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Sheltered from the rest of Feila within the vast and towering mountains of Piriqui, rests a verdant and fertile valley fed by 2 rivers. This crescent valley, sheltered as it is from the conflicts and politics of the world, is also sheltered from the ravages of nature by the high mountain walls. A mild climate year-round allows for many harvests throughout the year. Within the very heart of the valley rests a tower that has weathered countless ages. Having fallen into disrepair even before legend, there is 1 thing known about the tower.
Every few years, on the night of the winter solstice for the rest of Feila, the tower releases a fine volcanic ash over the valley. By the first ray of dawn breaking over the eastern cliffs the ash has been absorbed into the soil, reinvigorating the whole of the valley. Because of the high cliffs and ash, the valley is able to provide near-perfect growing conditions for all manner of crops and fruits, as well as providing the highest quality plants for domestic and wild prey to feed upon.
Scattered throughout the valley are structures carved into the very walls of the valley. These structures are believed to be as old as the tower since they bear the same architectural designs and features of the tower. The key difference is that these structures have not withstood the test of time nearly so well. For most of these structures, collapse happened centuries before the communities of the valley recorded the discovery of these structures. A few of the structures that were not ravaged beyond entry contained scraps of an unknown metal that no smith has been able to replicate, only repurpose.
Due to the growing conditions of the valley there are usually multiple harvests in a year, which leads to an excess of crops. These crops are preserved, bartered for things that the valley does not produce, or distilled into a spirit known as Aurora. Aurora is a spirit distilled using a very specific recipe. There are several variations on the recipe, but all are produced at the same farm, and the original recipe has been crafted there for over 1,000 years. Many, throughout the ages, have claimed that Aurora has magical properties, though most believe that it is just the unique nature of the spirit. As legend holds, Aurora was formulated ages ago by a distiller who stumbled upon the valley and fell in love with the furs and the valley. It was a perfect place for his craft, and the furs accepted him without judgement. In time, he grew to be one of them, no longer caring for his old life. He had fallen in love with a woman who had lived in the valley, and they courted for several years, but one day, she just vanished. He spent several years searching for her, but to no avail. Eventually, he formulated the spirit as a tribute to his lost love.
There is more to this legend than just an origin. On the night that the distiller passed, a spirit was seen leaving his home. The spirit matched the appearance of the distillers unrequited love, but made of a soft flame that would glide above the ground. This story has been told many different times throughout the years, but each time, it has been told by a new witness. It would seem that the spirit of Aurora returns,from time to time, to the farm where her namesake alcohol is distilled...
Matea was resting peacefully in her tree, reclined on her favorite branch half-asleep. The weather in the valley was always perfect in Matea's opinion, rarely was there ever anything more than a soft breeze, and temperatures were always just right for an afternoon nap. From her tree outside of the edge of the forest called "the north end", Matea could look out and see her favorite orchards, fields and pastures for the domestic beasts, the northern settlement, and on the other side were the points where the rivers flowed down the high valley walls.
Matea was one of the few fruit bats to call the valley home, though she is the only one to live in the northern swath of the valley. She enjoyed her time away from the other bats. She considered most of them to be too noisy at the best of times, though they did serve as the unofficial messengers and sentries for the valley. She registered the footsteps spproaching her resting spot with little more than the turn of her ear. Once the footsteps were abot 20 feet from her tree Matea rolled ever so slightly and gripped the branch with her feet. "And what can this humble one do for you?", she said with a grin, looking at her visitor with her body curved into a crescent shape, now hanging from the branch by her feet.
Several of the orchards, farms, and even the Aurora distillers knew Matea for her innate tallent with water, earth, and plant magics. More of the valley's inhabitants knew her for her manner of speech, Matea always referred to herself as "this one". It was something that could irritate some, but still an accepted quirk given that the magics she wielded were uncommon in the valley, and very helpful.
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The horse was a distiller of Aurora, which here made him a steward of tradition, as well as a banker, and a farmer to boot. He was still in training to the owner of the farm, but the hard work and application he put into his craft had made his handiwork worthy of the name Aurora. Most of the time, anyway. Some recent trouble with his batches was weighing on his mind, now, and that was one of the reasons he sought out Matea.
"I wanted to thank you for the work you put into the plum orchards." He began, not even blinking at the bat. He had gotten quite used to her antics by now, and her mastery of the elements made her a good partner in fruit cultivation. "I also would like to know if you wanted to come along to the distillery to observe the fruits of your labor. I have some ideas on what may have allowed for the impurities in my last batch of plum Aurora, and I think I may have found a solution to their quality."
His voice had little emotion in it, but it did weigh on his mind. To him, Aurora was the valley; all the valley-dwellers knew of it, and it was as central to their common narrative as the ash which made their fields so fertile. It was that ash, in fact, that he was hoping to use to correct his errors.
She had been looking for a valley that there were only rumors, and speculation that it even existed, let alone it's location. Curiosity had gotten the best of her when she dug up what she thought might be a lead, but now she was pretty sure it had been a fool hardy wild goose chase, and she was likely die out in these damnable mountains. She had brought her friend along on the trip, who was the only other soul that knew about her lead, as well as several hired guards, but the others were all dead. They had died defending themselves when the group passed through hostile avian territory, and it's owning tribe had decided to attack. Silannah had not escaped, she just got lucky. Her wounds had seemed mortal, and something had spurred the avians to leave the site of the massacre with haste. She had been left for dead, but she eventually had regained enough magic to stabilize herself. She had tried to bind her wounds, then got to her feet to continue. She knew that she wouldn't make it if she couldn't find the valley.
Tears ran down her cheeks as she finally set foot within the valley, her only hope was that it wasn't delirium that filled her vision, that someone would see her approach. She didn't get much further before she collapsed, and tried feebly to call out "Help.....please" There was little strength to her call, but she hoped someone would hear.
Matea looked Natan almost directly in the eyes from her arched position while he spoke to her. The horse was always a little confusing for her. His place in the valley was one of relative prestige and honor. Aurora was what almost all of the farms and orchards had in common, and could be considered the iconic export of the valley, though no outsider would know that. "One is always pleased to know their efforts are appreciated." she said with a smile, releasing her grip on the branch and landing.
Matea, who stood only around 4 feet tall, could only really look others in the eyes when hanging down from above them. Her clothing would be somewhat shocking in most other regions of Feila, given that she wore little more than a wrap around her chest, and a type of pants used by many of the field workers that she has added drawstrings to the knees and waist before removing the tattered portions of the legs. Her clothing does little more than protect her modesty. Her chocolate colored hair is always short, but longer than her almond colored fur.
"This one has never understood the ways of the craft of Natan. His craft goes right to the head of this one and confounds her attempts at all things. This one will go with Natan, by request." She said turning toward the vast barn that housed the Aurora distillery. "This one shall help how she can."
There were once many tribes that lived near the valley, and occasionally made use of the valley for hunting and gathering. When the mage came to the valley, they called the tribes and their leaders to a gathering and commanded them to serve the will of the mage. When the local Eagle tribe leader stood and walked away after making some rather unpleasant comments, the mage demonstrated their power by incinerating the chiefton, and all of his tribe which had joined him at the gathering. The mage then looked across the other chieftons and told them that doom would follow those who would not serve...
3 tribes swore themselves, and their descendants to the will of the mage, no other tribes survived that bloody gathering. The Falcons, the Ravens, and the Owls each swore their tribes to the mage, and over the span of 10 generations, became the only 3 tribes around the valley. Each tribe was then brought together once again. The mage revealed that they were a phoenix with a brilliant display of their true form. The mage then divided the territories of the dead tribes among the 3 loyal tribes then left each with specific orders.
The Falcons, who pledged loyalty before even the Eagle chiefton met his fate, were blessed as the mages favored tribe. They were granted the territories of the Eagle tribe, and to have a presence within the valley as assistants to the mage. The Owls, who had always been enemies of the Eagle tribe, joined the mage for destroying their ancient foe. They were granted the mages favor so long as they enforced the will of the mage in the area surrounding the valley as far as wings could take them in a day. The Ravens, cowards, but ever the opportunists, turned on all of the other tribes to show that they would serve the mage without question, and that they would survive at any cost. They were made the eyes and ears of the mage. If any were to trespass upon the territories of the 3 tribes, retribution would come from the skies.
The mage informed the tribes of those marked by the mage to be given passage to this valley. As years passed, and the tribes changed leadership, the mage returned to provide new orders, or to modify old orders. Now that the valley belonged to the mage, and those given passage by the mage toiled within the valley, trade was needed. Those who left the valley with supplies would be given passage to return. Those who caused trouble would either be slain, or special magics would be woven around them. The magics were taught to the shamans of the tribes by the mage, and clouded memory. In some, it could change the very memories of the fur it was used on...
Silannah was hallucinating portions of what had truly happened while she was in the hut of the Falcon tribe Shaman. Her small expedition had been watched for several days by owl, raven, and falcon scouts. They were growing far too close to hostile tribes bordering the territories near the valley. The last orders the tribes had been given were to send a single falcon messenger to the head of the falcon families that live in the valley whenever any travelers got too close to the valley. These travelers did not get close. In fact, there barely even entered the territories around the valley. What made this worthy of the mages attention was a survivor...
"Great magus, I have looked into the memories of this dog. She seems to have some idea of your domain, but she does not bear your mark. What would you have done with this mongrel?" the shaman asked a cloaked avian, keeping the hound's perceptions trapped in delirium.
The avian said nothing, but approached the wounded hound, and stretched out an arm. A sharp talon at the end of an avian finger extended from the sleeve of the robe beneath the cloak, and touched the forehead of the canine. In an instant Silannah's memories flashed through the mage's mind. "Patch the injuries and bring her to the village in the northern crescent tonight." The talon glowed briefly as the mage planted a false memory.
As she called out weakly, Silannah could feel her consciousness fading. Blood loss was taking its toll, she was on the verge of losing consciousness, but as her vision was fading to darkness, there seemed to be a figure turning toward her and heading her direction. Before she lost complete consciousness, she felt the sensation of someone picking her up, then nothing...
"She will not wake until morning. I grant her temporary passage into my domain, and shall observe her myself. Should she prove problematic, I will deal with her personally. Heal only the most dangerous of her wounds. The time it takes her to recover will provide me some time to set-up contingencies." the figure said before they turned and left the hut.
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...but there was still those impurities. He'd taken his still apart and put it back together, trying to find out what happened. Eventually, he figured that it must be the ambient air. There was something different about it, that was getting into the Aurora. That such a supposition would affect the valley as a whole did not cross the horse's mind. He was concentrated on his own task.
"I do very much appreciate your attitude." He told Matea, walking along to his distillery. "All I need for now is another mouth to test the batch. I am using a slightly different method; I have taken some of the ash from the fields, and made a filter so to spirits pass through it when being distilled. Hopefully, that which helps the fields shall help their fruit as well."
She eventually started floating slowly toward consciousness, her senses gradually returning to her along with her awareness. Her ears twitched as they caught sounds, she could have sworn she heard something or someone moving around not far away. She eventually opened her eyes to a dim light, it took a moment for them to adjust as she attempted to assess her surroundings. She seemed to be in a shelter of some sort, there was light filtering in from a window somewhere out of her immediate line of sight. Somehow she was alive still, and had been brought somewhere she hoped was safe. Her next action was to attempt to sit up which she quickly discovered was a very bad idea. Agony ripped through her body as she quickly found out that her wounds were far from completely healed. A pained groan escaped her as she let herself fall back into the position she had been in when she woke. "h-hello?" She croaked so softly it was barely audible, her throat was parched. She wondered how long it had been since she last had something to drink.
She didn't have much choice but to lay where she was, and hope that her rescuer, or captor would show themselves soon.
Her room had been intentionally darkened to allow her to sleep as long as she needed, but life otherwise continued within the lodge. When Silannah spoke she was heard, though she didn't know it. Soon after she resigned herself to wait, a young bat who looked very similar to Matea walked in carrying a small tray with a bowl of chicken soup, some fresh bread with fresh apple cinnamon jam, a large cup of water, and a small cup of mint tea. "Hello stranger, it is rare to see anyone not born here. The healer has already tended your wounds with salves and ointments. I've prepared a simple meal for you. If you desire something more, just let me know. My ears are very keen." he said as he placed the tray next to Silannah. Her room was a very simple and plain room, her bed a simple one, and the nightstand next to the bed equally simple.
Everything about her surroundings were simple and rather humble. The little bat wore a shirt and breeches made of a relatively low grade cloth. The little bat shuffled out of the room to let Silannah eat her meal in peace. The scents of salt, preserved meats, all manner of herbs, and fresh fruits slowly drifted into the room just over the scent of the cooking fire. There was the faint, high-pitched sound of several bats chittering and chirping at each other in the main hall of the lodge.
A traveler to the northern village was resting in the lodge as well, a young falcon woman who as spent her time flying around the valley checking on the villages, and homesteads scattered throughout the valley among farms and even forests. Several times a year, she helps transport important goods from the traders out to these scattered homes. She is one of the valley's more skilled inhabitants in that her knowledge includes herbal mixtures, a few magics, and is a traveling midwife when necessary. While not considered to be one of the valley healers, she does what good she can, when she can. "Mato, would you happen to have some jasmine and lavender?" the young falcon asked softly.
"Hmm, I think I might just have some from the field not but a couple of days back." the bat said to her before chittering at some of the other bats in the lodge. Minutes later the falconess was presented with a small basket of lavender and jasmine.
"Thank you Mato, I think these may help your guest relax easier." the falconess said to the bats and their father.
The falconess walked quietly into Silannah's room, taking a small bowl and stand from her bag. "This should help you relax a little easier. My name is Aura, and I was the one to dress your injuries. It's amazing that you're even awake." the avian said as she placed the bowl on the stand. She placed some of the lavender and jasmine in the bowl and conjured some water into the bowl. She turned toward Silannah and smiled gently, waving her talons over the bowl. Almost immediately, a soft steam began to drift off of the bowl and fill the room with a gentle scent of lavender and jasmine.
Matea and Natan had arrived in the northern village after a couple of hours. Matea enjoyed all of her time out in the fields and sun. Her joy came from nature itself. She had an instinctual understanding of how the sun, rain, and soil enabled plants to grow. She even seemed to understand the trees and plants around her as though they spoke to her. "This one adores the smells of the orchards and fields. The sweet aroma of blooms is always pleasing." she said with a smile.
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Thus, his slight "Hm," in response to Matea was not so dismissive as it might have sounded. "The fruits are good; I only hope the bees will be so kind in the coming seasons." The art of the apiary was another upon which he had to rely on outside help for.
As they passed into the village, he caught the scent of jasmine and lavender in the air, which brought to mind a batch of floral Aurora he had distilled a few years past. He could see steam coming out the window of the healer's house, and stopped to poke his head in. "Someone injured?" He asked, the horse's concern deepening when he saw the face of a stranger inside.
She looked up at the falcon and took a small sip of the water. She had to use every ounce of self control to keep herself from guzzling. She gave the falcon an apologetic smile before she spoke, this time with more strength. "Thank you so very much. I did not have much hope that I would ever wake again." She paused as the attack played through her mind. "My name is Silannah, or Sil if you like." She took another small sip of her water as Aura set the jasmine and lavender to steaming. The scents quickly filled the room and Silannah could feel their effects "Didn't specialize in healing magic either huh?" She asked quietly as she noted Aura's use of magic. Her statement was thoughts pouring out of her mouth, and was not intended to insult or accuse.
If it hadn't been for the relaxing effects of the herbal infusion, and her injuries, she would have come off the bed in her surprise as an equine head came into the room through the window. "um, hello?" she said quietly as much in greeting as answering the stallion's question
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“Okay, give it a shot!”
A rush of wind from nowhere, and with a creak of wood the blades of the windmill began to turn. A blue jay in a sequined vest stood with his taloned feet braced in the lush grass of the valley of Ash, his arms outstretched.
“How's it look, Hector?” he yelled over the noise.
“Can you get it any faster?” came the answer from inside the windmill.
The skin Avian grunted and stepped forward, his huge claws tearing into the sod. The wind rushed stronger from his hands, and the blades picked up speed.
“Okay, just about – got it! Slow it down, Alucard!”
The Avian's hands dropped and he sank to his knees, breathing heavily. A portly hedgehog emerged from the small structure, wiping his hands on his thick canvas apron. “We got the new millstone set and oiled. Alucard, you're a wonder; that would have taken us days on our own. I mean, I knew you were great at spotting trouble in the works, but I never knew you had magic like that.”
“Glad to help; just remember it come the next harvest,” the jay said between heaving breaths.
Hector laughed and slapped the jay's shoulders, but Alucard just looked at him with one dark eye. “Oh, you're not kidding,” Hector said. “Well, I'm sure we can work something out.”
“I trust you'll be fair,” the jay said, and sat back in the grass on his hands, his wings fluttering idly.
Hector broke the awkward silence. “Have you heard? There's an outsider in Aura's hut.”
“What?!” Alucard sat straight up. “Who? When?”
“It's the talk of the valley. One of those painted dogs from the plains, a female. They brought her in yesterday morning, half-dead. Nobody knows why she's here or what she wants yet. I suppose we'll hear more when she wakes up, but Aura's been keeping a pretty close eye on her -”
“I have to go,” Alucard said. He sat up and coiled his long, thin body beneath himself. “You know where to find me,” he said, and leaped into the sky. His shining blue wings beating the air bowled Hector over with the backdraft. “As much as anyone does,” the hedgehog said, picking grass from his head spines and trundling back to his grain mill.
It wasn't long before he reached Aura's hut. He spiraled in the air for a bit, his sharp eyes picking over every detail of the scene below him. A soft epithet escaped under his breath when he saw that Natan the sour-faced brewer and Matea the air-headed fruit bat had beat him there, the former already with his over-long horse snout sticking where it didn't belong as usual. Perhaps it wasn't too late, but he'd have to be careful.
He folded his wings and dropped out of the sky, snapping them open at the last second and backing air to come to rest several yards behind Matea. He covered the distance in long strides and greeted her with a wave of all four limbs – wings and arms. “Matea, peach! Did I miss anything?”
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