one thing I wanted to do before leaving anyway. So the next day I went into the northeast quarter, not quite sure where I was going. All I remembered was the lamp-lit street.

    I was wandering down a broad lane when I heard the name. I spun around as two young men walked past me, one in plate armour studded with glossy black rock, one with a breastplate over grey clothes. They were both mud-splattered with unkempt hair and thick stubble on their jaws as if they’d been travelling for days.

    “Ai!” I ran after them. “Sorry, but are you going to the Alraeican Tavern?”

    The armoured man smiled down at me. “Sure are. You looking for it?”

    “Um – sort of. I’m looking for a person. Ferazel. Do you know him?”

    “Does anyone?” said the other man, and they both chuckled.

    “He’s been around,” the armoured man said. “One of him, at least. Hard to tell sometimes which one’s real.”

    I furrowed my brow. “What do you mean?”

    “Replication spell. The copies glow.” The man in grey clothes elbowed the other one in the ribs. “As if we didn’t have enough trouble with clones.”

    I barely heard his last sentence. All that time I spent with Ferazel – the one friend I had on Cythera who was anything close to my age – and I might never have met him.

    The armoured man noticed my expression. “Hey, don't worry. Come along with us to the Alraeican. Ferazel might be there now.” He extended a hand. “I’m Slayer, and this is Rogan.”

    “Um…” I stared at his hand. “I’m Katerei.”

    Slayer held out his hand a moment longer before lowering it with a shrug. “So how did you come to meet Ferazel?”

    “We sailed together. Not just us. Lots of people, from my homeland. Our ship got sunk by scylla and now we’re stranded. Well, maybe not Ferazel because I’m not even sure he was on the ship, and he’s from here anyway–” I realized I was rambling and clamped my mouth shut.

    “I heard about that,” Rogan said. “We don’t get too many ships in Cythera.”

    “Surprising, considering how many vagrants we get.” Slayer gestured up the street. “The tavern’s just there.”

    It was just as I remembered it, with a carved sign out front and voices drifting through the open window – except the doorframe was charred black. “What happened?” I asked, staring.

    Slayer scratched the back of his head. “Ah… that might’ve been my fault. Indirectly.”

    The place was worse inside. Overturned tables, clay shards on the floor, a cask leaking amber liquid that smelled oddly like… bear, maybe, even though I hadn’t seen a single bear on Cythera. Smoke hung thick in the air. It was midday, but judging by the raucous laughter, several patrons were drunk already.

    “There they are. Talos, Av!” Rogan called. “I thought we might have come all this way only to lose you in Cademia.”

    Two men at the bar waved. Talos was half-heartedly wiping the counter. It had been so long since I’d seen him that I barely recognized him. The other man, in blue armour with black supports, didn’t look familiar. They were equally scruffy, covered with mud and burns.

    “I wanted to check on the place. I dragged Avatara along.” Talos gestured around. “This is what I get for leaving a lock in charge.”

    “Is it really you, Slayer?” the fourth man said with a slight smile.

    Slayer sighed. “None of you will ever let me live this down, will you?”

    I hung back as Slayer and Rogan joined the others at the bar, talking and laughing. From the sound of it, they had just returned from some kind of journey together. I got lost in all the foreign-sounding names of people and places and creatures I’d never heard of.

    The man they called Avatara was quieter, but something in his smile drew my attention to him. He had black hair, cut short in front but braided in the back. Long hair. He must be married , I thought, then reminded myself humans didn’t follow the same customs, then felt embarrassed for even thinking about it.

    Remembering what I came to the tavern for, I cast my gaze around the room. Once again, a frustrating number of people wore hoods. I squinted at a tall figure with his back turned to me, trying to work up the nerve to approach him.

    All of a sudden, the man looked back and caught me staring. He grinned. I squeaked and backed into the wall, knocking my head on the timbers.

    “Hey, don’t be afraid.” He twisted around on his stool. “C’mere. Let me buy you a drink. What d’ya like? Wine? Ale?”

    The man next to him peered at me through unfocused eyes. “Hang on. How old is she?”

    “Ummm…” I could barely hear my own voice. “I’m fifteen.”

    The first man went bright red. The crowd at his table erupted in laughter.

    I ducked my head and pulled my hood lower. I was halfway to the door, wanting to run into the ocean and never come back, when someone called my name.

    Talos walked across the tavern, rag in hand. “Katerei, right? Ignore those tools. I swear, the place goes to the lizards without me.”

    “How do you know my – oh.” I glanced back at the bar. Slayer and Avatara were deep in conversation. Rogan seemed to have vanished, until I spotted him across the room, lounging on a stool next to a giggling woman.

    “You were in here last autumn, right?” Talos said. “Tell you what. Can you come back in a week? If I see Ferazel, I’ll tell him to meet you here then.”

    “Really? You’d do that?”

    “Sure. It’s no problem.”

    I gave him a wavering smile. “Thank you. Um… I know you were travelling, but… have you heard anything about a ship leaving Cademia?”

    “Nope, don’t think so. But I’ll keep my ears open.” Talos glanced toward the back of the tavern. “I’d offer you some food, but I’m scared to look in the kitchen. There’s probably a new mushroom colony back there.”

    I giggled. “It’s okay. Maybe in a week.”

    I kept seeing Avatara’s face in my mind the whole walk back to the forest. It was stupid, I knew. He hadn’t even noticed me. And he must have been years older – at least early twenties, judging by his scruffy facial hair. There was no way that was going to happen.

    Back home I met a few humans I thought were handsome, despite their odd colouring and odd hairstyles and, well, odd everything – but it never mattered. There was never a chance I’d be with one of them. When I finally made it home, I’d get my initiation tattoos and someday marry one of my own people. A normal life with just a brief pause here on Cythera.

    Agne was in front of her hut beating strips of bark with a hammer. “The girl returns.”

    “No luck yet.” I dropped my bag on the dirt. “But the barkeeper of the Alraeican is going to listen for news. I’m going back in a week.”

    “Bit young to be hanging out in taverns, aren’t you?”

    I flushed, remembering the laughing men. “That’s where Ferazel told me to go. Anyway, there’s some nice people there. These two men helped me find it again. Oh, and their friend–”

    “Eyeing up the menfolk, eh?”

    “What? No! Just… one of them had a nice smile. That’s all.”

    She cackled. “Someone’s head over rump with a crush. Now be honest, girl. You weren’t just looking at his smile, were you?”

    Agne!” I threw a piece of bark at her.

    “I was your age once. This old woman knows.” Agne beckoned. “Come. If you’re going to keep wandering around the forest, I have a gift for you.”

    “What is it?” I edged forward.

    She fished a metal tin from the folds of her robes. “Unguent. For wolflizard venom.”

    “It’s done already?”

    “‘Already,’ the girl says. Most of these ingredients have been curing longer than you’ve been on this island. Lizard flesh was the last one.” She pressed it into my hand. “Use a fingerful for each bite the lizards get into you. But the better idea is to run when you see them.”

    “Says the person who sent me into their colony.” I tucked the tin into my purse. “Thank you, though. Really.”

    Agne went oddly quiet. She stared at me through clouded eyes. “I have news, girl.”

    “What?” I sank to the dirt and sat cross-legged.

    “A farmer came while you were in the city. He wants to buy my land and turn it into a vineyard. This time next year, there’ll be grape shoots where you’re sitting.”

    “Wh- you’re selling it? Where will you go?”

    “Cademia. My daughter Thetis has been begging me to move there for years. She already secured me a room in House Attis. When I die, I want a person to find me, not lizards.”

    I shuddered at the thought. “But what about your work?”

    “House Attis has a garden. I can still do a little of this, a little of that. But as for being a professional herbalist, I’m retiring.” She tapped the bark with the hammer. “I’m getting too old. Can barely see my own hands, let alone keep them steady.”

    I couldn’t blame her. It was a wonder she could gather ingredients at all before I showed up. And I didn’t feel too sad. I was the one leaving Cythera, after all. The fewer ties I had to this place, the better.

    One week , I thought as I curled up in my wolf body that night and drifted off to sleep.

    There was plenty to keep me busy in the meantime. The ship crew had been almost as poor as me, most of them also starving refugees, so I was willing to put all my money toward supplies for the trip home. Agne had given me half the oboloi earned from selling medicine over the winter, and as she began clearing out her stockpile, she sent me with tinctures to sell in the Commons.

    I set up on the grass by a pool. My hood seemed to dissuade most of the stares, though a few people jumped when I took their oboloi and they glimpsed my blue hands. After the first few times I started explaining it as an accident with some herbs. Their sympathy was almost as bad, but now that I could understand Cytheran, I didn’t want to hear the other comments.

    I dropped a vial when I saw Avatara. I scrambled across the grass to get it back, hoping he didn’t notice. He was cleanshaven now, but I recognized his hair and armour. I watched him browse the stalls, drawing closer and closer – but he just cast a passing glance at my cloth spread with vials and kept walking.

    “Someone’s cranky,” Agne chuckled when I went to her hut that evening to divide up the oboloi. I just made a face at her.

    After spending a couple days in the market, I noticed something. There were the usual year-round people – cloth merchants, bakers, butchers, tinkerers – but little fresh produce. All the crops were still growing. An idea burst into my head. Now that Agne didn’t need ingredients, I spent my evenings gathering edible plants to sell alongside medicine. She was more than willing to tell me where all the good patches were, especially if I brought back things she liked.

    The morning before I was to return to the Alraeican Tavern dragged on forever. Part of me wanted to go straight there, but I knew I’d probably get lost yet again, and didn’t want to haul my shoulder bag full of goods all over Cademia. Ferazel might not arrive for awhile anyway. I resolved to wait until midday and then go.

    I was down to my last few vials and two punnets of vibrant red berries when I looked up and saw Avatara standing in front of me.

    He glanced at the woven bark punnets. “Where did you pick those? I didn’t think berries would ripen so early.”

    I blinked at him – half in shock that he was talking to me, half in confusion. He spoke Cytheran with a heavy accent, and I wasn’t entirely sure I’d heard right.

    “Right, I guess you can’t tell anyone. Just like fishermen never give away their fishing spots.” He gave me that slight smile I’d seen in the tavern. “Forget I asked.”

    “Do – do you want to buy some?” I managed to get out.

    “Sure. I’ve missed having fresh fruit.” He dug around in his pocket. “How much?”

    “Um – one obol a punnet.”

    “I’ll take your last two. My friend might be able to make use of them in his tavern.” He didn’t flinch when I held out my hand, just dropped the coins into my palm and picked up the punnets. “Thanks,” he said with another smile and walked off.

    I clamped my hand over my mouth to hide my giggle. Stupid, stupid , I scolded myself. It didn’t mean anything. I was just some girl in the market to him. But still…

    And then his meaning clicked. He must be going to see Talos.

    “Wait!” I called, but he didn’t look back.

    I glanced around and made a snap decision. I dropped the coins into my purse, stuffed the cloth and vials into my shoulder bag, and ran after Avatara.

    What do I say? I thought desperately as I darted through the crowd, my bag swinging at my hip. He probably wouldn’t believe I already planned on going to the tavern. He’d just think I was following him. If I mentioned having met his friends, he’d really think I was stalking him.

    So I didn’t say anything. I just trailed him northeast, peering around corners, ducking into alleys or doorways. Only once did he glance back, but if he saw me, he didn’t react.

    My guess was right. He went straight to the Alraeican Tavern and headed inside. I stood across the street, twisting my hands around the strap of my bag, wondering how long to wait before it wouldn’t be weird. Maybe once I was with Ferazel, Avatara wouldn’t question it.

    I finally crossed the street and pushed open the door. Avatara and Slayer sat with a group of men I didn’t recognize. They didn’t look up when I came in. Talos stood on a table, washing beer off the ceiling. Ferazel was nowhere to be seen.

    I approached Talos and tilted my head back to look at him. “Um – Talos?”

    He glanced down. “Ah. Hang on.” He climbed down from the table, wiping his hands on the rag as he grumbled, “Every day I find some new mess. Adventuring is cleaner than this.”

    “Sorry to interrupt, but… um… is Ferazel coming?”

    Talos sighed. “Bad luck there. I haven’t seen him all week. Sorry.”

    “Oh.” I wrapped my arms around my chest, trying to hide my disappointment.

    “I did hear some news though.” Talos snapped his rag at a patron who was drooling on a table. “A foreigner was seen in Pnyx a few days ago searching for a ship builder.”

    My hopes plummeted like a stone through water. After all these months, we didn’t even have a ship. Maybe it was just as well Ferazel hadn’t come. There was no point saying goodbye if I wasn’t actually leaving.

    Talos frowned. “Hey. Are you all right?”

    “Yeah, I – I’m fine.” I started backing toward the door before Avatara noticed me there. “Thank you for your help.”

    At least the captain hadn’t given up. Neither would I. Waiting longer just meant more time to earn funds for the trip. That’s what I told myself when I went back to the forest to forage more plants, when I woke early the next morning to go back to the Commons.

    I brought the red berries in case Avatara came by again. When all my other hopes were fading, it was nice having one thing to look forward to. But he didn’t come that day, or the next, or the next. At first I just wondered if I was missing him each day. Then I started to wonder if he was even still in Cademia. Or if he noticed me following him and was avoiding me.

    A week after my trip to the tavern, all that was driven from my mind.

    I was in my usual spot on the grass when I saw a familiar person nailing a paper to the notice board in the centre of the Commons. I recognized the dark blue hat and coat. “Captain!” I shouted, scooping up my cluster of vials and dashing across the marketplace.

    He turned, but the proud, determined face I remembered from our voyage was gone. His skin looked stretched tight over his bones, his jaw covered with a long, bushy beard. His clothes were frayed and torn.

    “Young miss,” he said. “Lucky to meet you here. I’ve been trying to track down everyone from the ship. Haven’t had much luck.”

    A few people looked at him curiously as they passed, probably wondering what language he was speaking. He must have grown used to it, for he didn’t pay them any mind.

    “I heard you were in Pnyx,” I said. “Did you find a ship builder? I’ve been saving up all my money to help pay for supplies–”

    He shook his head. “Keep your money. There’s not a single person on this bloody island who can build a seaworthy ship. I scoured both coasts, east and west.”

    I stared at him. “How can there be no one? The Cytherans got here somehow.”

    “Guess they stopped passing on the knowledge.” The captain took his hat off and rubbed his forehead. “The Pnyx mages said they’d look into it over winter, but even their blueprints are gone. Damaged by the elements or something.”

    “So… what do we do now?”

    “Settle in. We might be stuck here for good.”

    The entire market faded into muted noise and colour, like I was deep underwater with our sunken ship. There was nothing else, just me and him. I didn’t care who saw me cry because no one else mattered. Nothing on this island mattered.

    “I’m not done yet. If anyone can figure out how to build a damn ship, it’s me.” He tapped the notice board. “This is a message to all passengers and crew. Come back to the docks every spring. If I’ve got something seaworthy, I’ll set sail on the equinox with whoever comes.”

    “Years,” I whispered, wiping tears from my eyes. “You’re talking years. Or never.”

    His face softened. “I’m sorry, miss, I am.” He patted my shoulder. “Remember what we left behind. At least we’re not stranded among a civil war.”

    I gave him a weak smile. “I guess. Thanks for not giving up, Captain.”

    But as I walked back to the forest alone that evening, I almost wished I had stayed in our homeland, war or not.

    Ferazel was gone, Avatara was gone, Akolin and the other viirelei kids were long gone. I stayed just long enough to help Agne settle in at House Attis. Her daughter Thetis was polite enough, but when I noticed workers in the garden watching me, I knew I wouldn’t be a welcome visitor. It was the end of my time in Cademia.

    I packed up my few belongings from my campsite and struck out along the coast. If I was stuck on Cythera, I wanted to get to know the land. I went southeast to Catamarca where I stood on the tip of the peninsula and gazed out at the foggy ocean, past Odemia until I hit the northern coast, then curved back south along the edge of the mountains.

    The island was far smaller than I was used to. I travelled at a leisurely pace, avoiding the roads, exploring little valleys and hidden nooks in the forest, and the entire trip took less than a week. I wondered how people didn’t go crazy living somewhere like this forever.

    Summer was definitely coming. It was getting too warm to sleep in my wolf body, but I’d gotten so used to it that I couldn’t fall asleep any other way. Maybe I could spend the summer in the mountain range like I used to at home. It’d probably be easier to avoid people there.

    It was mid-afternoon when I crossed the River Sitia’s western tributary, clutching my bag over my head as I swam across. The riverbanks were steep in the foothills, with cold, clear water rushing down a narrow gorge. I found a rocky shelf halfway up the south cliff that was just wide enough for me to stand on and cast my fishing net into the water.

    My clothes were almost dry when I heard voices talking and laughing harshly. I couldn’t understand any words over the swirling water, but as I stood still and focused, I became aware of something else.

    The water felt wrong upstream. Magic was so strong in Cythera that I was hyper-aware of differences that would normally pass me by. I could almost taste the impurity – like iron. Blood, I realized. There was blood in the water.

    It could be from anything. An animal flung into the river, someone washing their clothes. But I wasn’t going to take the risk. I stuffed the dripping net into my bag, grabbed a gnarled root sticking out of the bank overhead, and climbed to the top of the cliff. I’d just swung my legs over when I heard something crash through the underbrush, followed by a scream.

    I froze, crouching at the edge of the bank. A burly man in mismatched armour stood at the edge of the trees. He pulled a bloody sword from something hidden by foliage – and then he turned and looked straight at me.

    “Where did you come from?” he demanded.

    I scrambled to my feet and edged back along the cliff. “What do you want? Money?”

    “Too late for that.” He pushed through dense bushes toward me.

    Fear took over, shutting down my brain. This wasn’t like fighting with beggar kids in the market. There was no doubt in my mind he would kill me, but I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to kill him. I had a flail, a knife, a whole river at my command, all completely useless.

    A memory flashed through my mind – the silvery wolf drinking from the river. My bag slid from my hand. Before I could stop it, I changed into my wolf form.

    The man’s face twisted. “Shapeshifter,” he hissed.

    I growled, a long, low sound that vibrated my ribcage. My hackles rose. I smelled blood, so close and fresh it made my stomach twist.

    He paced closer, blade raised. I snarled and bared my teeth. He kept coming.

    I snatched my bag up in my jaws and bolted. The man yelled as I took off east down the bank. Once I was away from him, I curved back into the forest, leaping fallen logs and dodging boulders until the raw scent of blood faded.

    My paws ached when I finally stopped. I dropped my bag on the red dirt and curled into a ball, burying my nose in my bushy silver tail. I would’ve cried if I could. Instead I just whined.

    The worst part wasn’t the fear. It was the look on his face when I changed. I’d never fit in with Cytherans. I’d never be one of them. Even if I befriended some, if they ever found out what I was… I didn’t want to know what would happen.

    I stayed in the same place for the next few days, too scared to return to the river or cross the road out of Cademia to the south. I knew enough now to survive off the land without needing to fish, and I felt paralyzed every time I thought about straying from my little nest in the woods, but isolation worked its way through my mind like a splinter.

    On the third day, I heard voices again.

    I shifted into my wolf body to hear better. They were far off, getting closer. Four. Male. But they seemed… familiar. Their laughter was easy, their voices light. And there was no blood this time.

    “Sure you’re up for this, Talos?” one said. “We might be fighting worse opponents than drunken bar patrons.”

    I gasped – as well as a wolf could. If Talos was with them, the others were probably…

    “Trying to terrify me with ghost stories, Slayer?” Talos said. “I’ll have you know there’s nothing scarier than you first thing in the morning.”

    The voices faded into indistinguishable sounds when I shifted back. I slung my bag over my shoulder and climbed into a tree. The forest was dense enough that I could move through the canopy by stepping from branch to branch. I headed in their direction until I was fairly sure they would cross my path, then hid in a cluster of leaves to wait.

    They came into view a few moments later, about twenty paces to the south. Talos in worn travelling clothes, Slayer in his studded plate armour, Rogan in grey clothes and breastplate, and – yes, there was Avatara, with his distinctive blue-and-black armour. Talos had a curved blade at his side, but the others all had straight swords.

    I trailed them westward, catching snatches of their laughter and teasing. Odd they weren’t travelling on the road. Maybe they didn’t want to be seen – but by who? And who did they plan on fighting? They clearly weren’t worried about being heard. Or followed.

    When the canopy suddenly thinned, I had to stop and search for a route. Sunlight dappled the forest floor. There seemed to be an awful lot of mossy boulders in the underbrush, but moss didn’t grow in Cythera like it did in my homeland. Then one moved, and I realized what the men were walking into.

    “No!” I cried, but the sound came out strangled.

    It was too late. I heard a shout, blades being drawn, branches snapping, loud hissing – then Rogan distinctly cursing, and a cry of pain.

    I leaped forward into the air, caught a branch and swung to another tree. I got as close as I could without touching the ground. The four men stood in a clearing back-to-back, surrounded by snapping wolflizards. Their blades danced through the air, sending out sprays of bright blood.

    A lizard went down shrieking, then a second, a third. It was impossible to tell who killed them. I clutched my bone knife, but I didn’t trust my aim enough to throw it, and I didn’t want to give away my presence.

    The lizards started to draw back, their six legs skittering through tall grass. They hissed and bared their fangs as they retreated into the underbrush. As fast as they’d attacked, they were gone again. The forest was suddenly quiet.

    Rogan swore. His blade slipped from his hand and hit the dirt. Avatara caught him just before he collapsed. Talos swayed and fell to his knees, looking at the tattered, bloody remains of his sleeve with a bemused expression.

    I watched from above, balancing on a swaying branch, as Slayer and Avatara helped the others sit down with their backs against trees. They cut away the fabric from their limbs to check the wounds. Agne had warned me how fast wolflizard venom acted. Surely no one would travel without antidote – but the men seemed panicked. Lost.

    “You don’t have any potions – know any spells–” Avatara’s voice was tense as a wire.

    Slayer shook his head. “I wasn’t expecting wolflizards.”

    What do I do? The words echoed through my head like a drumbeat. I didn’t know any of them, really. They’d been kind to me in Cademia, but for all I knew they were the people I heard at the river. The moment I jumped down there, they could just kill me and take the antidote.

    Avatara pressed his hand to Rogan’s forehead. “He’s burning up already.”

    “I’m – fffiiine–” Rogan mumbled, a second before his head slumped forward.

    “No. No. Rogan! Wake up!” Avatara shook his shoulders. “ Rogan!”

    He turned to look for Slayer, but spotted me instead, hiding among the leaves. He stared into my eyes. I sucked in a sharp breath. I’d never seen desperation like that on anyone’s face.

    I slid down from the branch, stepped forward through the bushes and dropped my bag on the ground. “Let me treat them.”

    Slayer spun around. “What the–”

    Avatara’s eyes were still fixed on me. “Can you save them?”

    “Maybe.” I knelt on Rogan’s other side. Blood flowed from several punctures in his legs, running onto the grass. I sluiced water over the darkening skin, then took the metal tin from my purse and unscrewed the lid. A smell like rotten leaves filled the air.

    “What is that?” Avatara asked.

    “Herbs, resin, honey.” I scooped up a dab of opaque yellow unguent and rubbed it into a wound. “Wolflizard flesh. Other stuff you don’t want to know.”

    “Wait.” Avatara seized my wrist. “You use part of those foul creatures?”

    “Let go! I’m trying to help!” I tried to pull away, but he held fast.

    “Folk unguent.” Talos’ face was pale and gleamed with sweat. “Rarely works.”

    Avatara glanced at Slayer, still gripping my wrist. “Will they survive otherwise?”

    Slayer hesitated. That seemed to be answer enough.

    Avatara released me and spoke quietly. “Save them. Whatever it takes.”

    While I worked, I jerked my head at my bag. “Get the dried lichen from the front pouch. Then find the patchwork cloth in the main part and tear it into strips. Don’t touch anything else.”

    They followed my instructions without question. I packed lichen around the bloody bites and bound it with the scraps of my dress. Rags it had been once, rags it was again. I moved onto Talos next. He flinched when I touched his arm, but managed to keep still as I tended the bites.

    Frowning at the near-empty tin, I turned to Slayer and Avatara. “What about you two?”

    “I’m fine,” Avatara said. “Worry about the others.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “I’d notice if I got bitten,” he snapped.

    “Don’t be rude to the person saving your friends,” I snapped back. “Slayer?”

    Slayer held out his hand. Blood ran from his wrist, just past the edge of his armour. “Just one bite. It’s not bad.”

    “Bad enough.” I scraped up the last of the unguent and rubbed it into his wound. “You’re going to get worse before you get better.”

    There was little chance to talk after that. Slayer kept an eye on Rogan and Talos while Avatara helped me splint their limbs with branches, but the muscle convulsions kicked in before we finished. Talos drifted in and out. Even Slayer succumbed to spiking fever, barely aware of what was happening. We gave them cool water and put damp cloths on their foreheads.

    When I got a spare moment, I dragged the dead lizards away into the trees. They smelled almost as bad in the warm sunlight as the unguent. As I pulled water out of the air to scrub blood from my hands, I realized Avatara was watching me. I flushed and turned away.

    “How long does it take?” was all he said.

    I bit my lip. “I don’t know for sure. I’ve never treated wolflizard venom.”

    “I thought you knew what you were doing.”

    “Well, I thought you’d be smart enough to carry antidote.”

    He just glared at me.

    The sun had moved well through the sky by the time their fevers broke. Rogan woke up, looked around and passed out again. The swelling around the bites started to go down. I slumped against a tree and let myself rest finally.

    I’d daydreamed of all the ways I might meet Avatara again. We’d watch each other from across the market before he came up to talk, or he’d see me in the tavern and ask Talos about the foreign blue girl, or stroll along the river on a beautiful summer day and wonder about the mage spinning shapes out of water. He’d flash that slight smile I liked so much. There was no trace of a smile on his face now.

    In my daydreams, everything was clean and sparkling like sunlight on the ocean. I wore a pretty colourful dress like Cytheran women, maybe a flower in my long blue hair. Avatara would be curious about the tall, quiet, mysterious girl, the picture of grown-up gracefulness.

    Instead, I looked half-wild from living in the forest. Tangled hair, skin dyed purple from sunburn and red dirt, boots muddy from fishing – and his friends’ blood staining my clothes. He probably thought I was just a beggar kid who sold medicine and fruit in the Cademia market, and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

    Sunshine on my bare skin reminded me of something else to be self-conscious about. I’d worn my cloak the first time we met, but it was too warm for it now. I wrapped my arms around my knees, trying to hide my too-small shirt that hugged the new curves of my chest.

    “I’m sorry,” Avatara said abruptly. He was checking Talos’ pulse yet again.

    I blinked. “What?”

    “For snapping at you.” He didn’t look at me as he spoke. “Thank you.”

    I glanced down and picked at a torn fingernail. “I owed them.”

    “Not as much as we owe you.” He paused, then said, “How do you know them?”

    “The Alraeican Tavern. They helped me search for my friend Ferazel.” I snuck a peek at him. He was looking at me with an odd expression.

    “I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Avatara.”

    I know , I almost said, but caught myself just in time.

    “What’s your name?” he asked.

    “Katerei.”

    “Ka-ter-ei. Kat-er-ay.” My name sounded odd with his accent. “Can I call you Kat?”

    A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth. “If you want.”

    Avatara disappeared into the woods and returned with a few birds that he roasted over a fire. Slayer and Talos woke long enough to eat, but they looked exhausted, their bodies run down from fighting the venom. They both went to sleep soon after – proper, natural sleep.

    Avatara encouraged me to rest as well, saying he’d stay awake and keep watch. I curled up at the edge of the trees with my embroidered blanket, but I couldn’t fall asleep. It felt strange after so many months of sleeping in my wolf body. And I was acutely aware of how near I was to four men who carried weapons and wouldn’t be incapacitated much longer.

    I finally gave up and crept back to the glowing coals. Avatara sat with his back to a split log, his sword on the ground next to him. The firelight cast heavy shadows across his face. The forest whispered with the scurrying of nocturnal animals.

    “Can’t sleep?” he asked.

    I shook my head. I sat down across from him with my blanket around my shoulders.

    “How did you learn all that? Making antidotes, treating wounds.”

    “I spent the winter training with a herbalist near Cademia. And… at home, my parents…” I trailed off. I felt sure I’d cry if I talked about them.

    “Where did you come from?” He sounded genuinely curious.

    I hesitated. The answer seemed obvious. Far away. Nowhere you know. “North.”

    “What are you doing here?”

    “Surviving.”

    Avatara nodded at the forest. “You live out here alone? Isn’t it dangerous?”

    “I’m fine,” I said petulantly. “What were you doing when you were fifteen?”

    He flinched. I suddenly regretted asking. “How old are you now?” I asked to change the subject.

    “Twenty-one.”

    Not that much older, then, but he’d made his opinion of me clear. I was just a kid in his eyes. Well, I hadn’t really expected any different.

    He poked the coals with a stick. I tilted my head, watching him. I barely knew him, but he seemed different already. Like something had rattled loose inside.

    “Where were you going?” I asked.

    “Abydos. It’s on the southwest tip of the island.”

    “Why? What’s there?”

    Avatara smiled. For a second the confident young man from the tavern was back. “That’s what we’re going to find out.”

    “Oh.” I bunched my blanket in front of my mouth to hide my own smile. At least I could still admire him in secret.

    We fell into silence for awhile, listening to the coals crackle. Then he said, “Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I look at the stars. Puts things in perspective a bit.”

    I tilted my head up. The sky draped overhead, studded with points of bluish-white light. The two moons cast a gentle glow over the forest. In the north I could see familiar constellations. I lay down on my back to gaze up at them. Maybe home’s not so far away.

    I pressed my hand to Rogan’s forehead. His fever was almost completely gone, his pulse back to normal. I unwound a bandage to check the wounds. His leg was mottled purplish-black around the bite, but the bleeding had stopped. I didn’t notice he’d woken until he spoke.

    “Not a bad way to come around. A pretty girl with her hands on me.”

    “Wh-what?” The bandage fell from my hands as I reeled back.

    Slayer laughed behind us. “Well done, Rogan. You scared our healer.”

    Rogan squinted at me. “When did we get a–” His eyes widened. “ Oh. Sorry, kid.”

    “It’s fine,” I muttered as I scrambled to my feet.

    “Here. I’ll take over.” Avatara knelt next to Rogan and started changing the bandages.

    “What do you think, Katerei?” Slayer asked when I joined him and Talos by the ashes of the fire. “Can we travel again soon?”

    “I’d give it until this afternoon to be sure. Then just take it easy.” I glanced at Avatara. A few more hours, and then I might never see him again.

    “Glad I brought a change of clothes,” Talos said, examining his tattered sleeve. “Really hoping Rogan did too.”

    I giggled. “Avatara said you’re going to… Abydos, I think it was?”

    “That’s right.” Slayer looked at me closely. “Hey. Why don’t you come with us?”

    “Huh?” I dropped my waterskin and scrambled to pick it up before too much spilled onto the dirt. “You want me to… really?”

    Talos frowned. “You sure that’s a good idea, Slayer?”

    “Why not? We could use a healer.”

    “It’s not exactly…” Talos tapped his fingers on the ground. “I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable, Kat. Though at least Rogan’s learned his lesson.”

    “Hey, you two,” Slayer called. “What do you think about Katerei coming to Abydos?”

    Rogan held up his hands. “Now that I’ve freaked her out, I’m obligated to abstain.”

    I glanced at Avatara, barely daring to hope. Of course he’d say no, if he didn’t even think I could take care of myself. But I had saved his friends…

    “You should.” He looked straight at me with a smile. “It’ll be an adventure.”

    He wants me to come. He wants me to come! My cheeks warmed with a blush. I really had no reason to refuse. I didn’t need to go back to Cademia until spring, and I’d be safe with the four of them from anyone else who tried to attack me.

    “Okay,” I said with a shaky laugh. “Sure. I’ll come."

    This post has been edited by iKaterei : 15 August 2015 - 08:54 PM



  • Great chronicle, Kat! ^ ****^ I very much enjoyed all the references to early team stories and taverns : ****D And there's even references to the actual game! Very impressive ^ ****^ this is like the essence of a perfect Cythera chron : ****D

    The only things I noticed that were weird- wolflizards are nocturnal (and apparently not poisonous, but I wouldn't have noticed that if you hadn't pointed it out), and I feel like Slayer, a Mage who knew Resurrection, should have known Alleviation. But, this fits well with the backstory you and Tyry have been building ^ ___^



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 15 August 2015 - 10:43 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    The only things I noticed that were weird- wolflizards are nocturnal (and apparently not poisonous, but I wouldn't have noticed that if you hadn't pointed it out)

    Shh, no one else will ever notice. >_>

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    and I feel like Slayer, a Mage who knew Resurrection, should have known Alleviation.

    Did he know Resurrection back in these days? (I feel like that's a copout spell for stories anyway.) Maybe this incident is what prompts Slayer to go and learn Alleviation.



  • I'm pretty sure Slayer resurrected people a few times in the Undine Stronghold. I'm cool with pretending that Resurrection never existed, but still, he was a learned mage who knew advanced spells, seems weird that he skipped over Alleviation.

    Quote from the Undine Stronghold (from Slayer, no less) __:

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    The journey through the swamp was difficult. We battled our way through swamp gators and poisonous snakes. Many of us were biten by poisonous insects that were hiding in the stagnant and stech-filled water of the swamp. Fortunately, most of had learned basic healing magic from Pnyx, so the poison was no trouble.

    I hope I'm not being too discouraging, I really liked your story :x



  • Ummm, let's just blame that oversight on Avatara. He's not going to comment here to defend himself.


  • Global Moderator

    :(



  • Well, I was half-right.



  • I think he's frowning because he doesn't like me to say poison should be no big deal to a group of Cythera adventurers. Back in the early TS days everyone had powers similar to the player character in Cythera, who could easily become strong enough to be nearly invincible. But, they also had big villains to fight (undine, etc.).

    Nowadays, everyone's downplaying their heroes' powers, but they've still got big villains (Selax, alt-Wizard, are any of Valy's villains still around?) to defeat. I get the impression that because the heroes are no longer powerful enough to beat the bad guys, they're going to have to get the elementals/Alaric to do it for them.

    Anyway, as for the incident in this chronicle, you could just completely disregard Cytheran healing magic in TSes/chronicles, because it's too powerful to fit in with the now-not-so-powerful heroes. It makes me a bit sad to have more aspects of Cythera set aside in favour of more realistic concepts, but I might be the only one who cares. Another possible solution would be that Slayer et all have been through combat already shortly before the wolflizard encounter (after all, what were they doing north of Cademia if they were heading for Abydos?), and were out of mana.



  • @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 20 August 2015 - 09:22 AM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Another possible solution would be that Slayer et all have been through combat already shortly before the wolflizard encounter (after all, what were they doing north of Cademia if they were heading for Abydos?), and were out of mana.

    They're west of Cademia at the time. Kat was wandering the northeast corner of the island, crossed back over both tributaries of the river and was hanging out about halfway between the river and the road through the mountain pass. I don't have an explanation for why Av and co. weren't on the road itself, but it seemed odd for them to get ambushed by wolflizards on a well-travelled road.


  • Global Moderator

    Quote

    I dropped a vial when I saw Avatara.

    When Selax writes his point-of-view, this will be where a young Rapierian thinks up the idea of throwing vials.

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    “Yeah, I – I’m fine.” I started backing toward the door before Avatara noticed me there.

    She runs away even in not-Sail world!

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    “Trying to terrify me with ghost stories, Slayer?” Talos said. “I’ll have you know there’s nothing scarier than you first thing in the morning.”

    o_o

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    “Well, I thought you’d be smart enough to carry antidote.”

    "You'd trust your life to some colored water mixture somebody else brewed?"

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    Avatara nodded at the forest. “You live out here alone? Isn’t it dangerous?”

    “I’m fine,” I said petulantly. “What were you doing when you were fifteen?”

    He flinched. I suddenly regretted asking. “How old are you now?” I asked to change the subject.

    “Twenty-one.”

    Not that much older, then, but he’d made his opinion of me clear. I was just a kid in his eyes. Well, I hadn’t really expected any different.

    I think she misunderstands what he's saying. After all, four of them just got beaten up by a pack of wolflizards. Isn't it dangerous for any person, regardless of age to live alone out in the woods? Yeah, people sometimes travel or work alone, but that's different than sleeping alone in the wild without anyone to share a watch.

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    “I’m fine,” I said petulantly. “What were you doing when you were fifteen?”

    I'm guessing it was a coincidence, but interesting you specifically asked him about being fifteen. (Aside: if you want to know, it was mentioned in Outcast during the dream sequence.)

    The stars line is so true. (Was that even mentioned in a TS at all?)

    (If this was Sail world, the conversation might go more like: "I prefer to look up at the stars." "Oh, so you can trace the constellations and imagine what it might be like out there?" "No, I just don't want to be ambushed by a falling starfish.")

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    “Oh. Sorry, kid.”

    On the other hand, Rogan makes it perfectly clear what he thinks about her. ;)

    And everybody is worried about what happens with Icel in FL or Selax in OoR, but nobody has paid any attention to the real foreshadowing of gloom and doom:

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    "Come back to the docks every spring. If I’ve got something seaworthy, I’ll set sail on the equinox with whoever comes."



  • @avatara_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 04:25 AM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    I think she misunderstands what he's saying. After all, four of them just got beaten up by a pack of wolflizards. Isn't it dangerous for any person, regardless of age to live alone out in the woods? Yeah, people sometimes travel or work alone, but that's different than sleeping alone in the wild without anyone to share a watch.

    Oh, she definitely misunderstands him. It's more of a reflection on her own insecurities than on Av's opinion.

    Quote

    I'm guessing it was a coincidence, but interesting you specifically asked him about being fifteen. (Aside: if you want to know, it was mentioned in Outcast during the dream sequence.)

    Not a coincidence. You didn't mention his age in Outcast, but in a comment on Hym you said he was 14-15 during those events. Jeez, I put in all this work making deliberate references and you pass it off as an accident. :p

    Quote

    The stars line is so true. (Was that even mentioned in a TS at all?)

    No, that was just an educated guess, based off the constellations conversation in Outcast.

    Quote

    And everybody is worried about what happens with Icel in FL or Selax in OoR, but nobody has paid any attention to the real foreshadowing of gloom and doom:

    It's not THAT ominous, is it?

    This post has been edited by iKaterei : 03 September 2015 - 05:39 AM


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    @ikaterei_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 05:39 AM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    It's not THAT ominous, is it?

    With your Akolin comment on the other part, it might as well be!

    Also, you'd think by DM that people would have stumbled across a bunch of viirelei in the woods, so I'm not sure if they can hide forever.



  • Somebody's no doubt found them, I just meant I don't know if Kat will encounter them again - or if she does, whether it'll be significant enough to write about.

    The bigger issue I'm facing is that Av, Slayer and Ferazel actually left on a boat in LKH for story, which is only the autumn after this chapter. It wasn't explained where their boat came from, but there has to be some reason Av wouldn't pass the knowledge onto Kat. Maybe he doesn't think it could safely get to her homeland; maybe they only know how to build a boat big enough for three people.


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    Another well-written chapter. You're doing a good job of blending the more recent TSs with the older ones.

    @ikaterei_bot, on 16 August 2015 - 06:35 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Shh, no one else will ever notice. >_>

    I didn't really notice the nocturnal aspect, but I did recall that wolfilizards are only found in caves.

    @ikaterei_bot, on 16 August 2015 - 08:44 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Ummm, let's just blame that oversight on Avatara. He's not going to comment here to defend himself.

    Actually, it's much funner to blame someone else when they are present to complain (453 is an excellent example) :) .

    @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 20 August 2015 - 09:22 AM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Nowadays, everyone's downplaying their heroes' powers, but they've still got big villains (Selax, alt-Wizard, are any of Valy's villains still around?) to defeat. I get the impression that because the heroes are no longer powerful enough to beat the bad guys, they're going to have to get the elementals/Alaric to do it for them.

    Actually, taking advantage of--and actually making use of--the fact that Selax is overpowered was one of the original ideas when the storyline was conceived. Given his knowledge of Cythera's secrets and extra-Cytheran magic, Beorn is still quite dangerous though.

    @avatara_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 04:25 AM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    When Selax writes his point-of-view, this will be where a young Rapierian thinks up the idea of throwing vials.

    I hadn't really planned on writing anything from Rapierian's point of view. I think it'd be too hard to follow.

    @avatara_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 01:01 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Also, you'd think by DM that people would have stumbled across a bunch of viirelei in the woods, so I'm not sure if they can hide forever.

    ...unless Selax got them all killed during one of his plans (as well as probably having instigated the civil war they fled from in the first place).



  • Maybe as Katerei gets used to Cythera and warms up to how awesome it is, she no longer feels that it's worth risking her life to get back to her homeland? (although TS heroes have used boats on a few occasions, in the game it's emphasized that the Scylla make boating too dangerous.)



  • @selax_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 06:36 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    I didn't really notice the nocturnal aspect, but I did recall that wolfilizards are only found in caves.

    Doesn't make sense though, does it? Lizards bask in sunlight to get warm. Reptiles don't live in caves; only amphibians do.

    Considering I got basically everything about wolflizards wrong, I'm starting to think it would be easier to swap them out in this story with some new kind of lizard that lives in the forest. Woodlizards? It'd still be closer to Cythera canon than most creatures that have shown up in stories.

    Quote

    ...unless Selax got them all killed during one of his plans (as well as probably having instigated the civil war they fled from in the first place).

    You just want to kill off all my characters. :(

    @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 07:51 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Maybe as Katerei gets used to Cythera and warms up to how awesome it is, she no longer feels that it's worth risking her life to get back to her homeland?

    That does happen eventually, but not until she has a stronger bond with some people on Cythera. I think it's too early for that still.


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    @ikaterei_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 06:24 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Somebody's no doubt found them, I just meant I don't know if Kat will encounter them again - or if she does, whether it'll be significant enough to write about.

    The bigger issue I'm facing is that Av, Slayer and Ferazel actually left on a boat in LKH for story, which is only the autumn after this chapter. It wasn't explained where their boat came from, but there has to be some reason Av wouldn't pass the knowledge onto Kat. Maybe he doesn't think it could safely get to her homeland; maybe they only know how to build a boat big enough for three people.

    I don't mind retconning the beginning of that story to be two separate groups traveling through the void. In retrospect, it seemed weird that you could just sail and hit the void directly, though now that confuses your arrival in Part 1.

    Also, I don't think Kat has told Av she came by boat, so even if there was a boat (and iirc, the boat in LKH was more like a large canoe than a massive boat), he might not know she's looking for one. Until much later, by which point vandals (Akolin & co.) could have stolen or destroyed it. If it wasn't destroyed in the TS. Still doesn't explain where it came from though.



  • @ikaterei_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 09:48 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Doesn't make sense though, does it? Lizards bask in sunlight to get warm. Reptiles don't live in caves; only amphibians do.

    Maybe Cythera's too warm for them? I dunno. Maybe Cytheran reptiles are warm-blooded. Maybe wolf-lizards are more "wolf" and less "lizard" than you're thinking. Maybe we shouldn't be thinking about it at all o_O


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    @ikaterei_bot, on 03 September 2015 - 09:48 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    You just want to kill off all my characters. :(

    Not quite. I've just been enjoying Selax's tormenting Avatara and Katerei of late :) .

    @breadworldmercy453_bot, on 04 September 2015 - 04:20 PM, said in The Early Days: Part 2:

    Maybe Cythera's too warm for them? I dunno. Maybe Cytheran reptiles are warm-blooded. Maybe wolf-lizards are more "wolf" and less "lizard" than you're thinking. Maybe we shouldn't be thinking about it at all o_O

    Warm-blooded lizards is one possibility. Alternatively, the geography in Cythera might be such that the subterranean areas are actually quite warm. After all, the Cademian sewers are home to a relatively large population of ratilizards.


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