Brenloru was the first to arrive at the lake on the day of rendezvous. He couldn’t help but worry for his team, hoping none had run into complications. He let out a long call, facing south. Orange light of dawn covered the mountain face his voice echoed from. The long, deep call ricocheted, projecting it over the valley he had traversed and into the forest. Steam trailed from his gaping mouth, exhaled breath mixing with cool morning air. Keeping his eyes on the river leading to the lake, he hoped Dahj had risen just as early.
Next, he followed the mountain ridge descending in elevation towards the river for a glimpse of Reblex. The ram was notoriously the last to wake, but perhaps today Reb had pushed himself to get an early start. Lastly, he checked the tree line of the forest, waiting for Festelda to emerge. Fighting off encroaching anxiety, he reminded himself that there had been no specific meeting time.
Unsure if this was the lake that the underground voice had referenced, he decided to walk the entirety of the shore to check for signs of a cave roof. Beginning at the mouth of the river Dahj should be following, he carefully stepped from log to log that beavers had meticulously piled across it’s width to create their dam. It acted as convenient bridge for him to get to the other side. As he crossed, he admired multiple beavers delivering additional supplies to fortify their structure. They replied only with stern looks, long teeth exposed. Unamused by his bold assumption that their bridge could be used freely, they glared at him, as if expecting some sort of toll for passage.
Heading clockwise, he used a long stick to push aside lily pads and tall marsh grasses to uncover any clues of an entrance. Occasionally he would be knee deep in the pool that smelled of rot, disturbing cat tails that released seeds into the wind when touched. He coughed and spit the light, fluffy vessels that clung to his face and tongue. Tadpoles scurried away aimlessly into the murky water, threatened by his bumbling legs.
The lake floor was soft and layered with debris. Mud squished between his toes and clouded the water with every step, greatly reducing visibility. “Best to keep to the shore,” he grumbled, then silently cursed his new posture – moose were typically fond of consuming aquatic plants, and felt sturdy on four long legs, tipped with hooves. Now he found himself swaying, stumbling, and grabbing onto long reeds for balance in merely shallow waters.
“Asking the frogs for direction?” Dahj called from behind.
“About time you guys showed up!” he replied as Reblex, Festelda, and Kemble followed Dahj to the lake’s edge.
“Kemble, fancy seeing you again. I assume you did not follow our directions as closely as you should have?” Brenloru asked, eyebrows raised as he trudged out of the mud.
“I… I ran into some friends on the way,” Kemble stuttered, turning his blocky head to gesture towards his shoulder wound.
“He is a noble boar that kept the best interest of the Homestead in mind during his journey,” Festelda boasted.
“I see… I’m glad to hear that. We will get you patched up, Kemble.” Brenloru reached for his pouch and kicked away mud that clung to his leg. “I trust the land didn’t offer anyone else any trouble?” He inspected each member of the group from a distance, checking for more wounds. “Festelda, your hand!”
“Heh, a mere casualty in the fight to save my friend here,” she said, exposing the quivering paw.
Pollen, sap, root, Brenloru listed. Mixing the combination in his mortar, he applied it to Kemble’s puncture wound. Ground root filled the perforations, and sap sealed it shut with a sticky seam. Pollen numbed the wound and the surrounding irritated flesh, bringing Kemble relief.
“Bren… I must say; I’m worried! Before we know it, you’ll be abandoning us to start your own practice!” Dahj teased.
“I have something for you as well, Fes. I think…” the medicinal moose said with a smug grin. Clearing the previous combination from his mortar, he moved on to a blend of white pedals, moist stems, and vegetable oil. A soothing paste was produced, which he applied to Festelda’s hand.
“I’m sorry for ever doubting you, Bren,” Festelda admitted, instantaneously experiencing a cooling sensation. “Your aiding mixtures are almost as powerful as my harmful ones,” she added with a wink.
Festelda and Kemble divulged the encounter with the wolves to the group. The Guardians praised her for her noble defense, and her ability to disable two wolves with only the help of a frightened boar. However, Kemble still took more credit than he was given.
Reblex simply mentioned the outstanding view he had from the top of the ridgeline.
Dahj and Brenloru compared stories and realized they shared a similar destination. Both tips from different individuals – the owl, as well as the Land Soul, had matched. They were looking for a cave entrance in the lake.
“So, you only heard him. Didn’t see him, right?” Dahj asked.
“Yes,” Brenloru replied sternly. “The crack wasn’t even wide enough to fit my rack through. His story was believable, however. If we find the cave, we find him.”
“I don’t get it,” Reblex butted in, “if he controls the shape of the land, why doesn’t he just… move the rocks entrapping him?
“He sounded weak. That part of the story I haven’t been granted yet. Besides, moving land such as rocks, boulders, mountains, caves, tunnels, et cetera. They take time – it could very well take him a hundred years to shape the cage he is trapped within in order to escape,” Brenloru replied.