One night as Sai’Li is sitting by the fire drinking tea, idly petting Ignis in his tiger form and enjoying the low rumble of his purr, she begins to reflect. She muses about the past he has shared with her about losing his parents early, the discipline of the monastery, the isolation of his druidic life. The gruff way he acts is typical of most Dwarves she knows, however the way he closes himself away from almost everyone goes beyond racial attitude and bearing.
She has seen this body language before, although it is usually from folk hardened from birth by the rigors of unkind training in her Lord Father’s rigorous guard training. His methods of starting with very young children is effective, but certainly weeds out empathy and any semblance of kindness or compassion. When she recalls the way he bridles and glares when Aurora tries to pet him, the promise of deadly violence clear in his posture reinforces her thoughts.
Taking a sip of tea, Sai’Li wonders if she is the first in his memory to touch him in a gentle manner. She can’t help but smile that the only time he opens himself up to her is when he is also at his most dangerous. There is no doubt that the six hundred pounds of killing fury sitting contentedly by her side could tear her to shreds in moments.
Covering the smile behind her fan, Sai’Li muses on how things have progressed. Ignis the Dwarf is still the uncouth and irascible man he has always been. When a creature feels powerful and comfortable in its skin though; that is ironically when they are the most vulnerable. One of her most effective and honed skills is to make beings feel comfortable and powerful.
In this case, it has not been her doing; or at least not entirely. Her vampiric heritage does protect itself by making her mere presence sway others to her will, but there seems to be more here. Part of it must be the lack of clothing animals are required to wear, as Ignis has shown nothing but disdain for clothing, for the rest… she has known men whose only chance of survival was to become a Tiger. Of course, those men did not literally become an actual tiger; but instead took on the fierce predator’s killing instinct and lack of mercy. Here, she judged the physical predator had come to appreciate her abilities as an emotional and psychological predator.
‘Anyone can cut a man in half child.’ Her Honored Father used to say, ‘But a true Master will convince the man to first give everything he has to you of his own free will and then die in the manner of the Master’s choosing.’
She shivered and wondered if it was in horror at the memory or in admiration of his great talents and seemingly limitless power. Her Honored Father had the prowess of every form of predation she knew existed. Someday, she hoped … but she did not know what it was she hoped for. Freedom? Equal power? To take his empire?
Sai’Li buried her fingers deep into her tiger’s fur and allowed herself a small sigh of satisfaction at the rumbling of contentment from the bottom of his chest. For now, she was content to plan and grow stronger.
After a few nights in Burnholm, Ignis has become increasingly irritable with each passing day. Late into one evening while pacing in front of the fire in his Dwarven form, he abruptly turns to Sai’Li. Speaking in a measured, quiet tone he says, “I understand you are more comfortable here than on the road, but I think we have been here long enough. I smell a fierce storm approaching, we should take our leave tomorrow at dawn. If we make haste and don’t let that damned wagon slow us.” His voice rises slightly, “We can likely dodge the worst of it. If we stay, I’m not sure how long it will keep us trapped here.”. Folding his arms, he stares at her intently waiting for a response.
“We are not on the water. I do not fear the rain. What is it about this storm that worries you?” Sai’Li looks up from where she had been using an ivory and obsidian abacus to tally an account of her most recent shipment of fine instruments and goods sent through the ring to Ako, her capable assistant in her Coastwood Blossom House. “I know you are not a coward; what is different about this storm in particular?”
Ignis’s brow furrows and he turns to stare into the crackling flames. After a few breaths, he flexes his hand like a claw and speaks again. “Something I can’t explain feels off about it.” He sighs and continues, “Perhaps, it is nothing more than that these are unfamiliar lands with unfamiliar storms.”
He stares at the fire for another moment before turning back to face her. “However, I can tell you that this storm feels angry and it means to linger. The winds alone will make it too dangerous to travel in it and waiting it out will delay us more than the few days it will take for it to calm. The roads will be mud and puddles for who knows how long after. That’s to say nothing of how many downed trees we will have to clear from our path.” Ignis gives her a small grin “And besides, if I have to stay here too much longer I’ll never get the stink of these folk out of my nose.”
“Perhaps it will be a storm from the other world; a storm that crosses the veil.” Sai’Li muses, tapping a perfectly lacquered inch long blue fingernail against lips that sported matching lip color. “While that might be a thing to witness it is indeed not something I wish to experience on the road. Are you certain we will be able to avoid it if we begin our journey this morning?”
She looks out the window at the clear blue sky without a hint of cloud or wind showing just after the sun has chased away the night, trusting her Tiger’s innate weather sense in the face of what her own eyes suggest. “Perhaps after a bit of tea. Also, we must warn our allies here of the impending storm. If it is as fierce as you sense then they must prepare themselves for it.” She snaps her fingers, a sound almost a whip crack and a striking young man in a short kilt and tunic almost seems to appear at the door. His face is not quite shining with admiration; he hides it well.
“My Lady Shirasiu?” He inquires, bowing at a right angle and staying there.
“Please wake the others if you would be so kind Brynhild. Prepare for them to break their fast in a quarter candlemark and inquire as to if Grandmother Mabel or Uncle Lufan would be willing to join us.”
Brynhild backed two steps before straightening and setting off at a run. He really was such a good boy.
Ignis looks at the ivory and obsidian abacus, then back to Sai-Li. “This is not a question of numbers, one can never be certain.”
“Certainty is more often created and believed than it truly exists my Tiger.” She says, hiding a smile behind her fan. “The numbers only lie if you make them do it; but they can and will without complaint when the time arises. If you had been raised under the roof of my Honored Father you would understand that certainty is not certain and uncertainty is power. All things can be turned to one’s advantage.” She looks out at the brilliant sky again. “All things.”
The sky above Burnholm is a bright blue and the sun just clearing the treetops from the east shines warm and bright.
I looks like it’s going to be a good day, but the people of Burnholm do not know what is coming. They do not know that anger and hatred and unending hunger come their way. It is drawn towards them like a shark to blood in the water, like a ghoul to a new corpse.
As morning chores get underway in the little town, the first strange thing the townsfolk notice is the number of large birds flying east this morning. Stranger still, flocks of smaller birds are flying with haste, almost as if in pursuit of the larger more powerful birds. When swarms of the wee Fay, the pixies the sprites and others, are seen flying with desperate speed above and around the town word is sent to Grandmother Mabel and Uncle Lufan perhaps the Elders can tell what is happening.
By the time they are found and told of the strange sightings, word from the wall comes where the watch reports movement in the trees. They claim to have seen herds of beasts moving quickly in the wood. But strangest of all is that it is both prey and predator moving together. As they stand discussing one of the young men of town comes with word that the Lady Sai’li sends for the elders.
They both exchange a worried look perhaps the outlander knows something about these unnatural happenings. They quickly head for the Inn.
“I see by your faces that the news has reached you as well?” Sai’Li says from behind her fan, “Are you preparing the town? If you are waiting for this meeting, please do not fear insult of brevity, instead go and rally your folk to their tasks.”
“I would have you heard of the strange news we bring from those that have seen it.” Grandmother Mabel says. She gestures to the people who have come with her and they each give report of what they have seen. When they finish she turns to Sai’li her head tilted a little to one side.
“Now child.” she says, “What do you know of what is happening?”
“A storm seems to be brewing.” Sai’Li folds her fan and her face is completely calm, “The exact nature of this event is unknown to me but I can tell you that it is unprecedented in nature. Perhaps from beyond the veil. I wanted to warn you of its approach that you might prepare yourselves for its arrival.”
Upon hearing her words Grandmother and Uncle exchange looks Uncle turns to Sai’L,i bows slightly turns and walks out of the room. Grandmother turns to Sai’Li, “He will begin preparing as best he can. I hope we do not lose any more people. We have suffered so much since being taken across the veil.” She smiles sadly, at the rembrance of those lost.
“If you are not familiar with a storm like this, then it is not likely from your world as I had hoped. The most likely explanation then is that when our worlds were thrust together we had a storm from each world collide. They must have fed off one another to become something new and more dangerous.” Sai’Li says, “Excuse my rudeness would you care for tea?”
At Grandmother’s nod, she moves with elegant grace, sifting some bright green Matcha into a delicate porcelain cup and pouring hot water over it. With a horse hair brush set in a carved wooden handle, she mixes and froths the tea before sliding it across the table to Grandmother Mabel on a matching saucer. “Do not fear grandmother.” She says, voice calm and reassuring. “Your town is strong and your people stronger. After all, as someone once said to me these predictions aren’t precise numerical formulae, they are intuition and what I have heard called an ‘educated guess’. Perhaps we have a certain Dwarven survivalist who would wish to put her skills to the test and give us a report?” Sai’Li suggests, giving Ignis a sidelong glance.
“After all, I know Nerata has been itching to show off. Ah, of course I mean display her many skills and talents.” Sai’Li says, taking a sip of tea.
Ignis lets out a deep chested hum of satisfaction. “As much as I like that idea, it would mean staying here and waiting out the storm. Also, it may prove to be.” He pauses, giving her a considering stare, “Unprofitable for you. Go or stay, the choice is yours to make.”
“I believe we can discern if this is indeed a weather event or something … other.” Sai’Li takes the baby Elven Pine Starseeker gifted her with out and sets him on the table. “What nears this place little one? Is it storm or is it foe?”
The tiny figure moved and swayed, chattering in incoherent fear waving its branches. After a few moments, Ignis shook his head.
“It says its mother’s Dryad Starseeker will meet us at the great oak in the town square.” He said, turning and beginning to walk out of the room.
With a sigh, Sai’Li put down her teacup and rose, bowing slightly to Grandmother Mable before departing.