It took more than a night and a day for the rain to stop. Caithe and Faolain had decided to wait it out, making a makeshift shelter out of their fallen tree. A few broad, leathery leaves kept the water out for the most part, and they crawled away into the relative safety of their little burrow. When Caithe opened her eyes from her light sleep, Faolain was comfortably rested against her, cheek on her shoulder, sleeping peacefully. For some reason, Caithe also felt safer. The sky was crackling with electricity and flashing every so often, but she felt not quite as vulnerable anymore. A light smile on her face, she pulled Faolain closer, and closed her hand around the Mesmer's.
In the next few hours the rain started to fade away. It was late in the afternoon, but the sun had been breaking through the clouds and warmed the grounds a little. When the clouds disappeared, it had quickly begun the warm to tropical temperatures again. Caithe rose from the burrow, looking around. Faolain had gotten up already and was nowhere in sight. The forest felt brighter, as if all the water had intensified the colours of the plants.
Caithe quickly picked a few berries from nearby bushes, and walked over to the place she had been a day before. The tree she had climbed had fallen over completely. Only a burnt piece of trunk, about her own height, was still rooted to the ground, but the rest of the metres long tree lied splayed before her, the top charred and black. Ashes were spread around the trunk.
She ran her hand over the charred tree. The idea of death fascinated Caithe. The fact that a being could exist, and then suddenly stop existing the next moment - she had never thought of that. She contemplated asking the Pale Tree about it, but at the same time wasn't sure if she really wanted to know. The idea of losing existence, or watching something, someone else lose it's existence filled her stomach with an icy feeling.
'You are troubled.' A hand was placed gently on her shoulder. She had not heard Faolain approaching, lost in thought as she had been, but the other must have sensed her unease. The sound of Faolain's voice already soothed Caithe. She smiled at her.
'It's nothing.' Caithe turned around to look at the other. She looked different now, in this bright light. 'Where have you been?'
'Somewhere amazing. Come, I must show you!' Faolain answered, excited. She grabbed Caithe's hand and lead her away from the tree. Caithe looked over her shoulder quickly, but left her troubles with the dead tree and joined Faolain in her quickened step. Adopting the other's excitement and feeling the sense of adventure awaken again was a refreshment after all this time of doing nothing.
The creature was gigantic. It was four legged and covered in tree bark with gigantic antlers and just plain huge. Faolain had taken them to a open place in the forest, where a small river came out into a small lake. It was beautiful, colourful flowers grew in the riverbed and at the lake, and the clearing was full of life. Fireflies drifted lazily over the water, making everything sparkle. But this creature. Was. Gigantic.
It had turned its enormous head towards them, a low roar coming out of its throat. Caithe instinctively grabbed her weapons, but Faolain pushed her arms down.
'Put your weapons away, Caithe. He's friendly.' Caithe looked at her as if the other had gone mad, and Faolain shook her head.
'Look at him, Caithe. He is one with the forest, just like us.' She walked forward, toward the beast's head. She lifted her hands above her head, and reached out for the creature, lightly touched his forehead, stroking him. The creature groaned, and closed its eyes. She stood there silently for a moment, a tiny woman next to the massive animal.
'I heard stories about these creatures,' Faolain said, while gesturing Caithe to come forward. 'They are called "Oakheart" '. Caithe took a slow step forward, still on the tips of her toes, ready for an attack. However when she watched the creature enjoy Faolain's gentle touch, she also slowly began to relax her own shoulders. This creature truly was friendly.
'Oakheart is a good name for him.' She decided. As she stood next to the other Sylvari, she looked up at the Oakheart. It was towering over her, with closed eyes, and seemed to nudge Faolain's hands for more touches. She lifted her own hands as well and slowly petted the beast's neck. It felt hard and woodlike, like a tree, but it was also warm, and pulsing, like something living. The creature moved closer to give her more room to touch, and truly seemed to be enjoying itself now. After a short moment, it even decided to lie down, utterly relaxed by all this friendly attention. Faolain chuckled.
'Look at you. The great Caithe, marvellous fighter, felled a giant Oakheart - without even using a weapon.' Caithe felt her cheeks heat up and looked away. She did not know what to say, so she just kept petting the Oakheart.
'What a story to tell the Pale Tree.' Faolain turned away from Caithe for a moment. 'What else do you think the world will bring us, Caithe?'
'I don't know,' Caithe answered truthfully, 'but I'm sure there are things there beyond our imagination. Such as... a land that is as cold as it is warm here?' She looked at Faolain from where she sat kneeled next to the Oakheart. Faolain twirled around where she stood, a look of disbelief on her face.
'Surely not! What could possibly live there?' Caithe thought about that. She thought about the conversation, as well. It was new to her to discuss things with another person. The Pale Tree had always listened, yes, and explained whatever she could... but never had Caithe heard before that what she said wasn't right. A cold place did seem unlikely to have inhabitants, then again, the world around her was miraculous enough to have something in store for it. Caithe felt like she had barely seen anything yet, in all the time she had spent exploring by herself.
'I'm sure there is something that lives there.' She answered, finally. Faolain also seemed uncomfortable with being corrected. It made Caithe feel more at ease to know she was not the only one. The veil that hung over Faolain's spirit had been lifted a tiny bit, and Caithe felt like she could peek in a little bit now. She desperately wanted to tear off the veil and know everything, but she knew she couldn't. Knowing the world was one thing, but knowing Faolain - knowing Faolain was of a whole other order.
Suddenly the world shook. The Oakheart's eyes snapped open, and the beast stood up quickly. It turned around just in time to face off with an enormous devourer that came into the clearing. The devourer stood as tall as the Oakheart, twin stingers at the ready. The Oakheart growled low in its throat, knocking the Sylvari back with its hind legs. Tangled and confused, Caithe tried to scramble off Faolain and look at what was happening. The devourer had already attacked the Oakheart, and the once silent clearing now was filled with screeches and grunts and sounds of claws scraping and jaws clenching.
'Caithe, we have to go, we cannot fight this beast!' Faolain's voice was barely audible over the sound of battle.
'But the Oakheart! We cannot leave him here! What if he-' she was pulled away by Faolain. 'We cannot fight that devourer, Caithe! Look at the size of that thing!'
'Faolain!' Caithe retorted, struggling with all her might against the other. 'He will die!' The devourer stopped screeching for a moment to scan the clearing. It had spotted the two arguing Sylvari, and did not mind an easy meal. Not one bit.
The Sylvari realized it at the same time. They turned their heads, both looking at the approaching devourer, and with a frightened gasp both rolled in different directions, immediately starting the attack. Caithe flashed over the clearing, travelling in shadows, and came up behind the devourer to slash at its stingers. The beast turned and smacked her away with a giant pincer.
The Oakheart charged in again, but the devourer evaded - and went straight for Faolain. She had been behind the oakheart, firing her magic from a distance, and now seemed desperate for a way out. She rolled to the side, ran to the side of the devourer, swift as the wind. Teleporting between its paws to get to its back, she kept firing at the thing. Caithe thought she'd heard her call out 'Now look what you did, you-' but she might have imagined it. It was the heat of battle, after all.
The devourer was strong, but it was three-on-one and it was getting tired from being hit from all sides. It screeched loudly, then suddenly moved back, knocking Faolain over in the process. She was pinned for a moment, and that was when the beast swung both its stingers down.
Caithe cried out, and ran towards Faolain. She used the devourer's head as leverage to jump, and cut one of the stingers off in her air attack. The devourer screeched in pain and spasmed, swinging its other stinger uncontrollably. Caithe had to move back, lithe and agile she slalomed around the stinger, back to relative safety. Then the ground lit up purple, a massive signet appearing around the devourer. Caithe saw Faolain from the corner of her eye, her fingertips emitting purple light, which was reflected in her eyes. The devourer screeched and howled in pain when it broke through its own legs, as if being pushed down from above by a massive force. Another screech split the air, and the Oakheart crushed the devourer's head with its massive paws.
It was silent once again. Caithe heard her own ragged breathing first, then a soft thud a short distance away from her. Faolain had dropped to her knees, holding her shoulder with one hand. Caithe came over to her quickly.
'What's -' she started, but when she came closer, her mouth went dry. Faolain had a gaping wound in her shoulder, purple liquid seeping out of it and over the hand she was holding it with. Her voice was shaky when she spoke. From the severed stinger, a few feet away, seeped the same purple liquid.
'Caithe,' she breathed, obviously in pain. Caithe sat by her, and tried to clear out the wound. 'It's poison.'
'I can see that,' the other snapped back. Faolain huffed and looked away, trying to keep from grimacing as Caithe tried to clear the wound with whatever she could find. Slowly, the Oakheart approached, glanced at Faolain once, then stepped over them both, walking away towards the forest.
'It knows you wanted to abandon him.' Caithe muttered under her breath. Faolain caught it, though, and sat up as she spat back, 'I should have! Then this,' she nodded at her shoulder, 'need not have happened.'
'Just sit still.' Caithe bit her lip. She knew she should have trusted Faolain, they had won with a lot of luck involved. Was it worth this sacrifice? Had it been worth getting away unharmed, but leaving the Oakheart in danger? Suddenly she felt a hand on her chest.
'Enough, Caithe. It did not hurt you anywhere, did it?' Caithe looked at her tattered armor.
'No. But I could use a fix-up.'
'We should head back.' Caithe thought for a moment.
'What about the poison?' Faolain cringed as she stood up. Pained, she started walking.
'There's nothing we can do. We'll see how far we get.'