A trail in the Himar
A path marked by broken saplings and crushed foliage wends its way north through the undergrowth of the forest. It bends to go around the full-grown trees, but cuts its way through the occasional smaller thickets and patches of shrubbery, making the line that it draws through the forest abnormally straight for a trail.
A fine drizzle starts as the winged Hekoye follows the northbound path cleared by … whatever it was that tore through the small village Lochinvar had once called home. The trail narrows to a few yards wide as it progresses. Judging by the condition of the foliage on the newly-formed path, the ranger guesses that the thing which made it passed here no more than a few days ago.
Even after so many years away, the surrounding terrain still feels familiar to Lochinvar, making the presence of the new trail even more jarring to him. Over there is the tree that Dalton nearly killed himself flying too close to, and there is the clearing where his father taught him to hunt, and here is the stream where…
Beneath an overcast sky, the forest steams with oppressive heat. Ariecha wears a simple top with no back, just straps tied around her neck and beneath her wings, and shorts that cut off just above her knees. The exposed fur suggests that her exotic fur-and-feathers color silver-grey along her back, and the backs of her wings, lightening to pure white over her neck, chest, and the undersides of her wings continues over her entire body. "I think it's too hot for this, Lochinvar," she calls to him as they fly over the trees. "I think it's too hot for anything. Let's just fly." Their passage through the sky provides the illusion of wind in otherwise humid, still air.
Lochinvar dips a little in the air, testing the heat at a slightly different altitude, then climbs back up. "If it's hot for us outside, just think what it's like inside the cabin with no shutters over the windows," he replies as he scans looking for a suitable place to find this wood.
"I haven't even been inside in two days," the pale Vartan confides. "I told Daddy that I would have told everyone to pass on building the house altogether if I'd known it would be this bad. Is it always so hot, Lochinvar?" she asks, tilting her wings to dip beneath him as she scans the woods herself.
The winged Hekoye chuckles a little to himself, and calls down in reply. "This is oddly hot for the season, actually. It doesn't get bad often!"
Her sigh of relief is so exaggerated as to be easily audible by the other's keen ears. "I suppose it's just picking on us, then. Maybe I am jinxed." The last words are almost an undertone, but the Hekoye is able to pick them out. Ariecha flaps her wings a few times to ascend to his level, and points down. "There, is that one of the Sichua trees my dad wanted us to use?"
Tilting his head a little towards Ariecha, Lochinvar almost looks like he's about to ask her what she meant by that, but then looks towards where she is pointing. "Hmm … ah, yes … that's one of them, yes!"
The female Vartan nods to Lochinvar, and visibly steels herself. "Let's do this if we're going to, then … land in that clearing by the stream?" She folds her wings to dive towards the small grassy meadow, not far from where the Sichua grows.
Lochinvar lets her go first, then dives down to follow. "After you," he says to himself, grinning slightly.
Ariecha lands lightly by the edge of the stream, beating her wings to steady herself as she plants her hoofed feet, one on the grass and one on a moss-covered rock. As her left wing folds in, her right bumps into an overhanging tree branch. She turns to steady it, and the foot on the rock slips. With a squeal and a flurry of feathers, she slips and plunges feet first into the shallow brook.
The coyote, keeping a keen eye on his companion, notices her mishap and lands just by her in the stream, just in time to steady her. "Whoa," he says to Ariecha. "Careful there … are you okay?"
Feathers still floating in the air around her, Ariecha blinks, leaning against Lochinvar's arm as she sways, managing with his support to stay standing her feet submerged in the stream. "Woo," she exhales, then giggles. "I meant to do that," she says unconvincingly. "Wow, this stream is cold!"
"Then let's not stand around in it getting cold feet," replies Lochinvar with a slight chuckle. "We still have that wood to get, after all."
"I don't know about you, but I can do with some part of me being cold!" She laughs again, with an oddly musical lilt to her voice, then bends over suddenly to splash drops of cold water over her arms and chest, giggling.
Lochinvar laughs along with her, splashing water on himself too. "That's a good idea you have there," he says to her.
The water is almost icy cold, but refreshing after the hot air all around them, causing Ariecha to alternate between laughter and bracing gasps from the cold. She grins as Lochinvar joins her in the stream. "Isn't it though? Here, let me help you!" She dips one wing into the water, then beats it upwards and towards him, sending a shower of water over the winged Hekoye's fur.
"Brrrr!!" goes the Hekoye, shivering. "That is certainly… bracing. See?" As he asks the question, he flicks up a good amount of water at Ariecha.
She squawks and squirms, showering more white feathers and water down upon it. "It sure is! Have you noticed?" she retaliates, turning to face him and using both wings to shovel a wave of water towards Lochinvar.
"I have, ye-aaaah!" as he's hit by the water, the sheer coldness of it is enough to knock him backwards into the stream. "Ahhhhh!!! That is so cold!!"
Lochinvar raises up a hand towards Ariecha. "Some help, please?" he asks of her.
Ariecha covers her beak with her hands to hide her laughter as the other goes down. "Oh, I'm sorry!" she says, with sincere apology in her tone, though she can't quite stop giggling. "Sure, let me help you up," She reaches out to take his proffered hand.
The Hekoye grins right then, and pulls her towards him into the water.
For a moment, her hooves scrabble uselessly against the bed of the stream for traction, then Ariecha topples down on top of the winged coyote, scrawking in dismay and laughing at the same time. She thumps into his chest and they go down in a pile of intertwined limbs, fur, feathers, and icy water.
Lochinvar ooofs, slightly, then grins at the Vartan. "Well, hello there."
The white Vartan tries for a scowl, but can't manage to pull it off, lapsing instead into giggles as she struggles into a half-reclining position, leaning face-forward against Lochinvar's chest, with the Hekoye seated, his arms propped enough to keep his face above the foot or so of water in the brook. "Hello yourself," she gets out at last, near-breathless.
The coyote-Vartan smiles and grins at his companion, then reaches up and wipes a few drops of water away from Ariecha's beak. "As much as this is very pleasant," he says, "we could catch cold. Now how would we explain that back to our parents?"
Ariecha makes a face at Lochinvar, then turns her head suddenly away as she sneezes. "Oh!" She squirms around to her knees, then stands, a little wobbly. "Um … a sudden cold snap?" she offers, shaking drops of water out of her wings. "They get those in the mountains, right? At least my father wouldn't know any differently… "
Lochinvar picks himself up out of the stream, flapping out his wings to get rid of as much water as possible. "Your father might not," he says, "but mine would."
"Then I guess you'll have to come up with a better explanation," Ariecha tells him. She staggers out of the stream and into the meadow, her clothes steaming almost visibly in the moist, hot air. "Unless you want to say that you were overpowered and forced into a half-frozen stream by a girl," she adds mischievously.
"Ummmm, right… ," says Lochinvar. "Well, we have plenty of time to come up with an explanation."
"Yes," the white Vartan agrees, ruffling her damp feathers. She walks purposefully over to the Sichua tree, a wide-trunked tree with few branches that stands around fifteen feet tall. "At least as long as it takes to chop down and carve up this tree. You have the axes?"
"Right, the axes," says the coyote. "I had them with me when I landed … in the stream. Ah." He checks the stream bed and retrieves the two axes from it.
Ariecha coughs and accepts her axe, wiping off the blade on the grass. Side by side, they begin to chop at the tree, alternating strokes.
"I don't think," Lochinvar says between chops, "we'll be able to get the whole tree back. At least flying back with it could be pretty hard."
"That's for sure," his companion concedes. "Maybe we could float it down the stream?" she suggests. "Where does this stream go?"
"It becomes a river a fair way further down," says Lochinvar, "but upstream it passes pretty near our village."
"Think we can bring it up, or will the current be too strong?" Ariecha asks, making another smooth stroke at the trunk before she glances up the stream.
Lochinvar thinks for a moment. "If we could find something with which to pull it up the stream with, the current shouldn't be too strong this time of year," he says.
"I've got some rope in my belt pack," Ariecha says, taking another swing at the trunk, which is two thirds cut by now. "Think it's ready for us to push it over?"
"We could give it a push and see," he replies. "It should be now, I think."
Standing behind the tree, they work together at shoving it for a few moments. The tree creaks and shudders for a few moments, then with a sharp crack topples into the stream. Ariecha pauses to cheer enthusiastically.
The winged coyote turns and grins at the white Vartan. "Well done," he says. "Now we have to get it back."
And, indeed, the stream's current has started to tug the top of the tree along it. It rips free of what's left holding it to the trunk, and starts sliding away from the pair. "Awk!" She says, startled, and makes a grab for it just as it slips away.
Ariecha shoots a glance at Lochinvar, who shrugs, as the fallen tree bumps down the slope towards the water, away from them, then the two dart after it, the white Vartan's laughter once again ringing through the still, warm air.