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A Guide Through the Wood

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“She should have been here hours ago,” Calliope mutters, setting a jug of water down on the bench. Some of its contents slosh up, springing over the lip to coat calliope’s knuckles in lukewarm liquid. She shakes it off with a quick flick of her hand and marches the cup she’d just poured over to her aunt, who sits on one of the beds, rigid left arm braced awkwardly against the scratchy sheets.

Corrin grunts as she accepts the cup and Calliope feels a jolt of guilt at her harsh demeanour- Corrin doesn’t need any more stress piled upon her; she’s been through enough. They all have.

“Calliope,” Corrin begins after an exasperated sip from the cup, “You were a statue for damn near a decade. Why are you in such a rush?”

“Oh, I don’t know!” She throws her hands to the ceiling, earning herself some grazed knuckles for her trouble as she forgets her efforts to calm herself, “Maybe the fact that I was a statue for a decade! I’ve wasted enough time as it is!”

Corrin scoffs, adjusting her posture with another low, pained murmur, “What’s one more day? Hardly even a day- she’s only a few hours late.”

“I just- it’s bothering me. I’m sorry, aunt, I don’t mean to… Look, Jester- Jester, right? The blue one? She said that this Reani was trustworthy. That she was an honest woman who we could trust. She said she’d be here Monday morning, and it’s five in the afternoon and we still haven’t met this angel or whatever she’s supposed to-.”

Calliope’s tirade is interrupted by three quick raps on the door. She stills at the sound. Even ten years since she’s heard it last, she can’t help but be reminded of the way Clarabelle used to knock. Does knock. She’s still here. They’re all here. They’re all alive. Maybe Calliope could stand to lighten up a bit.

Corrin raises an eyebrow and hides a smirk behind her cup, “I can’t imagine getting what you want will keep you from complaining, will it? Let her in, would you?”

Calliope sighs through clenched teeth, trying to let the tension in her shoulders bleed out from the soles of her feet into the rough floorboards below. Corrin no doubt watching with her trade-mark exasperation, she opens the door after a moment of feeling the cool brass against her fingertips.

The sight that greets her is a little sweaty, a little dishevelled, and wholly other than what Calliope had been expecting. The woman is short- almost two feet shorter than Calliope- so that the halo perched above her tumbling blond hair hovers about the height of the firbolg’s collarbone. The Aasimar’s gaze travels up, craning her neck to meet Calliope’s gaze.

Her eyes widen, and before Calliope can get a word in, she begins, “I’m late. I’m sorry. I promised I would do everything I could for my friend’s family. I’m sorry I’m late, but I’m here now! I’m Reani. Well, Reanminere, but you can call me Reani,” she enthuses, thrusting a hand out.

Calliope peers down at the offered limb before wrapping her fingers around the smaller, freckled hand and giving it one firm shake. “I… gathered.”

Calliope jumps as Corrin appears beside her and nudges her out of the way, breaking their connection as she gives the same hand an emphatic jostle. “You don’t need to apologise. We weren’t going anywhere.” She says the last part while shooting a playful smirk at Calliope.

“Okay,” Reani says with a blinding grin. She bends forward to peer around Corrin’s waist and into the room. “Is it just the two of you? When I spoke to Jester, I got the impression there were more.”

“Yes, there’s more,” Corrin laughs, “they’re in the next two rooms.”

“Alright,” Reani says. The way her nose crinkles highlights the dusting of gold freckles across her warm brown skin. She catches Calliope’s eye as she turns to march down the hall and grins again as Calliope averts her gaze with a frown.

Corrin gives her niece a look and shrugs as Reani delivers the same quick three taps to the next door along. “I wish I had that much pep in my step.”

Calliope smiles, remembering the first time a young Caduceus had heard the phrase and had used it wherever possible over the following weeks. But the grin doesn’t last long as Reani folds her hands together behind her back and waits intently for the door to open.

Where does all that energy come from? Yes, it might just be the fact that Calliope can still feel the lingering stillness of unrelenting stone wrapped around her joints, but the chipper woman is setting her nerves on edge.

No sooner has the door swung open do they hear a delighted gasp, “Is that a halo?!”

“It is!” Reani responds. “I like your hat! That’s kind of like your halo. One of my friends has one just like it. Wait- he’s your brother, he probably gave it to you.”

Calliope helps Corrin into a seated position in Constance and Cornelius’ room before retreating to a corner as Reani makes her eager introductions. Not long after the inevitable mess of Reani confusing their names has passed, Colton appears, hovering in the doorway and casting a wary glance around the room. He catches Calliope’s eye and twitches a brow at her. She shrugs at him.

Sensing the shift in the room, Reani spins on her heel with another big smile growing across her face. She sticks a hand out, “Hi! I’m Reani. I’ll be escorting you back to your home.”

“Colton,” he replies, grasping her hand and dropping it with no fanfare. He continues eyeing her with that same tight expression as she turns back to their parents and Clarabelle, fielding their abundance of questions with bright-eyed enthusiasm.

Colton finds his way to Calliope’s side, joining her in supervising the chaos. “She’s been travelling for days, right? And through the Savalirwood, no less,” he begins, gesturing at her battered travel attire, “You’d think she’d be… I don’t know, tired?”

Calliope scoffs, “Tell me about it. I’ve been asleep for a decade and I feel like garbage.”

Colton sighs, ignoring her joke, “I don’t mean to seem so hesitant to accept help from our dear brother, but this… she rubs me the wrong way, I guess. Am I the only one who thinks so?”

“You aren’t. Maybe I’m paranoid but… yeah,” Calliope watches as Reani lifts a lock of Clarabelle’s brightly coloured hair, eliciting a giggle from the young firbolg. “But Caduceus trusts her. And Jester said she’d been through the Savalir several times. She can’t be that bad. But we’ll see, I suppose.”

Colton grunts his agreement as their parents and sister are swept up in a rapturous retelling of Reani’s encounter with a dragon, chuckling reluctantly at the worry on their faces upon the mention of Caduceus’ involvement.

“I don’t mean to cut the pleasantries short,” Corrin starts, earning six pairs of eyes turning to her, “but I’m getting quite tired, and I can’t imagine we’ll be beginning our journey today, so what’s our plan?”

Constance softens, opening her mouth to apologise to her sister before Reani speaks.

“Yes! I’m so sorry that I did not arrive on time, but it’s far too late to begin journeying now, so I would like to invite you all for dinner at my apartment! It’s a couple of blocks away, and it’s much nicer than this place.”

“Caduceus paid for a few weeks here-,” Calliope starts, straightening from where she had slumped against the wall.

That sounds lovely,” Corrin interrupts with a roll of her eyes and a stern look cast at Calliope and Colton. “Just lead the way, young lady.”

Reani bounces on her toes before turning and marching out the door, continuing to speak to no one in particular as the Clays shuffle to catch up, “It’s a bit small, especially for a family of your size. And height. But it’s the best place to start travelling from in the morning, and I’ve got loads of food and supplies for the journey that we can take.”

“That’s alright,” Cornelius says, taking Corrin’s arm to help her down a set of stairs, “we are all quite used to the close quarters. It’ll be just like back in the grove.”

“You must miss your home,” Reani says, holding the inn door open to let them file out. “I’m glad to help you all get back there after so long.”

Calliope frowns, wondering just how much about their situation Caduceus and Jester had deigned to tell her. She exchanges a quick look with Colton before pushing the thoughts aside. It’s been a literal age since she’s laid eyes on the waving grasses and whispering leaves of the blooming grove. She can almost smell the purple verbena and lavender blooms sprouting from the Costala plot, almost feel the spongy moss of fallen trunks and old tablets against her fingertips.

No matter the unnerving countenance of their guide, and the way she sets an odd churning to Calliope’s stomach, nothing quite dampens the excitement of seeing her home again for the first time in ten lonely years.

Home is a week away.

 

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