Even at the speed the transport was traveling, it took us several days before we reached the Grove. It was hard to believe that we’d traveled so far, and that so many things had happened since I’d left the Grove. Now I was returning there. Coming full circle.
I tried not to think too much about the dubious future or the dark past. I may have known nothing about what would come of the nest of Dragon eggs we found, but it had once again united the three of us with a new purpose. It was our job to protect and safely move the nest, something that took all of us working together to do.
When we finally broke clear of the Crater’s oppressive ashy environment, the mood lifted substantially among us. Especially Horizon. I knew the poor air quality and the infusion of Chaos in the land was especially hard on her. Almost as soon as we left the area, the color returned to her face.
We began to talk among ourselves again. As Horizon piloted the transport, Levi learned how to properly use the Circle to help chart a course and navigate around any potential pitfalls. This included actual pitfalls in the terrain, or Yyth camps. Horizon wasn’t ready to explain this situation to the others of her kind. Not that I could blame her.
And when we ran across our first real river since we left the Crater, you’d think we’d all gone crazy. It was a party.
We took turns washing the ash out of our clothes and from ourselves. It felt good to shed the stink of Chaos and finally breathe clean air again.
We spent time cleaning out the inside of the transport and giving the eggs a proper nest of soft bedding rather than piles of dirt and ash. Levi even gave the outside of the transport a spray-over in his Dragon form. Though, he didn’t spend long in it.
Horizon was pleased by the cleaner quarters and clothing. Her suit was still stained from travel, but at least we didn’t all have a clinging layer of grime following us everywhere.
That night, Levi and I hunted for the first time in a long time, while Horizon scavenged. She showed us a pleasant way to cook and season some of the wild greens she found. Then, as we all rested and ate, Levi cut away a water reed to create a makeshift song-whistle. For the rest of the night, he entertained us with all the silly songs he knew to play, and answered Horizon’s questions about song-whistles.
We all slept well that night — some under the stars, some in the much-cleaner transport.
Then, we picked up the journey again the next day, fully refreshed. Aside from a few situations, mostly when Horizon tried to teach Levi how to pilot the transport, the rest of our trip was uneventful.
It was when we arrived at the Glade that I’d have to face the music.
The transport was already having issues getting through the hilly countryside before we got anywhere near the Glade. We brought it as close as we could before Horizon proclaimed it officially not safe.
“This will have to be good enough,” Levi said, hanging out the open side door with one hand. He’d quickly become familiar with the giant metal beast we traveled inside. He was even a pretty good pilot of the machine, given some practice.
I wondered if the rest of his people were as open to adopting this strange new technology as he was. In a world changing as quickly as this one, they had to be.
“Let’s head on up and see what’s going on.” He was eager to see his people again.
Horizon hesitated. She looked about as nervous as I felt. “Are you certain I will be welcome there?”
Levi just shot her his best smile. “Don’t fret. We’ll vouch for you. It’ll be fine.”
“Ok,” she murmured, trying to brush the wrinkles out of her suit. We really needed to find something more… native… for her to wear now that we were coming back to the Grove.
We didn’t walk for very long before we were greeted. I heard a shout from the trees. Looking up, I couldn’t see anything at first.
The shout came again, this time, the words making sense to my ears. “It’s Levi! Levi’s back!”
By that time, Levi and Horizon were also staring into the canopy above. A slender but tough-built teenager appeared in the leaves. One of Levi’s people. He scampered across the branches without care. A tiny glimmering spirit followed behind him, having taken the shape of a small, lithe woodland creature.
“Nuan!” Levi called up to him, waving with a wide smile. He teased. “Get down here before you get hurt!”
“Not going to happen!” The teen flashed a smile and slid down the tree trunk with no effort at all. He landed lightly on the balls of his feet and rushed up to us with round eyes.
Levi threw his arms around the boy and they exchanged a guy-hug, full of shoulder slapping and big smiles. Horizon and I watched this, both of us unsure of what we should be doing.
“You made it back!” Nuan finally pulled away, studying Levi’s still-marred skin. There were places where the burns hadn’t healed completely. “You look terrible. Sura is going to have a fit.”
Before Levi could respond, the boy shifted his attention towards me. His already wide eyes widened even more.
“Oh… are you…” he breathed with a hint of awe.
I gave a large, prideful grin at his reaction. He knew that before him stood Bahamut, the First Dragon. As he slowly approached, I tried to be casual about it. I needed to make a good impression on these people, after all. I would be living with them soon enough.
I opened my mouth to say something reassuring… just as the boy walked past me, up to Horizon. I felt my jaw drop further. His amazement was for her.
“You’re one of them,” Nuan swallowed, staring at Horizon with no shame.
She took a step back, looking uncomfortable.
“This is Horizon,” Levi told him. “She’s with us. So it would kindly do to treat her as a respected guest.”
“You heard me.” He messed up the boy’s hair and gave him a light shove.
“If you say so, Chief,” Nuan shot an uncertain grin and scampered up the path in front of us.
The boy didn’t even acknowledge that I existed. He just disappeared in the bushes.
“I say so!” Levi shouted after him. Then he glanced back at us, shaking his head. “Troublemakers.”
When he turned to follow Nuan, Horizon didn’t move at first. Not that I blame her. She’d been singled out and identified by the very first person she’d met other than ourselves.
“Don’t worry,” he reassured her again. “It’ll be fine. Just trust me.”
I took her elbow gently, leading her forward. “You’re not afraid of Dragons, remember.”
“This is a whole clan of your people,” Horizon reminded me.
“They’re not all Dragons,” I informed her.
She was surprised by this. “Oh?”
“You’ll see,” Levi took her other elbow. “I’m the Chief here. What can go wrong?
“That’s not reassuring anyone, Levi,” I told him.
“I’m just saying, no one’s going to bother her,” he frowned at me. Then, he turned back to Horizon. “I think you’ll like it if you give it a chance.”
She took a long, deep breath. Then she nodded.
The three of us walked up the steep path, heading towards the Glade. At the top of the hill before us, I could see the shapes of people… and other things. Waiting for us.