Callisto couldn’t sit still on the saddle. He got the feeling that Sisuk was antsy too, as she constantly seemed to shift how she bore their combined weight.
Savio’s words weighed heavily on his mind. He was to wait at this outpost until Lark’s call, and then ride east to meet the Nobleman.
This world was so different than his home, which was safely nestled in the ice mountains of Lark’s domain.
Here you could see the sun — even if it was close to the horizon — and plants were far more plentiful and grew so well that they shot up taller than buildings.
Callisto usually wore goggles, meant to prevent the sun’s light from hurting his eyes. He needed time to acclimate to the brightness while he was this far east.. Of course, he’d lifted them up as he squinted to explore the different colors out in the twilight.
“Hey, Olgi?” Callisto asked as he pulled off his goggles in order to look over the beautifully crafted headpiece.
Yes? The voice echoed in his mind as the tattoo behind his ear began to emit a soft, cooling temperature.
“Do you think Savio knows what he’s doing?”
He has always been loyal to us and ours.
Callisto frowned slightly as his thumb brushed over the tinted lens. “But he’s from here , right? The Ablation? How can we trust him?”
A moment passed in silence as Olgi seemed to be in deep thought, the cold pulsing of the tattoo being enough for Callisto to trust they were consulting with themselves and would respond when they had an answer.
The light made his eyes begin to ache enough that it encouraged him to slip his goggles back on.
Savio has much to lose in helping us like he has been. I don’t believe Lark would allow him to be so close, especially to you, if they felt he was unworthy.
Callisto groaned, rolling his head back. “I dunno, Lark’s really close to Savio.”
Lark likes redheads, I wouldn’t look too deeply into it.
“I’m gonna,” Callisto chuckled.
The tattoo began to vibrate, chilling the skin sharply as the wind started to pick up, bringing with it a scattering of snowfall it had carried on.
With the chill came a sharp whistle.
Callisto grinned and grabbed Sisuk’s reins to spur her into a swift run across the hills, driving her east. He followed the road but kept it far to his right. He had to slow Sisuk down once they broke through the tall plant line, as the hard wood eventually grew so close together that Callisto had to stop going in a straight line. It forced him to weave around in order to avoid Sisuk’s antlers from getting caught in anything.
Left , Olgi encouraged as the tattoo pulsed, allowing Callisto to navigate through the obstacles towards Savio. Once they finally broke through into a clearing, he found Savio.
Here, high on a drop off to the hilly world below, capped with even more of the tall plants, Savio was crouched and observing the world through a spyglass.
“So, what’s the plan?” Callisto quickly dismounted his elk and dropped next to Savio.
“The plan, now that we know how many we are dealing with, is to stop the cart, apprehend the dealers, and rescue the child,” Savio said. He never looked over to acknowledge Callisto otherwise.
“What are the chances any of them are Nobles?”
“None with the Obligations she’s under.”
Callisto nodded sagely once, squinting through his goggles at the familiar wagon making its way down the well-beaten path. It was accompanied by a man on a horse, a hired guard if Callisto had to guess.
“Alright,” Savio set his hand on Callisto’s shoulder, “Ask Olgi to be silent, so we can get some Obligations underway.”
Obligations were so weird. They tickled the mind in a way that made his bones itch, and his muscles twitch. Callisto had heard of others who did not enjoy the effects a Noble had on their bodies, but he liked it, within reason. They felt similar to how he felt when he was in Lark’s presence; full of energy and raw power that could likely turn the tides of any war, should they decide to.
Well, this was hardly a war, but it wasn’t hard to imagine that much power being at one’s disposal. As he stood atop the cliff , he took the time to get to know the earth daemon he stood upon. The sheer vastness of the area was hard to ignore while doing this. The daemon's stillness and solidity contrasted with the softer dirt and mud and rock, but was all so familiar. He could sense an eagerness from the ground, and knew it would work well with him.
Once the wagon was closer, Callisto focused his will into the earth. The orange aura lit up around his hands and poured into the dirt, shortly before layers of rock and soil began to break away, tumbling down the cliff’s face as the ground shook.
Immediately afterward, Callisto broke away and sprinted back into the tree line, hopping over the underbrush before a misplaced step sent him through a particularly prickly bush that tugged and pulled on his clothing as he tried to fall forward into a tumble. He landed quite gracefully, all things considered, on his bottom next to Sisuk.
In an instant, he got up and swung himself onto Sisuk’s saddle in a single hop, urging her down the hillside to get to in position behind the wagon. The Obligation weighed on his shoulders alongside Olgi, whose constant singing became more of a gentle hum that obscured the sounds on the wind.
When he broke through the tree line, he hopped off Sisuk as she continued to run forward.
The traffickers were on edge from the landslide before the hired guard was knocked off his horse from the force of a well-aimed arrow to his shoulder.
Callisto sprinted over to the wagon, jumping on to it and yanking on the lock while the men were distracted, hoping to reach out to its innate wildness.
Oh, right, metal like this doesn’t have a daemon.
Olgi’s singing wasn’t enough to overpower the shouts that erupted from Savio’s location, leaving Callisto to worry if they were headed back to the wagon for cover.
He drew his Coriolis from its sheath and slammed it into the keyhole of the lock, twisting it with all his might. He prayed that nobody heard the snap of the lock and slipped into the wagon as quietly as he could, shutting the door behind him.
He spotted the crate with holes that Savio had described and quickly unlatched it, finding the lid lighter than he expected as he quickly pulled it up.
“Surprise!” He whispered with a broad smile as two wide, glowing eyes met his from within the box. She seemed nervous, but her face seemed to light up as soon as the word left his lips. “My big, hairy, redhead friend said it’s time to do the surprise. You ready?”
“Everyone sounds mad,” the little girl protested, turning her attention in the direction of a shout outside the wagon.
“That’s why we need to give them the surprise, so they’ll be happy again,” Callisto offered his hand to her. “Besides, you want to meet your new daddy, right?”
That worked, as the tiny thing took his hand. With a heft, the child was up in his arms, as he shifted to wrap her in his cloak, hiding her head with the hood.
“You know how surprises work?”
“Gotta be quiet until we can jump up and shout ‘surprise,’ okay? You can be quiet, right?”
He felt her struggle to suppress a giggle while making a shushing sound at him, hiding her face with her hands.
Callisto lingered at the wagon’s exit, urging Olgi to stop singing so he could better hear. He stiffened as he made note of the near-silence, which could have meant one of any number of things had happened.
Now isn't the time to succumb to doubt.
Steeling himself, he shoved the door open and jumped, bolting in the direction of his steed. Sisuk had gone back into what Callisto now knew were called trees, where she would be safe. Once he found Sisuk, he grabbed her saddle and swung himself up, keeping his arm tight around the child he carried.
She gasped in surprise, distracting Callisto momentarily, as he realized the child had probably never seen one of the Oscuro’s elk before. He chuckled to himself and adjusted Sisuk’s reins before urging the creature forward. The child squealed in glee at first, but quickly fell silent until some time had passed.
“This is fun!” She shrieked happily, all of a sudden.
Callisto laughed heartily, pushing Sisuk a bit harder to ensure they covered as much ground as possible. Sometimes the elk slowed where the underbrush was too thick to pass through quickly, and meaning she tread carefully so as not to break an ankle. Only once Olgi picked up no more sound did Callisto encourage them to stop singing, as he looked down and grinned at the little girl.
“We can talk for a bit, since the surprise is going to be a bit longer while Savio gets set up. I’m Callisto, what’s your name?”
“Alexia,” she answered all too eagerly. “What’s this? It’s so big!” She twisted and promptly stuck her hands into the thick, white fur on Sisuk’s neck. Her hands seemed to disappear all the way up past her elbows as she sought the solid mass beneath.
“She’s Sisuk. She’s my mount.”
“Can I have one?”
Callisto grinned, remembering his own eagerness for an elk of his own the first time his mother let him ride with her. “Perhaps one day, but you have to be strong enough to pick up her saddle first,” Callisto emphasized by patting the seat they rode upon, “Once you can lift it, you are old enough, and it is a lot of responsibility.”
“I’m gonna be super strong, so I can lift it soon!” Alexia exclaimed proudly, before she leaned forward and smooshed her face into Sisuk’s fluffy, thick fur. Callisto couldn’t pick up what she was saying, since she was muffled by the elk’s thick arctic coat, but it sounded like happy cooing.
It was okay. She was happy and out of danger. All that remained was to find the rendezvous point and wait for Savio. Callisto had wanted to be the one to capture the driver and interrogate him, but Savio’s reluctance was understandable. Besides, Callisto was the better rider and could get away with little Alexia much faster.
He just had to trust Savio had this handled.