Depleted. Drained. Worn Out. Wearied. Dead. How bemusing was it that one of the synonyms for exhausted was dead? He certainly felt dead. Who knew traveling on foot was so difficult? He'd been out of Mizora for a week now and only just made it past the border and to his first human village. He'd eaten through all the food he'd packed with him already, and his attempts at hunting had only turned up a few lizards and a bird nest. All of which tasted horrible when set on fire.
He had known that it wasn't going to be easy, this quest for knowledge, but he hadn't expected it to be so very uncomfortable! The air at night was cold, the rain was wet AND cold, there were far too many insects to convince him he wasn't really dead and in hell, and at one point a bird had defecated on his cloak. The roads were muddy and slippery, things smelled awful, and he hadn't even met anyone to talk to until the village. Traveling, he learned, was exceedingly boring work after the first 4-5 hours.
But now he was in a village! A real human village! Full of real, living, breathing humans! He'd never seen real humans outside of picture books or meat markets, where they were more likely than not in... pieces. But no, these ones were intact! And from his way to the edge of town to the shabby tavern and inn, quite skittish. The guard at the bridge paled and hid when the wind blew his hood back. Perhaps he was shy? Interesting, but not enough so to deter the exhausted Rakshasa from seeking out a soft bed and hot meal.
He'd found the tavern quickly enough, and a few pieces of gold were all it took to get a room and a bowl of soup and half a loaf of bread. It was hardly a feast, but after scorched lizards and eggshells (How was he supposed to know you had to peel the eggs first??), it was enough. Afterwards, he'd fallen deeply asleep on the first bed he'd had in a week, only to be awoken by the faint scent of melons.
Blearily opening his eyes, he took in the room around him. He'd slept so long the sun was now awake, as evidenced by the bright beams trickling between the cracks in the curtains. His wet clothes had dried, tomes and staff on the floor beside his low cot, and there was a black fox staring him in the face.
Ithiel blinked hard. Yes, that was most definitely a fox. Albeit... quite different from the red or mottled ones he'd spied in the woods. It almost didn't seem quite real, as if conjured by his own imagination, but nope. It was there. Curious, he reached out a hand to pet it, touching its head gently. It didn't seem to mind. In fact, it seemed quite pleased, dropping the small envelope in its mouth to give a big happy pant of enthusiasm. Huh, how come he hadn't noticed the letter? Clearly he was still tired.
Picking up the letter, Ithiel sat upright on the bed, examining it as he started getting dressed. It had his name on it. Strange, he couldn't remember telling the tavern keeper his name, or rather anyone since he left Mizora. He'd heard humans used birds to send messages to one another, perhaps one of his friends or family had sent him a letter? He turned to the fox, wondering if perhaps it had any answers."Did my family send you? Jahaziel, perhaps? Or Asher? Couldn't be Mary, she'd be happy I'm gone. Mom or dad, maybe?"
he asked. The fox had no answers, instead hopping onto the still-warm spot he'd been sleeping in, and curled up in it. Well, he probably should have expected that.
Turning his attention back to the letter, he tore open the seal, reading its contents."Dear sir, I hope this letter finds you in good health, blah blah blabbity blah... Castle Havoc? Never heard of that place. But, if it's a castle it has to be better than here, right? Claudius... Maybe a human monarch or something..."
he paused, turning and looking back to the fox. Did human kings employ strange foxes? "Well, I don't see why not. They've already gone through the trouble of inviting me. It would be terribly rude not to at least show up."
Making his decision, he fastened his cloak and pack, grabbing all that he owned, before turning back to the sleepy animal."Alright, I'm ready to go. Now, what to do with you... I suppose I could just follow you back to your home, logically that would be the residence of the sender of this letter. Alright, little fox-thing, let's go. We probably have a lot of walking to do, don't we?"
he asked, not expecting a response. As if understanding him, the fox stood up, hopped from the bed, and uttered a small, high-pitched howl. And then the unthinkable happened.
appeared! Right there, in the middle of the room! A black vortex, woven from shadows, the size of a door yet impossibly thin! Ithiel staggered back in an undignified manner, letting out a surprised squeak. A portal! Oh gods, this wasn't like the one in the sky was it? He fumbled for his staff, bracing himself for a abysmal monster to come crawling out of it... But nothing. It was quiet. The world was quiet. The fox looked at him curiously, then walked right on through, melting into the blackness.
Ithiel took his time getting up, his heart beating much faster than he'd like. This... Was this how he was expected to travel? Step into the gaping maw of darkness? What if it was an elaborate trap? A ruse? What if there was nothing on the other side and he was trapped in a world of pitch black void? The thought was daunting, to say the least, but... What if there was something? Whoever had sent him the letter could have killed him in his sleep, but didn't. And, though the portal before him was certainly... Unnerving... He'd be a liar if he said he wasn't in the least bit interested in what was beyond it."Well... It beats walking."
he muttered to himself, steeling his nerves and stepping through into the unknown.