The gentle, droning surf of the Dragon Sea lapped at the call, gradually enveloping and drowning the word as its source, a man adorned in a light suit of red and white lacquered plate, stood audience. The morning sun seemed to catch every angle and curve of polished steel about his figure, though the many, many char marks upon the armor's surface served to break and scatter its brilliant reflection haphazardly across the receding tide. Though his demeanor was typically and often care-free, Koda's step had been particularly light that morning - and what a beautiful morning it was! The sun continued its lazy ascent just above a resplendent, cerulean horizon, and the salt-tinged air bit at his skin just enough to invigorate the man without chilling him. His pixie could not be far, and how could the prospect of her company ever not lift his heart? Or the corners of his mouth, for indeed, without realizing that he had been doing so, Koda found himself smiling at the thought.
The call parted his lips again, and once again he paused through the long moment of its wake, watching and listening. Several heartbeats passed before his keen senses alerted him to a potential response. A disturbance in the air, so very subtle, yet enough to draw his attention. In that searching moment, anything would have been enough. Shifting backwards half of a step, his crystalline green eyes tracked upwards slowly. He half-expected to discover her small figure above his own, perhaps attempting to sneak up and take him unawares, or perhaps simply drifting upon a gentle current of air.
The reality of the situation was something different entirely. The white mass missed Koda's face by a hair's breadth and splattered unceremoniously against the pier, squarely between his boots. 'Squaw!' came a taunt from somewhere above, as if to mock the man as he stared down at his narrowly-avoided fate.
"Orcadia said she had come this way to feed the seagulls," he mused under his breath. His gaze remained downcast, fixed upon the defaced boardwalk as if he stood teetering between resignation and some grand revelation waiting to be derived from the bird's unbecoming delivery. Another long moment passed before hints of that easy, subtly-lopsided grin began to play across Koda's features once more. "Of course," he muttered, and by the time he had turned about, his expression was, once again, anything but stoic. One silent, effortless stride preceded the next as he made his start back across the boat launch; back towards the eastern gate of Aliuna.
Koda reached up to drag the back of his glove across his forehead. It wasn't exertion that had taxed him and the pause was not for any lack of endurance. It was hot. Easily the hottest day of the season, thus far. The sun blazed relentlessly at an angle several degrees past its zenith and Koda had already spent the better part of the day wandering the Kaer Tzoun. A quick scan of the area revealed the same brown-and-gray peaks stretching away from his position, seemingly endlessly, in every direction, and a slow, deep breath escaped him at the sight. At that moment he would have gladly accepted a needle in a haystack, for indeed, what were the odds of finding a pixie in a mountain range?
'She's probably not even out here,' he told himself as, once again, he began to pick his way along the lip of the rocky shelf on which he'd been standing. His present path would be considered treacherous by nearly anyone's standards, but Koda had been gifted with an acute sense of balance -- one that he'd honed relentlessly in his modest years -- and he traversed it nimbly with hardly a second thought and nary a stone disturbed. He knew that she hadn't returned to the city, as he'd checked on his way back through Naerlan. Still, maybe he'd missed a spot. Perhaps Orcadia and Torianel had been accomplice, and Kease was, even now, reclining amidst the boughs of the One Tree.
The notion appealed to him more and more as the futility of his search continued to tighten its embrace about Koda's state of mind. Once again the man found himself at a stop; found his gaze drifting in the direction he knew to be east, towards his home city and the place where, surely, he'd be much more likely to find his pixie. It took a span of several breaths before the decision came to him. With an affirming nod, he turned himself about and took a single step before, once again, freezing dead in his tracks.
The cry that had halted him was one familiar to Koda, though not as he had heard it before. He held that pause, as if waiting for confirmation that he had in fact heard it, and that it had not been some trick of the heat. He did not have to wait long. It came again, sounding almost strangled; a small, keening plea that resonated in an awkward echo, one dulled and muted by the thick, broken terrain. The man was in action immediately, bounding, scrambling in the direction he had nearly just forsaken. His thoughts turned and spiraled at the implications, but also did he take care to keep them close at hand, for he knew that he was needed, and so knew that such thoughts were only likely to get in the way.
Koda reached the end of the makeshift path that had been afforded by the edge of that embankment, and with a cursory glance at what lay ahead of and below him, he leapt. His palms met an unforgiving, gravelly surface in tandem with the soles of his boots; knees, and then elbows bent in concert as he expertly absorbed the impact of the landing before reversing that momentum and harnessing the same energy to launch himself into another forward sprint. Ahead, the trail available to him made a hairpin turn and Koda's boot drove hard against the pebbles and silt beneath it. Anchoring himself to the apex of that sharp curve, he used the foothold to pivot about the far edge of a large boulder, only adding to his inertia as he cleared that final obstacle and came into a roughly-circular clearing. And there was the source of the call: Kease's miniature viridian dragon fluttered helplessly, backed against an impassable wall of stone with no less than a half-dozen gangly, birdlike creatures cutting off any means of escape. They stalked towards the dragonling, screeching grotesquely, threatening and taunting in a language that sounded like some horribly-conceived mix of atavian and goblin.
The man did not slow to take in the scene. He absorbed it instantly, instinctually as his form knifed through the air; the distance between himself and the harpies evaporated in a fraction of a moment. Hesitation was absent entirely and Koda's thoughts were soon to follow. Willfully, he let his consciousness slip. He gave control of his movements -- his body and the coordination of every muscle within -- over to a deeper layer of himself. He fell into himself entirely. Somewhere over the course of that instant, twin blades had appeared in his hands. The harpies hadn't even noticed him.
A sickening, ear-splitting shriek pierced the general tumult, snuffing it into silence before itself coming to an abrupt end, leaving only the pathetic gurgle of a dead body's weight urging its final, unspent breath from within. So intent had the harpies been on menacing their prey that they remained oblivious to their end until it was upon them. The two creatures nearest had only just begun to take notice of their companion before they were assaulted by a thick spray of blood and brain-matter. The shortsword seemed to simply explode through the back of the creature's head; a fountain of gore and bits of fractured skull heralded Koda's deadly foray over the corpse and into the flock.
If they had been slow to react, the harpies certainly made up for it in the ferocity with which they swarmed. Enraged beyond thought -- not that they had possessed much in the first place -- they fell about the man from every angle and direction, clawing, biting and flapping, as if each trying to lay claim to its share of a would-be meal. Koda, however, would not be. He ducked, swerved, pressed forward, and every methodical snap-defense segued flawlessly into another brilliant slash or stab. His maneuvers were coordinated with supreme efficiency and he produced several for every one that he countered. The man rained steel death upon the creatures from amidst their very center and his blades tasted carnage with every gesture. Beams of light streamed chaotically from within that cyclone of feathers, shrieks, and torn bodies. The sun's reflection on his armor strobed and flashed, as if even it was struggling to keep pace with the blindingly-quick movements.
Bodies fell away from Koda, cut from the air, one and two at a time. A talon found its way up against, and then beneath his pauldron from somewhere in the flurry and its razor-edge dug greedily into the man's shoulder, but if he had even felt the wound he offered no indication. He spun and reciprocated, severing the attached limb and instantly reversing his grip on the sword's hilt. He felt the worked leather slide against his palm through the thick material of his glove, and instinctually knew when to tighten his grip once more. Driving that same blade upwards, now in a wide, underhanded arc, he split the creature from its groin to the top of its throat.
He did not pause to watch the insides spill from that last-remaining enemy. He was on his knees, beside the besieged dragon, before it ever hit the ground. More importantly, he was at the base of a large pile of stones. Freshly-fallen, by all appearances. As he drove his bloodied swords back into their sheaths, wrapped his hands about one such uneven surface, and pulled against it with all of his strength, everything inside Koda came flooding back to him, screaming, imploring that he had not arrived too late.
He could not have come too late.