Venul ran her soft hand over the child’s face, smoothing her hair and caressing her jaw. She was careful to stay away from the now bandaged wound Mishtil had sustained. She gazed at the unconscious goddess lovingly, a small amount of concerned pain milling with the peace in her eyes. Her finger tips trembled despite herself as she thought of what would have happened had Tadis not been hunting and came upon her.
“Sweet Tadis. You are truly a blessing. You are stern, yet soft of heart. Thank you for saving our young goddess.”
Tadis had been running a stone over the head of their spear. They stopped to look up at Venul, but said not a word. The tangled mess that was their hair fell in front of their eyes, shielding any possible meaning away from the goddess of love. They made a slight vocalization, as if some sort of answer was to be forthcoming before stopping it short and peered downward back toward the ground.
Tadis then suddenly stood and walked back over to their cook fire. They turned the spit, exposing the other side of the hare to the glowing coals beneath it. The nature deity had come across a pair of them soon after making camp. The second one ran away before they could retrieve their spear after killing the first. It would provide a scant meal for the three of deities.
Venul smiled lovingly at the badger that was nestled against Mishtil. Earlier she had made a few attempts to shoe the animal away, but it insisted on following them. Now it was curled up under the child’s arm, one of its little paws resting on her shoulder. The poor animal looked nervous or concerned. Venul could only guess at where it came from.
“This is a strange animal, Tadis. I feel as though it was following Mishtil, but how can that make sense?”
Tadis walked over and knelt by them all. They reached out a hand, scratching the badgers head. The animal was surprisingly compliant, though it made no move to leave Mishtil. Their gaze lingered on Mishtil’s chest which was rising and falling softly and regularly. The goddess would likely awake with a headache, but she would be okay.
“I was hoping we would find Silwyn and the twins when we found Mishtil. I’d hoped they were all together. Something must have went wrong with Brenisch’s song. We can’t even be sure we all went to the same realm. What if they were sent to the underground of Jeragoth or, worse, the Sribinet?”
Tadis’s face showed no emotion at their words. They spoke them impassively, as a matter of fact. Venul, however, frowned. She had thought of this as well, of course, but she tried to push the thoughts from her head. Even if they were sent to Samsarras, a mistake in the song could have sent them anywhere in the huge world. She only hoped that finding Mishtil in the woods meant the others would be near by as well.
“You’re right, Tadis. We have no guarantees. If only the twins were here, they’d have some feather that would point the right way or some small crystal we could see their faces in. If only there were some way to speak to the others, find out what went wrong…”
Tadis walked back over to the sack they kept their possessions in and began to dig through it.
“Perhaps we should not have come here at all,” said Tadis, producing the wooden mask from the sack. “Perhaps leaving the Yurilda and my grove was a mistake. Yet, here we are.”
Venul watched with curiosity as Tadis slid the mask over their face. The nature divine had taken quickly to Druhaus’ gifts. Her curiosity turned to momentary alarm as Tadis began to change, quickly growing shorter, their sparse clothing turning into a pelt of hair. It was over before Venul could fully panic. Where once stood Tadis now stood another badger wearing a small wooden mask.
Venul could not help but chuckle. Serious, stern Tadis waddled over toward Mishtil and her furry companion. They moved with all the grace a badger could muster, which was not terribly much. She was sad the child goddess still slept, as she would have delighted at the spectacle. Venul would make it a point to tell her when she awoken.
Badger Tadis poked the other with their nose. She stirred, and looked at the new arrival with wide eyes. She hesitated, allowing Tadis to break the silence.
“I am a friend of the goddess. What do you know of her?”
Wormchomper regarded the child for a moment before replying. “A goddess, aye? Well, I’ll tells ya what I didn’t know. I didn’t know she was no goddess, I didn’t. She don’t seem no demon…”
“No,” Tadis replied. “She is not. Were from the Yurilda. Do you know where that is?”
“I ain’t ever been there, but my elf, he’s talked about it plenty. He knows all kinda things, he does. He also fancies me Queen of badgers. I talks to him, I does, but I ain’t sure if he actually understands or if he’s just mad. It’s very possible it’s both. My name is Wormchomper, by the way. Who are you, badger that ain’t a badger?”
Venul watched in amazement, somehow knowing that introductions were being made despite both creatures grunting, snuffling, and barking. More than anything, she wanted to shake Mishtil so she could awaken and see this, but she knew the goddess needed her rest. She could only sit there, strangely alone despite being with those she’d known for an eternity.
“I ain’t seen your friends. This one here is the only one I’ve ran into. She fed me some right sweet apples. A good one, she is. I was out lookin’ for me Elf. He’s in a spot of trouble. Ran into some humans and they took ‘im. Moved too quick for me to follow, they did. I figured the lil’ one was lookin’ for her people so I’d just tag along while I was lookin’ for me own.”
“Thank you for watching over her,” Tadis replied. “You are welcome to stay with us while we look for our companions. “
“Welcome to stay? Oh, I appreciate it, false badger, but I am Queen of the badgers, after all. I gets to go where I pleases. Qua’ Jon might be mad, but he knows things. I’ll believe him on this one. “
Tadis the badger used its paws to scratch at it’s face, removing the mask and beginning the shift back to their regular shape. The nature divine didn’t know what to say to that, nor what to do about this information about an elf. They counted on having some time to think on it before doing anything with the information. Unfortunately, they were wrong.
Even before Tadis was fully changed back, Mishtil stood at alert, facing toward the loud crashing sound of something barreling through the brush. Whatever was making the noise was making no attempt not to be heard. Tadis was scrambling on the ground on all fours toward their spear, only standing when it was safely in hand. The last of the badger hair disappeared as they rose to their full height. Both deities could see the stirring of leaves and the vague outline of a shape. It seemed to be humanoid and was coming right toward them.
Tadis planted their back foot and loaded the spear against their hip, ready to thrust forward. The shape bounded out of the brush like a gazelle, long legs striding impossibly wide, the gown that clothed them torn and filthy. The Nature Divine dropped the spear as Silwyn stumbled into their arms.
“Silywyn!” exclaimed Venul. “Thank Yurilda! Are you okay?”
The goddess of travel struggled to catch her breath. Tadis had never seen her tire from running before. They could sense her desperation as she fought against her contracting lungs to speak words.
“Elf!” she gasped. “They’re killing the elf!”