( A continuation of Prologue – Before the Endless )
Crying out, Zuzana ripped the covers away and surged to her feet. The grass was wet with dew, and the trees swayed quietly in a morning breeze. Velabahleke gave a start, but her fellow Vaulter Blagoje simply stared then went back to starting the campfire. She could not see Varun or Anushka about, so they must still be sleeping.
The Trader had been warming his hands by the fire when she woke, and now the dark-skinned man was sitting back down, rubbing his hands together to dispel the cold of the waking forest. “Are you alright, Lady Shuksin?”
Raising herself up on the elbows, she decided she could not tell if Velabahleke was concerned or simply asking. “I will be fine once I get some coffee. Vaulter coffee.” She clothed herself quickly, trusting the coffee to warm her despite her chilly garments. Without a word spoken, Blagoje set a steaming cup of coffee in front of her as she sat down. “I simply had a bad dream, that’s all.” she said, sipping at the hot liquid.
There was a shuffling from the Ardent tent, and Anushka pushed back the tent flaps, stretching in the morning breeze. “Among my people, we regard dreams as portents of the future. Bad dreams, even more so.”
Zuzana sipped the coffee. Strong, but slightly too hot for her liking. “And among my people, we regard dreams as something to get out of the way so you can get back to work.”
Varuns gravelly voice sounded from the tent, its owner probably still ensconced in his sleeping bag. “Then it too was an omen. An omen of work.” Anushka scoffed, then kicked the tent supports. As Varuns scarred face appeared between the tent flaps, the Ardent woman went over and sat by the fire.
Despite Zuzanas intentions, the morning proceeded slowly. Breakfast was made and eaten while Velabahleke discussed their task and how they should find their destination.
“You said you knew where to go.” Blagoje said, stirring the oatmeal with a ladle.
The trader scratched at his sideburns, pushing the last bit of oatmeal around his bowl with his spoon. “I said I knew the region we should look in, and what we are looking for. As to the exact directions, we will have to find the way ourselves.” Blagojes said nothing in reply.
Zuzana looked at her fellow Vaulter, wondering if he might present a problem in the future. “So what are we looking for then?”
Velabahleke reached into his pack and withdrew a scroll case, unrolling the contents onto a sheet of leather. Inside were 2 large sheets of paper, the first depicting a map of the region. A mountain range to the west was encircled by a line of red paint. The map was quite stylised, so the scale would be unreliable for determining distance. Zuzana could feel the blood rush from her face when she saw the second sheet. 5 masks, each emotionless in its own way.