Chapter 3: The Frozen Sea
Khione would be lying if she said she didn't miss the ship. While the trip itself didn't care much for her sea sickness, it was sad to see the impressive vessel dragged into such a fate; though perhaps it was a befitting end. The Nullarbor was practically born from the seafoam, bearing the weathering of sea salt and sun-bleached planks.
At least her head was no longer spinning, although she could've sworn--for a few moments at a time--that the rocking waves had settled deep into her bones, the uneasy motions lurching through her veins and into her talons, keeping her steps unsure and shaky.
The tyto still wore her saddle and harness, and Indra had been lucky enough to snatch her bag before the deck was quickly swallowed with frigid sea water.
Wayre had been especially quiet as the tyto hauled both him and her rider to safety. He had lost his pride and joy, a ship he had manned and maintained for decades now, some of his crew claimed by the relentless sea.
"Go land dwellers!" The waves cried, sucking and pulling deep into the ship's innards. "You are unwanted here!"
A fearsome wave had reared up, the might of the sea intent on dragging down any and all remnants of the wreckage. "Go now! Wicked trespassers! Leave my waters be!" With its last roar of defiance, both Khione and her two passengers were swept away, casted into the opposite direction from the boat with the remaining crew.
Her feathers, now dried from the small fire the sullen captain had whipped up, she made an effort of ballooning and puffing up her feathers against the northern chill, looking much like a ball of feathers. The few quills that remained damp were already dusted with a coating of frost.
Indra remained walking behind her, despite Khione trying to hoist her onto her back multiple times. After the fourth attempt at blocking her with her back, Indra had reasoned that the leather saddle was still soaked and was not only freezing to the touch, but would chaff terribly at her thighs. Instead, she pulled her ermine-lined jacket further around herself, the leather exterior doing well to block most of the chill.
Khione had relented, but insisted on walking in front of her friend, taking the brunt of the winds as it howled and parted around her, giving Indra a small respite.
Wayre led the way in his partly-dried captain's coat and leathers, used to the environment as they trekked.
Despite the circumstances on which they ended up here, Khione truly did love the cold and wintry weather. Spring had just reached their corner of the world, and here they were, thrust back into whiteout conditions. Her blue and white galyx feathers blended in perfectly with the icecaps, like she was molded from the surrounding ice field itself. She would've admired it more if half of her attention wasn't on Indra, fretting over her human's fragility. She briefly wondered if she should've let Indra pack more items. Surely the pack rat would've had multiple warm items stowed away. This was not predicted.
Crowing softly at herself and shaking her head, she reasoned that this wasn't the time to worry about what ifs and past tenses. They would make do and be stronger for it. But still...she could've at least brought a scarf or mitts.
"Aye, lookie over there." The weathered voice of the man before her surprised her.
She looked to where Wayre pointed, and there, among the iceflow was a pod of narwhalions. Their spiralled horns broke the surface as they spat water and air out of their blowholes, before slipping back underneath the ice.
Indra breathed out a breath of her own surprise. There had to be at least twenty! Flashes of wet slippery spots and clouded colors as each took their time with gulping down much needed air during their swim.
"Aye. They be migratin' this time of year." His voice was still quiet, but Khione could detect a little bit of pride coming through. Proud of the knowledge that decades of seafaring had imparted on him.
Partly curious, and partly wanting to keep the older man from sinking too far into himself, Khione sent an image of a compass to Indra, posing her question.
"Ah, where are they going? Are they not already north?"
The corners of his lips lifted. "They'll go on to the northeastern part of the Reamere, where the pod will catch a current that'll drift 'em southeast." He turned around, boots crunching in the snow, to show off his toothy grin. "They 'ought to be in more temperate waters, down in the Pharus Sea. Perfect for mating and calf-rearing."
Indra nodded along thoughtfully. "But why so far? Why not just migrate back to the southern part of the Reamere?"
Khione cooed her own agreement at the question, ruffling her feathers to shake off the frost, but careful to keep her body heat close to her skin. Stryx made for perfect insulators, not needing to migrate in that regard.
"The same reason we humans rise with the sun and sleep with the moon. That path is ingrained in them and as old as the earth itself." The man became more animated, grateful for the distraction from lamenting on his livelihood, sunken at the bottom of a sea bed. "But we mariners have plenty 'o theories. For instance, the current that they catch is the largest current in Wyvera. Big enough for whole pods, and fast enough that they 'on't need to swim much. They'll conserve their energy better that way for huntin' and rearin'."
"But more importantly it keeps the whole pod together. The young, the old, and the expectant can ride that current down to the Pharus at the same speed and get there in about three days time without 'em stragglers stragglin'.
"These cold waters are where they thrive, but to get to the warm waters, it's much easier on 'em to catch that current than to swim back down the 'Mere."
The ice shifted and bobbed with the movement of the passing pod, far beyond the twenty Khione had suspected. Fifty maybe? More?
"Another theory is the fish and safety in Pino Bay. Once they're in Pharus, there be a smaller, shorter current that intersects the East Wyveran Current, sendin' 'em to the Bay. Predators don't much hunt there because it's known as a narwhalion resting ground. The reef wall lining it makes for a narrow entrance that's watched by 'em males while the elders and the females go further in to have their calves. Then there's the fish in the bay which be fattier and more nutritious for the young to fatten themselves on before resumin' course back to the 'mere, in about three months time. They'll have gotten the blubber to survive these waters by then."
Khione was impressed. She'd seen a narwhalion or two, but to here how much the species actually do, on such an instinctual level, was fascinating. So different and yet so alike to the skies she soared in.
"Wow...You know so much...and you love it." Indra awed.
A pang of sadness flitted in his eyes before shoving it away with another, smaller, smile. "Aye. We give our lives to the sea and we respect 'er for it. I reckon you got knowledge about stryx that'd equal what I know about these here waters."
Indra couldn't help her chuckle. "Well I guess you're right about that."
They continued on under Nokt's moon, a serene glow settling on the icy wasteland. Being nocturnal by nature, Khione felt a particular affinity towards the nighttime goddess. While Indra usually slept, Khione would utilize her renewed energy and idle her time away flying between the stars and drifting across the expansive property of their home; knowing the silver gaze of the goddess payed special attention to all who were awake through her night. Even now in this new land she could feel that wintry love, the frosty winds eddying through her feathers like the cool touch of a loved one.
Turning her head towards the sky, she stopped in her tracks, causing Indra to halt suddenly.
"Khi? What is it?"
Looking skyward as well, both stryx and human stood there and stared, equal looks of wonderment.
It was as if someone had taken a paintbrush and beset Nokt's inky skies with long streaks and swirls of seafoam green and sapphires and violets, frosting it with specks of the goddess's starlight. Khione had heard of this phenomenon before from both stryx and humans alike. Of a place deep in the frozen north, where for a time, one could witness swirling rivers of lights, weaving through the sky like an untold tapestry.
Khione felt that those mere retellings couldn't begin to capture the sight above. The lights danced and wove to a tune Khione was well accustomed to whilst flying. A nameless tune all avian creatures alike held in their breastbone and expressed with their aerial dances.
"Ah, the Northern Lights." Wayre murmured. Even he was subdued by the beauty in the sky. "To some folk', they believe the moon goddess herself has a passion for the arts, and shares her magnum opus with those daring enough to seek it."
Khione bobbed her head and agreement, bright-eyed and grinning.
"They look like the trails of many spirits playing in her sky, while Daius sleeps." Indra finishes in a quiet, awed voice. "Inviting her living subjects for a night of gaiety"
"Aye, you took 'em words right from my mouth."
Khione supposed both views had merit, who was to say which one was true. Only Nokt and her spirits knew, and there was no need to ponder it. Not when the twinkling swirls were beautiful and captivating in their own right.