It felt good to be away from the small paths and overgrown roads of Wyrm’s Wood. Aziz, the magistrate of Wyrm’s Edge village, was not a small man and unless he slouched when walking he would constantly get branches in his face and twigs scratching his arms. It was also nice to be on the road again.
It didn’t hurt that the dirt road they were walking along was, or at least had been before becoming overrun by weeds, a proper road instead of the barely visible paths of the forest. The lack of trees on every side, replaced by wide expanses of gently rolling grasslands, allowed a proper view and did much to lighten his spirits. He liked the Wood, but it felt cramped and enclosed, where here the wind was free and he could see to the horizon instead of having an overgrown bush in his face.
“Too long…” Aziz muttered under his breath as he strode casually along the dirt road. When Ky looked at him questioningly, he grinned and motioned around them. “It’s been too long.”
“Since what? We got beat up by bandits?” Ky rubbed his shoulder. The two had run afoul of a small band of ruffians in the Wood, though the pair had driven them off with little more than bruises and minor cuts.
“Yes!” Aziz laughed. “Since we walked the road under the gentle warmth of the midday sun. Since we last-”
“Gentle warmth of the midday sun?! It’s blazing! Even for a Sollim like yourself, this heat can’t be comfortable,” Ky complained, and not for the first time since they had left the Wood’s shaded trails.
“Bah! You’re overdressed. Take off your hat and throw away your cloak.”
“I take off my hat, and the sun burns the skin right off my nose. I throw away my cloak, and when the rain comes-”
“Rain? There hasn’t been any rain for weeks.”
“When the rain comes I’ll be soaked through. Not to mention all the stuff that’ll be ruined, like our food.”
Aziz regarded his traveling companion as they continued on their way. Ky was tall for a human, and pale. Well, next to his own bronze skin at least. Ky’s unkempt hair and dirty clothes clashed with his groomed beard and fine cloak, yet he always managed to look just scraggly enough that it didn’t draw attention.
Perhaps it was the way he carried himself, with slumped shoulders and an air of being unimportant, that made the mismatched outfit work. Maybe it was the haphazard way he was dressed with nothing matching the rest that lent the whole thing a unity of style. All in all, though, Aziz felt it was most likely because people were often too focused on the morningstar strapped across his back to really care about the rest of his attire.
It did look rather funny, with his backpack bulging under his cloak like the hump of a camel and the haft of the oversized weapon making a tent behind his shoulder.
He let out a grunt, acknowledging Ky’s point, then turned his attention back to the landscape. It was a beautiful day, with not a cloud in sight. Still, Aziz was a veteran enough traveler that he knew that clear skies today made no promise about tomorrow.
“Starting to remember why you retired?” Ky’s inquiry was more of a statement than a question. The rain had been pouring down for most of the day and Aziz seemed to be losing more and more of his good mood with every step he took.
The thick veils of water limited their view to a muddy road lined by fences, heavy with overgrown plants, surrounding unused pastures which soon melded into the grey of the sky. Somewhere in the distance they would occasionally hear the braying of cattle, other times it was thunder.
Aziz’s neatly trimmed beard was soaked, his unkempt black hair clung to his face, and the blades of his axe were stained with mud and dirt. His well-worn boots seemed full of mud and water, sloshing with every step he took.
The intricate tattoo crawling out from under his sun-bleached red vest, extending from his back over his shoulders and onto the upper parts of his muscled arms, almost made it look like the rain had found some way to get underneath his skin. Its pale blue lines traced their paths beneath his skin the same way many trickles of water were tracing theirs across it, though unlike the rain the lines tapered to a point instead of ending in a droplet.
Aziz shot him an irate glare before lengthening his strides, leaving Ky hustling to keep up. The young man merely grinned under his wide-brimmed hat, hugging his cloak a little tighter to keep out the rain.
“Do you remember the last time we passed here?” Aziz asked suddenly. “We’d not seen each other for years.”
“Aye,” Ky replied wistfully. “And as luck would have it, our paths crossed somewhere north of here. Not that far from where the road splits off for Malqish.”
Aziz let out a chuckle. “You’d been run right out of town. Come to think of it, you never did tell me what happened.”
Ky shrugged noncommittally and gestured dismissively in the air. “Minor kerfuffle with the nobility, I merely needed to lay low for a while. Being a farmhand in a frontier village like Wyrm’s Edge seemed like an excellent way to do just that. Besides, you would have grown bored settling down in a place like that alone.”
Aziz scoffed. “I was fine until someone got me appointed as magistrate. And now I’m responsible for figuring out what sorcery is cutting grain and stealing cattle without trace.”
Ky threw him an innocent grin. “Hey, if it starts cutting down trees it might make your work easier. Though I suppose the villagers would be less than thrilled if you let these nightmares plague them while the forestfolk steal all the food.”
“This isn’t forestfolk, they’re too close to nature. This magic is unnatural,” Aziz countered. “It’s leaving dents in boulders that are as smooth as the flat of my blade and rounded like… like-”
“Like your belly?” Ky laughed. Aziz had grown quite the belly over the years, being quite fond of the many sweets abundant throughout Malqish.
Aziz glanced angrily at him before continuing. “I just hope they don’t burn down the forest while we’re gone. Wouldn’t do any good, anyway. They’d just burn down the village while the faeries would keep most of the forest safe.”
“Assuming there are faeries in there, you mean.” Ky had never really believed the stories about faeries in the Wood. Forestfolk were close enough that there seemed no reason to expect actual fae would live there as well, especially with all the crag trolls around to eat them.
“Sure, of course.”