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Aja Thorn

The Winter Rose

0 · 590 views · located in Blakestown

a character in “Mateja: Revolution”, as played by FizzGig


Aja Thorn
"The Winter Rose"

Revenge is sweet on the tip of the tongue, but with time, turns bitter as poison. Is there heroism in murder? Or do true heroes learn to be brave enough to let their grudges go? Does time truly heal all wounds? Image

Can one ever be truly free?

Age: 18

Height: 5'8''

Weight: 135 lbs

Build: Lean and slender

Personality: She hides her confusion with stoicism, and sometimes anger. Quiet and thoughtful, she takes solace in being alone, enjoys the outdoors, and has a burning desire to learn. One purpose drives her steps, keeps her moving forward, and she fears the day when at last her journey has come to an end.

So begins...

Aja Thorn's Story


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Illiam Ormond Character Portrait: The Harbinger Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Forest of Whispers
July 21st, 2:54 PM

Mist clung to the ground like a rolling carpet, masking the leaves strewn beneath the feet of the travelers as they made their way towards the designated meeting place. Three had come, three and no more, as promised. Overhead, sprawling oak trees were laden with dead and dying leaves, all shaded in brilliant hues of orange, red, and yellow. In the stillness of the morning, there was no threat that the wind might cause the forest to shed its canopy, but the travelers knew that as winter continued its rapid approach that the forest would eventually have to shed its old coat, and embrace the cold sleep it had been preparing for all year long.

The man who led the sollemn trio was a sturdy figure, broad of shoulder and well muscled through his chest. His figure was long and lean, a warrior's build cloaked in the sewn coats of animal furs that his wife at home had made for him. His pale skin was painted with mud, only the whites of his eyes shone brightly through the camoflauge, and they were dark eyes, eyes hardened with time and longsuffering. He was a leader, and he'd come for the benefit of his people.

Walking at his right was a woman, slender of figure, but there was strength and grace in her stride. She did not wear a magestic cloak of furs as the first man did, but her shoulders were wrapped in a woven shawl the same color as the autumn leaves, with a deerskin dress hanging loosely about her ankles and hips. Her hair, as pale as early morning sunlight, hung loosely around her shoulders, framing a face that was not only slender, but unusually pure. There was raw beauty there, not an uncommon thing among the women of the tribes.

The third traveler, another man, and the first figure's sworn kraujo brolis or 'blood brother', carried a longbow behind his back, with his hands to the front, and empty, to signify his peaceful approach. He was dressed similarly to the woman, with a shawl about his shoulders. His breast was naked beneath the rough material, legs and feet clad in deerskin pants and mokkasins.

Overhead, sunlight began to pour through the branches, slicing through the mist and driving it away into the shadows. A flock of crows soared overhead, calling out their distinct, warning cry.

Man was in the forest.

The first figure lifted his hand, battle scarred and calloused as it was, and the other two came to a halt. He turned to the woman, who met his gaze with a steely one of her own. Something silent passed between them, and she quietly turned away, to lay her palm against the rough bark of the nearest tree. A moment passed.

"We bring three, as promise." she said, her voice carrying through the woods like an arrow. "No reason to hide, now."

The other three that arrived carried themselves well and high, and on horses they rode. Their horses were draped in ivory, and they themselves were draped in coats of purple and red colors; colors unobtainable to lower-class citizens of their society. These colonists, though humble at front, pulled their shoulders back and looked down upon the tribesmen as they arrived. Soon, however, they would present themselves at the same height, and their animals would stray backward.

A man asserted himself forward. He wore a coat of purple, and the others wore coats of red. He had black hair, though not thick in any aspect. To the tribesmen, he tipped his hat, though the partners to his side showed a weary unease.

"We, as well!" The front man said, with a smile broad as his shoulders. He opened his arms with welcoming, and it would soon become evident that perhaps, he had come to bring peace among the tribes. "I believe you know us - me, already. I am Illiam Ormond, and my partners, here, are Radimus Rune and Gerald Mason. There is, with certainty, no reason to hide, as I can only imagine that we all come in peace."

This charismatic man drew in a breath, and from his pocket, revealed a scroll. Perhaps the signing of a decree was foreign to the tribal folk, but it was certainly important to the colonists. It was a sign of confirmation; a written proof that a bond had been made, be it well or not. "And, as promised, a scroll validating our truce. It shall be hung on the wall of our greatest estate; a truce between us can bring nothing but good feelings and peace upon both of our peoples."

In the forest, bushes rustled, but it could be no more than the animals that roamed there. All in all, these men presented themselves peacefully, even with guns tied to their sides. Illiam himself bore no weapon, and instead, open hands.

"I have a pen, if you need." He said, patting on his jacket.

The tribesman remained quiet, stoic as the woman looked from the three and their horses to the men who walked with her. It was almost eerie, how silent they remained, as though they didn't need words to communiate at all.

"We have no trust of written word, your paper agreements. Paper is lost in fire, trampled underfoot, crumbled to dust with time." The woman finally said, her face strangely devoid of expression. "You will take our offer of peace, according to our traditions, or there will be no peace."

The man with the coat of furs stepped forward, extending a hand as if to shake Illiam's. His eyes were dark and unyeilding, his figure intimidating.

"A rune of trust." the woman explained, coming to stand by the first man's side. Her eyes, unlike the other's, were soft now. "So that we might know you mean us no harm."

Illiam looked taken aback, but he recovered quite quickly. He looked to his men, who nodded in agreement with the tribesmen. "But..." The man started. "If I accept this... rune? Then, we all must sign our paper. I must have something to bring back to the working men back South, shan't I, I can't imagine there anything but uproar. They are afraid of you - and your tribe, and if signing a document is a step further in garnering our trust, I cannot imagine why it shouldn't be."

That said, I am a man of peace. You may think us and our rituals useless, but we value them so. Take mind that this document will be well taken care of; framed in golden ivory and placed above the people's house's mantlepiece, for us to look upon every day. Surely, you can understand the meaning of that."

In good trust, however, I will accept your rune of trust first. I am not sure ..." Illiam hesitated. "How you do it. Magic is involved, I imagine?"

"Only some." the woman said. "It seeks out the intentions of your heart, determines that the motivations are true." The man extended his hand a little further.

"And if you do this, I do not see reason for us to not sign the paper as well. We have no fear, and we did not ask for your people to fear. After today we can all return to our lives uninterrupted." She looked to the first man.

"Take his hand, Illiam Ormond. We can begin."

Illiam's intentions were true, indeed. Those of his comrades were as well, even if they were scared. The man himself reached forward, before withdrawing his hand and ungloving it. Then, he clasped the designated man's hand. For a moment, he winced, as if he were about to experience some amount of pain or devilry.

Above them, in the trees, leaves rustled again. It would be then that a thin barreled rifle peaked through the bushes of the canopies. Knowing the tribesmen; knowing their vigilance of the forest, the man in the trees shot quickly. A blinding flash and a deafening pop echoed through the formerly calm forest. It was a shot to Galen Thorn, the tribe leader, and a shot aimed by a deadly, deadly marksman.

The cry of the animals echoed out after the pop of the gun, and the yelp of the commander, Illiam.

He fell to his knees and braced his head, while his fellows drew guns and looked back to the treetops where the flash originated from.

Galen stumbled back as the force of the blow took him hard in the chest. He had no chance to blink, or even breath as the bullet tore through his heart, startling it to a stop. He was dead before he hit the ground, blood blossoming through the thick coat of furs.

The woman, shocked speechless, was suddenly in motion, sliding to her knees at his side as his kraujo brolis took their leader's head into his hands.


"Tetis," she whispered, her hair falling forward, brushing against the man's chest. Grief gripped her, a feeling so profound that she felt her hands compulsively clenching into fists. "Tetis!" she screamed.


The forest exploded into motion, a wind driving up so powerfully that it sent the horses screaming in the other direction. The trees seemed to bend and snap like streamers, leaves scattering in all directions in a curtain. The blood brother stood, removing the longbow from his back. His eyes were blinded with grief.

"You have deceived us!" The agonized woman shrieked, the ends of her hair soaked in her father's blood. "Not a treaty of peace, but of blood! You will die! All of you!"

And her agony echoed tenfold as the forest seemed to respond to the powerful tide of her emotional outburst. Even the ground rumbled threateningly.

"This was not our intention!" Illiam cried, he grief-stricken as well at the fall of the man infront of him. The fall of peace. His decree, which hung on his hip, stained with blood, and the purple of his coat as well. "We did not intend to bring blood! I implore you to trust us; whoever..." He stopped to breath and clutched his heart. He was a man of peace, but this situation was anything but.

"Whoever had done this dastardly deed is not of us! I swear it! Men, lower your arms!"

"Not while they aim threats at us!" But Radimus and Gerald already drew their pistols and trained them on the blood-brother. Another shot fired off, from one of the red-coats. The other, with wild eyes, used the opportunity to stagger backward into a run.

Illiam stayed on a knee.

The trees, which croaked, let release the figure which had fired the shot. The shot that ended peace among the tribesmen and the colonists. He flitted with a speed unmatched by those similar to him; surely, he would become a blur in the background amidst the fighting, retreating to which the men and their horses came.

In the moments that the responsible party had fled, the blood brother had attempted to string an arrow, to protect the woman, but the shot that the redcoat had fired took him in the shoulder. He dropped his weapon in a daze, looking down at the fallen bow with a strange, blank expression on his face.

The woman, with tears streaming down her cheeks, was clinging to her father's body, staring towards Illiam with no small amount of hatred written on her face. She stood, slowly, ignoring the blood brother as he turned to grab the body and begin to drag it away. When she approached the man on his knees, she too went to a knee before him, meeting his eyes with a barely controlled rage.

"Remember my face," she told him.

"It will be the last thing you see before death claims you."

Another burst of wind, strong enough to knock over a man who wasn't prepared, billowed from behind her, temporarily blinding the others as dirt and leaves were kicked up into the air.

Once the dust had settled, the forest would be empty.

The tribesmen were nowhere to be found.

The setting changes from Plato to The Forest of Whispers

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Junea Vrass Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
August 13, 5:43 PM

"Pas mane! Pas mane!" Cried a voice. It was high in pitch, though womanly in sound.

And her feet flitted through the leaves on the ground, bearing colony shoes. As she ran, she had undone her hair, leaving a wild mane to trail behind her. She ran, past the guards in the trees, and the tribesmen to the side, crying out to any who would hear it, until she had reached the Vanduo camp.

From a distance, the structures that littered the camp site were so well obscurred by leaves and branches that they were practically invisible to the unaided eye. Yet, as one drew closer, shapes would begin to emerge, dome-like structures with holes in the top to let out smoke from sheltered fires. A long, wigwam like structure stood at the center, and was the pinacle meeting place for the Vanduo tribe. Now, fallen leaves littered every surface, and it seemed as if the people of the Vanduo tribe had taken every effort to ensure that they blended in with their surroundings.

Many of the tribesmen halted when they heard the frantic cry of the scout. Women paused in their work, and the youth who were practicing their mage work paused to look up. The entire area had fallen silent, waiting for her eventual appearance.

One woman appeared from the centras, the main building, and it was clear by her dress that she was of far more significant social standing than the people around her. Her coat of furs trailed off of her shoulders, dragging behind her in the dirt as she stepped to the head of the crowd that had started to gather. Her hair no longer hung about her shoulders in a symbol of girlhood, but it was knotted back, away from her face, hanging in a braid that reached to her hips.

Sharp eyes, grey as stormclouds, narrowed at the approach of the scout. Her steps became more purposed, quicker, arms opening to recieve the younger woman. Her expression was stoic, but her eyes concerned.

"What have you seen?" she whispered in the common tongue of her people.

Vedra tumbled into the clearing. She was wearing colonist clothes still; they were drab and boring, without fur, and looked much more like a potato sack than an outfit. She belonged, though. The girl had wild eyes and wild hair to match it, which was no longer tamed by the strings of the colonists. She quickly disrobed her feet before proceeding further, and then slid her hands over the woman's wrists, with a squeeze. She bore bad news.

"I scouted the colonies! I infiltrated them; I was plain of face, so they didn't suspect a thing. The man who presented the contract - he, the leader of the colonists, lied about us!"

Her wild, chestnut eyes flickered to each tribesperson who lay around them, and she raised her voice. "They stood up there, in front of their people, and told them we were not people of peace! That ..."

She looked to the woman. Those wild eyes narrowed and welled. She looked to her for a sign of approval; a sign that she could continue to tell her story without reprimand in front of the entire tribe.

Aja's eyes were wide. Her breath came in short, shallow gasps as the news began to sink in.

"Not here." she murmured in response. She took the young woman by the arm, turning around and leading her back to the confines of the centras. The doorway was pulled aside by one of the men, and the two women disappeared inside with no-one to follow.

No one, that is, except Nanuk. He had the look of her father, with broad shoulders and a well-muscled chest. He was a warrior, through and through, with a brave heart and a passionate spirit. But Aja was not looking for his passion or his indignation. Not now, she simply needed Vedra to talk to her.

"What news does she bring?" he insisted, loudly, to the point where Aja knew that the others outside could hear. He had been chosen by the elders as a suitor for Aja. As a result, he believed that he was allowed to demand things of her, as if they were already wed. The look she gave him was a reminder that none of that was the case.

"Once I have had a chance to consult her, Nanuk, the people will know. You are excused."

The man's handsome face pulled into a scowl as he met the unrelenting gaze of his betrothed. "You are promised to me!" he insisted, practically seething. "I demand to know!"

"Demand as you like!" Aja replied, raising her voice. "Word of mouth holds no power here. Leave before I have you removed."

There was no question now. She had spoken. He had no choice but to obey. And he did, albeit grudgingly, turning out of the centras and muttering curses under his breath. When Aja was sure that he had gone, she turned to Vedra, both hands coming to gently cup the woman's shoulders. Her thumbs stroked her skin soothingly, and she drew her over to the fire to sit and warm herself.

There was nothing hidden in Aja's expression. She feared the worst.

"Tell me everything." she breathed.


They were not in there long. Yet, when the story had been told, Vedra emerged alone, a worried expression on her face as she quickly flitted away, eager to avoid the prying eyes and hungry questions that lingered on the faces of her kin. Nobody dared approach the centras, not after Aja had thrown her own betrothed from her presence. Darkness settled, and the camp was alight with the warmth of fires. People sat around, quietly speaking amongst themselves, gossiping about what could have happened, what might have been said.

Silence, as the doorway was pushed open.

Yet, as Aja appeared, she did not appear with her cloak of furs, her dress of deer skin, or with her hair tied back. Her hair hung loosely about her shoulders, and her body was clothed with strange attire. A close-fitting tunic and breeches, soft-leather boots that reached to her knees, and a hood that rested against her brow, nearly shadowing her face.

A gasp rippled through the community,but no one could think of what to say. Aja had shouldered a long-bow, and a satchel was tied to her opposite shoulder. Two hunting knives were strapped to her hips, and a quiver of arrows lay dangling in her opposite hand.

"It seems," she began, her voice carrying strangely through the camp. "...the colonists have made permanent enemies of us. They have constructed our people into a thing of nightmares, and they lie about us to spread fear through their communities." When she lifted her face, her eyes were caught in the glow of the fire, and they lit up like stars.

"I promised Illiam Ormond that my face would be the last he saw before he died." Her voice was strong. "And now, I go to fulfill that promise."

"Stop, child." A male's voice came. From the crowd, Junea pushed through. He was broad-shouldered and strong, yet a cloth bandage still wrapped around the side of one of those strong shoulders. His face was stern as hers, and even reprimanding.

"What do you seek to accomplish by doing so? I, too, have thought of revenge, but a sane man would not try it, would he? Even then, would Tetis, whose heart had been claimed to have been pierced by our arrows, approve of such a thing? We do not need your death on their hands, and if I let you leave here, mine."

He moved forward. "Do not be so blinded by revenge and anger that you ignore Motina's pleas, as well."

"Motina adores her children!" Aja responded, her voice edged with raw emotion. "And all others should fear her the way a hunter fears the bear who has had her cubs threatened. They will hide behind their walls, rot there in their graves of stone, but I will not stand for my people's names to be defamed by their lies."

She pointed a finger at him. "You will stay, and I will leave. This is no one's burden but my own."

"You are immature, and young. Men are a different game than deer. They do not fall so easily as you would like. Even in their stone walls and guarded buildings, they build brotherhoods as we do, and they forge harsher weapons." Junea quipped back, quickly. His chest rose and fell, and his breaths were angry and shallow, but it did not show on his face.

"Motina adores her children, and she would not put them to sacrifice as you are doing to yourself, now! These people don't see her ways, nor ours, but that does not mean we should force the ways upon them. Still yourself, and stay at camp, I plead."

"I will not be disrespected in front of the people I am meant to lead." she seethed. Her cheeks burned. Everything inside of her burned with a rage she was barely able to sustain. She stalked past him, holding her head high as she continued her way out of camp. Not a word was spoken. No one else dared to raise their voices against their sworn cheiftain's proclamation. Even after she had departed, they went back to their business, as silent as the shadows that prevailed all around them.

It was only when she was absolutely sure that no one else was around that she began to cry.


Mist had rolled in, a cool blanket that covered the ground and masked her footsteps. She kept her steps light, her eyes forward, her ears open for any kind of strange sound. She heard nothing besides night noises, the sound of her own breathing and the rush of blood through her ears. She'd been walking for hours, stalking through the shadows and clinging to the trees like a predator on the hunt. Yet, on the inside, she did not feel as though she was moving towards a goal.

She felt like she was running from something that terrified her. Junea's words had cut her deeply, reminding her of just how inadequate she was for the position she'd been put in. She knew of the whispers, knew what the elders thought of a woman leading. Even if Motina was, at heart, a mother to all, she was fierce, she was frightening in her furious power, and she was just. Aja did not feel powerful or fierce. She felt afraid. She would never let it show, but on the inside she was desperate.

If she was honest with herself, she hadn't come out here to kill a man. She had come out here to find answers that she sought after desperately. Why would the colonists choose to hate them? Why would they lie to achieve a goal so destructive that it threatened the livelihood of all? Why would they kill her tetis? Her papa?


Something ruslted in the bushes to her left. She froze, stringing an arrow to the bow faster than a man could blink. She took aim, focussing on the gentle rustling of leaves, her body as tense as the bow-string she held tight to.

A massive creature stepped out of the shadows, moving with an eerie silence that unsettled her. As the shape became clearer, she noticed the lean form of a massive feline, its coat stone grey, with a bob for a tail. Tufts of fur sat on the tips of the ears, which were flickered towards Aja, and peering out of a broad face was a pair of eyes so blue that they seemed to glow in the darkness. Aja was enraptured. Her bow lowered, the string going slack as the big cat stared at her. It was still a good thirty paces away, but the tension between the pair made the distance seem much shorter.

Slowly, Aja rose from her crouch. The big cat did not react to that. Why should it? The shoulder nearly came to Aja's rib cage, and its maw was large enough to snap her neck clean into two pieces.

Without knowing why, Aja felt something drawing her to the animal. It was out of place here, in the woods. Cats lived in the mountains, not here in the scrubby woodlands. Hunger could not have driven it this far, because game was hard to come by everywhere this time of year. Furthermore, why wasn't it attacking?

She took a shuddering breath, submitting to the tug on her heart and taking a step closer. The cat watched, its gaze intense, held firmly on Aja's face as she quietly moved closer. She was not watching her feet, wasn't paying attention in the slightest when her foot upset a rather large pile of fallen foliage.

The metal teeth slammed down on her ankle so hard that she didn't know what hit her, at first. The pain rocketed up her leg, upsetting her balance and sending her crashing to the forest floor. She muffled her cry with her hand, her arrows scattered around her as she desperately tried to free herself. It was no good. Her hands scrambled for some kind of release to the mechanism, but her hands were numb from the cold that had settled in the deep of the night. She could feel her blood, first warm then icy cold against her skin, seeping through her breeches.

And in the moments when the panic had faded somewhat, to let the agony in, she noticed suddenly that the cat had come closer. It seemed huge now, towering over her with a look in its eyes that was strangely like sympathy.

Aja stared up at it, unsure if it meant to kill her. Her hands were still fixed to the metal contraption, and her leg continued to rock her with the pain, but she took the time to meet the eyes of the animal, and something like understanding came over her expression.

"Motina..." she breathed, her eyes welling with tears.

The cat lowered her massive head towards Aja, the rough tongue flicking out to lap at her tears.

Foolish child,

The words sent a wave of shame through her, even as the cat's warmth pressed against her cheek.

Through a stranger's compassion, perhaps you will learn what it means to love as I love.

The cat lifted its head, looking away from her towards the forest, in the direction of the Wall and the colinists that hid behind it. Yet, as all children must, you will learn the consequences of your brash action.

Snow began to fall, delicate flakes that melted the instant they touched the ground. Aja struggled briefly with the contraption, her pain worsening and the bleeding increasing. Her breath came in short, panicked gasps as she began to murmur under her breath.

"Motina, help me!" she cried suddenly, looking around only to find that she was entirely alone. The forest was deathly silent. She could hear the snowflakes as they fell against the leaves. Feeling miserable, sick and exhausted, Aja struggled for only a moment more, before deciding the best way to work this out would be to wait for the morning and see if help would come. Wincing at every movement, she gathered leaves about herself, pulling them up and over her figure to create some kind of insulation, and with a quiet sigh, laid her head down.

I'm learning, Motina. me.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: The Harbinger Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers
August 14, Early morning

It was the morning, and about the time when the colonists who braved the forests went out to lurk for their game. Rabbits flitted around, leaving tracks for those who didn't care for bigger game to follow. No, though, that would not come suitable for Adrien, the boy who worked hard. The boy who had to prove himself. The boy to which people still referred to as a boy.

On him was a sack and a rifle. It was an expensive one; a surprising thing for a poor man to wield, but every extra ounce that he'd saved had gone into it. Today was the day that he would get to use it. It would become a sad day when the polished, engraved weapon looked worn, but those were days Adrien had not thought of.

So he lurked, and stalked. He took the steps his teacher had trained him to take, and he picked fresh tracks from old ones. Still, they were tiny. To bring a single hare back home, with a bullet in it bigger than it's own head, would be only embarrassing to the poor boy. Still he persisted, until he found himself deep in the Forest of Whispers. Perhaps deeper than any sane colonist would dare to tread. This was important to him.

Finally, upon a tree, something caught his eye. A glimmer, it was, and if he was poor of sight he might think it a jewelry piece. His eyes flitted left and right, making sure he wasn't going to scare an animal away, before he'd rushed to the tree whose bark held it.

It was white fur.

A white hare, perhaps? But the fur was caught high, not low. A hare surely couldn't have caught itself there. It was worth investigating. His eyes trailed to the floor, where he would discover the dusty remnants of a tiger that once treaded there. A white tiger. Unimaginable.

With haste, he followed the prints, until he would come into a bush that blocked his path. He placed a hand on top of it, creating noise, before creeping to hide behind it.

There was a startled gasp. The bush trembled, a mass of soft snow and leaves shifted away from Adrien before an arm flashed out, scattering damp underbrush everywhere. The girl who appeared so suddenly from the small cocoon she'd made for herself looked as pale as the snow that surrounded her, her lips dark from the cold. She scooted back, uncaring of how much noise she made, before a grimace of pain etched its way onto her expression, and she turned away from the boy for a moment to observe something that, at first, he could not see.

But she turned back quickly, pulling a knife and pointing it rather threateningly in his directly. She was still sitting, though, and had made no effort to stand. It was almost as if she couldn't.

Her eyes bore into his, dark with exhaustion, with the knife glinting between them.

"Woah!" Adrien cried, startled. When it wasn't the shape of a fleeing hare or deer he'd come upon, but a hand and a woman, he stepped back. It was only correct, though. He was coming upon tribe territory, surely. They were in the deep woods. It made sense. In an attempt to be unthreatening, he lowered his rifle, and swung it over his shoulder.

He looked to the trees. Perhaps it was in fear of another tribesman being there. They owned the forest; lived in it. What did he have? Stony walls. The colonists knew no master of the trees or the forest, and it was even rumored that these people could control the forest; that when one wept, the forest ached. When one laughed, the forest's light shone through. These were only fantastical myths, however.

And how would it be that such a master of the forest was in front of him, beholding a knife, almost helpless? If anything, it made him curious, but the boy was light on his toes all the same.

He raised his hands.

"You are... From the tribes?" He asked, after a long bout of silence. "I'm not here to hurt you. I'll leave. Y'don't have to try and hurt me either."

One hand gestured for the knife to be put down.

Her hand shook, the steadiness of her gaze faltering. Her eyes flickered over his figure, towards the gun on his back, before returning to his face. The pile of snow shifted, falling away as she moved her legs. At least, it seemed as if she was moving her legs. One remained pinned beneath the other, and every time she tried to move it, pain flickered behind the steel of her gaze.

She sighed noisily, lowering her arm and turning away from the other before she pushed the snow off of her ankles. The ugly, mangling bear trap glittered deceptively, clamped hard on her leg. The bleeding had stopped, the blood staining the fabric of her breeches as well as the snow. She crossed her arms over her chest to quell the trembling in her arms, and looked back to Adrien. There was something like the barest hint of a plea there now.

"You want me to die." she said, in the language he understood. Remarkable, considering the reptuation her kind had received. She looked back to the trap.

"If you leave, I die here."

"Hey, no, don't go assuming anything. I want you to die just as much as you want me to die." Adrien started, and quickly revised himself. "Er, I mean, if you tribey folk ain't in 'kill all colonists' mode like they say you are."

The boy came to the side of her, and took notice of the trap. At first, he grimaced, and then drew a stressed hand over his hair, which he grabbed in tension for a moment before releasing it.


For a moment, he stared. Staring took up a lot of his time when he'd come upon the woman. What would he do? She settled her knife, and he settled his gun. Perhaps it was an unspoken peace treaty of it's own; at least, between the two of them. Still, fear welled in him the closer he'd stepped to the woman. There were tales of colonists being attacked, at least one murdered. Was this the way that it happened?

"I don't know if I can get that open... Looks painful. It's real, innit? You're not just trying to trick me into getting into stab range, are you?" He asked.

She gave him a look that clearly expressed her answer.

"Fine, fine! Alright. In good faith, mind handing me over your knife? I don't think it just looks pretty; I might be able to get the trap open with it. Never tried it before, but I don't set these, either. They're for bears."

The boy held a hand out.

She seemed uncertain. Her jaw clenched for a moment as she stared at the weapon he was asking for. There was a tense moment of silence, and another audible sigh, before she picked up the knife by the blade and handed it over to him hilt-first.

"I would help," she said, her eyes drifting to the back of her hand. "But my fingers are numb."

There was a look of disappointment in her eyes.

Adrien cautiously took the knife, and in assuming that the woman was no longer armed, hastily knelt in front of the leg that had been clamped on. It disgusted him; a surprise, really, for he'd seen the gorey death of so many animals. Still he cringed, though, and he empathized the pain.

He stuck the knife in the opening of the trap. It was pried open by the woman's leg, though as it cut through her skin, only by a little. The idea was stupid. He needed something bigger. Mindlessly, he sat it back in front of her, and reached for his rifle.

She moved faster than he could properly react to. A second knife appeared in a flash, against the pulse of his throat before he could even blink.

"I'm wounded. Not a fool." she hissed.

"Je... Fuck. Big a knife as it is, it's not big enough to pry the trap open. Not without me losing a finger in the process. Do you want to let me jam it open with my stock, or are you going to cut my throat before I can?"

It was a matter of trust. Nothing more, nothing less.

"Numb fingers my arse."

Her eyes narrowed on his face, before moving to the weapon. She seemed to be silently deliberating.

"Tell me what you are doing then." she replied grumpily, before pulling the knife away.

"The stock of my rifle is thicker and heavier than your knife. If I used your knife, I could slip and cut my finger off, and that's not a risk I'm willing to take for some tribelady who almost cut m'throat. It's probably a little bit thicker than your leg, which would give you some leeway to pull your leg out."

Adrien huffed. He cautiously began to pull the gun off of his back again.

"I just bought this, too. Damn expensive. Lucky I'm not my father, hell, anyone else might've just left you here."

She was quiet for a few moments, stubbornly looking away from him. Then, after a minute or two...

"I know. You help me."

She refused to meet his eyes, but she was obviously thinking of something. Her brow was knit, and her lips occasionally parted, as if she wanted to speak, but didn't know what to say. Then,

"Are you afraid of us?"

"I'm afraid of pointy things at my throat, and stray cats, but that's another tale." Adrien said, as he withdrew the gun from his back. He held it in front of him. "But we? Yes. We're afraid of you."

He flipped the gun around, so the barrel faced himself, before he lightly pushed the stock into the opening of the trap.

"This is going to hurt. Say when."

She turned slightly, grabbing a hold of her leg with both hands, just behind her knee. She took a deep breath in, then let it out slowly and said, "Now."

"Take it out..."

Suddenly, Adrien latched his leg to the side of his gun, and shoved the stock into the beartrap. The unforgiving steel would open further, it's teeth unfastening itself from the woman's leg, and now biting into the shiny polished stock of the boy's new rifle.


She pulled the leg out quickly, releasing her leg and digging her palms into the snow to drag her body physically away from the bear trap. Visibly shuddering, she sat forward, her chest against the back of her leg as she leaned over to observe the wound. It didn't look too great, to be perfectly honest.

She looked a little ill, as if the movement had reawakened the pain. She leaned against the trunk of the oak that towered over them, her forehead damp with sweat. She licked her lips, panting for a moment before she softly said,

"We're human. Like you."

Adrien gritted his teeth and shied his face away when she pulled her leg from the trap. Soon, he slammed a foot on it, and thrusted his rifle out of the trap as well. Then, he turned to face her, his eyes taking in her face rather than her leg, now.

"Well, are you afraid of us?"

He latched the rifle onto his back again, and reached to grab her first knife, before offering it back. Hilt first.

Her eyes slitted open tiredly, but she reached for the knife and clumsily slipped it back into its sheath on her hip, regardless.

"Not afraid enough." she said in a tone almost too quiet to hear. Her eyes flickered up to his face.

"What's your name?"

"Adrien Rune. Yours?"

Reflexively, his hand shot up, before he realized who he was conversing with and let it rest at his side again. Then, his eyes traveled to the ultimately unignorable.

"How do you intend getting back to your village?"

She looked ready to answer, but a voice from behind Adrien startled them both. A figure stood, clad in dark clothing, with his face partially obscured by the hood that hung over his brow. On his right hand was a gauntlet, polished to a glossy sheen that glittered as menacingly as the bear trap had. The girl tensed, her hands going for the knife at her side.

"Good job, Adrien!" he said cheerfully, clenching his hand into a fist. Three wicked blades extended from a compartment on the back of the gauntlet as he advanced on the girl.

"It's about time we gave those tribals a taste of what we've been going through these last few weeks."

A colonist voice. Unaccented. It was one of his own. He would be reprimanded for even coming near a tribesperson, if not punished for fraternizing with the enemy. Releasing them from one of the traps would be profound. His father would have brought Aja to Blakestown and executed her himself.

He froze up, unaware of the imminent threat. The voice came from behind.

"This isn't what it looks like - "

Then, he pivoted in the grass and placed a hand on the man's chest, intent on staying him in his place. That was the intent, until he'd seen the man's garb and threatening leer. Almost immediately, his hand shot to pull his rifle from his back, for he did not carry his skinning knife in arms reach.

He gave a startled gasp as he'd done so, and almost yelled to Aja to run, before he'd realized what he'd be saying.

The man stepped back, crossing his arm over his chest before swinging his fist in a backhand across Adrien's jaw.


Adrien's vision blurred, and he stumbled backward before falling to the ground, his hands then clenched onto his jaw. The boy muttered nothing more than incoherencies past that.

The man smirked beneath his hood, looking up in time to see the furious slash of a blade come within a hair's bredth of his nose. He ducked back, swooping underneath a second swing of another blade. The girl was on her feet in spite of the injury, her arms tucked close to her sides. She kept her weight on her good leg, watching the other as he corrected his balance. His free hand flashed out, a blade flying from his fingers towards the girl's shoulder. She managed to duck, glancing back only for a moment before turning her attention to her opponent.

She'd let her guard down.

That gauntlet came crashing down on the left side of her face, blinding her, before his foot caught her in the chest and sent her careening to the ground. She moaned, pressing her forearm to the bleeding wounds, her other eye blurred with the blood that seeped over her face. The man knelt down next to her, confident in his victory.

"It was precious, watching you weep over your dead father. And don't act like you can't understand me." He reached for her hair, knotting it in his fist and dragging her closer. She cried out, once, before his boot pressed against her mouth roughly.

"Go back and tell those tribal animal friends of yours that a storm is coming. Do you hear me? And if I see you again, I'll make you wish that knife had hit you straight in the heart."

He let her go, left her lying there, and walked over to Adrien. Without a warning, he grabbed the young man by the arm, hauling him to his feet before slinging him over his shoulders.

Not once did he glance back the girl's way, and she didn't bother to linger. Keeping her arm to her head, she stumbled to her feet, and slowly began to limp into the woods, leaving all but her knives behind.

The setting changes from The Forest of Whispers to Plato


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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
August 14th, Late evening

The woods were quiet, filled with a deep darkness that swallowed up any promise of a quick and safe return. The tribe had waited anxiously all through the night and on into the following morning for Aja's return. They'd seen nothing, heard nothing, and as the second night began to threaten creeping into the following morning, it was clear that the men and women were becoming tense. What had happened to her? Why hadn't she returned? Was she alright?

Questions went unanswered, and fears began to slip their way around the fires, creeping through like the smoke that drifted on the light breeze. The guards that were posted in the trees watched stoically, anticipating her return at any moment. Thinking otherwise was out of the question. As young as she was, they needed her. She was the last vestige of their old leader, the last promise of hope for their tribe...Motina's chosen one.

It would the the guards who would first see the sublte glow coming through the trees. The blue hue was low to the ground, moving at a steady gait, and when the figure finally came into view, it revealed itself to be no more than a large bobcat.

But it looked directly towards the tree-tops, towards the guards, and it waited.

"This..." A voice came, which waited from the ground. The same broad-shouldered man who reprimanded Aja for disappearing had come from behind a tree, and regarded the white tiger. His face, seemingly always stern, now showed worry. A white tiger was a strange thing, but a tame one even more. "Motina." He whispered, and advanced upon the beast as quickly as he could. He was not threatening; his shoulders were back, but he displayed the swiftness of a parent rushing to their child's aide.

He raised a hand to the guards, who would lower their weapons and bows. He could not help the worry that crawled over his face as the bobcat became silent and stared, and when he'd approached, his stoic expression only melted into that of guilt.

The animal showed no signs of alarm. In fact, she seemed eager. Her ears flicked forward, eyes lifting to meet Junea's before she stepped forward and pressed her forehead to his abdomen.


Turning then, the bobcat swiftly began to pad through the woods, as silent as if she wasn't touching the ground at all. Away from the light she drew him, into further darkness. Never once did she glance back. She knew he would follow.

Junea was wise to receive Motina's message, and he flightily took after the tiger. The citizens of the tribe gathered to watch them escape into the darkness, some displaying confusion, and others displaying understanding. As the blood-brother ran, he held no regard to the dull pain presented by his shoulder.

They both scrambled into the darkness. He, less elegant and downtrodden with grief and worry. She, elegant.

Her trot slowed to a walk, until the shape of the figure on the ground became more visible to the pair. The faint aura that the feline gave off cast Aja in a pale blue light. Her face was stained in blood, her body sprawled as though she'd collapsed mid-stride.

Motina pressed her nose to Aja's side, lying down next to her and nearly dwarfing the woman with her size.

She's alive.

The man's lips pressed into a tight line, and no longer did his face show stoicism. He sprinted to Aja's side. He knew this would happen; if he let her go into the forest, she would be hurt. It was his fault; her blood was spilled at his hand, and so was her father's. Junea collapsed next to the woman, and firmly placed a hand on her arm.

"Ajani. Are you awake?" He asked in their tongue, skeptical of even what Motina had told him. He regarded her face; the marks she'd been given. Then, to her leg, which was bloody, dry, and ugly.

"We will return to the village - to safety." Junea said, hastily. His arms swept under her to bring her upward, and the dull ache of his shoulder was still dull enough to be ignored, then. He looked to the bobcat, as if for direction.

But Motina had disappeared.

Aja stirred, finding it difficult to open her eyes. They felt crusted and thick, and at first it frightened her. "Tetis," she whispered, trying to open her eyes.

But it wasn't her father she saw. Junea was holding her. The girl hesitated, feeling guilt twist her insides as she lifted her hand and laid it against his chest.

"I'm so sorry." she finally said. " I should have listened."

"Do not worry about your guilt now. Reprimand will come only when you are both healthy of mind and body. For now, we must..."

His thoughts were scattered, and his body ached. He headed in the same direction he had come from, once his confusion had settled. Ever so dimly, much like seeing a candle across a dark field, the lights of the guards beaconed to them through the trees. Junea moved quickly, though he didn't tread harsh enough to further the pain of Aja's injuries.

"Who did this? A colonist? Were you attacked in the forest?" He pried.

"He saved me," she breathed. "A boy. Adrien Rune."

Her vision swam, but she fought to stay conscious. "I would have died if he hadn't ... the wicked thing hurt so much and I...still hurts." She grimaced. "My face feels awful."

She suddenly went rigid in his arms, her eyes flying wide, and the look was so frightening that it was enough to make any man turn away.

"I saw him, Junea. The man who killed Papa. He cut my face."

"We will have remedies at the village. Stay awake, Ajani, for it is not far from here. Your face will mend, as will your body, but you must heed when I request you do not follow this man, lest he make unmendable wounds as he did your father." Junea scolded. He was not sure what to make of her tale. A colonist saved her, but wasn't the assassin a colonist as well?

"Calm, be still your thoughts of the man for now. What comes to him will be what he deserves, as is intended, but do not let him plague your mind as he cut your face."

They approached as quickly as Junea could muster, and the guards from the trees, as well as the citizens of the village, poured around to watch the approaching two.

Her heart pounded against her chest as she looked towards the sky. She saw and heard nothing of her tribesmen as they swarmed to see what had become of their young leader. A healer was called forth, an elderly man who followed after Junea and Aja. With quiet, whispered words he dispersed the crowd back to their homes, promising a good update by the time morning broke. With that, he turned, shuffling in the direction of the pair. As a trio, they headed for the healer's home, central to the settlement and well stocked with herbs meant for quick recoveries. The magic he utilized helped as well, and tonight no expense would be withheld to make sure Aja survived.

"The wounds are not so grievous as they are messy." he promised Junea. "The leg wound, however, is more than likely infected. That one will take more time to heal." He encouraged Junea to lie her down on his bed, a soft feather-down mattress laden with clean skins. She groaned softly.

"The cuts may scar, I'm afraid."

"He'll remember me better that way." Aja insisted. Her skin was flushed and hot, and a sweat had broken out on her brow. The old healer furrowed his brow.

"Best get to work then," he said quietly.

Junea had done just that, and gently placed the young leader onto the medical bed.

He backed away, and crossed his arms over his chest, almost defensively. Still, his posture was straight, and his face regained stoicism the moment the two had come across the first gazing eye. The man stood next to the bedside of the young leader, and regarded her wounds.

"I would tell you not to torture yourself with these thoughts, but I must know the entirety of what happened. What did this man look like? Happen he come in our sights, he will be shot down at first opportunity, lest he harm any more of our people."

These were not the same words that Junea shared before. They were of masked bitterness and revenge, and even guilt of himself, the man who had done so poor a job of convincing Aja to not stray and attempt to kill the colonist leader.

"I...didn't see his face." she murmured softly. "Only his voice. I know him by what he says." She grimaced, writhing for a moment from the fever. "He took the boy away afterwards, the boy who rescued me."

Her sentence was soft, trailing off in a hiss as her expression twisted into a grimace.

Junea placed his hand on Aja's forehead, as if determining the temperature of a child.

"Then do not worry. You are safe here. Your forehead burns. Perhaps the Magas would like me to leave you alone...?" He asked, looking to the tender.

"You're permitted to stay until she sleeps. When she does, it will be for several days." the older man said. Aja stirred, her eyes opening slowly.

"The boy...I hope he didn't...harm the boy."

The healer came forward, dampening her face with the cloth and cleaning off the blood. The cuts were long, from her hairline over her left eye, but they were shallow, fortunately. They would heal.The wound on her leg was a bit more tricky. When he touched the surrounding skin, Aja withdrew her foot.

"Hurts," she murmured.

Junea regarded her concern for Adrien with ignorance, and rather, without a word to it at all. He looked to her leg, where the Magas was tending to. And such, he offered his arm, for the young leader to take hold of if it had gotten too painful.

"You must stay still." He urged. "Think of the forest, not the assassin. Let your thoughts be with Motina, until you sleep. You will be better when you awake."

She seemed to struggle for only a few minutes longer before the exhaustion finally slipped in. She murmured incoherently, her voice soft until it drifted to nothing, and she was so happy when she finally drifted off to sleep.


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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 4th, Early Afternoon

An Indian summer had come, leaving the woods humid, and noisy with activity. Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees, and lay in damp piles that scattered all through the forest. Animals had re-emerged for their last opportunity before the real winter came, and sealed them all inside of their homes. Overhead, the sky was a rich blue, cloudless and bright. Sunlight fell in streams through the bare tree-branches, destroying the shadows and giving the area a heavenly hue.

Aja paused to breathe, her lungs filling with the scent of cool, damp earth. Her long bow was in hand, an arrow knocked and drawn back to her ear. She listened to the life sounds that echoed around her, the chatter of birds and the sound of rodents skittering through the underbrush. They paid no mind to her. She was as much a part of the forest as they were.

She was stronger today. Stronger every day, and what a relief it was to not have to lie in bed, sick with fever. Now that the infection had resolved, and the wounds on her face healed, she could focus on her other skills, on planning what the next move would be. Far off in the distance, she saw her arrow sticking out of the tree that she'd just hit. She narrowed her eyes in concentration, fingertips aching from how long she'd held the string.

With a soft 'thwum', she let it go, and the arrow went sailing.

Not a few seconds later, the arrow she'd shot split clean through the arrow she'd left in the tree. With a broad smile, she lowered the bow. Who would be able to stand against that? No one, colonist or otherwise. They wanted to be afraid so much, then why not give them a reason?

Yet, even as the bitter thoughts seeped into her mind, she recalled the young man, Adrien Rune, and how he'd gone out of his way to help her. Aja closed her eyes, reaching back for another arrow and setting it to the string.

Motina, what am I to do now? Flee or fight? Were her people truly safe now? Was she fit to keep them whole?

Irritated, she lifted the arrow, took aim, and let it fly. In her distraction, it ended up moving way beyond the mark. This drew a scowl from her.

From the background, a figure watched. He was non-threatening, but he surely didn't make himself known immediately. Junea watched as Aja let release arrows from her bow and took in the accounts of nature. He was impressed, even though seeing the wonderful archery she'd committed to only reminded him of his newfound inability to use such a weapon.

It was only when she missed her mark that he'd spoken up, and let the damp piles of leaves and sticks crunch under his feet. There was a surmountable silence, until Junea had properly approached Aja. His face was stern, and surely, if he was there for a reason, the reason was not in good spirits.

"Ajani." He started. For a moment, he drew in a breath, as if there was something he'd wished to speak about but could not. "Is something bothering you?" He asked, in reference to the fact she'd missed her mark.

She glanced back over her shoulder, lowering her bow and letting the end rest on the ground. "Ah," her lips pursed, and she let herself shrug. The cuts on her face had missed her eye and the lid itself, leaving healing scars on her forehead and cheek bone. Overall, she considered herself very fortunate, though the injury made it difficult to raise her brows. She tried, winced, and let her expression relax.

"I just...don't know how much longer we have." she said with a quiet sigh. Junea was the only one she ever dared to trust with her fears. She walked over to him, lifting a hand and resting it over the nearly healed wound on his shoulder. "What to do in preparation. Should we move our people away? Stand and fight if it comes down to that?"

She looked back towards the arrows. "Do you think Motina would allow it to come to that?"

"I think..." Junea started again, in contemplation. "That Motina will allow the colonists to do as they wish, as she lets us do the same. Motina loves her children, but she also must let us be free to make the decision ourselves, of what happens."

Then, he sighed, almost regretfully. When he began to speak again, he turned his eyes from Aja. "I have not come to you without reason. A messenger of our own had come to the village. I fear that your speculation of how long we have has come a bit late."

He hesitated to keep speaking, and his eyes flickered over to her, as if asking if she were ready to continue.

Reflexively, her brow started to furrow in confusion, but the sharp twinge of pain had her forcing herself to relax her brow once again. She set her jaw, slipping the bow up and over her shoulder before she let her arms rest at her sides. Her eyes reflected concern as she searched his.

"What's happened?"

"The messengers bring news of our homesteads having been found completely empty, without a trace of our people left behind. The land around them dying, as if it had been salted or burned; as if Motina's grace had disappeared from them, without reason. Yet, there is no salt, no reason for these lands and our people to disappear."

His head tilted to the ground.

"I think that, not even the colonists, with their technology, would be capable of such a thing. There were no bullets, no blood. Simply nothing. It confuses me, and I can only wonder if we are being punished for something."

She stared, and for a moment she didn't comprehend what was being said. People were disappearing? And the land...

"Have all the tribes had people go missing?" she asked. He was right. So far as she knew, the only settlement of colonists was snuggled up right against the coast. None of them had dared journey farther than the forest. So what, or who was responsible?

"Are we sure they haven't simply moved elsewhere?" she asked. "When was the last time anyone has heard from them?" She was alarmed, obviously, and it showed.

They couldn't be punished. They'd done nothing wrong!

"Not unless they had left every one of their things behind. If they had left, they left without weapons, clothes, food. These things remained at the homestead. And... I am not sure."

Junea found a tree to lean against. Even regaling the details of their tribes' troubles seemed to despair him. For a moment, he closed his eyes and covered his ears. Thoughts overwhelmed him.

"We all have lost some."

"We should look for them."

It wasn't the impulsive suggestion of a young woman. She was watching him, waiting for some kind of reassurance that her thought was a good course of action. They were missing, so they should be searched for, shouldn't they? She and a few others could go looking for them, right?

"What if...we can't just forget and abandon them can we?"

This was too much. She hadn't even noticed!

"Who did we lose?"

"Kajen's homestead, Fret's, Vijon's, Asketh's. They and their people, their homesteads, have disappeared. They had not been checked on in a while... Their food had spoiled. I believe it happened at least weeks ago."

For a while, Junea kept his eyes closed. Even being the blood-brother to Aja's father, and all his governing, it was a hard choice to make. Even if he hadn't made it, he knew that Aja surely would do it on her own. Though, she spoke with maturity.

Then, he looked to her, and nodded.

"We should look for them." He repeated. Quickly, he added, "But you should stay with the tribe. Be their source of comfort, as your status entails. Your wounds still have not healed."

A protest rose in her chest, the need to go out on her own nearly making her ears ring.

"You're going to go." It wasn't a question, but a statement of fact, and it was easy to see that she didn't like this at all. She closed her eyes and looked away from him.

"I...of course I'll stay." she fought the urge to grit her teeth, and she still wasn't looking at him. Her face was flushed with suppressed emotion.

Junea seemed pleased at the compromise, even though Ajani had seemed no less than pissed. "You will learn patience and a good temperament, Ajani. You are on your way, and you will not be punished for your composure as you were for your impatience before."

He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Then it is settled. I will go with the search teams, and you will stay with the tribe. Keep them safe."

"You're leaving now?" she asked quickly. "Where will you go? How long do you think you'll be gone?"

There was a hint of panic, but she was rapidly trying to calm herself. She put a hand to the warm, tender part of her forehead. "This is all happening so quickly."

"The homesteads are ways away. It may be weeks, or more. We may find nothing, and return. It is best I go and organize our team as soon as possible, as well as leave with the other men of the village."

Still, Junea gripped Aja's shoulder. He applied pressure; not to hurt, but to reassure. "You must be strong, Ajani." he said. "For the tribe."

Her eyes watered briefly. She wanted to be strong. She knew she had to be, but in that moment, all she wanted more than anything else was to simply be comforted. She stepped closer, throwing her arms up around his neck and embracing him tightly.

"I love you as much as I loved my own father." she whispered, taking a deep breath to hold her composure. "Please be safe. I know you'll find all of them and return home soon."

Junea returned the embrace, without hesitation. Before long, he pulled back, placed large palms over the girl's shoulders, and bent a knee to be at eye-level with her. For a moment, he looked to her eyes for any recognition of what she may have been feeling, before opening his mouth to speak.

"Your father would be proud, as am I."

The man withdrew, though stopped in his tracks before he could find himself en-route to the tribe again. He pivoted, to look at Ajani a last time.

"Būkite atsparios, dukra"

The setting changes from Plato to The Forest of Whispers

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Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 9th, Late Morning

Adrien slinked through the wintery forest, his boots making audible, fresh prints in the newly laid snow that blanketed the lands and trees like foam. In the deep forest as he was, the only imperfections to such a landscape were the places the canopies didn't allow snow to pass through, the flowers that clung desperately to a harsh life and peaked out the top of the freshly laid snow, and the tracks of the animals that had flitted by so close to when he'd arrived.

Snow was best for him; he knew where to go. Hares would be fine, but...

His eyes laid themselves onto fresher tracks; those of deers. In all admittance, he still feared going into the deeper parts of the forest, where those tracks lead. The tribal girl he had met was nice, but he was not ignorant, and he knew that perhaps another would shoot him on spot.

But he followed those tracks. If they led nowhere, then he surely would turn back. If they lead somewhere, then he would be bringing home big game. God knows the family could use it.

The forest itself was deathly silent. Adrien's presence was likely the cause of that, but there was something else lurking in the forest, moving so silently that they may as well have been ghosts. Two of them were in the trees, figures dressed in white and grey, blending with the tree bark as the moved along, stealthy as shadows. On ground level, a few more pursued the young man on foot, baring long bone-knives that glinted wickedly as they moved.

Whenever they were perfectly still, they practically vanished from sight, hardly moving, not even to breathe. It was like they were melded completely with their natural surroundings.

And they continued to follow until they were sure that the young boy was too far away for anyone to hear his cries for help. One of the figures in the tree prepared themselves, crouching low before springing. Their trajectory brought them down behind him, before the figure roughly shoved his palms against Adrien's shoulders.

Adrien stumbled forward into the snow and braced himself. Instinctively, he rolled to his back, though what he had expected to see was not a person. His feet kicked wildly to propel him backward and he raised his gun, hesitant to shoot at the white laden wildling that shoved him. It aimed for the tribal's chest, and the barrel moved if the tribal had.

"Who are you? I come in peace; I just want t'hunt the deer, as any hunter would. Leave me be!" He hissed. "Come any closer and, er, I'll shoot you," He warned. As he was unaware if these people spoke his tongue, he gestured as he'd spoken, although briefly, as it had lapsed his ability to hold the gun.

This tribal was not like the Vanduo; or not like the Vanduo that he'd seen, who'd been beaten by the colonist as he.

The figure above him didn't seem to care about the gun. Either that, or they didn't know what it was. The bone knife became clearly visible as the figure lurched forward, ready to stab Adrien straight through the heart. The other three charged as well, knives bare.

In tense fright, Adrien's finger wrapped tightly around the trigger and pulled, when his attacker had gotten close. He stumbled to his feet; his gun was useless when he had to reload it. For then, he was far more concentrated on running. With a tight grip on his gun, he shoved the stock into his first assaulter, in an attempt to pass him and take off running. It would send him deeper into the woods, but perhaps running and hiding was his only option.

It was clear, when the knives came out, that they didn't intend for friendly discussion.

The figure he'd shot was dead the moment the bullet entered and exited his chest. The other three balked, frightened of the sudden noise. After the second had been attacked with the rifle, and their prey escaped, the last two burst into action, running far more quickly than any human dared to try. The first lunged, hooking the knife around Adrien's ankle and giving a sharp slash, intending to cut his feet out from under him while the second once again went for his shoulders to push him to the ground.

They didn't aim to kill, but to maim. Enough to drag him back wherever they came from and deal with him there.

But Adrien fought. His shin was cut fiercely when the knife caught onto it, and he attempted to continue running. The injured leg kept backwards while he attempted to move forwards, and that alone sent him falling toward the ground. Shaky fingers latched onto the skinning knife on his side, which he rushed to slash at whomever's ankles had been closest to him. It was a small thing, however, and couldn't cause anything but a light cut.

"--Away! Get away! Help!" He screamed, his yells echoing into the snowy forest. The birds that stayed for winter fled from their perches. There was a disturbance in the forest. Meanwhile, red blood from the boy's leg seeped and melted the winter snow.

Just as the second figure was about to plunge their knife into Adrien's shoulder, an arrow flew out of nowhere, piercing them straight through the left of the chest. The figure's white clothing became stained with blood, and they staggered before collapsing in the snow next to the boy. The first figure looked up suddenly, before another arrow took them through the eye. Like the first, the now-dead attacker collapsed in a heap.

Footsteps resounded, running, snow-crunching steps. A taller figure appeared, and by the way their white ensemble clung to their body, they were obviously female. She settled her eyes on Adrien, a cowl hiding her head and most of her face. But when she saw the injured boy in the snow, she nearly audibly gasped. The bow in her hand slung up over her shoulder, and she used her free hand to rip the cloth away from her face.


"Adrien Rune." she breathed, hesitant only because of the gun. "I wish to help..."

Adrien staggered backward, his good leg kicking to propel him, from the white-cloaked female. He still bore his skinning knife in front of him. He swallowed in fear, and when the female had gone to rip the cloth from her face, he wasn't entirely sure what to expect. He had dropped the near-useless gun when he began to flee from the approaching girl, but then, the knife he dropped as well.

Still, the bitter wind and moisture stung his wound, whose blood stained the fabric of his pants and the snow beneath him. His breaths were shallow, and he regressed his leg to clasp both hands over it.

"Then I'm cut. Badly." He said, in between panicked breaths. His eyes flitted around, as if looking for further attackers. Sweat lined a worried brow. "I can't feel my foot."

She kept her hands free, tearing the cowl away from her shoulders and showing it to him. "I can wrap it. Sit. You're bleeding too much." Her hesitancy dissolved as she moved closer to him, holding out a hand. It was obvious that she was concerned.

"Sit, Adrien. Please. There's only myself and a patrol." Her eyes glanced towards the dead bodies. "They are not with us." she muttered, jutting her chin towards them. "Wildlings. Sit down!"

Adrien wearily held himself up on a tree, as if he were still untrusting of Aja and her patrol. Still, it was not as if he could run away from them. For a long while, he regarded her face, and the scars that tore down her eye. It was certainly a rememberance of the plight they'd gone through, and he could only wonder if she were bitter toward him for the ordeal.

"Fine. Don't... Try anything." He cautiously breathed, before collapsing into the snow and hissing in pain. Still, his hands clamped tightly over the wound, whose blood seeped between his fingers.

She ignored that, kneeling in front of him and taking the cloth so she could wrap it around his shin. Over and over she went before snugging it tightly into place. She glanced to Adrien's eyes before turning to look over her shoulder, and emitting a sharp whistle through pursed lips. From out of the forest, a large draft horse appeared, white in color, with fur that seemed to be overlong and shaggy. It hung in the large animals' eyes, and away from the abdomen, swaying like a curtain with its graceful trot.

"You'll come back with me." she told Adrien when she looked back at him. "For healing."

"Just... Take m'back to Blakestown. I'll say I ..." Adrien started, obviously worried at the concept of returning to a tribal camp. There were not many things that could make such an incision that weren't people, however. "Iannae." His hands shook. "Say a wolf tried t'tear me up."

Still, that presented the complication of how she'd bring him back. Surely, the colonists would not be happy if she had arrived with an injured brethren in tow. When faced with the question if he were afraid of the Vanduo when he asked, he had said he wasn't. His face told a different story.

She shook her head. "Can't. Wildlings poison their weapons, Adrien. Your colonists will not know how to cure it, but we do." She searched his eyes, her own radiating with concern. "You saved my life. I intend to do the favor, and by my life and the honor of my father's life, no harm will come to you."

She held out a hand for him to take. It was her oath. Her promise.

Adrien shared the same concern that Aja had. Being poisoned was not an easy thing to digest, after all. There was a long moment of silence, before the boy looked to Aja's eyes. They weren't dishonest at all. He frowned, before reaching up to clasp her hand and pull himself up. When he did, however, a pain shot through his leg.

"Not by you, but if anything, I worry about your friends. We haven't been the kindest."

"Neither have we." Aja said, grimacing slightly. It shot a pang of anger through her that was misplaced, and for the time being ignored. The horse trotted over, obediently laying down on its belly so that they could mount without issue. She climbed on first, then held out a hand so he could climb over and get settled. "It isn't long. Only a short while to get there. Keep breathing and don't close your eyes."

Adrien hobbled to the beast, and climbed on with the aid of Aja. He clung tightly onto the fabric of her clothing, weary of falling off the unsaddled animal. It stained the pure white of her clothing, but nary of that mattered at the moment.

"Well, I hadn't ..." He stopped, obviously labored in his breathing. "... planned to stop doing that at any point."

His hands clenched the fabric tightly, and his head leaned forward to rest on her back, all in the effort of stifling pain.

The horse heaved itself to its feet before immediately beginning to trot in the opposite direction of the colonists' village. Even though the animal was as large as it was, it still moved fluidly. Its graceful steps made certain that the ride wouldn't be too uncomfortable for the passengers.

Like white ghosts, three more riders emerged out of the woods to either side of them. They spied Adrien, and immediately addressed Aja sharply in their native tongue. She replied back, in a tone that was not only calm, but commanding, and the other three fell silent. They cast Adrien looks though, the entire way through the snow-laden forest.

"How are you feeling?" she directed back to Adrien, concerned that he hadn't spoken up.

Adrien kept his head on Aja's back, and his hands clasped so tightly onto her garment that his fingers were losing circulation. The pain from his leg didn't cease; it only increased. Sweat lined his brow, though he'd long since ceased running. Perhaps it was due to the pain, perhaps it was due to the poison.

"Feeling... Like I got stabbed in the leg, poisoned, and a bit like your friends don't like me, but that's another matter entirely." He spat out, his words coming quickly as to leave his airway open to breathe. "I'm not dead. Suppose that's good."

"It's a start." she replied, quickly and quietly, tilting her head back and giving a short, high-pitched call to a few of the guards who remained posted in the trees. They called back. "Don't look anyone in the eye." she warned him. "Just keep your head down. I'll take you to our healer and we can get you well. I will take care of everything else."

Those in the tribe were shocked to an eerie silence as Aja came trotting into camp. The horse laid itself down, and she eased herself off before getting Adrien's arm and putting it up over her shoulder.

"Vals!" she shouted, putting her opposite arm around Adrien's waist and holding him close to herself. "Vals! To me!"

The elder meandered forward, out of the crowd. He was completely unconcerned by the fact that the boy was obviously a colonist. The other tribals seemed even more confused than before.

"Why is he here?!" someone shouted in their native tongue.

"Are there more? Is he dangerous?"

"He means to kill us all!"

"Quiet!" Aja shouted, knowing and regretting the fact that Adrien couldn't understand. "He was attacked by Wildlings. We will heal him of the poison."

"So he can go back and tell the others where we are?" Nanuk's voice came to her like the sound of a gong. She glared towards the larger man as he stalked forward. "You mean to endanger us all?!"

"This is Adrien Rune!" she seethed, her lip curling. "He saved my life. Motina would have me do the same."

The crowd was silent then, so Aja took that opportunity to let the healer lead the pair to his hut. Aja encouraged Adrien to lay down on the bed of furs, before she took a seat next to the bed. She lifted a hand to run it over her face, her fingertips lingering on the healing scars.

Adrien had done as Aja asked. He kept his head down, only letting his gaze fall on those who hadn't looked to his eyes. As they rode into the village, his gaze fell to the ground. He was a strong boy, but to no means did he look a threat, at least in regardance of his demeanor. He feared the persecuting looks of the tribespeople that seemed to scream and rave at his presence. When his name was mentioned to the entirety of the tribesfolk, his fists curled into balls at the anxiety of what may have been said.

When Nanuk entered, however, he raised his eyes to the man. They were blue and piercing, and worried all the same. Perhaps he spoke the language of the colonists, and perhaps he did not. Adrien spoke, however. "Please." He said. "I mean no harm."

But he was soon led to the hut, and encouraged to lay on the fur bed. He did so, albeit hesitantly. "I hope y're sure on your promise." He said to Aja, with obvious doubt.

"I'll kill anyone who comes near you." she told him, and by the look in her eyes, she was absolutely serious. The healer took a look at the wound on Adrien's leg, before he gestured for the boy to gently roll up his pant leg.

"You helped Ajani. Saved her from an animal contraption?" the man asked Adrien in English. He didn't wait for an answer, simply went to his stores so he could put together a poultice. "Nasty wound it made. I helped to heal it. Now we'll help to heal you. Most others don't know it, but we are greatly in your debt for saving our atstovas."

Aja said nothing, but she was blushing. "Once everything's explained to them things will calm down." she reassured Adrien. She wouldn't even sleep if it meant keeping him safe.

"Killing isn't... Entirely necessary." Adrien said, and a slight smirk touched his lips. He soon stifled it, however, as it was in humor and not in the pride that the woman would kill for him. "Punching, maybe, or slapping."

Suddenly, he hissed in pain. Again, the sharp cut of the wound sent sharp pain through his limbs. His hands gripped the fur bed when it had come, and released when it passed. Pitifully, he looked to Aja, grief highlighting his features. "You know, the nurse in our village gives us some kinda alcohol when we're in this much pain. You don't have any of that by chance, do'y'?"

His breaths were labored. "And sleeping is not good. Got it. Awake I am."

His eyelids drooped, though, and shut for periods at a time. Still, sweat laced his brow, and his throat was dry with dehydration.

At a point, however, he looked to Aja.

"Thank you. For taking care of me."

Her smile was weak.

"Least I could do." she said quietly, looking towards the healer as the man mashed up his poultice. In a moment, he returned to Adrien's side, taking the cream into his hands before gently laying it against the wound.

"It was good that you came so quickly." he said to the both of them. "Likely that the wound will heal fast. The poison has not had time to set in, nor has infection. You will survive." he reassured the boy. Aja looked relieved.

Leaning forward, she put her head into her hands, glancing sideways at the young man before looking back to the floor. "Where did that man take you? The man in black?"

The one who had cut her face.

"I was worried he might have hurt you."

When he was treated, he instinctively pulled his leg back, but returned it when he had found that it hadn't hurt. That was relieving, at the very least. "Thanks, doc." He said. "Surviving's always nice."

When Aja had leaned forward, however, he guiltily turned his eyes from her. He had been lying. Saying that she was the one who hurt him. He didn't think he'd ever see her again, especially not under the guise of such a kindness.

"He was... is one of our own." Adrien admitted. "It's shameful. He didn't hurt me, I think, because of that, though."

Still, his eyes did not stray from the ground. They were laced with shame that he'd brought upon himself. In a ditch effort to change the subject, he quickly looked to Aja and smiled a distraught smile.

"Glad to see you're fine. I... am sorry I couldn't really save you. From..." He gestured at the scars on her face.

Her eyes hardened.

"It took me a little while to convince myself that the sins of a single man cannot be translated to a group of people. After all, you helped me, and you knew who I was." She sighed. Her fingertips traced the scars for a moment before they fell from her cheeks to her lap. "It was nothing I couldn't recover from. I'll be fine."

There was loud talking outside, and it caused Aja's brow to furrow significantly. Muttering something under her breath, she ran her hands through her hair and lowered her chin to her chest. Then, without warning, she stood up and exited the hut.

The healer turned to Adrien.

"Did you know, Ajani is our leader? A very important woman. Touched by Motina. If there is anyone who can keep you safe, it is her. She is like god to our people."

When Aja left, Adrien felt relieved. A deep sigh escaped from his chest, and it would be evident to the medicine man that he was fearing for the conversation that might have taken place. He glanced toward the healer with an apathetic abandon, and rested his head into the fur bed, if only for a moment.

"She makes me tense. I don't know why. Maybe it's all the people outside, probably screaming about me." Adrien confided to the man.

"But knowing that she's the leader t'a tribe probably calling for m'death considering what we've put you guys through is a lot more relieving." He replied, with a sarcasm that was probably inevident to the man. "What's happening out there, anyway?" He asked, with concern.

"It is as you fear. They wonder why she has brought you here. They fear for their safety, as anyone might in a situation like this. But now," he listened to Aja as she began to talk back to the people. "She reminds them that Motina is mother to all, that she would extend grace where it is due. You saved her life, the life of their leader, and in return she is repaying the kindness." A pause.

"They listen to her. She is young, and sometimes impulsive, but she loves her people, and they know that. They know she would never willingly put them in harm's way."

The elderly man sighed. "Nanuk seems to be the only one who is more insistent than the others about this."

"Nanuk is ... the big guy, who kinda looks like he could snap my neck with his thumb, aye?"

Adrien paused.

"Y'folks don't make doors that ... lock, or anything, do you?"

"Nanuk's size is of no consequence. Ajani will not let him near you if he means you harm. You will see." The old man smiled knowingly. He began to wrap the injury with dry, clean cloth, before knotting it off and gesturing towards the wound. "Finished. We will continue to change for a few days. It should heal well by that point."

Aja seemed to be having louder words with the man, Nanuk. The rest of the people remained silent. They'd either left or were watching the spectacle anxiously.

Suddenly, Adrien threw his legs over the bed. He slowly rose to one, and lowered the foot of the injured to the ground before hissing in pain. Before the medicine man could say anything, he hobbled to the exit. With an empty hand, he threw back the curtain, and regarded the goings-on of what was going outside.

First, however, he issued a concerned, "Everything alright, out here? I can leave if it's too much'a problem, Aja. If doc can prep up some kind'a... Er... Anti-poison." He offered, not wishing to cause further concern in the village.

Still, his hands were stained with blood, and his pants no less. He leaned on the good leg, and looked weary and pale.

And that was when Nanuk started for Adrien. Rather suddenly, Aja hooked her right arm through his left, locking it into place before she kicked her leg up high, pivoting on his arm and smashing her foot into Nanuk's face. He staggered back, clutching at a bleeding nose as Aja shook herself loose and stood between him and Adrien. Reaching into the soft-leather boots, she withdrew two wicked-looking knives.

Enraged, Nanuk raced forward, intending to bowl through Aja while swinging an arm to knock her knives away. She ducked low before swinging her arm out to the side, hooking the knife into his calf and slicing clean through the hamstring.

With a howl of pain, Nanuk collapsed to the ground, his blood staining the snow as Aja cleaned the blade against the sole of her boot. His groaning was ignored, and she rose to stare at the rest of the people.

Slowly, and without glancing Adrien's way, they moved back to doing whatever it was they had been doing.

Aja stepped over her opponents legs and stalked off.

Adrien, however, had collapsed backwards at the shock of Nanuk's attack. He regained himself, only to clasp the curtain closed until Nanuk's cries of pain were the only thing he could hear. To him, there was no doubt that the other tribespeople felt the same way about him, and it wasn't a feeling he enjoyed. He slowly opened the curtain again, to see Aja had gone, and Nanuk laid defeated on the ground.

"Aja!" He called after her, with concern. He looked to the medical man, and gestured toward Nanuk, as if it were unbelievable that no action was being taken. The boy had gone to hobble after her, but stopped when she had been long gone. Then, he stood next to Nanuk, whom of which he would find himself cautiously staggering away from.

"M'sorry for this. All of this. I should be at the colonies." He said, still unaware if the man could understand the words he was speaking.

"Your people are filth!" Nanuk howled, unable to much more than lie there and yell. The medicine man didn't seem too inclined to help, at least not that quickly.

"You were promised to marry her, and then you go and defy her order?" he asked, curiously tilting his head to one side. "And how did you think that was going to go over, Nanuk?"

The man muttered curses under his breath. The healer glanced to Adrien.

"Best that you get inside and rest. You can't get home by yourself. You need to heal."

Adrien knitted his brow. He couldn't help but scowl. For a moment, he regarded Nanuk, as if he'd wanted to say something, but bit his tongue.

"Okay, I get the sentiment. Y'tribe leader is dead, and our people have scuffled." The boy said, his scowl relieving a little. "Me, however? I stuck my trophy gun into a bear-trap to help your people out 'cause I wasn't so god damned close-minded to see that you're not all the same. Don't help the stereotype. You may have something to learn from that girl, because she saw me the same way I'd seen her." He said, with a ferociousness equal to Nanuk's.

Quickly, he hobbled back inside the hut, keen to the doctor's orders, and headed toward the bed.

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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 9th, Late Evening

In spite of the rather stressful beginning to the day, the tribesmen settled back into a comfortable routine, only occasionally glancing towards the hut where the newcomer had settled in to rest. They murmured to one another, speculating about what the purpose was, what could come of this most recent decision their leader had made. No one openly opposed her, and they were content to live with the decision for the time being. As such, they went to bed without any issue. The fires were doused to embers, and the guard was set up.

It wasn't until the middle of the night that something changed. It wasn't an unwelcome thing. A presence walked through the quiet village, casting off a dull blue light against the walls of the houses. A shadow, blown up by perspective, showed the sillouete of a young woman.

The soft murmur of Aja's voice lilted in the quiet evening air, as she walked side by side with the massive bobcat. Her hand rested on top of the feline's shoulder.

Adrien hadn't made it to bed quite so easily as the other people residing in the village, however. Thoughts danced around his head; those of uneasiness about the colonial village back home, and uneasiness about his presence in the village he rested in. The thoughts made his heart sink and his chest hurt; what if they had presumed him dead?

And Xander, whose warning resounded in his head. His father, who scrutinized him for going too deep into the forest beforehand. The thought of Elleanore, and the worry that she'd surely have to overcome if he'd gone missing.

These are the thoughts that stirred him from a half-sleep, and caused him to pull back the curtain of his hut. The doctor's hut. Medicine man? Is that what they called them? Regardless, his feet moved forward, bleary eyes trying to get a view of what crawled through the village. His hand rubbed at them, and he stepped forward, before,


came Adrien's loud cry, as he slipped on the moistened steps that brought him only a small level down to the village floor.

The echoes of his voice faded into the night with little effect. Aja had turned in the same moment, and was staring towards the figure at the foot of the stairs. She was in the same, all-white outfit as before, and looked like a spectre, especially when she stood next to the big cat.

"Adrien," she said, before jogging over to him and kneeling at his side. Motina followed at a slower pace, sitting calmly in the snow just a few feet away.

"Why are you up? Are you feeling alright?" Aja held out a hand to help him to his feet.

"Fine, I'm fine. Meant t'do it." Adrien replied, at first trying to push himself up, and then giving up and taking Aja's hand. He looked to the bobcat, that only rested a few feet away. Instinctively, he'd looked startled, before realizing that the cat may have been something of a pet to Aja.

Still, the day he'd found her in the bear trap, he had found white fur and cat tracks. It could be no other animal. It was game he would evidently not leave with, in the end.

"Can't sleep, feeling peachy, though. Other than th''might have a limp for th'rest of m'life' thing. Sorry, I'll head off t'bed. Y'night patrolling with...?" He gestured toward the cat, which calmly sat behind Aja. "I think that's th'one I tracked t'find y'in th'woods."

Aja paused, her expression blank for a moment.

"Oh, not patrolling." she said quietly, looking to the cat. "Counseling." Her voice was soft, her brow knitting with thought. A small gasp was drawn from her, and she looked to the bobcat with a question in her eyes. Then, curiously enough, she smiled, and looked back to Adrien.

"Do you want to come with us?"

Adrien paused in thought, and his head tipped suddenly. He wore a smile on his face; a sure sign that something had been getting better. "Well, if you don't mind putting up with a wounded colonial."

"Counseling, eh? S'like what therapists do?" He asked. "Though, y'might not have therapists'ere." He considered, and then looked to the two. "Who's doing th'counseling? The cat's counseling you, or you're counseling th'cat?" A grin provided itself to his face. It was obvious he was unaware of MOtina's full presence.

Haphazardly, he bent down to place his hands on the ground. It would only be evident why until he'd pulled up a rather large stick, and snapped it in half with the aid of his good leg. Then, he used it to hobble along with the two.

Aja half-smiled.

"It's what leaders do. Talk to one another. Motina's my source of wisdom." She rose to her feet, looking to the big cat, who continued to watch the pair. It wasn't until they passed her that she finally rose to all four paws that she began to pad alongside them. Aja was consciencious of Adrien's condition, and kept an eye out for any signs that he might be tired. In spite of that, she continued to smile rather easily.

It was almost as if he was talking to a different girl.

"Motina is no ordinary cat."

"I've had m'fair share'a talking t'my rodent catching felines, but I'm not quite sure what you're meaning. What, 'cause she's an albin?" Adrien asked, still oblivious to what Aja had meant about Motina. His eyes wearily looked to the cat as the two of them exchanged words every once in a while, as if he'd felt stalked.

Aja paused, watching him for a moment before her eyes drifted behind him, to Motina.

"Your people know nothing of magic, do they?" she asked quietly. The village began to fall away, leaving nothing but the stoic, silent forest ahead of them. Motina padded ahead of them, her strange, blue aura lighting the way.

Aja looked forward, too. "Our people believe in something quite different from the deity you worship." She smiled softly.

"But that doesn't mean she is no less powerful."

"No, no... Magic is considered witchery in our parts. Punishable by death; if not by the courts, then by the righteous, god-fearing people who go to church on the resting days. Hypocritical, if y'ask me. I think, one'a the reasons that some'a our people're so opposed t'your guys' being here, even if y'guys were here first." Adrien explained. "We know of magic, but t'practice it would be a sin."

"It just scares'm, y'know? I've not seen any real magic, but I swear not all of it can be so horrible, innit? We're a gathering'a people, of all different sorts from the world, but we've all a thing in common, and we'rn't too willing t'change that." He continued. The dull ache of his leg only brought him a pained expression from time to time, but he was far too interested to ask them to stop for him.

"What's it y'believe in, then?" He asked. His eyes fell onto the cat that padded ahead of them, who'd omitted such a strange blue light.

But the creatures of this forest were strange all the same.

"There is a central power that governs this world, a pivotal source of energy that gives and takes. A never-ending circle. It is raw, capable of causing life and destruction." She sighed. "If there was nothing, no one to control it, our lives would be at risk. It is hard to believe that we could even exist at all." Her eyes flickered to his face, then back to the cat.

"Motina is Mother. She is our connection to that power. She's always existed for the purpose of ensuring the continuation of creation. She knows all."

Her footsteps stopped. Motina had paused and was looking back towards the pair.

Adrien Rune.

The voice was like silk velvet against his mind.

A narrow mind does nothing but limit. Yet you seem more receptive than most. She dipped her head, almost as if in greeting.

Adrien calmly listened to Aja's tale, though it seemed nothing more than the spun tale of a tribe who feared death and celebrated life. It was only when Motina stopped and turned back to look at Adrien that he jumped in fright of the voice that seemed to resonate against his mind, rather than his ears.

Perhaps it was due to magic?

Still, his startled expression remained. A new religion was a lot to take in, and certainly nothing he'd accept without consideration. Everything was; to see what happens within the tribal villages rather than the colonial cities, to understand how their culture worked, and to introduce a new understanding of life?

He didn't accept it. Not then. But still, he was curious. Although he hadn't taken another step toward the white bobcat, he opened his mouth to speak.

"Y'know everything, then? Y'know what happened t'us, n'what I said happened?"

The boy did not return Motina's courtesy.

Motina's eyes narrowed slightly.

Does Ajani?

Aja seemed blissfully unaware. It was as if the cat was speaking to him, and only him.

Adrien clutched the back of his hair, and glanced between the two of them. Shamefully, he'd shaken his head, and moved to continue walking. "Think y'd already know that." He said, with almost a quip to his voice.

Motina started to purr, her laughter touching the both of them equally. Then, without another word, she turned and began to pad away into the woods again. Aja watched her walk off, her lips pursing thoughtfully. "She spoke to you?" she asked the other, one brow lifting.

"Hey!" Adrien yelled, as the cat padded off into the woods. He rushed to follow the feline, but his speed slowed to a lumber when he'd realized that he wasn't going to catch up with Motina. Regretfully, he pivoted around, and looked to Aja. Still, he felt guilty. It showed on his face. "She tried t'make me feel bad."

A frown persisted on his face. Something was troubling him.

"I want t'go home. Soon. I'm sure your horses aren't too hard t'ride, so I can do it myself. If I'm still poisoned - and I feel right fine - then y'can make me something t'go."

"Soon." Aja said quietly, nodding her agreement. Her brow furrowed as her steps slowed to a halt. Motina had disappeared from sight, leaving just the two of them.

"The man who hit you," she said. "He lives among you? Do you know who he is?"

She didn't meet his eyes just then, as if she was afraid to.

"No -" Adrien started. "'E's just one'a those nuts who think your people're savages. If I'd known who he was, I wouldn't've..."

He stopped, and turned from Aja. He began walking toward the tribal village, a bit faster than he was walking beforehand. Away from her.

"'E made me lie about y'. Th'man who hit me n'cut you. Made me tell everyone that it was you who hit me, instead'a him, 'cause he's a colonist. Said he'd've killed my fiancée, if I didn't."

Aja listened, and followed after him a little slower than she might have under normal circumstances.

"He killed my father, Adrien." she said, loud enough for him to hear. "I suppose it doesn't surprise me that he would force you to lie."

She certainly didn't sound angry, and the look she had on her face, a sad, contemplative look, seemed to say everything.

Adrien suddenly stopped. He turned around and stared into Aja's face, as if looking for a sign of deception. After a few moments of staring, he had drawn his lips into a line. A disgusted one, at that. Was he to be disgusted at Aja? Or, was he to be disgusted at Radimus, for his apparent lies to all who'd attended Illiam's speech, that day?

"Killed your father?" He asked. "An arrow killed your father."

Even though the tribes were attractive to him, and his caretaker kind, it bewildered him to think that his own father could give a heinous, lying speech. When the assassin had delivered the message to Aja herself, he had long since gone from the conscious world.

Her eyes hardened, and her hands clenched into tight fists.

"A coward with a colonist's weapon hid in the trees and shot my father in front of me." she said, her voice low. "Just as we were preparing to sign the treaty." The emotion in the statement was nearly palpable, and she wouldn't stop staring at him.

"We do not kill our own."

"My father is the one who had delivered the speech. He is an abrasive man, brutish at times, but he's no liar. His words about th'tribespeople are harsh, and I wouldn't believe'm m'self, but his rage lies in that your father was killed by your own t'make sure peace hadn't come between us. Maybe by a wildling, or... maybe someone like th'bloke y'cut the tendons out'of. My father didn't lie."

Adrien turned from Aja, his face contorting with confusion. Radimus was an angry man, who was keen to raise a fist at his own, who called these humans savages, but to look upon him as a harsher figure of what Adrien should be was what Adrien had done. Still, the girl hadn't decieved him before.

But nor had his father, had he?

The boy took toward the forests again.

"I suppose I shouldn't expect you to think ill of your own father. But I'm not speaking out against him either. I'm merely telling you the truth, as I know it. Those lead pellets you use as projectiles. That was what pierced my father's heart. It was no arrow."

Her jaw clenched, as if she was biting back a rather nasty comment.

"You may believe as you like, Adrien. But if this man insisted you lie about who attacked you...and the fact that our stories of what transpired that horrible die conflict...I don't believe it would be too much to believe that something is wrong here. Someone doesn't want peace, and they're doing a good job of keeping it from happening."

Adrien suffered a glance back to Aja, whose fists were curled into tight balls. His palms rested lightly on his makeshift cane. He suffered two thoughts; one, that his own father had lied, and served only to cut peace between the colonists and the tribals. Two, that his own caretaker was lying; the girl that he'd saved from the beartrap betrayed him.

Thoughts danced in his head. They confused him, and no doubt did they fluster him. He was angry, and not sure who to direct the anger at. It showed in his face and in his hands, when those hands that rested lightly on the cane curled with frustration. He stabbed it into the ground and proceeded on his way back to the tribal village.

"I'll be in doc's hut." He said, to the figure behind him.

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Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 9th, Night

The night had grown bitterly cold, so deep that even Aja had wandered back to her own hut to turn in for the night. While she lay there, in a bed of winter furs and animal skins, she stared at the ceiling and contemplated the conversation with Adrien earlier that night. So someone was lying. For what purpose? Who was it who had lied in the first place? Her brow knit, a sigh emitting from deep in her chest as she rolled over onto her side. Someone had sabotagued the peace treaty, and then the events were relayed to the colonists falsely.

Her eyes drifted closed as sleep finally took her into its warm embrace.

Elsewhere, the horses that had been penned somewhere off to the west of the village knickered mildly, their large noses snorting steam as they stomped their hooves in the cold. Nobody was around to tend them, since there was no apparent fear that the horses would be taken.

But they had welcomed another into their tribe; one that they formerly didn't trust. Adrien, instead of resigning himself to the doctor's hut, found himself restless and agitated. The idea that his father - Radimus - had lied echoed in his head again. As he paced through the quiet village, one hand gripped the scruff of his hair and the other gripped the stick-cane, which he jabbed into the ground as he walked. The cane's sound against the ground was soft, and didn't nearly match his level of confusion and frustration.

Ultimately, his eyes laid on the horse stables. Although the condition of his leg and his inability to ride horses in general may have stopped him before, the raw cluster of emotions that passed and interlaced in his mind clouded it, and stopped him from rational thought.

So he approached the stables, intent on taking a horse. Perhaps it would betray the Vanduo's trust. Perhaps he could return it later. Those were thoughts that passed quickly, while thoughts of anger and resentment came to.

He'd come upon a beast that was awake; irritable, even. Whose eyes were covered by long locks of white hair that hung over it's eyes. They were much unlike those horses that he and Xander tended at home.

Do you think it wise to ride through the night in your condition?

Her voice preceded her physical form, and the big cat sauntered forward, completely comfortable amongst the horses. Her blue eyes bore into Adrien's. She sat down on her hind legs, her figure relaxed and obviously content. She didn't seem to be worried about much.

"I don't know, all knowing. What'll happen if I do, then?" Adrien asked, an obvious bite to his voice. He turned sharply around, though his hand still rested on the snout of the white beast he'd approached. "What about you? D'you think it's wise?"

"And me, I'm not quite sure what t'think. Did my father lie? Perhaps he's lied to me a lot. What about the assassin, all-knowing Motina? If y'know everything, then tell me'is name. Tell me where'e lives in Blakestown. Maybe I could do something about it. If you're such a smart ... god damned ... tiger-thing, then why aren't you helping us? Me?" He continued, every word a lash to the big cat.

She sat quietly, patiently, adjusting her footing before lifting a paw and dragging her tongue over it.

If you don't believe the assassin existed in the first place, then there is no reason why I should tell you who they are. Her head lowered to lie down on her paws.

It is ultimately up to you to decide what the real truth is, Adrien Rune. she purred.

Adrien took his hand off of the horse, and approached Motina. Still, he gripped the nape of his neck and pulled in frustration.

"If my father was lying - hypothetically - n'th'same man who killed Aja's father gave'er 'er scar n'knocked me silly, then I'd need a name. 'E lives in m'town, fer gods sake. Even if my father hadn't lied!" The boy said, almost escalating into a yell. "It isn't like'e's living in your pretty little children's territory. 'E's living in mine."

He started to face the horse again, but then abruptly turned around again to criticize Motina.

"N'it's not up t'me to decide what th'real truth is. Truth is truth. If y'know it all, why don't y'tell me it?"

In due time. There is still a purpose to be served. Motina replied patiently. There is far more going on than what first meets the eye. It involves all of us. What you need to do now is prepare yourself for what is to come.

An audible sigh rumbled through her chest. Aja can help you in many ways. Leaving now only puts yourself at greater risk.

"Prepare m'self? By doing what? Sitting around here doing nothing? Integrating with th'Vanduo? I can damn well walk, and by th'fact that I'm not sweating n'drooling anymore, I think th''poison' wore off. N'what's Aja gonna do about it? I appreciate th'girl, I really do, n'hell, she changed my mind about y'natives entirely! What's an ... 18 some girl going t'teach me?"

Adrien's fist curled.

"Then t'morrow. In the morning, I'll leave."

You see everything through the eyes of youthful mortality. Motina rumbled, seemingly to herself. Her attention then returned to Adrien. You are free to leave whenever you like. Just know that a world exists beyond the walls of the colonist village. Dangers, friends, and a new way of looking at life.

She rose to her feet.

The morning, then. she murmured, turning and beginning to walk away.

"Th'morning." Adrien mimicked. "Can't believe a talking bobcat convinced me t'wait until morning." He said.

Then, he jabbed his stick into the ground, and began to walk toward the medical tents again.

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His eyes swept over a land that was consumed by greed and anger, whose only linings were that of love, whose love was bound within circles of those who shared it. Whose love didn't proceed to those around them, and those around them were only the recipient of hate.

But first, his eyes beheld a past that was first fine and merry, for what it had been given. People struggled, but they made their way. They laid foundations of stone, and those who dwelled in the forests laid foundations of stick. They were content and happy with themselves, not having to embrace a culture that wasn't their own. Not having to embrace a culture that was terrifying to them. Those in the forest didn't collide or clash with those who dwelled in stone, for they didn't know of eachother. They didn't have to.

But as time went on, people changed. Those who inhabited the lush, ever-changing and ever-spreading forests grew. Tribes became fourths, people bound themselves to different ways. Those who inhabited the stone villages built large vessels, whose metal spheres could destroy and collide with eachother's. These vessels braved the dangerous and vast waters, and through trials, kept the men aboard them alive and well. They made passage to the vast grasslands, whose fertile soil extended as the ocean they braved did. These grasslands, however, bore way to new life; lush trees. They bordered the canopies and timber that were already inhabited by the forest-dwellers. For a time, those who dwelled in stone did not know of these people's presence; these people whose boundaries they infringed upon.

But, as everyone prospered, they would ultimately find out. These people who dwelled in the forest bore a certain affinity to magic, they would discover. Witchery. These were against the stone-dwellers' dull ways. It frightened them.

In lieu of the growing tensions, a solitary peace offer was arranged. Three men from the forest-dwellers would come, and three men from those who dwelled in stone. Set in their ways, however, the stone-dwellers had brought four. The fourth was cloaked in darkness, and walked amongst darkness. From the darkness he bore a weapon of technology, whose silver rounds would mark a scarlet end to the treaty arranged.

But the fourth only brought scarlet and anger to the land, not darkness. He who clothed himself in darkness could bring none. Through his efforts, and loathing of those who were different than him, he only served as a pawn; a small piece to that which would come.

His eyes came to the future. These lands, who now fought and spilt scarlet blood at any opportunity, would soon be bathed in the darkness that the fourth so desired. That the conspirators inspired and wished for. The darkness would not be limited to their foes, however. It crept like Moonvine, it's strands slowly engulfing the world that was once peaceful and harmonious. Innocent lives were wrapped and strangled with such a darkness, as well as lives who begged for the darkness to come.

Still, it etched at the world. It grew, even exponentially. When a settlement was entangled by it's wirey malevolent roots, it passed it's expansion onto three more. At first, it planted roots in those who wouldn't cause a stir; those who took refuge on the mere borders of civilization. It's scope advanced quickly, without moral regard to those whose blood it spilled and affected.

This same darkness overtook and shook the land. Those girls who dressed in ivory and jewels' white dresses were stained by blackness, and those less fortunate succumbed to the darkness ever so easily. The canopies of those pure trees couldn't save those forest-dwellers from the evil that overtook the land, nor the underground safety hulls of the stone-dwellers.

And finally, it crept ever so close to him. His eyes beheld the blackness that overtook the lands, and no longer was he an outside viewer. It tainted the chestnut curls he'd grown fond of, and the ethereal beauty he'd seen ever occasionally. It casted it's grip upon him.

And that's when he woke up.

Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 10th, Morning

Light pierced through the slightly withdrawn curtain of Adrien's hut. He awoke, groggily, and threw his legs over the fur bed. His eyes adjusted to the dim light of the hut, and when they had, he'd almost been surprised when the room he'd been brought into was not his own, but the doctor's hut of the Vanduo tribe.Bleary eyes regarded the hut and remembered the events of the day prior; he had promised Motina he would leave in the morning. Remnants of the dream beforehand made him falter in his resolution, however. The state of his injured leg only seemed fresher when his thoughts weren't clouded by confusion and anger about his father.

So Adrien stepped off the bed, leaning on his good leg to hold himself. He drew back the curtain that shielded him from the morning light beforehand, and squinted at the whiteness of the light outside. Soon, however, he would find himself coming out of the hut, and onto the tribal territory.

The camp was alive with morning sounds. People amiably spoke to one another in greeting while they prepared for the rest of the day. A few women ambled off into the woods together, carrying baskets of clothes that needed to be washed. As they passed, they gave Adrien an unsure glance, before one of them, a younger woman, lifted her hand and greeted him.

Oddly enough, he could understand what they were saying.

"Good morning!" She called, and the others followed suit, before dissolving into a fit of giggles and going on their way. The men who remained behind didn't seem to be as certain, but if Adrien met their eyes, they were sure to incline their heads in greeting before turning back to their work.

A smaller child, nearly tripping over his own cloak in his haste, tumbled into the snow at Adrien's feet. He lifted his head, white-blonde hair sticking up in all directions before he eagerly got to his feet again.

"Ajani said you should come watch us practice archery if you're feeling well enough!" he said, his words tumbling off of his tongue in his excitement. "She sent me back to get you! I'm Siska!"

"Good morning." Adrien replied unenthusiastically, though his face showed a feeling of incredulousness at the going-ons of the children, women, and men of the tribe. He met the woman's eyes - the woman who greeted him - and gave her a sure nod and a smile. Perhaps Ajani had talked to them? They shared a different air than what they had before.

Though, the men were different. For the most part, the boy had kept his eyes to the women's or the children's, in fear of being reprimanded as Nanuk had attempted to. Still, the weight of anxiety that had pressed upon his chest beforehand had alleviated, if only some, and Adrien felt more at ease.

And when the little one went tumbling to his feet, he instinctively reached forward, but not before Siska could fall into the snow and regain himself rather quickly.

"Little ones like you, practicing archery? Surely it's a thing I'dn't miss." The older boy replied. He'd resisted the temptation to reach forward and scruff up Siska's hair, for perhaps touching the tribal children - children as they be - wouldn't be a good idea. "My name is Adrien Rune. Where's it, then? Perhaps I can practice with you, Siska."

"Not so little!" Siska replied incredulously, puffing out his small chest and planting his fists on his hips. "Ajani says I'm one of her best students. She says I'm going to be a great warrior soon!" He was obviously proud. The other tribe members looked on, most with a bemused expression on their faces as they watched the interraction. In his enthusiasm, Siska then reached for Adrien's hand, clasping his fingers before beginning to drag him along behind him.

"It's this way! Not far! Ajani was worried some of the others might hit someone with the arrows."

"I believe it. You already have th'look of a warrior." Adrien replied, bemused as well. The young boy bore a resemblance to some of the other colonial children, and it only alleviated the weight of anxiety on Adrien. They were people, just like him. As Ajani said, they were all human.

But as Siska grasped his fingers, Adrien looked shocked, if only for a moment. Shocked that the boy behaved like a normal child? It was, perhaps, a thought that beforehand might be considered cruel. His eyes flitted to the observer's faces, and his smile persisted, though weariness from the night beforehand was still evident in his face.

"I'd be as well. Not everyone's's great at bowin' as you are, Sis. Even seems a mite dangerous..." He said, trailing off. What's the worst that could happen? "You're not practicing with... real arrows, are you?" He asked.

"No." And the boy looked disappointed. "Aja said not until we're Sworn."

As they made their way away from the village, and closer to a wide clearing bordered by a quickly flowing river, the sounds of children squealing and laughing echoed back to them through the cool morning air. Small, blunted arrows littered the snow all around the small group, and Aja stood in the background, leaning against a tree with an amused smile on her face. The children were lined up facing East, each taking turns and loosing arrows. Many of them tumbled to the ground, but a few actually sailed a couple yards before disappearing into the snow.

"Keep your elbows wide!" Aja called, covering her mouth with her hand to hide her smile. The trembling in her shoulders couldn't disguise her laughter, however.

"Ajani!" Siska called, waving his arm over his head. Aja turned, catching Adrien's eye. She waved them over to where she stood, before bending to pick up her own bow and a single, tipped arrow.

"Children," she called, jogging forward so she could stand among them. They all stopped what they were doing to turn and watch. She knocked the arrow, pulling back on the twine and keeping her elbows bent, her knuckle resting at the corner of her mouth.

"Don't close your eyes when you release," she explained. "Aim higher than the target to compensate for the earth's pull, and remember to breathe."

The target in the distance had one or two small arrows piercing the lowest ring. When Aja released, the arrow sang through the air before striking dead center.

"She's really, really good." Siska whispered to Adrien, his eyes wide with awe.

The children burst into applause, then resumed practice with enthusiasm.

With a smile on her face, Aja backed off, having to duck when one of the arrows went straight up, rather than forward, and backtracked towards Siska and Adrien.

"You look well!" she remarked to the latter. "Your leg isn't troubling you too much?"

"That she is!" Adrien remarked, and clapped his hands together as the children did. It was impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the arrows she'd put through the heads of the wildlings that had been attacking him. He regarded her face; it seemed one that didn't shy away from the proudness that'd come from showing the children how to use a bow. Still yet, the blunted arrowheads that dotted the areas around them caused him to smirk as well.

When she approached, his smile fell a little, however. It would be no lie to say he'd been mulling over what she'd told him, and his dream only confirmed the unbelievable words that Ajani had muttered a night before. Still, he couldn't help but harbor feelings of spite, whether he believed her or not.

"No," He said, shaking his head. When he tipped his eyes to the floor, the darkness of his undereyes became evident. "Not too much. Enough t'get... er... Escorted here, by Siska. Who tells me he's on th'fast track t'becoming a great warrior, isn't that right?" He mused, and placed a hand on the boy's back.

"You know, I think I'd make a fine shot just as well, with a bow." He boasted. "I'm rather fine with a rifle. Can shoot buck dead-on from fifty yards."

"I have no doubt." Aja replied, glancing to Siska before bending to kiss the top of his head. "Practice with the others." she instructed, watching as he nodded and scurried off to pick up his own bow and join the ranks. Aja regarded Adrien for a quiet moment before coming up to his side and leaning back against the tree, much like she had before.

"You can understand us." she noted with a small nod. "Or didn't you notice?"

Her eyes were unreadable, but deep. They bored into his when their gazes met.

"I thought you were speaking English." Adrien said. "For my sake. Now that I think about it... I don't believe y'd teach your folks English, would you?" He asked. Then, the thought bewildered him. Living in Blakestown so long had made him grow to expect to understand everyone around him. For a moment, his eyebrows knit, and he looked to Ajani in bewilderment.

"Y've gone and confused me."

She lifted one finger, then reached for his right hand. Turning it over, she gently traced the faintest pale outline of a shape that seemed to be imprinted on his palm. It was a figure eight, the infinity symbol. When she turned her hand over, she had the same, faint marking on her own palm.

"It won't harm you." she reassured him, tilting his hand one way, and then the other. The sunlight made the marking more apparent, but at first glance, it would seem as if nothing was amiss. "It...provides a connection, if you will. We all have one. Motina must have imprinted it on you last night when she came to visit you." She let go of his hand, and kept her eyes lowered. "I know its difficult to understand, but it certainly is a great honor. It's one of the greatest symbols of trust."

She finally met his gaze.

"You may not realize it, but you're speaking to us in our tongue, as well."

"I... am?" Adrien replied. He looked to his hand, which bore the same marking that Ajani's had. His other hand lifted and traced it. It was certainly not there before. Perhaps it was actually a mark of divination. Motina had certainly shown her power beforehand. It would make sense that, upon his request, she had shown him the bleak images he'd had in his dreams that night. Quickly, he withdrew his hand, and rubbed at the faint symbol that it bore.

"For a god-cat, Motina's a talkative one." He remarked. "Y'know that she spoke to me. Do y'know what message she gave as well?"

Then, his eyes lowered to the floor. Again, his face seemed tired and he, withdrawn. The events of last night - those that happened after Motina had convinced him to stay - still labored on his mind. He was confused, and his comment to Ajani was not in snide, but in honest curiosity.

"M'not sure what it meant."

Her brow furrowed in concern.

"I don't, no. Motina tends to reveal things on her own time, to whomever she wishes. If you want...we can talk about it? I could try to help you make sense of it." Try being the operative term there. She was beginning to sense that there was something about her that made Adrien uncomfortable. Perhaps it was what she had revealed to him the previous evening, and maybe it was something else entirely.

She sighed.

"She has been talking to me about preparation. A need for unity, though she isn't really telling me why she's so urgent about it." She crossed her arms over her chest and glanced away, towards the children. They had abandoned their archery and were throwing snowballs at one another.

Adrien looked to the children, who merrily balled and threw snowballs at one another. He stepped behind Aja, so if one were to fly toward them, he wouldn't be the recipient of it. Still, the children made him smile. As he spoke, he spoke not locking eyes with Ajani, but the kids who merrily played behind her.

"Was just a bit'of a weird dream. Dreamt about people - our people, n'your people. How... er... happy y'were before we'd come in. And how th'assassin'd killed your father." He began. "But I think it was insignificant -" Adrien stopped, and then his eyes darted to the girl's. "Nay've your father dying, but everything we're doing now. Where we're killing eachother. In the long run. I think it's insignificant, if it makes any sense. 'CCause something worse's gonna come about."

"So... If sh'spoke t'you about unity, mayhaps she was speaking about us banding together, or, hell, maybe I'm just being a bit too hopeful, aye? It was scary, though. Was like a certain... Darkness. Not the kind when y'flick th'lights off or th'stars don't come out at night. I can't explain it. Th'kind y'd only be able to come on in a dream, I guess. But it was going from tribe to tribe and city to city, taking people down with it. Every time that it hit a town, it'd cross over to the three towns surrounding that town."

He vacantly rubbed his head, and wondered if the words he were speaking had made any sense at all.

"And then it got close t'us, Blakestown, th'Vanduo village, and it came t'me. Before it could come t'me, I woke up."

Aja's brow was furrowed in concern, a distinct shiver traveling down her spine at his words. There was something in her eyes, something like...familiarity. Like she was holding back.

"I'm working to introduce my people to the idea of welcoming your colonists once again." She said in an undertone. "It's difficult, because...even my anger, at first, was great... to the point of foolishly going out on my own in the middle of the night."

Her chest felt tight, and she looked away. "That same morning that you found me, I learned about compassion. Grace...mercy." Her eyes closed.

"I'm trying to show the others that it is the path we must take. Not this hateful violence that seems to permeate the more passionate of my tribe."

"Mayhaps I can help. Even try and talk t'the big fella who wanted t'rip my neck off, given'e's not limber enough t'jump at me yet. I mean... We're not different." Adrien said, and his face showed the stern seriousness of someone far wiser. "Your children play like ours do. I didn't even want't touch Siska's head 'cause I was afraid it was gonna be taboo, er something. But he reached out n'grabbed my hand n'pulled me here like little Tommy Jenkins back at Blakestown."

"N'the same morning I found you, I found out that not all y'tribal folk're as bad as they're teaching people up in th'colonies. Hell, maybe only 3/4ths fit th'stereotype?" He joked, a lightness coming to his face again. He smiled.

"I dannae... How receptive we'd be in coming t'peace with you, though. It's a dangerous road. I could name a few people who'd want t'rattle y'by th'neck if they had th'chance, Radimus included."

Her breathing came a little more quickly, cheeks flushing with emotion, but she nodded, smiling along with him. "My father always taught me that a kind word turns away wrath." She gestured to him mildly. "Thus far, its proven to work quite well. Perhaps, if given the opportunity, we can do something that might establish trust between our people and yours."

Her voice was softer now. "Like I did for you, and you for me."

"If peace is t'be between us, though... I mean, I'm a poor boy. M'father - Radimus - has influence, but he hates th'tribals. Trying t'convince him you're not so bad'd just earn me a black eye or a throttled throat. Someone like... Illiam, maybe. Governer - General, wh'ever th'ell. With'is help... Maybe we could divide the town, and show them peaceful ways rather than propagandate hateful ones." He continued, and his sharp blue eyes narrowed in careful consideration.

"Even then, it's a far fetch. When we moved in, and when we'd come upon y'first, we thought y'were forest witches. It'd take a bit more than a kind favor t'move everyone." He said.

Adrien lowered his head to the ground, almost dejectedly. "But maybe I can start here. Show th'big fella who jumped at me I'm not so bad. Th'men seem a bit weary'a me too, but not so much as him. Who's'e, anyway?"

Aja hesitated, her brow furrowing slightly.

"I'm meant to be bonded to him." she murmured, sounding sick at the thought. "Though, I think the elders have seen that he isn't as equipped to lead as we originally thought. No doubt they'll pick another if his condition doesn't improve." She ground her teeth, but only for a moment. Her eyes flickered back to him.

"Don't you think you should wait until you've healed a little better? In case..." She didn't bother finishing the sentence. It was obvious what she was implying.

"With what y've given 'im, I don't think he's going t'be running faster than me any time soon. Say y'even pitch out right outside the hut. And... I agree with th'elders, but hell, who am I, right?" Adrien combatted, with a grin.

"I got an arranged marriage too, if it makes y'feel any better. But she's a good girl. A high-class one, who... doesn't really understand my own way of life, but ignorance is something that can be fixed, aye?"

She nodded, but her eyes revealed a certain level of confusion.

"If its what you wish. I won't leave you alone with him." And, for a moment, she wondered why she was so defensive of the life of this colonist boy.

I owe him my life. she said to herself, lifting a hand and running it through her hair. Then, she turned back to the children who stood nearby. "Put down the bows! Pick up your arrows!"

A chorus of groans greeted her announcement, and with many a grumblings, the children went about their business, gathering up their things before making their way back to the village. Soon enough, it was just the two of them.

"Now?" she asked Adrien, meeting his eyes.

"Well, I done mustered up th'courage. I think it'd go t'waste if we did it any time else. Just... don't let'm know you're out there, hm? I think he'd be a little careful with'is words if'e knew, and it might be a little counterintuitive that, aye? But if you're so insistent about bein' there, y'can sit outside n'listen." Adrien said, coming to a conclusion.

He raised a hand, as if prompting Aja to lead the way. "This's gonna be a lot harder when I'm not just speaking about doing it, I bet." He murmured.

She seemed uncertain, but did as he asked anyway. Turning around, she began to lead him back into the town, occasionally glancing back to make sure that Adrien was keeping up. In the village, the people went about their business, cooking and fixing up tools while another group of tribesmen organized a hunt. They all nodded towards the pair, right up to the point where they made it to the front door of the hut that was meant specifically for prisoners.

Two large, armed guards stood at the entrance, glancing furtively between Aja and Adrien.

"He wishes to speak with the one who attacked him last night." Aja said, glancing towards Adrien. The guards, who wouldn't have argued to begin with, stood to either side. Aja too, made way for Adrien to pass.

Her lips were pursed, but she said nothing, only nodded.

Adrien felt at unease when the guards eagerly stood to the side. He glanced to Aja, if only for a sign of emotion, but only had gotten approval for him to enter in response. His chest heaved with a sigh, before his eyes glanced to the curtain. He pulled it back, and the strong scent of healing herbs wafted out.

He regarded the room, and the man inside of it. It was pitiful; Nanuk had been chained to a pole, an injured man. Perhaps it would have been the fate of himself, if Ajani had kept to her vengeful ways. Before speaking, his eyes fell to the crevices, corners, and ceiling of the hut, and landed on Nanuk.

"'Ello." He said, in his own language.

The man was like a living, breathing boulder. His shoulders lifted in a great sigh as he leveled a glare towards Adrien.

"What do you want?" he all but spat.

Adrien adopted the tongue of the Vanduo's language then, without realization to the fact.

"T'speak. Maybe convince y'that I'm not so bad. Perhaps get y'to see me in th'eyes of how your wife sees me."

Immediately, he stopped, and realized what he'd said. The boy's cheeks grew flustered, and he quickly shook his head. "I mean - er. How I know that not all'a'you folk're the same, and how not all'a my folk're the same. Shit."

The man's laugh was snide.

"You intend to try to make ammends with me, then? To try to convince me that you invaders are actually here for the common good?" He leaned forward, staring up at Adrien through hooded eyes.

"My wife, my intended, has been blinded by her long walks with the spirit cat. Her own father was murdered before her very eyes, and now she seeks to establish peace between our tribe and yours, the ones who house the murderer." He scowled.

"I don't know what kind of magic is involved in this, but after she met you...she was different, and very eager to have us all believe the same way."

Aja, on the outside of the hut, tensed. The guards looked concerned, but not as if they shared Nanuk's opinion.

Adrien was Marked. He had the trust of Motina. It was enough to convince all of them.

"I'dn't see the need for amends when I didn't do you any wrong, fella."

Adrien cautiously came to the front of Nanuk. He sat down, with difficulty, and his own blue eyes bore into Nanuk's above.

"M'people might not be here for th'common good. Some'of'm are here for th'common evil. My own father, t'be exact. Th'cowardly assassin who murdered your father-in-law. Our people, though... They're as easily persuaded as you are. They believe their leaders, and while they're good at heart, their leaders're telling them t'fight."

"And you're so easily persuaded t'believe we're all daemons rather than people. If I'd known th'bastard assassin who killed Ajani's father, I'd give'm a right stab m'self. It wasn't like he'dn't hurt me either." He explained, a calmness to his voice. Then, his head lowered, and his gaze exacted.

"And there's no magic to it. Our people don't practice magic, like yours do. We consider it witchery. If y'worship Motina, y'd know that she isn't blinding your people. Maybe you're better off considering that it's you whose being blinded, 'cause if I was the enemy and sitting infront of you after y'tried t'throttle me, I might not just try n'sit here."

He took a breath in. His safety and calmness resided in the fact that Nanuk had been restrained. His own hands neatly laced together, and his own eyes scanned Nanuk's face for any sign of anger.

Nanuk chuckled.

"You have a lot of nerve to sit here and talk the way you do. I suppose I deserve the spite, considering what happened last night." The big man did not apologize, however. He was not a man who apologized. "Why are you still here, colonist? Won't your people be missing you?"

Adrien suddenly turned his eyes to the floor.

"I imagine they're worried. I was going t'leave - last night. Motina came t'me n'dream, n'when I woke up, one of your little ones showed me to where they all were playing archery. My people'll miss me, but perhaps getting t'realize your people aren't so bad'll help when I'm trying t'bring peace between us. All of us."

Suddenly, he smiled as well. "Who am I, though? Nothing but a dirty colonist. I suppose my peace offerings aren't mattering for much t'you, n'my words mean nothing, if so."

"You're irritating." the man said, his scowl deepening. His eyes flickered to Adrien's hand, and while the tension seemed to leave him, there was a stern look to his eye.

"Yet you have earned Motina's trust." he finally ammended. "And the trust of my people, as a result. She sees the heart of Everyman." And his eyes glanced away. "I have disappointed her. Fighting Ajani was something I should not have done, and I've received my punishment for that." A heavy sigh.

But then he leaned forward, staring into Adrien's eyes firmly, almost angrily.

"Motina loves her children. She avenges them in their time of greatest need. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, she has chosen you, who do not worship her as we do, to be welcome into her embrace. If you should ever betray that, Adrien Rune..."

His lip curled into a snarl. "You will know Motina's vengeance. Do you hear me?"

Adrien leaned backwards as Nanuk leaned forward. His warning dropped like a block of lead onto the boy's chest. Even through his passive aggression, the man was no less intimidating than when he had rushed for Adrien upon the boy's exiting of the doctor's tent. Regretfully, he slowly nodded.

"Motina need not avenge on someone who isn't keen on attacking those who only want t'bring peace." Adrien said, and a half-scowl grew on his face as well. He stood up.

"Sounds familiar t'me." He continued, and then turned for the exit.

"I'm done." He said, to the guards who waited outside.

The setting changes from The Forest of Whispers to Blakestown


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait:
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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 14th, Evening

Off in the distance, a good ways away from the village, Aja was kneeling in the snow, her brow knit in concern as she stared at the ground. Her shoulders were tense, her hands clasped tightly in her lap as she closed her eyes. Fear gnawed at the pit of her stomach, a discomfort so profound that it nauseated her.


She looked to Adrien, immediately alert to the tone of his voice, the ponderous look to his gaze.

"What if y'came back with me t'Blakestown?"

What if she did?

She felt the liquid-like warmth of Motina's breath brushing over her shoulders before she even saw the big cat appear. Shifting forward, she put her arms around Motina's neck, the shaking in her hands more pronounced as she folded her fingers into the cat's thick fur. Motina's large forepaw curled around her back, pulling her close as she turned her muzzle to gently lick the side of Aja's face.

"They'll kill me." she whispered, pressing her face against Motina's fur. "Adrien's so different. The others won't understand...and that man, the cloaked one..."

I will be with you, Ajani. I am never far.

That wasn't a promise that she would be safe from harm, however. Aja shivered.

"Should I go though? Would it help?"

It is a stepping stone, one of many. Adrien had risked his well-being to stay here, and Vanduo has accepted him with my Mark. Now you must go. You must reach out as your father did.

"They killed him..."

And if they hadn't, he would have returned to try again.

She closed her eyes, her arms still tight around Motina's shoulders. Indecision warred within her, right up to the moment where she saw her father's face hovering before her very eyes. That was when she knew.

"You'll stay with me?"


That said, her arms dropped. Motina gave her shoulder a comforting lick before she stood to all fours, and turned to disappear into the trees. Ajani waited for a moment, before standing herself, turning and walking back to the village with a sort of steely resolve.


Not a few hours later, Aja emerged from her hut in a soft brown, woolen dress. The sleeves reached to her wrists, with the neckline looping below her collar bone and high along the back of her neck. Beneath the bodice, she wore a white, starched collar, and she'd carefully wrapped her hair in a white cloth, disguising the scars on the side of her face with the illusion of modesty. A forest-green cloak was fastened to her shoulders, the hood up to partially obscure her face in shadow.

She fidgeted with the sleeves for only a moment before striding out of her hut, and on towards the stables.

"Adrien?" she asked, hesitating as she sought him out amongst the horses.

Adrien had already chosen his horse. It was white, as a few of the other ones were, and it bore the same shaggy features that the others had. Almost gently, he brushed the shaggy mane away from the horse's eyes, and wondered if he was to tie it back. They were much different than the city horses he tended, after all.

But soon, his name had been called out. He drew himself out of the stable, and looked for the source. When his eyes had set upon Aja, who'd dressed herself in delicate colonist clothes, he'd almost reeled back in surprise. It hadn't looked like her, but...

She'd fit in. Even though her features were unique to their own and she, beautiful, there were many other beautiful women that roamed the street. Not quite as -

The boy gave a brisk palm to his own temple. "Ajani!" He replied, albeit late. "Y'look... Normal. For a colonist, anyway. Good job hding your..." He gestured to the place on his own face where Ajani's scars had been. "I'm right sure that th'cloaked man lives in Blakes."

I s'pose this means you're taking me up on th'offer, then?" He asked, though the answer was rather obvious. To his face, played a slight smirk, and perhaps, he didn't see the situation as gut-wrenching as Ajani had.

But he was not the one in hiding.

She nodded, forcing herself to maintain a sense of calm as she came up to his side. His mentioning of the cloaked man caused her to tense, but she didn't let it come to her expression. She kept her eyes averted, attempting to adopt that shy, evasive demeanor that seemed to captivate many of the colonist women she'd seen.

"Hey may recognize me." she said, and her voice, to her consternation, trembled slightly. Eyes wide, she met his gaze.

"I don't know if he would attempt anything in front of so many others."

"He wouldn't, if'e's so damned concerned with keeping th'blame on th'tribals."

Adrien raised a hand - the one that bore Motina's mark - and placed it on Ajani's shoulder before giving it a tight squeeze. "Y'can still stay back if you're scared of it. I'll make sure nothing happens t'you, aye? Like y'did for me, here. I promise it. Y'just have t'be brave."

Uncertainty showed in his face, however. Blakestown was big and sprawling, and he didn't manage it. The Vanduo tribe was smaller, and Ajani was able to keep him safe simply by being in authority.

"Don't think he'd recognize y'. Not with y'scars covered. Our people look all different types, but I'd be lying if I said they weren't mostly white with fair features, like y'are."

She lifted her right hand, to cover the back of his, and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"It's alright." she said quietly, heaving a sigh. "I trust you, Adrien. You were brave enough to come with me here." She looked up to the horse, stepping up to its side, and arranging her footing so she could mount and hook her knee over the horn of the small saddle.

Then she held a hand down to him.

"C'mon then," she said, grinning as a nearly impeccable lower-class colonial accent slipped through. "D'yeh need me t'get down there and give yeh a boost?"

With a sudden grin, Adrien imitated the same lower-class accent, to which he hadn't fully bore beforehand. "I think I can'andle m'own if it comes down t'it, wee lady. I don't need help mountin' an'apless horse like this." He slapped his own hand into Aja's, and mounted it behind her. "But I'm not opposed t'ye steerin' th'thing."

"I sound like Xander." He mused, to himself. "Th'guards'll let you in. If you see Radimus, or I warn you of'm, then hide. No questions asked, hm? He was at the meeting, and in all honesty, my father's rage is five-fold that of the cloaked man. If he weren't... my father, I couldn't imagine'im any less dangerous."

For a moment, he hesitated.

"We're off, then?"

"Better hold on," she warned him, reaching back to take his hand so she could rest it at her waist.

"Best mind yer hat if yeh got one. I know how to run these poor beasts." With that, she took a firm hold of the reins, leaned forward to whisper something into the animals ear, and then drove her heels into the flank. With a sharp whinny, the large animal reared, before tearing off into the woods in a thunder of hoofbeats.


He was leaning against the side of Adrien's house, his eyes on the ground. With his hands shoved roughly into his pockets, Xander sighed audibly, wondering to himself just how long it would take before he came to accept that, perhaps, Adrien wasn't coming back.

By now, the town was well aware of his absence, that he'd gone to hunt and hadn't come back. Days had gone by. Elleanore was distraught, Radimus was furious, and Xander had turned into this awful brooding mess than he didn't even begin to recognize.

He was about to amble off when he heard a pair of snow-laden footsteps coming his way. Turning to the side, he saw that Elleanore was coming his way, her cheeks rosey, eyes shining, hands clasped in front of her in the way he knew her mother had taught her to be.

She came up to his side, and without warning, folded herself against his chest and began to cry.

Xander froze, his teeth grit as he put an arm around her shoulders to draw her in. Her pain tore through him, echoing his own, and he found himself holding her for the same level of comfort that she desired. Without thinking, he bent to kiss the top of her head, and in that same moment, she tilted her head up to look into his eyes.

He supposed he could have called it an accident, when their lips gently brushed, but then, quite suddenly, her arms were around his neck, and his hand was knotted up in her hair, and they weren't just innocently pretending anymore.

It had been far too long.

"Dree's gunna kill me," he mumbled against her mouth, swearing under his breath when she suddenly pulled away. Her whole expression reflected a horror he didn't want to see, a desire that he did, and he found himself wanting to hold her so badly that it very nearly physically hurt.

"He didn't know," she replied, brushing at her eyes and putting a few feet of space between them. "How could he? How could any of us know that this was what would end up happening?"

The fact that Adrien had been arranged to marry Elleanore, a girl Xander had loved since elementary years, was a god-given wound that the man bore on his heart. The fact that she had returned the feelings? Was like salt, and lemon juice, mashed in with a dirty hand...ten times over.

Xander swore again.

"Should probably go before I do something indecent to you." he told her honestly, and the look in his eye was something feral, and passionate.

Right up until the point he thought he heard footsteps. His eyes widened visibly, and he shooed the girl away.

"Ellie, leave!"

"No, Elleanore. Stay." Had come the voice of Radimus, whose face bore a scowl. "I would like to ask both of you a few questions, and the fact that you're here, together, only helps in the process, does it not?" He continued, and approached the two children. The man resisted grabbing a hold of Xander's collar, and tearing him away from the girl. The feeling was passed through a snarl, though Radimus' expression seemed to lighten upon laying eyes on Ellie.

"I've been speaking with the guards." He said. "I imagine your father wouldn't be happy to hear you've been trying to go beyond the walls."

Radimus turned his gaze to Xander. "Your father wouldn't give a bloody shit, but that's not my point. What were you two doing, gallavanting beyond our borders?"

"Thanks for the reminder, suh." Xander said with a small salute. Ellie was standing off to one side, glancing between the two with a nervous expression on her face. Radimus frightened her, truth be told, even if he was Adrien's father. Adrien was nothing like him.

And thinking of Adrien made her sick to her stomach for more than one reason.

"Please, sir," she began. "We were looking for Adrien. We thought, maybe...he was close by? Neither of us could stand just sitting around doing nothing."

"And we found those bodies." Xander said, ignoring Ellie's flinch. "So's not like it was all for nuthin. We beat our way back just as soon as we tripped over the stiffs."

He spread his arms out to either side. "No harm done, mate, and I'm curious as to why its any of yer business in the first place."

Radimus approached Xander, perhaps making the distance between them uncomfortably close. His hands were folded behind his back, but oh, how did he want to grab the boy by the neck and shake him. "It is my business, because if you are fraternizing with the savages and know the location of my son, somehow, then you are to tell it to me."

"Additionally," He said, glancing between Elleanore and Xander. "If you know information that could lead to my son's whereabouts, you are to tell it to me. You may not like me, but I can guarantee that the safety of my son and your friend depends on the information that I know you have been keeping from me. Your petty quarrel with how I go about my ways shan't have a deciding factor in this matter. My son is my business, why you think it is yours befuddles and astounds me."

His eyes laid back on Xander.

"Do I make myself clear?" He continued, his words laced with poison.

"Fraternizing?!" Xander laughed loudly at that. "I'd sooner fraternize with one o'them tribals as I would one of the horses."

Ellie's face turned a rather bright shade of pink.

Xander planted his hands on his hips, leaning even closer to Radimus and nearly daring him to get him around the neck. "Listen to me. If I had any idea of where Adrien would be, I'd be riskin' my neck goin' out teh find him. As it stands, he's disappeared, and I haven't the faintest idea of where he might be."

Ellie was focussed elsewhere, her eyes squinting a moment as she stared towards a space between a few of the buildings.

"Oh my goodness!" she suddenly exclaimed, bursting forth in a flurry of skirts and snow.

"It's Adrien!"

Xander stared after her for a moment, before turning to glance at Radimus. His grin turned smug.

"After you, then."

"You're the type of swine who'd fraternize with a horse, you marmy bastard of a child." Radimus harshly whispered. "Do not act so smug about the disappearence of my son. He is your friend as well. If we weren't in the company of a lady, I'd grab you by the -"

Radimus' reprimand had been interrupted by the shrieking of Elleanore. He turned to the direction in which she ran, and his clenched jaw only seemed to clench tighter. Rather than joyously accepting his son into his arms, as a concerned father would, his hands curled into balls at all the possible implications that raced through his mind. He grabbed Xander's collar and harshly pushed him aside, before sternly walking toward his son.

But Adrien did not appear uninjured. He bore a walking cane, which he had gotten from Patsy. The boy's eyes flitted to Radimus', and his brow twitched. He had not the same apologetic stare toward his father as he had beforehand. Only anger. When his eyes fell on Elleanore and Xander, however, they softened.

"What have you been doing?!" Radimus demanded, before any of the two kids could approach the boy. He took him by the hem of his shoulder, and gripped it so tightly his knuckles turned white. "Have you any idea how worried you've made the townspeople?! And you're with cane. Did you trip in the woods? You could've very well crawled back in the amount of time you had kept us waiting."

"I was injured. I couldn't move, Rad-"

"Father! I am your god damned father!" He screamed.

"And NOW that everyone's all happy to be together again," Xander said loudly, watching as Elleanore made her way cautiously forward. Her eyes were for Adrien, only, but she wouldn't approach him while Radimus had him by the shoulders.

Townspeople were coming out of their homes, people exclaiming to one another as they began to gather in a wide circle. Xander glanced around, hoping Radimus might behave himself now that they had a larger audience.

"Y'had us goin there for a lil' bit, Dree." Xander said, his brow knitting for a moment. "Say we go somewhere together and talk about it?"

"Say we go somewhere and talk about it." Adrien agreed. "And I'll meet my father when he can behave properly, yeah?" The boy continued, looking to Radimus in near-disgust. Something had changed about him. It was evident. The same subservient respect he'd had for his father beforehand had dissipated into thin air.

Radimus took a step back, displaying a scowl on that ever-angry face. "Is it so wrong that I had been worried about my son?" He asked, his eyes turning to the faces which seemed to come out of their homes to observe. "Is it so wrong?" He asked, again. His grip released on Adrien's shoulder, and he took a step backwards. His face turned stony.

"Then you are dismissed. God forbid a man have passion about his own offspring. Since you have dismissed my worry about you, you can only expect emotionless reprimand from me now, Adrien Rune." He continued, in spite. With a hand, he waved the children off. He, himself, dispersed.

"Well, if I weren't in for it before, I'm in for it now." Adrien said, a slight hint of fear to his brow. "I'm sorry, Sandy, Ellie. I'dn't meant to worry."

"Don't worry about him. He's had his knickers in a twist since the moment he woke up this mornin'." Xander reached for Adrien's shoulder, dragging him forward into a tight embrace.

"Should kill yeh m'self. Worry didn' even begin t'cover it."

When he let go, Ellie took her turn, ignoring the proprieties she'd been taught and eagerly embracing Adrien.

"Shall we?" Xander asked, looking vaguely uncomfortable, but only for a moment. He held out a hand to lead the way, away from the prying eyes of the rest of the town and off to somewhere secret. "Where's a private place around here?" he suddenly asked.

"I think I know." Ellie said with a quiet nod. "Follow me then."

And she began to lead the way.

The setting changes from Blakestown to Plato


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Blakestown, Graveyard
September 14th, Night

The graveyard was set in the Northeast corner of the town, nestled at the very corner where one wall ended and met the other in a wide ninety degree angle. This place was the one spot in town where the young people could be sure they wouldn't be watched. Ellie lead them between gravestones, to a corner of the yard where plots had yet to be filled. The darkness was not complete. Starlight hung overhead like thousands of small lights, giving the area an ethereal look. A large, leafeless tree shaded this particular corner, and left the ground somewhat clear of snow.

"Will this work?" she asked softly, turning back to look at the other young men.

"It works, unless my following friend's found someway to perch on the wall up there." Adrien noted, and nodded up at the wall. "But I doubt even he's that desperate, aye?"

Adrien moved under the leafless tree, and tossed the cane to the base of it. It rolled down the roots, and met at his feet when he'd gone to sit down, with his back against the trunk. It only accentuated the fact that he was not badly injured, then, as he seemed to walk to his place just fine.

"I guess I've a bit of explaining t'do."

Ellie and Xander both glanced at one another, before taking seats around him, sitting in a small circle. "What happened?" Ellie immediately asked. "You left and you didn't come back. Xander and I, well..."

"We found a few bodies out int he woods the day after you disappeared." Xander explained. "Didn't get a chance to get a good look at them before we went running back into town." He rubbed at his face, suddenly folding himself over so his elbows rested on his knees.

"Saw some other things out there too, on my own y'see. Somethin's happening around here, Dree. Somethin' bad."

Ellie was glancing between the two of them, her hands balled into tight fists in her lap.

"I know." Adrien said. His voice came to a whisper. If there was anyone around, they'd certainly have a hard time hearing him without being in their circle. "M'dad's involved. He lied t'the people about what happened with Governer Ormond. Th'tribal leader was assassinated by one'a us. Not one'a them. If I were t'start at th'beginning."

"And..." He brought a hand to the back of his neck, and vaguely rubbed it. His eyes fell to the floor, and his mouth displayed a guilty frown. "M'sorry about disappearing. I really am. I was uh... At one'a th'tribal villages, but if you let me explain..."

He glanced to Ellie.

The girl was tense, but she didn't look like she was ready to bolt. She did, however, have a question or two. "Should I say something now? Or wait until you're finished."

"Shoot." Adrien said.

"Why should we believe what they say?" she asked. Her tone was not confrontational, merely concerned. "They told you one thing, our leaders told us another. How should we know that it isn't the tribals who are lying to us?"

"I'd been threatened not t'tell you, by one of th'leaders that you're talking about. Dy'ou think I'd be forced t'say it was a tribal who attacked me, when I'd come back th'first time, instead of a colonist, if my father and who-else weren't trying t'hold them down? Th'same colonist that murdered th'tribe leader, and injured th'tribal girl that bloody well saved me when I'd disappeared from here." Adrien said. He attempted to keep his voice unaccusatory, but his defensiveness of the tribals prevailed through.

"And, Ellie," He continued, and placed a palm on her leg. "Don't speak a word of what I'm saying t'anyone else."

His tone hadn't carried the proper severity, and the warning was late. He piped up rather quickly after that. "It sounds a bit crazy, aye? But it's a matter of life'n'death."

Her life.

There was a tense hesitation as the words sunk in. Ellie turned to Xander, who sollemnly nodded. "Dree ent makin' this up."

She swallowed, glancing down at the hand that Adrien laid on her leg, and, after chewing on her lower lip, she nodded.

"I won't. Promise."

Another pause. Xander cleared his throat.

"The same man who attacked yah, Dree. Dark cloaked figure?" He glanced to Adrien's eyes, feeling a strange tightness in his chest.

"Illiam's second. Gerald. I went out into the woods yesterday mornin' tryin teh see if I could find those bodies again. Hid down by a tree trunk and watched the pair of them come out." He glanced to Ellie hesitantly, gritting his teeth a moment before he continued.

"He shot him, Dree. Shot him and put an arrow in him."

Ellie gasped, a hand clasping over her mouth as her eyes flew wide.


"Dark cloaked figure." Adrien confirmed. His eyes fell to the ground again, and he frowned.

"And I s'pose th'last person who could honestly tell y'about th'truth of the treaty day is dead now, Ellie." He raised an eyebrow. "Thanks t'the tribals, of course."

"We're not speaking conspiracies, Ellie. We're speaking honest t'god truths. I don't know how far I'm getting, or will get, but I'm trying to stop it, here. The tribals are good people. They don't deserve t'be ran out'a their home. They took care'a me. I would've died without'm."

She was constantly looking back and forth between the two of them. "So the treaty was sabotouged by one of our own...and the witnesses were...they were killed. Except Illiam, and your father, and..." She looked to Adrien suddenly.

"The girl who saved you?"

"There was another man. I don't know his name, and I'dn't seen him at the village, but he was there as well. One of the tribals. Other than that... Just Ajani." Adrien said. His eyes were focused on Ellie, and there was a long lapse of time before he opened his mouth again.

"I brought her to town with me."

Both of their eyes snapped to Adrien.

"Are you crazy, Dree? If yer father gets even an eye on her she'll be dead for sure!"

"I don't plan on letting that happen." Came a soft voice from behind. Ellie turned sharply, staring up in slight confusion at the woman who stood just a few yards off, looking for all the world like another colonial who had come to pay respects to a lost loved one.

Xander's breath caught, his eyes squinting for a moment.

Aja's eyes flickered to Adrien, her lips pulled into an apologetic frown. "I didn't mean to sneak around." she said softly, her eyes shifting from his, to Xander's, to Ellie's.

"I am Ajani."

Ellie, at a complete loss, rose unsteadily to her feet, staring towards the other woman with an incredulous look on her face. " don't look like..."

"A savage?" Aja supplemented with a sudden smile.

Xander smirked uneasily.

"Ah... Shit." Adrien said, and shot up, then winced at his leg.

"Ajani, Xander. Xander, Ajani." He said, and moved to the space between them. One of his hands lightly touched Aja's arm, and the other pointed to Xander. "Xander is m'friend. Confidante. And..."

His hand came palm-up, then, as he nodded and gestured to Elleanore. "This is Ellie. She's m'fiancée. Ellie, Ajani. Ajani, Ellie. N'without Ajani's help, I'd be dead. It's th'same way around. That said, I don't plan on letting m'dad have a wiff of'er, n'e I'd stand between'im if he tried, the lying bastard."

Ellie glanced to Adrien's hand, where it rested near Ajani's arm. With a nod, her gaze downcast, she quietly moved to sit again.

"Why'dje decide to come?" Xander asked. "Kinda in a pit of rattlesnakes aren't yeh?"

Aja shrugged, coming a little closer, but still hesitant to sit. "Learning." she said quietly. "Because if we're going to have any hope of possibly coming to an accord...its easier if you have an understanding of how others are." She gestured towards the town, behind them.

"I won't stay long, but I can promise there's no malicious intent behind my being here."

"Maybe it'd learn you all well t'know colonists all aren't horrible n'tribals all aren't savages, aye? N'just as well, Ajani, Ellie n'Sandy aren't going t'cause y'any harm, so go on n'sit if you'd like." He gestured to the empty space between Xander and Elleanore.

Then, he took his place against the tree again. He looked to Elleanore, then. "I have a favor t'ask."

She avoided his eyes, but only for a moment. When she met them again, her expression was unreadable. "What's that?"

Xander had noticed the change in her demeanor, but said nothing about it. Aja quietly moved to her knees, her brow furrowed as she stared at the ground. Her hands, her he lap, were tight in the fabric of her dress.

"Would y'convince your father t'give Ajani a place t'stay in your home? Mine's too dangerous, and, well, Xander's..." He faltered. "Please."

The tension was palpable. Xander averted his gaze, running a hand over his rough chin before looking back to the women. Aja was watching Ellie, and the latter was staring at her knees.

"Of course." she said, nodding to dispell any kind of edginess in her voice. She looked over to Ajani, and, surprising them all, reached to grasp her hand.

"You were brave to come here, and your father was brave to extend his hand in a peaceful gesture too."

Aja, wide-eyed, stared for a moment, her eyes burning. Then, in a soft voice, she said, "Thank you."

Suddenly, Adrien stood up. He was eager to relieve the tension that'd come upon them, even if it meant dispersing the group.

"That's th'story." He said, mainly to Elleanore, who hadn't recieved news of any of that beforehand. "M'sorry I took so long t'tell it, Ellie. I didn't want t'put anyone in danger. But... I think we all have to go to bed at some point, yeah?"

"Yeah." Ellie stood too, and then Xander. Oddly, Ajani was the last to stand. Ellie looked to her, trying for a smile, and held out a hand.

"I'll take you there. Papa won't mind. But we should go before the evening gets too cold."

Aja hesitated, looking to her hand, and then reached to clasp it too, and together, the women walked off through the snow, looking for all the world like they belonged together. As they disappeared, Xander emitted a breathy sigh.

"Both a them girls are in more trouble than they know, aren't they?" he asked, looking to Adrien.

Adrien put both of his hands in his face as they left, happy to their descent, and gave a woeful nod. "Ajani knows. Ellie doesn't. Couldn't tell'er. I tried."

His hands fell from his face, and he too, sighed breathily. "Me, too. Seems like you're th'only one scot free, Xander."

Xander looked uncomfortable. He put his hands on his knees, and stood to his feet.

"C'mon, mate. We'll freeze if we sit out here anymore." He held out a hand for his friend.

"Jess hope we can survive the fuckin' winter."

The setting changes from Plato to Blakestown


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: The Harbinger Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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September 15th, Early afternoon

It had been a long time since Aja hadn't felt safe in the place she was trying to sleep. The day of her arrival, she'd spent most of her time avoiding contact with others, trying to mingle without drawing attention to herself. She watched and listened to the colonists as they went about their day, talking about Adrien's return, and the recent murder of that man who had been present on the Treaty day. Overall, she'd noticed nothing different, nothing significant anyway. The colonists existed just like the tribals did.

Meeting Adrien's friends had been the next big step, and somewhat of an impulsive move on her part. She was happy that she had done it, overall. Xander and Elleanore seemed like good people, and she was happy that they had accepted her as well as they could. She sensed tension from Ellie, something she didn't really understand, but it wasn't something that neither of the girls directly acknowledged. As a result, they fell into a pattern of polite exchanges, right up to the moment where Ellie was introducing Ajani to her father.

Cavis Rawls was a pleasant man, a ponderous figure that reminded her of her own father. He welcomed her into his home without question, showed her to a room, and wished her a good night's rest.

She couldn't sleep, though. She took off the scarf, let her hair fall around her shoulders, and combed her fingers through the knots in an effort to soothe herself. The small room had a bed, a window a table off to the side and a looking glass. Oddly, she tended to avoid that. The idea of seeing her own reflection was disconcerting.

Ellie knocked on the door the next morning, peeking her head inside, only to find that Aja was sitting in a chair by the window, her hair undone, with dark circles under her eyes. At the sound of the entry, she turned, fixing Ellie with a wide-eyed gaze.

The latter tried for a smile, noticing Aja's scar, but not paying it any attention. "Hungry?" she asked.

Quietly, Aja nodded, reaching for the scarf in her lap and beginning to wrap it up around her face, knotting her hair to make sure everything was artfully covered.

Breakfast was an uneventful affair. Aja barely ate, too exhausted to have an apetite. Then, when it was deemed appropriate, she helped Ellie clear the table, and then excused herself to walk around outside. She took her cloak from a peg by the front door, and swung it around her shoulders before disappearing to walk around outside.

"Quiet girl," Cavis noted, looking up from something he was writing. Ellie looked out after Aja, her brow furrowed.


She avoided contact with others, as she had the day before, simply meandering and learning like she promised she was going to. Eventually, though, the warmth of the sun, and her lack of sleep made her incredibly drowsy. She moved away from the town, towards a copse of trees that grew near the public stables. She sat down at the base, removing her cloak and covering her legs with the fabric, before leaning her head back against the bark and closing her eyes.

She hadn't intended to fall asleep.

While dreams pulled her away from reality, a figure emerged from the trees behind her. He walked casually, his hands slung in his pockets, red hair glinting in the early afternoon sunlight as he paused to look down at the deeply sleeping young woman.

His brow furrowed as he noticed her face, the small edges of a scar poking out from underneath the scarf. In his pockets, his hands gripped into fists.

Adrien's morning had been uneventful. His father had kept to himself for the most part, apart from a few leery looks from beyond a book. His eyes had done the same so many times before, when he was plotting what to speak to Adrien about. The boy made sure to get out of the house quickly, before Radimus' gaze could fully pierce him, the vindictive wrath that the man had harbored.

He was unkempt, that said. His hair was hardly brushed, and his eyes bore dark circles. Still, he used the cane around town, as if he had still been injured. His eyes mostly stuck to the ground, until the familiar form of Ajani had come upon him, sitting beneath a tree, leagues away. Even more concerning was the man standing over her, whose figure seemed so familiar...

"Milly!" He yelled, hoping to catch the man's attention, rather than Ajani's. He paced in her direction, an arm upright and a large faux smile.

The man turned, scowling a moment as the girl beneath him began to stir. He turned, stalking away from where Aja had fallen asleep, until his figure disappeared between the houses off to his right. Aja's eyes opened, and she slowly sat forward, grimacing slightly as she reached to rub a crick out of her neck. Sighing, she adjusted the scarf to cover her scars, drawing her knees up and lowering her forehead to rest against them.

It seemed as if she was entirely unaware of what had transpired.

When the man turned away when Aja awoke, Adrien had sprinted after him. When he had gotten to Aja, however, the man was long gone. Between the direction he disappeared and Aja he looked, with an alarmed look on his face. His chest heaved. Adrien looked upon Ajani as if she were an innocent child, ready to stick her fingers into a fire.

"Hey, Milly." He started. By the look on her face, he knew she'd had no idea. He lumbered to her, and collapsed next to her. "Y'know, it ain't bright t'sleep out here. Did y'sleep last night?"

She lifted her head, glancing over to Adrien with a tired look on her face. "No." she said quietly. "Not at all, actually. First time I've had that problem in a long while."

She stretched, stifling a yawn. "I didn't mean to fall asleep," she managed before letting her arms fall into her lap. She leaned back against the tree and closed her eyes again. "You look pretty tired too. Did you sleep?"

"Not well. Radimus has been burning holes through me with'is eyes. Think he suspects something about me."

Adrien let loose another wistful sigh, before his head laxed and he looked to 'Milly'. "I don't know if it's a good idea, but knowing me, I don't think I could not yell at'im about it. I might just end up socking m'own dad. That'd be a riot, aye?"

"He worries me." she said quietly, her eyes still closed. "Not as much as the cloaked man does, but your father..." She glanced sideways to him, then let the comment fall flat. "I suppose I just wish I knew what he was thinking."

"I know what he's thinking." Adrien said. "He believes the tribals are savages and witches. He wants land. Above all, he wants Blakes t'thrive. It'd be a good cause, if th'man didn't care who he stomped on in the process."

He frowned. "When we came here, we'dn't know that you lived here first. N'it scared us. It wasn't part of th'plan. I wasn't alive during that first time, but... People like m'father act like th'only solution t'making peace is destroying th'people who have th'potential t'cause harm."

She watched him, her eyes half-lidded with exhaustion, and contemplation.

"It was certainly a surprise to my father when he rode the coast and discovered that a wall had been constructed." she said with a small smile. "Yet, no efforts were really made until it became clear that there were people beyond the wall. That frightened us too. To an extent, it still does. We had seen game that had been injured by your weaponry, and it was foreign to us, something we couldn't stop no matter how hard we tried." Her brow furrowed.

"You were raised amongst people who feared and hated us." she said softly, glancing towards the town.

"Why didn't you leave me to die?"

"Because I'm not a monster. At first, I thought that there were no other colonists who'd go'n shove their rifle in that trap, but now...? I think that most colonial men'd do it, if y'd put down your knife. We're not all bad people. We have women in our town that're just like you, too. And, like y'said, we're all human. I s'pose I didn't leave you t'die 'cause I've got a conscience." He said.

"I mean... Our weapons're nice. A bit loud, but they're nice. They shoot well, and they shoot though. But y've got magic. And that's just as scary t'us, if not scarier." He continued.

Adrien looked weary.

"N'why'd y'save me? From th'wildings? Y'didn't know who I was; not at first."

"It was the first thing that came to mind. Regardless of who you were. The Wildlings are horrible creatures. I wouldn't wish a death by their hand on my greatest enemy." She looked away.

"I couldn't...wouldn't stand there and watch them hurt you."

"Well," He started. "Thanks for that. Hey," the boy nudged Ajani on the arm. "Sleep in Ellie's manor from now on, alright? It... isn't safe t'sleep out here. Burglars n'all that. No one's gonna get t'ye in th'manor. Promise."

"It's just strange having walls. And the looking glass..." she shuddered. She pulled her knees in tighter to her chest, gazing forward through half-lidded eyes. "But I'll try, Adrien."

"Think of ah... Th'looking glass as seeing your reflection in th'water, hm? Could always cover it, if y'like. Having walls around us is comforting t'us, though. Keeps th'nature out, which, ah, I suppose, is a bit different than how you folks operate."

He rubbed the back of his neck, and then offered a hand to Ajani.

"Promise y'will."

Hesitantly, she glanced his way, before looking down at the offered hand. His right hand, the symbol that glittered against his palm waited for her agreement.

Lifting her chin, she took up her right hand and firmly clasped his, too familiar with the warmth the rune brought to be surprised.

"I promise."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait:
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September 17th, Late morning

Aja hadn't really had a chance the first night to really stop and ponder the stones that the colonists had placed in the ground. She stood there now, reading the epitaphs, the names and dates of dozens of people who had lost their lives to age or wilderness or illness. Still wearing the same dress that she had come to town in, she quietly kneeled amongst the stones, feeling a little bit strange. Why were they marked? Was it for the purpose of being allowed to visit a loved one after they had passed?

She'd seen some come to lay flowers at the graves. That concept Aja found to be the most curious of them all. They tore flowers from the ground, and laid them on top of the dead so that they, too, could die.

Why not give them something living?

With a soft sigh, Aja lay her hands against the ground at the base of one of the graves, the grave of Elleanore's mother. Though the ground was cold and hard, Aja spread her fingertips across the dirt, digging them in, closing her eyes as she paused to feel the pulsation of the earth beneath her palms.

A never-ending flow.

She could feel herself reaching deep, her consciousness lingering, connecting with the power that flowed through all things. Like dipping her hands into the current of a powerful river, she felt it ripple across her hands, flowing into her, through her, her spirit united as a part of that endless power.

With a soft sigh, she called it forth, and at the base of the gravestone, small vines began to poke out of the ground, steadily reaching, gently carressing the rough edges of the epitaph. They laced together at the top, forming a wreath around the headstone as the leaves unfolded, magestic blooms of impeccable white roses bursting forth, their faces turned eagerly towards the sun.

The crunch of snow beneath boots came clear across the graveyard. Adrien was not one to sneak about, and certainly not behind the form f the one he'd brought to the village himself. By his face, he was discontent, but if Aja had turned to look at him, he'd bear a smile. A smile and a wince, for the bruise on his face had caused him a bit of pain.

When he'd arrived at the grave, without hesitation, he knelt into the snow. He beheld the white roses that bloomed from the unforgiving headstone, and he knew that they weren't brought upon by hand. They were far too alive.

"Doesn't seem like witchery t'me."

There were tears in her eyes.

"Why do they lay flowers to die on the graves?" she asked, gazing towards the roses. "I don't understand."

Then, in an act that might have seemed odd to Adrien, she laid down over the grave, the scarf coming undone as her hair spilled over her shoulders. Her eyes closed as she seemed to listen.

"This place... it's so sombre. Death is another phase of life. And that life, however spent, should always be celebrated... not grieved over for having been lost."

"Grieving happens here. That's not th'only thing that happens here, though. We lay flowers t'die in th'graves because we don't think of th'flowers dying, we think about how pretty they are when they're picked. We take roses out of th'ground, n'give'm to eachother, too. They'll die, but I s'pose we like t'focus on the beauty of when they're living."

When Aja laid down, he dropped his other knee, and sat with his legs under him. The girl was strange. He was used to it.

"We all have ways of dealing with th'loss. Some people like t'remind themselves they still love th'person by crying over it."

She picked up her head, resting her chin on top of her hands as she gazed at the flowers. "I hope Ellie likes them." she said quietly. "She comes here nearly every day. I know she misses her mother."

A sigh. Gently, she pushed herself back to her knees. She seemed to pause for a moment, thinking on something that caused her brow to furrow rather intently.

"Do you love her, Adrien?"

"She'll love'm. She puts petals here, but I'm sure y'know that. Maybe it won't be necessary, but..."

They're her mother's petals.

Ajani's question hadn't evoked much of a response in Adrien. He pulled backward, and rested his head on his fists, and his elbows on his knees. For a long while, he stared into the white rose petals of the flowers on the gravestone. He reached forward, and his fingers grasped a petal. It was almost as if he were to pull it off, before his hand fell, as well as his head.

"She's my fiancée."

"Nanuk's my intended." Aja replied, tilting her head to one side. "By most accounts, a good choice for a husband." She looked away from him.

"I don't love him, though. I doubt that I ever will." How could she, after everything that had happened?

Adrien nodded, seemingly in understanding.

"Y'can't... Change your intended?" He asked.

"No one's come along." she said, then, under her breath, added, "Not until recently."

Shaking her head, she stood, holding her hand out to him so she could help him to his feet. When he put his hand in hers, she helped pull him up, not letting go, and standing somewhat close as she looked up into his eyes.

"Could you? If you wanted to?"

Adrien looked away from Ajani's eyes. They set upon the bland graves of others, some who bore vibrant petals at their bases, and some who bore decaying ones, whose blackness sunk into the snow.

"If I wanted to. I could."

Her smile came then, soft and gentle.

"Good. So long as you have that freedom."

A pair of eyes watched from a distance, holding tightly to the fabric of her cloak as she observed the closeness of the pair standing at the top of the hill. She was frowning, her brow knit, and before they had a chance to see her, Elleanore turned and quickly walked away.

She felt a welling sense of insecurity bubble in her chest, an anxiety that she couldn't place. Conflicting emotions tormented her, ones of guilt, ones of anger, and ones of feeling legitimately injured by Adrien's obvious intimacy with the tribal girl.

What on earth had happened out in the woods? What was so special about Aja? Was she not good enough?

Ellie looked down at herself, frustrated beyond belief, and immediately made her way towards the stables. Xander was there, brushing down a horse, but he looked up the minute Ellie walked in. He was surprised to find her in the state that she was in.

"'Ey, lass. Yeh look a bit...downtrodden."

"I think!" Ellie suddenly exclaimed. "I think he likes that girl, Xander. Aja. I think he actually prefers her!"

Xander blinked. He never did understand women.

"Now, Ellie..."

"I saw them just now! Standing alone, close together like a pair of lovers mi-"

She'd been cut off by Xander walking close, and pulling her into his arms. He soothed her by running his fingers through her hair, twining them up into her ringlets.

"Dree's a good lad." he told her quietly, knowing that Xander could never amount to the kind of man that Adrien was going to be. "M'sure his intentions were honorable."

That didn't seem to make Ellie feel better. "What about ours?"

Xander stiffened. He refused to meet her eyes.

"Tha's different."

"Is it? Is what we're doing honorable only because we loved each other before all of this happened? Being here with you... can I really count it as something innocent?" She was looking at him, her breath warm on his neck. He couldn't look down. If he did, it'd be the end of him.

"Xander, look at me."

"It'd be a mistake, lass."

But then she grabbed his chin, forcing him to turn to look at her, and pressed her mouth to his. It was all over after that.

"I need a horse, and I imagine you'll hand it to me rather quickly. A group of civilians have someone injured in the woods and -"

Radimus looked up from his dark leather boots, to the couple, whose lips interchanged. A twitch at the corner of his mouth signified his response. In his gut, his muscles pulled tightly, and the hands that bore papers inside them curled into fists.

"I thought kindly of you, Elleanore. I cannot begin to describe how disgusted I am."

The girl nearly threw herself away from Xander, who looked equally as flustered and even a little annoyed.

"Yeh don't need teh be talkin to her," Xander said defensively, putting himself between Radimus and Elleanore. "Whole thing's my fault aneway."

"Because you like destroying everything that I've built, yes? It's just as much her fault as yours, Roan. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom why a girl such as herself would lower herself to a street rat such as yourself. Perhaps I've thought wrong about her."

Radimus gestured past Xander's shoulder.


"Y'got two hands. Get it yerself." Xander said, his tone dripping with disdain. Without another word, he began to stalk past Radimus, intending to bypass him to leave the stable.

"Then don't expect the pay I give you to put food on the table for that pitiful household of yours."

Xander's fist came flying out of nowhere, connecting solidly with Radimus' jaw with the full intent of sending him sprawling.

He shook out his knuckle, grimacing a little as his nose wrinkled.

"Yer a right, slimy git, Radimus. Its a wonder Adrien's of the same blood as you. He's twice the man you'll ever be."

Ellie simply looked on in horror, her back against the wall of the stable.

Radimus reeled, his feet scrambled to catch themselves, but they did. When his face turned back, ever slowly, and with passionate seething rage toward the situation, Xander would have seen the bruised jaw he'd given the man. He spat out a bloody hock, and a tooth included.

"You couldn't be more wrong, but now I see you're twice the bloody scoundrel. I'll lame you for laying a hand on me, you fucking swine."

The man, with full intent to pin him against the wooden support behind the boy, rushed Xander. One hand was aimed for his gut, and the other for his neck.

"Stop it!" Ellie shrieked. "Stop it both of you!"

Xander attempted a kick for the side of Radimus' head, intending to send the man sprawling sideways.

By the time Xander had kicked Radimus, Adrien had rushed to the stable. He'd only intended to help tend the horses, but the cries of his fiancée had sent him running. And he came upon an inevitable scene. The calm that Ajani had put him in suddenly laced with anxiety, and he came to the two of them, pulling Radimus away.

"Get off, both of you. Stop it! What's this about!?"

Radimus had again been assaulted, and he held the side of his head. By then, he'd regained his posture. A callous grin swept across his face, and blood lined his teeth.

"You're going to love to know, Adrien. How about we discuss it back at home?" The man offered, his gaze pointedly on Xander.

Ellie turned and rushed from the stables, going out the back way while Xander stared back at Radimus.

"We'll see if you can tell the truth for once, Radimus." he growled before he, too, turned and walked away.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by FizzGig
September 17th, Afternoon

It had taken everything in him to just not kill Radimus. Not only was it bad form, but it probably would have frightened the dickens out of Elleanore. Still, the altercation had left the young man so wound up that he just ended up walking the perimeter of town, waiting until things cleared out and settled down before returning to the stables. He wore a grim look on his face, his jaw set as he walked to wear a bale of hay lay in wait. Plopping down on it, he picked at the straw, beginning to braid a few stray pieces as he simply thought.

Somehow, he knew that nothing good was going to come of any of this.

Nothing good had come around the corner, when he'd seen who he was waiting for come into the stables. The person who'd he'd been mulling and sulking about ever since Radimus had told him why they'd gotten into such an altercation. He told Adrien with that big, bloody smile on his face. As if relaying the news was a pleasure to him. Because, after all, he got to spite someone, and if it wasn't Xander, then it was Adrien.

Naturally, this left the boy very, very upset. Not only had his fiancée been locking lips with Xander, but the news was delivered in such a way that Radimus had acted as if it were karma. Karma for whatever he'd done wrong.

So Adrien followed Xander into the stables, and knocked hard against the wooden support with a white knuckle.

"S'it true, then?"

The young man looked over to Adrien, his expression wan.

"Wasn't done to hurt yah, Dree." he said, and he really did sound apologetic. Looked it, too, even as he stood to face the wrath he knew was coming.

To Adrien, it figured that the only time Radimus had told the truth, he'd be facing the blunt end of it.

"Was it 'cause I was gone? Y'presumed me dead? Figured y'd ... I dunno, cheer'er up 'cause her bloody well spouse is gone?!" He brought a hand to his face, and vacantly rubbed at his temples. "It's good t'know my fiancée's been kissing on m'best friend. Oh, and it's so much better t'know that my best friend didn't do it t'hurt me."

Xander's words were obviously dismissed. They were meaningless, then. "I can't, for th'life of me, understand why y'd do this t'me, Xander. I love'er, for gods sakes. Hell, and I've got t'come t'terms with maybe the fact that Radimus is right."

His other hand alternated between balling up and anxiously rubbing on his leg.

"It's no easy thing, teh turn off the feelins once they started, Dree. I kept myself away because I knew I'd fuck up, and now this happens." He put his hands behind his head, gripping his hair between his fists. He didn't want to know what Radimus was right about.

He grit his teeth and looked away.

"Changes nuthin' unless yeh toss her, mate. She's been promised to yeh."

Xander's words came like a knife to Adrien.

"You're setting claims on Ellie." He said, with a nod. It was a statement of consideration. "You had her first, is what you're saying? That she never loved me anyway, so I should just bugoff, yeah? Because she's promised t'me is th'only reason why I'm with'er."

His jaw slacked open. A slight, incredulous smile touched his lips. "Un-fucking-believable, Xander. What th'ell is wrong with you? What the stark-raving hell is wrong with you?!" He yelled. For a moment, he stepped forward, before crossing his arms over his chest and withdrawing himself.

He wouldn't succumb to the same rage that Radimus had showed him.

Xander's face turned red, all the way to his ears.

"Yeh haven't the slightest fuckin' idea what I've been through!" he shouted back, his hands balling to fists at his sides. "I never said a word, Dree, caught in carin' for her and you, wantin' what can't be had and watchin' while yer best mate goes dickin' around in the woods all the time, worrying the hell out of the girl he says he loves."

He was livid.

"I never shoulda touched her, Dree, but I'm not sorry for lovin her. No one can make me sorry for that."

Adrien laughed a spiteful laugh.

"No idea what you've been through? Well, I'm very damn well sorry y'got t'sit here, safe in th'village, n'be with Ellie while I was off near dying, Xander. I'm sorry y'had t'go through such a thing, aye? I'm sorry y'had t'bite your tongue while I'm nearly being killed, knocked unconscious, my fiancée's life threatened, all because I tried t'help another girl, in good conscience." Adrien retorted, his words flying off his tongue like a snake's hiss. While he spoke, he clutched his chest, and he inched toward Xander.

There was a moment of silence, before Adrien spoke again. His words were laced with a certain tone that implied that all of this could be a joke. That it wasn't serious. Perhaps he was in a dream.

"And I'm damned sorry that y'had t'take away from me th'only good thing that's come out of this, you marmy dick. I'd think y'were on Radimus' side, th'way you're treating me. He damn well loves taking away everything I hold dear."

"Can't take away what was never yours in the first place." Xander growled.

Adrien's fist met the temple-area of Xander's face. He'd thrown it in a rage that he couldn't control. Whether Xander had fought back or not, he struggled to shout at him.

"You bloody bastard! You enjoy seeing me in pain, don't you?! You're just like everyone else! Gods, how I'd considered you my friend!"

The man stumbled sideways, taking the stable wall with his shoulder and going to one knee. Grunting, he lifted his hand and pressed it to the side of his face.

"The fuckin' most ridiculous thing I ever heard come out of you!" he seethed, getting back on his feet.

"Can't take away what's never mine in th'first place? I never had a chance with'er, right? Please, enlighten me on what I'm supposed t'be thinking, Xander. I thought I'd come back n'have, at th'very least, you two supporting me. Radimus, th'cloaked fellow, you, Ellie. I can't come back here to a single comforting thing, can I?! Maybe I was better off in th'woods, aye? 'Least you n'Ellie could have a future together!"

Adrien stepped back, unremorseful for what he'd done. His fists balled, as if he were restraining himself to throw another.

"You're pathetic, Xander. Kissing on another man's fiancée. Tellin'm he was never good enough for'er in th'first place."

He spat at Xander's shoes.

And Xander threw a punch for Adrien's face.

"Puttin' words in my mouth!" he hollered. "I never said a single thing, Dree, about you not bein' go--"

"What's going on?!"

Ellie's sharp, raised cry cut through the conversation, distracting Xander for a moment. She was staring between the two of them, her brow knitting. "You both need to stop this now."

The punch cleanly hit Adrien's nose. He stumbled backward, and his eyes squeezed together in pain. His nose had been broken. He slammed a hand over it to try and cease the blood-flow.

"She never loved me in the firsth place, then. My bad, you lecherous, back-stabbing bastard!"

His eyes turned to his fiancée. Through a muffled, nasally tone, he cursed. "Hypocritical words comingh from th'lady who's the cause of this! I thought you were right, Elleanore. Y'know I loved y', but god knows y'don't return th'feelings, much obviously! Y'could've told me, instead of embarrassing me! Puttingh me through th'pain!"

Aggravated eyes passed over the two of them.

"I've not got t'talk t'you bothf." He said, shaking his head. It was obvious he feared the scrutiny of two. His feet took him backwards still. "I was better off in th'woods anyway. Everyone's eithfer a bastard or a whore, here."

Ellie was stunned to silence, her face unusually devoid of color. Xander grit his teeth.

"Y'don't mean that, Dree."

"I think he does." Ellie suddenly added, her expression unreadable. She was watching Adrien. "I'm sorry it came out like this...I didn't know how else to talk about it. I thought I could work through it. When you were gone, though, I was afraid and things happened..."

She looked to the floor.

"I'm sorry."

"Happy as hell t'get ridh of me though, right?" Adrien asked, an incredulous smirk still on his face. "Gods, if thaht's what y'wanted so badh, don't let me keep y'from havingh a happy life. Only a hinderance, I am."

Still, blood came from his nose. Adrien tilted his head back, and winced. "As much as I'd like t'stay, I don't think m'presence is needed, aye? Geth back t'makingh kissy faces withf eachother."

It took a long while for him to speak again, and a covered grief-filled frown spread across his face.

"Weddingh's off, Ellie."

He turned, to exit the stables. His feet carried him quickly, and his eyes shamefully turned toward the ground. The others made no attempt to stop him, or follow.

On his trek to wherever his feet took him, there was a single figure who noticed his demeanor, and went to him out of concern.

"Adrien," Aja said as she approached, her skirt held in her hand to keep herself from tripping over it as she moved quickly towards him. "Adrien wait!"

Adrien gritted his teeth, and sidestepped to pass Aja. With a bothered look back, he continued on his way.


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Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by FizzGig
September 17th, Night

Adrien came into his house again. His hand was clasped firmly over his nose. By then, the bleeding had mostly stopped, but the pain still remained. The embarrassment warded him away from Patsy, who'd surely ask prying questions. The last person he had to deal with was Radimus, who, as ever, had sat in the living room under lamplight. His eyes were in a book, but they turned up to meet the disheveled figure of his own son.

"What have you done?" Radimus asked.

"The wedding is offh." Adrien nasally replied, a hint of newfound apathy in telling the news to Radimus.

"I suppose that is karma. It's such a shame, though, I imagined it would help tie the higher and lower class bonds a bit, wouldn't it? And you'll have trouble finding another on your own." Radimus replied.

Adrien had no energy to fight with the man. He supposed that, perhaps it was karma. Still, Radimus' words slid like glossed paper, and hardly seemed to garner the same response as the biting words had beforehand. What seemed to stop Adrien released itself, and he crawled up the stairs to his room, an obvious fatigue overtaking him.

The blood loss hadn't helped.

He'd shut the windows of the room, whose cracks bore a bitter cold to the air he'd intended to sleep in. Surely, though, sleep would be hard to come by. So he collapsed on the bed, a hand still clasped over his face.

Just as he'd begin to settle down, however, a shadow was cast across his floor, from the moonlight being obstructed by a rather familiar figure. She was dressed in slacks and a duster, her hair hanging in loose tendrils all around her shoulders. She wasn't so much crouched as she was reclined in the sill, one leg dangling lazily over the edge. She reached out to tap the window.

"Adrien," she said, low enough so as not to be heard, but loud enough for him to hear.

Adrien groaned. The calling of his name had only brought upon weariness. At first, he hadn't stirred, assuming the devilish pranks of a distraught mind had been cast upon him. When the tapping hadn't ceased, however, he sat up, and looked to the figure in the window. At first, it excited a jolt of surprise out of him, before he'd realized who it was that sat upon his sill.

Breath escaped him. Quickly, he grabbed a wooden chair and lodged it under the door knob, before hitching his hand under the window and pulling it open.

"Why are you hereh? M'dad is downstairsh. He'll shoot you if he sees you."

The girl was undoubtedly allowed passageway into the house, though, as the window was wide.

"I was worried about you." she replied, climbing inside the room and quietly sitting down on the floor. No need to risk making the floorboards creak and groan. She decided not to mention the fact that he'd ignored her. "You seemed upset, I just wanted to check to make sure you were doing okay."

She was also having trouble finding sleep, but she didn't mention that for obvious reasons.

Adrien let his hand slack from his face to his side. His nose was swollen, bearing shades of red and purple. The nasally sound he bore would become of no surprise, then. "Peachy."

"Th'only people I talhk to now hate me, n'I cancelled m'weddingh. And... I think if I go t'sleep, I might choke t'death." He collapsed on the floor beside her, his back to the bed. It seemed he was less concerned with making noise than she.

She pulled her knees up, eyeing him curiously. She had no idea what had transpired, and if she had, there was the possibility that she wouldn't know how to react to it. So she waited a moment, watching him, and then she reached to grasp his hand, squeezing his fingers for a moment.

"What...happened? May I ask?"

Adrien looked to their hands. He frowned, and gently withdrew his own. He crossed both his arms against his chest, and leaned forward into his legs, so only his eyes peaked beyond his knees.

"M'fiancée kissed m'friend. M'friend also said m'fiancée never loved me anyway. I hit him, n'he hit me a bit harder. Maybe I was overreacting, but..."

He shook his head and looked toward the ground.

"End result's th'same. Ellie doesn't love me, whether she was making kiss facesh withf Xander or not. That much's evident, n'my father's right, as far as predicting m'love life goes. N'I thought I could help bring unity t'our people, but I'm just some 20-some bloke with a broken nose fighting over ivory-studded ladies."

Aja didn't seem bothered by his withdrawal. In fact, she didn't pay it much mind anyway. Looking towards his eyes, she traced the lines of his face, emitting a soft sigh.

"The situation's unusual for me, but I don't know that you were wrong for feeling the way you did." she told him, her eyes now looking to the ground.

"I know it isn't easy to hear, but, in truth, it's almost good that you know now...instead of when its too late."

"I s'pose I can't be mad at'er. Or Xander. I s'pose I just feel like I'm the butt of some cruel joke they'dn't gaven a ratsh ass t'tell me abouth. Gods, if I knew, I wouldn't've..."

His hands gripped the top of his head, and he dug his eyes into the tops of his knees.

"Ajani, I can't even achieve keeping a spouseh, let alone helping us, th'colonists n'your people, t'get alongh. Maybe this entire thing should just be forgotten. Nothing's going t'come of'it."

"Now you just sound like an idiot." Aja glowered, her eyes boring into the side of his head. "I refuse to believe that my father's death was for nothing. Listen, I know this is difficult for you, but you can't just...give up on everything because one part of your life doesn't go as you expect it."

The glower turned to a soft frown.

"If I'd done that..." she shrugged, glancing away. "It wouldn't have ended well."

"Thanks for th'words of encouragement." Adrien chimed, sarcastically.

"You're not seeing th'big picture, Ajani. Radimus disallowed me from even venturing outside th'walls. Th'man doesn't even pretend t'like me anymore. Half th'townspeople think I mingle with 'savages', n'the other half're too busy easting caviar n'fine wine t'care. M'marriage is gone, and th'lady I love is threatened because I was stupid enough to go out into th'woods and -"

He stopped.

"I don't see any progress, is all. All I see're th'side effects."

"What is the alternative?" she shot back. "With giving up? Your people will continue to hate mine. Contentions will grow, and who is to say that the man who threatened Ellie might not threaten you? What if your father, as passionate as he is, leads a march?"

Her frown deepened. "And if my people were to respond? Bloodshed. The resistance we meet now is only an encouragement that what we are doing is right, and not without struggle."

Adrien responded with silence, for a long while.

"I'm nothing but a man, Ajani. All it takes is a bullet. Or an arrow."

"Which is why we should do all we can to make a change." she replied quietly.

"At the risk of -"


"What're you doing in there, Adrien? Perhaps it would be better to see Patsy before you attempt to fall asleep. As much disdain I bear for you right now, I can't say having my son die in his slumber would be anything but counterintuitive." Came the voice of Radimus, from beyond the door.

The door handle rattled, and with a push forward, the man had found he couldn't enter the room.

"Come now. You've barred the door?"

Adrien looked to Ajani, almost in panic.

But she was gone, the window open, and the barest flash of the edge of her cloak disappearing with a 'snap' as she ascended the roof.

After he'd seen that Aja left, Adrien went to remove the chair from his door. It was only to be seized by the arm, and herded downstairs.

"Put your coat on. I'd like to drop you off so I can retire as well." came Radimus' voice.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by FizzGig
September 19th, Morning

Fascinating wooden and metal machines worked to print and stamp the newspapers for the day. They worked far faster than the people had, whose gloved black hands fought to stack newspapers into inked towers, and other hands worked to sell them outside. Workers shuffled in and out of the print shop, handing and speaking to the worker outside of it. The busy scene was the usual, and the headline was grim as ever, but Adrien never stopped to read it until he stopped.

"Four - er... No, make that two." The boy said to the worker, who ushered him papers and held out a hand for the money he'd owed. He placed it into the worker's hand, and she continued dealing with the plethora of customers that seemed to crowd around the shop in the morning.

"S'cuse me." He said with a still-nasally voice, as he pushed through the crowd. It was only until he'd gotten to the fountain that he could relax, under the stony cherubs. He sat upon the stony lip and let the papers rest, before taking the time to watch the crowd.

It was no surprise he was hesitant to return home.

And though he had been working to avoid her...well, they had both been working to avoid each other, it just so happened that Elleanore was also on her way to the print shop. She had volunteered to go for her father that day, of all days, because, secretly, she was hoping to get a chance to see Adrien. Perhaps to apologize. Having Aja sleeping in the house didn't allow for her to mutter about the confrontation the way she may have liked, and while the other girl was pleasant enough to be around, she unnerved her slightly. It was something about her eyes, the intensity of her gaze and her stoic expression that made her uncomfortable. She'd worked to ignore it, giving herself time to think on other things as she purposefully kept herself away from the house, away from the tribal girl who had blended so well into the colonist's settlement.

Trying not to dwell on how disturbing that was, she continued forward, walking towards the print shop wiht her eyes on her shoes.

She looked as lovely as ever, dressed in soft blue with her cloak wrapped tightly around her shoulders. At one point, she happened to glance up towards the door, and that was when she saw him.

She paused, her lips pursed in a tight line as she gazed at him.


The sound of Elleanore's voice came to his ears. Normally, it'd be a sound that, perhaps, was kind to him. Then, it was only the reminder of what'd happened between the three. He pushed his temples into the palms of his hands, before his eyes looked up to confirm the bearer of such a bittersweet tune.

"Gods," Adrien muttered under his breath. "Only want t'know why y've cursed me so."

"Yeah?" He continued, louder in his pursuits. His face seemed to be apathetic, and it was the emotion that he certainly tried for. He didn't know if he was supposed to be apprehensive about talking to the girl, so he'd addressed her as if he'd addressed a complete stranger.

She hesitated, her hands knotting together nervously. Those eyes had once been kind, she remembered. She'd ruined all of that.

"I wanted to apologize." she told him, stepping forward. "Not that words could ever be enough for what I did..."

She glanced to the ground, taking a deep breath.

"You shouldn't be angry at Xander, though. It wasn't his fault."

"It'd'a been mighty nice t'know y'two were loving eachother before I tried t'put any effort into th'relationship, Elleanore." Adrien said, his eyes lowering to the ground. "M'not mad anymore. At Xander though, maybe. M'just embarrassed that I was so blind to it. If y'never loved me, y'should've damn well told me. I'd make it so th'wedding didn't happen in th'first place."

No longer was Elleanore a stranger to him. His words flew off his tongue as if he'd gone over them many times. He cupped his hands over his head, and pulled at his own hair. When he opened his mouth to speak again, the words choked in his throat. It would be a few more moments before his eyes met Elleanore's again.

"Why'd y'bring it out so long? Was it happening th'entire time, or just when y'thought I was dead and gone?" He asked, suddenly. While he preached that he wasn't angry at the girl, his questions seemed to contradict his statement.

She swallowed.

"I...I do love you, Adrien, I just...I was getting used to the idea. Growing more comfortable with you, and when you were gone, I..." Tears. Heavens she hadn't meant to cry. "I wanted to do what I was supposed to, I just didn't know what the right thing was."

She brushed at her eyes momentarily.

"And everything's ruined now, so I suppose..." she shrugged, squeezing her eyes closed.

"Damn well don't love me." He retorted, rather poisonously. "That much's obvious. Running away from me at your mum's grave? Hell, y'act scared t'talk t'me. I loved you, is what. But you love Xander. Maybe you're not afraid'a using words around him. Maybe I'm just gone too much."

The hands that gripped Adrien's hair soon dug into the corners of his eyes. Losing the wedding was devastating to him.

"So you suppose what? Nothing else t'do? You're not contesting calling off th'wedding, are y'?" He asked, in honest curiosity.

"Don't you tell me how I feel and how I don't feel!" Ellie very nearly shouted, suddenly heated. "You think you have everything figured out! It isn't as easy as you've put it in your head. There is no black and white here. I didn't pretend anything, Adrien. I cared about you, and I still do."

She crossed her arms over her chest.

"I don't want to call off the wedding, but if you really think this is how I feel, then I'm not sure what to do."

"I don't want t'be bound t'someone who doesn't love me, and neither d'you. I'm not here t'make your life a living hell, Elleanore. N'y'know what?"

His hands curled over the lip of the fountain he'd sat on. His frown turned into gritted teeth.

"I do know how y'feel. Because if y'felt anything for me, anything at all, y'wouldn't be kissing my best friend after I'd gotten back. That's not th'person who you'd be kissing."

"And what of the girl?" Ellie said, her voice low, eyes boring into his. "You seem to be awfully familiar with her, Adrien. Don't think I didn't notice. Perhaps you weren't kissing her, but it certainly wasn't necessary to be as close as you were in many cases."

"And what of th'girl? Ajani? Th'one who saved my life? Th'one who I wouldn't be standing here without? I'dn't lay a hand on her, let alone a lip. Did y'see what she did for your mother's grave? We both care for y'. T'blame it on her..." He rubbed his face.

"Is that why y'did it? Because y'were jealous of a girl, Ellie?" He asked, in obvious, incredulous confusion. "You're just unbelievable. Th'lot of you. I don't know what t'think, El. Y'just enjoy seeing me in as much pain as Radimus does, is that it? I'd thought when I'd come back I'd come t'welcome arms, at the very least, from you."

"I'm unbelievable?" she scoffed, shaking her head. People were beginning to stare. "You think the whole world is against you, Adrien. Maybe if you weren't so miserable all of the time!"

She glanced to the side, freezing for a moment when she caught sight of Aja. The other girl was wide-eyed, confused, and then suddenly embarrassed that she'd been caught. She turned and swiftly began to walk in the other direction.

Ellie looked back to Adrien, her cheeks flushed with color. "Go on and follow her then, like I know you want to."

And she abruptly marched off.

Adrien stood.

"You damn well know why I'm miserable! You can't complain about me being miserable when you're th'god damned source of it, Elleanore!" he yelled, as she'd marched off. In his fluster, he'd barely noticed Ajani, but Elleanore's words had caught him by surprise. His eyes quickly turned the other direction, to Ajani's leaving figure. A weight had been dropped on his chest.

He glanced between Elleanore's leaving figure and Ajani's, before starting off after the latter. Perhaps his fiancée would be upset, but Elleanore would stay in the village.

He wasn't so sure about Ajani.

He raised a hand, and called for her to stop.

She didn't, though. She kept moving, rapidly walking through the crowd with every intent of making her way to the stables. She was horrified to discover that she was at least partially responsible for the tension. Why on earth was this happening? She couldn't stay, not if this caused so much trouble for her friends.

Feeling her heart twist, she ignored his call and pushed forward, ducking between people and keeping her head low.

"Ajani!" He called, and pushed through the crowd. "Stop, will you?"

He ducked through the crowd as well. Eventually, they would both meet the stables, though she far quicker than him. He held onto the wooden support of the exit, panting as he'd done. It was never his intent to cast the blame on the girl, and it was a wretched feeling to know that it had. She was supposed to see that colonists bore the same soft side as the tribals, not the tense layer that seemed to cover the town.

"You mean to tell me," Ajani nearly shouted as she suddenly spun to face him. "That half the reason why things are so horrid between you and your friends is because I'm here?!"

Her chest was heaving, face flushed with an indescribable mix of emotion. "I need to leave. You don't need this. No one does."

In her haste her scarf had fallen from her head, and she ripped it off, the tumble of white-blonde hair falling around her shoulders.

"No! Elleanore's misunderstood. It started long before you'd come, they'd - Xander n'Ellie - had a relationship. They didn't tell me. I beg y'don't leave. I'm not willing t'lose two good things. I'm not willing t'lose th'tribe."

Adrien cautiously approached her, hoping to close the distance between the two and lessen the tension. "Y'don't need t'leave. Gods, you're th'only thing keeping me sane around here, whether Ellie misinterprets it or not!"

"I don't understand," she said, holding her ground as he approached. Her hands gripped the scarf tightly, her jaw tense as she met his eyes. "I keep you sane? How..."

Her head was starting to hurt.

"Th'town thinks I'm practicing witchery. My father won't speak nay but a horrible word t'me. Elleanore hates me, and Xander's taken away my fiancée. Maybe Elleanore's right when she says I'm believing th'entire world's against me, but right now, you're th'only one who's even given me a kind word. If I lose that, I might just give up, Ajani. Regardless of what some symbol on my hand says, 'er what 'future-dreams' your god-cat was talking t'me about."

"Just... Stay until I can get something resolved, aye? You're th'only friend I have, right now."

She stared at him, her brow knit in concern. She wasn't sure what to do, or what to say to comfort him, and she didn't know how her presence would help. But, because he asked, she acquiesced. She looked uncomfortable, glancing away from him before reaching to tuck her hair behind her ear.

"I don't know that I can go back to Elleanore's home," she said. "I'll...make due though. It's alright."

Adrien stepped backward upon seeing Ajani's uncomfortableness, and realization began to set in.

"...Nay. No, nevermind. If it's going t'be horrible'ere, I don't want y'to go through that. It's just selfish of me. M'sorry."

"Adrien please!" She was ready to rip her hair out. These colonists operated so intently upon the way they related to one another. Secret emotions, social construct, all of it was so incredibly different. "I never said it was going to be horrible. I want to stay with you. Understand?" She stared at him.

"I'm not afraid of these petty squabbles between people. Where I come from, matters were settled quickly because the good of the entire tribe depended upon it. There is so much wasted energy in all of these emotional exchanges, and nothing good comes of it!"

She huffed a sigh, a bit embarrassed at her outburst, but she meant every word. "I'm not disregarding how you or the others might feel. I'm simply saying that it's pointless to upset, I suppose. You move on or change the situation you're in."

"I s'pose y'make sense. Know that my and Ellie's words weren't because of you, though. N'I won't try and force your hand; I'm sorry for that. I'dn't wanted your stay here t'be so wracking, n'I'm sorry for that too."

He crossed his arms over his chest.

"We don't operate like your tribe, though. If something needs t'be talked about, it will be, whether y'like it or not. We can't cut our spouses' legs if they don't obey our orders, we can only try n'work it out." He said. It hadn't meant to be a jab at Ajani, but his words still carelessly tumbled out of him.

She looked affronted.

"I was implying that we settle our matters quickly, not with brutish physical combat." she said her voice suddenly like ice. "Dragging it out for days on end, arguing publically, tossing insults and making assumptions. That was the sort of savagery that I was alluding to."

"S'not savagery, Ajani! If you're hurt about something, shan't y'have a voice t'say about it? Insults happen when people get angry, n'people get angry when their trust is broken."

His chest heaved, and his arms uncrossed. He turned from Ajani, then, and rested his hand on the fence which closed the stable in.

"If y'decide t'take a horse out, I'll pay for it. It's up t'you, though. Forget what I said."

She pursed her lips, dragging the both of her hands over her face before letting her arms fall to her sides. A heavy breath rattled from her lungs before she walked over to his side, resting a hand on his shoulder before pulling back.

"I'll stay."

Adrien reached for her hand, though it had come from his shoulder before it'd landed. His hand fell, before he'd turned around to look at her.

"I'll... Try t'make it less painful t'stay then, aye?" The breath that he'd taken in before seemed to release itself. "Thanks, Milly."

Suddenly, the tension was shattered when she laughed.

"Oh it's such an awful name." she said emphatically. Turning, she lowered herself to a seated position, and rested her head back to close her eyes.

"Adrien? Do you mind if we sit for a few minutes? You told me not to sleep in the open and, well..." her smile was almost sheepish. "You're here, so..."

"We'll sleep in shifts, then." Adrien replied, a slight smile touching his face. "I could use a little rest as well."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: The Harbinger Character Portrait:
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September 22nd, Morning

The morning dawned, oddly frigid. Ajani had awoken out of an uneasy rest, her eyes staring at the ceiling as she sat up from the mattress and moved to rub at her eyes.

She froze, suddenly finding herself staring at Cavis, who was standing in the doorway watching her intently. She was thankful she'd fallen asleep in her clothes. Both of them regarded each other, the tension in the room mounting until Cavis finally opened his mouth to speak.

"You're from the tribes."

Aja's face paled significantly. Dizzy and suddenly frightened, she gently eased the blanket off of herself, putting her feet on the floor as she continued to stare. "How did..."

"The news is all over town." he told her, making no move to get closer. His eyes were gentle, but concerned and intent. "About how a girl's sneaked in. You need to get out of here, young lady. I don't know that you're safe anymore."

Aja struggled to think. She had no weapons, nothing at all, just a knowledge of the inside of the town. They'd never let her out, not if people were talking about her. They'd be immediately suspicious. Cavis stepped closer, and she flinchingly stepped back. The man froze.

"They're saying Adrien brought you here."

It hit her like a blow to the chest, as realization began to dawn. "He's in danger... "

"Not yet. But if you go running to him, he most certainly will be, but not nearly as much trouble as you will be." Cavis paused, glancing towards the window before looking back to her. Aja continued to watch him, hesitant.

"You're not going to turn me in?"

The man let that hang in the air for a moment before he slowly shook his head.

"I saw what you did for my wife's grave, young lady. It was incredibly meaningful to the both of us." He held out a hand to her. "Let me get you something else you can wear so you won't be as recognizable, and then we'll work on getting you out of here and back home in one piece, okay?"

She nodded, letting him lead her back to his own room, where he handed off a pair of slacks, a dress shirt, a hat and a cloak.


She had to fight to keep herself from running like mad to Adrien's home. It was even worse when she got there, because she didn't know if Radimus was inside. If that was the case, she was dead for sure. But as she came upon the home, she did some quiet investigation, listening around for any signs of him being there.

When the coast was clear, Aja ran in the front door, closing and locking it behind her.

"Adrien!" she called, her voice laced with panic.

Radimus hadn't been inside. Adrien had. He'd been vacantly rubbing his forefinger over the bandaging of his nose, and pacing back and forth. He'd heard the news as well, and the vacant, accusing stares from those he passed on the streets had forewarned him. They whispered and gossiped, and he had been the blunt of it all.

The entire town.

His thoughts traversed his mind and mingled. The tense air that lingered among the colonists, his friends, and himself, had risen to it's boiling point, and absolutely no good could come of that. The train of miserable thought had been interrupted by Ajani.

Adrien jumped at her presence, his eyes stricken with fear. He shook his head. "No, you can't be here." He said. "Radimus may be home any moment, and if he does, y'just hide like y'ran out my window, aye? What's coming over y'?" He asked.

"They're looking for me." She was breathless with fear. "I can't leave. They have guards posted everywhere and I feel like everyone's on the lookout, and when I heard that they knew you brought me here, I was concerned. I wanted to make sure you were okay."

In Cavis' oversized clothing, she looked incredibly small.

"Now I don't know what to do."

He seemed to reciprocate the same sense of panic as she did, when the news was relayed to him. He shook his head, and stared at the floor. He'd bitten down on his thumb so hard it nearly drew blood. For a few moments, he stared, in vacant consideration of what should be done.

"There are places y'can hide t'wait it out." He said, suddenly looking up to her. "It won't take more than a night, then... Agh..."

He held his head. He couldn't leave town with her. The guards wouldn't allow it.

"You'll need someone t'help you out on horseback, or you'll need t'get over th'wall."

"The way I can get over the wall takes too long, and it'll attract to much at--" Her eyes widened as she suddenly turned to the doorway. In a sudden burst, she raced for the stairs, disappearing around the turn just as the doorway opened.

"Just who I'd been looking for." Came the voice of the man who'd come through the doorway. "You come here, you marmy little -"

Radimus paced to Adrien, and violently snatched him by the collar. His dry hands yanked the boy forward, to look into Radimus' eyes. "You brought a tribal into our city? It's the very last straw, Adrien Rune. I'm certainly done dealing with your complete and utter bullshit regarding those tribal savages. You're fortunate that I haven't broken your legs yet, and yet, you defy everything, everything that I say. What has that gotten you?"

Aja watched from upstairs, her eyes wide, hand clapped over her mouth as she stared. Radimus scared her. The way he was treating Adrien was awful. She was as tense as a drawn bowstring, clearly unsure of how things were going to turn out.

Adrien's hands grabbed onto the cuffs of Radimus' sleeves, though he hadn't gone any further than that. "It was someone else." He lied.

Radimus shook him again, before gritting his teeth and replying venemously. "And you accuse me of lying?! You didn't heed my warnings, and so I'll do something with you. You'll be outcasted, if the fall down the cellar doesn't crack your dense skull open."

Suddenly, Radimus' hands jerked forward, and he piled his knee into the boy's gut. He moved away from Adrien, to open the cellar door. Adrien had no strength to move past that, and soon, he'd been taken by the collar and shoved into the dank, stony wine cellar. The door slammed, and from beyond it, it locked with chain. He'd caught on to the railing, however, and had soon regained enough of his consciousness to lash back and slam at the door.

"Radimus! Let me out of here, you bastard!" He screamed, clutching his stomach.

"I'm going to give a speech to calm the townspeople down." Radimus' voice came, from beyond the door. It sounded unnaturally business-like, though his face contorted with disgust and anger. "Tell them what happened, in full detail. I imagine that your escapades will cease past then."

It took a moment for Radimus to withdraw from the door, but he had, soon enough. His footsteps echoed against the wooden flooring as he'd exited, and the door slammed behind him.

She waited for a few minutes, until she was absolutely certain that Radimus had left the vicinity, then she all but flew down the stairs, racing for the door and bursting out of it before running around to the back of the house. The cellar door was chained firmly, and she gripped at it in an attempt to break it loose.

"Adrien!" she said loudly, trying not to draw too much attention. She slammed her fist on the door. "Adrien are you okay?!"

"I'm fine. Caught m'self." Adrien weakly said. His breaths were audible through the wooden door, and they certainly were labored. "Y'need t'leave. Er... Hide. I was going t'hide y'down here, but y'need t'find somewhere else." He breathed.

"Wait it out, 'til no one's looking for y', then come find me again."

"I'm not leaving you in here." she replied quickly. "Not with what's going on. Help me break the door." She began to tug again, gritting her teeth as she braced her foot.

"Come on!"

"No, Ajani. You need to leave. Hide! I'll get th'door open, alright? Staying in my house is not a good idea!"

He'd stopped his banging by then, in fear of drawing attention to the house. Attention was what Ajani didn't need, nor he. He continued.

"The neighbour always leaves their cellar unlocked. Y'can access it behind their house; it's two doors that y'just pull open. Go in, bar th'door, n'hide!"

She was about to respond, her lips parting with the start of a sentence, but then someone roughly shoved her forward, so that she landed hard on the cellar doors, emitting a short cry of pain. The man who stood over her now was wearing that dark smile, his red-gold curls hanging around his brow.

"You're the little bitch trying to ruin everything for us." he said with a small laugh. Aja scrambled, trying to get to her feet, but the man lunged, seizing her by the calves and dragging her closer, before he backhanded her so hard that it made her head spin.

"Thought about giving you to the colonists," he said, grasping her neck and choking off her soft moan of pain. Blood had begun to seep from her nose.

"But I think you and I are going to have a little fun before I drag your body back to them to tear apart."

Adrien stepped back, his foot missing the stair below him. When he'd caught himself, he pressed his ear to the door to hear who'd come behind her. Upon his heinous, familiar words, Adrien beat violently against the door.

"You creepy bastard! Get off of her! I'll break down this door and kill you clean!" He screamed, so loud that his voice had cracked. He stepped down, and slammed into the door with a shoulder. A twinge of pain shot through his body, but at the very least, the door had emitted a dangerous creak.

There was nothing here, no one that could help. The man still had her by the throat, furious tears burning at the corners of her eyes as she heard Adrien screaming. She kicked out at the other man, catching him in the stomach before turning and giving the door another tug.

"No, please," she murmured under her breath as the door held fast. When the man grabbed her from behind again, he pulled her roughly from the cellar door, barely giving her a chance to cry out Adrien's name before he clapped a hand over her mouth and roughly dragged her towards the stables.

"Ajani!" Adrien cried. Furious tears rimmed his eyes. He stepped down again, before slamming himself into the door. It happened once, twice, then thrice before the wood paneling of the door bore veiny cracks. It was not without consequence. Adrien's shoulder had given a slick crunch when it'd hit the third time, and moved out of socket. He cried out in pain, before regaining a semblance of conscientiousness of the situation.

With a few more slams of his hand, the door had split in two, and haphazardly broken off it's hinges. The boy thrusted himself out and tumbled to the floor, clutching his shoulder and breathing shallow breaths. It took a moment to regain himself, but he'd crawled to his feet again, and made for Ajani's voice.

He had thrown her to the ground, pulling a cattle whip from a peg on the wall and bringing it down hard against her back. She went rigid, groaning in pain as she dug her nails into the dirt. A second time, it came down on her side. She hissed in a breath, struggling to get to her feet, but then the whip snapped out, the man's smile just as sharp as it wrapped around her neck. He jerked her closer, synching it tight and holding her there, ignoring the pain as she dug her nails into his hand.

Now, they had fallen silent in the moment Adrien had burst out of the cellar, making it difficult for him to immediately locate them. Even still, she struggled as best she could, feeling her consciousness slipping from her, her grip becoming less firm. The man was smiling the whole time, touching the scars on her face tenderly.

"That's right. Die."

Adrien had come out of the house, only for his feet to take him in the direction that Ajani's voice had come from. He ran to the only place he'd known to; the stables. He rounded the corner, only to see the cloaked form of the assassin over Ajani's. He treaded carefully, then, and grabbed the skinning knife that laid against the wooden support of the stable.

Then he treaded quickly, to the back of the cloaked man, and grabbed him by the collar. In fear of pulling Ajani with him, he laid the knife against the man's throat, though his hand sorely shook. "Let her go." He demanded, voice quivering as he'd done so. "I'll cut your throat. Let her go!" He yelled.

There was a dark, resonating chuckle.

"Alright." the man replied. His hands released the girl, and the whip that was wrapped around her throat. She collapsed in a heap, lying deathly still. She wasn't breathing.

Quick as the whip he was wielding, the man drove his elbow into Adrien's abdomen, spinning towards his arm and knocking the knife right out of his hand.

He put himself between the two, and he was smiling.

"You made a mistake bringing her here." he said darkly.

Adrien stumbled backward, and landed on his side. For a moment, he clutched his abdomen and cringed in pain, before looking past the cloaked man to see Ajani's still body. He'd attempted to cry her name, but breath escaped him.

His heart thudded against his chest, and he scrambled at his feet to nearly toss himself at the man, intent on getting him to move. His dark words mattered not, as the blood that thudded against Adrien's skin bore a loud enough tune to drown him out.

The man was ready to meet him half-way, but he suddenly staggered, eyes glazing as he stumbled forward and collapsed. A horse-shoe clattered to the ground beside him.

Beyond them, Xander stood, eyes wide and his face pale.

"Fuck," he hissed, moving forward and skidding to his knees at Aja's side. He unwound the coil from her neck, rolling her onto her back, only to find that she still wasn't breathing.

"Dree," he said, his voice laced with worry.

Adrien had met the collapsing man, and violently shoved him to the ground. He collapsed to his knees again, still clutching his shoulder, and looked to Ajani. His face was stricken by grief and terror. After a few seconds of silence, he brushed the hair from her face, and his lips met hers in resuscitation.

He'd given her a breath. Then another. Another still, before he'd withdrawn, and looked for any sign of motion in the girl's face.

A moment passed, seconds that felt like hours, and then her hands clenched, eyes flying wide as she suddenly gasped for breath. She made a sound, a gasp cut off by a choked sob, immediately lashing out at the closest thing to her, which, coincidentally, was Adrien.

"N-no.." she murmured, obviously disoriented.

Adrien caught her by a wrist, though gently, and attempted to keep it from hitting him. Her arms were weak, however, and his grasp served no purpose other than reassurance. "Ajani." He breathed, relief washing over his face. "Ajani, it's Adrien. You're safe, hear? Breathe."

For the first time in a few days, Adrien locked eyes with Xander. They were apologetic, but his nod had surely thanked the other boy.

"Need y'to take'er out'a town, Xander."

A tear slipped, followed quickly by a second as she lay there, all but gasping for breath, her free hand coming up to gently lay against the raw skin of her neck.

"Where is he?" she asked, mistakenly slipping into her own, native tongue. Xander's brow furrowed in confusion.

Adrien unsurely looked to Xander, before he looked to Ajani and bore her native tongue as well.

"Gone. He's gone. You're safe. My friend is going t'take you out of town." He said. Then, he looked to the horses, who'd kept quiet in their stables. "Xander. Please. If I'd a last favor t'ask of you, it'd be this." He said, in his own native tongue.

Xander stared between the two of them, finally coming to when Adrien directed his question towards him.

"Don't even need t'ask, mate." he said. Aja was too weak to walk. He was going to have to put her on the horse himself.

"Wait, Adrien," she grasped his hand, her grip firm, but not nearly what it could have been. "You, what about..." She met his eyes, more tears slipping through what composure she had left.

When will I see you again?

"I'll be fine, Aja. We'll see eachother again when we're s'posed to. Y'need t'heal." Adrien said.

He gritted his teeth. Once his heart began to slow down, the seering pain that'd shot through his body earlier came back in tides. He stood up to brace himself against the wood support, and released Aja's grasp to clutch his hand to his shoulder. He nodded to Xander.

"If she can't tell y'where t'go, follow th'big white cat."

Xander nodded, standing a moment and making his way over to Adrien. With a sigh, he threw his arms around his friend, pausing a moment before quickly popping his shoulder back into place.

"Thank me later," he muttered, pulling away quick, and bending to scoop Aja into his arms.

A crack had resounded throughout the stables, and Adrien doubled forward, cursing under his breath. The shoulder that he clutched had been righted by Xander, though, and he couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt at his friend's dismissiveness toward him.

"Get back t'town safe." Adrien said, and his eyes flitted to the cloaked body on the floor. "But shove off now, aye?"

Xander nodded, giving him a small smile before sweeping Aja up into his arms and carrying her towards one of the horses. One had already been saddled, or had remained that way due to his own lack of viligence, and that was the one they mounted together. He easily set her up front, before climbing on behind her, and he gave Adrien one last look before easing the horse out of the stables and kicking it into a canter.

Aja barely had time to say goodbye before they were gone, and her voice was so raw that she didn't think Adrien would hear her anyway.

Adrien nodded toward Aja and Xander, and raised a hand in goodbye.

After a long lapse of time and rest, he began to regain his senses. His arm ached, but it felt better. Better than it had before. In the seering pain beforehand, it seemed that the boy had forgotten about the cloaked figure. The one that dangerously stirred near him, perhaps ready to wake again. The one whose face laid in the dirt.

His face.

His face.

The thought struck Adrien like a dagger, and with a surprising quickness, he staggered to the cloaked man's body. He hovered above it, then violently grasped his arm and turned the body over. Adrien grabbed a hold of the dark cowl that shaded his face, then pulled it back.

Golden red ringlets glinted against the moonlight.

The setting changes from Blakestown to The Forest of Whispers

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Forest of Whispers
October 7th, Evening

Adrien had spent a few days after Radimus' speech stuck within his home, wracked with fear of the townspeople's vindictive stares, scared of what Xander, Elleanore, Patsy, and Cavis thought of him, then. After some days of seclusion, he'd drawn himself out of his home, if only for small duties. As he'd expected, he'd met the persecuting gazes of nearly all, but after days, he learned to ignore them. The guards still didn't let him beyond the walls, and he was met with a hasty shove if he'd approached.

Then he'd withdrawn himself into his house again. Radimus had run out of callous words to speak to him, and that was certainly a blessing.

Every day, however, after Elleanore had long since been gone, he'd visit her mother's grave. He didn't know why. Perhaps it was the white flowers that still yet bloomed. He'd bring paper and quill to write a letter of his own to his mother, whose own letters had been growing short.

The graveyard was a peaceful place, if he didn't think about what laid underneath them. The trees which normally bore healthy green leaves were shaken bare, and casted a creeping, veiny shadow over the yard. The townspeople's whispers and shouts didn't reach the gravyard, and if they had, they soon dissolved into nothings as they went along their way. A thin blanket of snow and frost covered the area, though it hadn't bothered him by then.

Adrien had written his letter to his mother for the day; they'd been coming more frequently to her, as he'd nothing else to do, and if he'd found solace in anything, it was surely that. So he stood to leave, but hesitated as he passed the bare trees.

Suddenly, a ball of snow plopped in front of him. In any other moment, it would have gone unnoticed, if not for the second ball of snow that landed directly on top of Adrien's head.

Adrien's hands flew up to knock the snow off of his head, and his letter clattered to the ground. Quickly, he picked it up and shoved it inside of his jacket, before looking around. To his surprise, there were no children about, only graves. His eyes flitted upwards, while his stepped beyond the shade of the frosted tree.

Another plop of snow landed right on his upturned face.

Aja was perched on the wall, crouched as she gazed down at him. A cowl was wrapped around her face, but there was no mistaking who it was. She waved to him, holding a finger to her lips before turning to grab a thick, long length of rope.

It was dropped over the edge, and the girl disappeared from sight.

Adrien's eyes, after they'd been wiped of snow, landed on the rope. His heart thudded, and he glanced around, before quickly latching his hands onto it. Even if it hadn't seemed like a fantastic idea, the concept of being able to go beyond the wall appealed to him like no other. Thoughts of the forest beyond overwhelmed him. He began to scale the wall, though it's surface was sleek and frost, and it was no easy task.

A few times, his boots gave underneath him, and he'd struggled to hold his place. Not before long, though, he was peering over the edge of the stony walls that kept him imprisoned for so long.

"Adrien," she whispered, though her voice carried in the quiet evening. She was holding the rope, part of it looped around the branch of a tree she was standing in, and held tight in her hands. Upon seeing him come to the top, she released the rope and walked out to him, standing on one branch and holding to another above her to keep her balance.

She held out a hand to him.

"Pull up the rope then step over to me."

Adrien mounted the wall and quickly ravelled the rope he'd come up upon. He passed his wrist through it, wearing it on his shoulder, before his hand clasped Ajani's. Ever slowly, he stood up, and placed a foot on the branch Ajani had stood on. He slowly looked to her, fear lacing his eyes.

"This doesn't seem like such'a good idea, now."

They were a dangerous height above the floor.

"I won't let you fall." she replied. "Don't look down." She took a step back, encouraging him to come closer.

"To me, Adrien."

His other hand firmly clasped the other side of Ajani's wrist, and he had quickly brought his other foot onto the branch. It croaked underneath their weight. When he'd found that he wasn't falling, however, his eyes unstuck from his feet and came to Ajani's eyes again.

"This is going t'kill me."

"If you keep talking like that, it might." she warned, taking another step back. "Reach up. Grab the branch above." They were both close to the trunk. "You can do this."

It was either that, or go back down into the town, and she knew that he didn't want to do that.

He slowly let go of Ajani's hand, and held his arms to his side, as if to balance himself. His eyes fixated themselves on Ajani's, awkwardly, but he was heeding her warning not to look down. One hand slowly raised to grasp the branch, and when his fingers met bark, the other grasped the branch above as well.

"I think this's just about th'worst time'a th'year t'go tree climbing, Ajani." He breathed, his words quivering. Still, he looked to her for advice, while his arms were hoisted above his head.

"I know you aren't complaining." she teased, easing back and encouraging him forward. "We can always go back, of course."

He'll get used to it, she told herself. She would make sure he was as comfortable climbing trees as he was walking on the ground.

Adrien grinned, a challenging grin.

"Tch. If y'd have me, I'd live in your tribe instead'a this shoddy town. Lets'ave at it, then? If I fall, y'damn well better catch me." His eyes fell to the ground for a second, before whipping back upwards. "Following you."

She tossed him a smile.

Turning, she released the upper bow and easily walked back, her balance second nature. Once she reached the trunk, she lowered herself to sit, before tentatively reaching with her foot for another nearby branch that sat lower.

"Just watch for ice." she told him as she turned back to wait.

Adrien, however, used to branch above him to keep himself from falling. When he reached the trunk, he let go of the branch above and slowly lowered himself as Aja had. His boot slipped out from under him, however, and he'd only nearly wrapped his arms around the icey branch to catch himself. Shaky breaths rattled from his chest.

His foot felt for the branch underneath; the one Ajani had been waiting on, and he slowly released himself to rest on it. When his hands were free, he hugged the trunk.

"If I die, take th'letter out of my pocket, n'mail it t'my mum for me."

But she'd already made her way to the branch. In fact, she was making it look far easier than it probably was. Moving swiftly from one branch to the other, she finally came to a distance where she felt safe to jump, and so she did, landing in a crouch, then rolling onto her back so she could look up at him.

"Not so bad!" she said, only slightly raising her voice.

Adrien let his arms release from the trunk, and slowly stepped onto the branch behind him. His eyes caught sight of Ajani, who had swiftly made it from branch to branch. The thought unnerved him. He looked to the ground.

Then he transitioned to the next branch. He was moving at a slightly faster speed. His feet tok him from branch to branch, until he slipped, yet again. His feet came out from under him, and he tumbled to the snowy ground below. Thankfully, it'd been just a bit higher from what Ajani had descended from.

He laid on his side in the snow, groaning from the aches that falling had brought him.

She sat up, moving to her hands and knees and crawling over to where he lay. She lay down next to him, smiling the whole while as she rested her head on her arms like a pillow.

"See?" she said. "Now you've fallen. You won't be so afraid next time." The look softened as she, too, rolled to her side,and looked up at the wall. "You're free for a little while."

"M'not so sure that's how falling works." he groaned. He wiped his eyes, which were blinded by the snow. When he beheld the wall in front of him, he couldn't help but ecstatically smile. "Free for a little while. Hell of an effort t'get out, though. Blakes feels like a prison now, and th'only reason they haven't put me in jail is 'cause I'm Radimus' boy."

He rolled onto his back, and stared up at the trees he'd descended from. One of them merrily dropped a pile of snow on his face. He shot up, spat out, and wiped his face.

"I'm guessing y'don't want t'meander around here, then?"

"Not even a little bit."

She balled up a wad of snow, launched it into his face, and then burst to her feet, sprinting off into the woods with a wide smile spreading across her face. He was free. They had hours. She didn't have a single idea what they were going to do, but at the moment, it didn't matter. She'd been so worried for him, constantly watching out, listening for news that something might have happened.

But nothing had. She'd rescued him. It couldn't have been more perfect.

Skidding to a stop as her horse came into view, she eagerly threw herself up onto its back, looking back to wait for Adrien to catch up.

"Come on!" she called, knowing that the woods would swallow her voice now.

Adrien's face had sorely reddened by the amount of snow that had been dropped in his face, by then. Again, he wiped the snow with a red hand and climbed to his feet. His hands firmly tied the scarf around his neck, before he'd took off right after Ajani. When he'd reached her, he placed a hand on the horse and bent over, obviously out of breath.

For a moment he recovered, and then hauled himself onto the horse as well.

"Where're we going?"

"You've never been outside the wall except to hunt," she told him. "And I don't know that you went that far to begin with." a smile began to spread across her face.

"So we're going to go a bit farther this time. Hang on tight."

She drove her heels into the horse's flank, leaning forward as the animal burst into flight, its hooves kicking up a flurry of snow as they began to fly through the trees. Aja didn't guide the horse with touch so much as thought, her fingertips pressed against the animal's neck as they moved. The animal's canter was fluid and comfortable. It practically glided across the ground, carrying its passengers as though they were riding a cloud.

On either side, dark trees stood like frozen sentinels, each of them snow-laden and quiet. The forest was asleep, but for the shadows that errupted all around them from the flickering moonlight.

Adrien's hands laced around Aja's waist as they glided across the frosted and snow-covered grasses. At times, he'd resisted reaching out to touch the dark trees and their stony appearences. He hadn't come to these woods in a while, and he'd certainly never ventured that far. The vapor of their breaths left behind a trail like dissipating smoke, which lingered only momentarily, before leaving the forest to it's slumber again.

Too soon, the trees began to space out, until they disappeared altogether, leaving nothing but a vast expanse of snow-laden ground. Overhead, the sky stretched like a glittering dome, millions of stars pricking through and giving the landscape a heavenly haze. In the distance, the sound of moving water could be heard, a glittering black river lacing its way through the valley.

His eyes flitted upwards, though through the bitter cold, he'd trouble keeping them open. When he couldn't behold the night stars above, his eyes traced the winter blankets, and his ears, the black rivers which cascaded and sloshed.

Still, Aja didn't slow. Now, more than ever, it felt as though they were truly flying.

It was late after they started when Adrien spoke up. He nearly shouted, for the wind that glided past their ears made it difficult to hear eachother.

"What about th'wildlings? Are they out this far?"

"No!" she called back, leaning a little so she could turn to put her lips at his ear.

"They hunt in the day. Even still, they're not going to bother us. Not while I'm here." She pulled her face away, looking down towards the ground, where the horse was kicking up snow. Her eyes widened suddenly.

"Adrien watch!" she said, pointing towards the ground. What looked like, at first, the wind kicking up sloughs of loose, powdery snow, occasionally shaped itself into the form of...people...all in the wild turns of a dance. Aja finally reigned in, smiling so wide she knew her cheeks would be sore.

All around them, in gentle spurts, were those same, strange figures, disappearing from sight as soon as they were noticed.

"The solstice is coming." she whispered, the sound nearly deafening after the roar of the wind in their ears.

"So the sprites are coming to celebrate."

"Is that magic?" Adrien asked, his eyes focused on the dancing, snow people. They scared him, at first. Then, the fear subsided, and a slight smirk played to his face. Then, an incredulous grin. "That's amazing. S'like nothing I've seen. If Blakestown saw these..."

He shook his head. "They'dn't be able t'think it was witchery!" He yelled, trying to raise his voice over the wind.


"Spirits." she clarified, her brow furrowing as she looked out across the field of snow. She dismounted, smiling to herself as the bursts of snow periodically tossed themselves her way. She held out her hand, palm facing forward, watching as a sprite formed to briefly touch themselves to her fingertips.

"Come on Adrien! They don't hurt you." she explained.

The horse simply stood, its teeth rolling together amiably.

Adrien dismounted the horse as well. The bitter cold that overtook the both of them was combatted by the friendliness of the spirits, who threw their bundles of snow his way as well. He instinctively jerked back, and placed himself between the horse and Aja.

"Spirits? Like... Dead people?" He asked. Slowly and cautiously, he withdrew from his hiding place. "What d'they do, then?"

"You know...I don't know who they are." Aja mused, glancing back over her shoulder to look his way. "We're all so interconnected...I don't know if I'm looking at an ancestor or a reflection of myself." As she turned forward, a burst of snow swatted her in the face.

Puffing out a breath, she dusted the snow off of her face and smiled. "They're not very helpful in letting us know either." As she continued to walk, one sprite came at her from the side, and she quickly pivotted on her left leg, swatting clean through what could have been the sprite's torso with her right.

"They play." she said as she came to stand on both feet again. "I come here to spar."

"Dunno if you n'I have th'same definition of play, but -"

A block of snow splashed against Adrien's face as well. Both hands raised to wipe the frozen water out of his eyes. His still-swollen nose, cheeks, and lips were a blood red. He took a moment to tie his scarf tightly around his face.

"Getting a little tired'a snow being in m'eyes." He mused, though a slight smirk had come to his lips. The forms shaped themselves in the snow like waves when they'd come to him, only forming like humans when they'd come closer to him. He jerked back when another had come, and swatted his hand through it's form.

It scattered, and fell formlessly back into the snow beneath his feet.

"How'd y'find these guys? Aren't you afraid'a what, uh... Y'might find? If y'keep exploring like this?"

She'd taken a knee, smoothing her hand over the fine white snow. "I've lived here my whole life. Motina's been teaching me Mateja's secrets since I was old enough to understand who she was." She glanced back over her shoulder at him.

"There's very little I need to be afraid of here." She looked around, murmuring something under her breath. The wind slowed, finally stilling, and the sprites calmed. Everything became quiet.

"There's more power here than your people realize." she told him. "But it isn't hostile. Not in the slightest. Not unless we decide to use it that way."

"I hope y'won't have to." Adrien said, his voice calming. "Maybe y'can show me th'things Motina showed you. If that'd be alright. If they're all anything like this."

He smiled to Ajani.

"It seems like th'only place where anyone's afraid of anything is Blakestown. I want t'calm it, but I'm nothing but a boy. A man, even. And no one's been looking at me th'same way since Radimus gave his speech. Xander, maybe, and Cavis, but Ellie..."

His smile faltered.

She held out her hand, showing him the infinity symbol that was painted to her palm. "You have everything you need here," she explained. "I'll just have to teach you how to ... see. Really see. And when your family learns to see, too, they'll understand."

She stood, walking over to him and grasping his right hand, turning it over so she could lay her right palm flat over his. "We're connected. All of us. You'll be able to do everything I can do, and the sooner the colonists realize this...the sooner they realize that we're not as evil as they seem to think," she met his eyes.

"We'll have a chance."

"Th'colonists won't listen t'me anymore. Radimus made it so they won't listen t'you. Xander doesn't want involved with'it. Elleanore doesn't want involved with'it. I don't know that we do, Ajani. No one's speaking for you, er, us. No one that anyone'll listen to."

Adrien lowered his eyes to their hands. Although his eyes were sad, but he'd repeated the same scenario in his head so many times that his words came off apathetically.

"I don't know that we do have a chance, but I s'pose I've got nothing else left t'fight for anyway."

She shoved him.

It was light, not intended to hurt, but to wake him up to what he was saying. "I know I didn't hear you imply that you're giving up. This was never meant to be an easy task. We're trying to change the minds of two very different groups of people." She tilted her head to one side, reaching up to pull the cowl away from her neck. The skin was bruised in a ring, scapped in places where the whip had lanced her skin open.

"I'm fighting, because I don't want this to get worse than it already is. People are going to die, Adrien, if we don't do something."

"I'm not giving up. I'm not going t'lose more good things than I already have. If I've a chance of making them better then I'm for it, 'cause they're at their worst now. If things continue like they are in Blakestown..." Adrien faltered, then smiled. "Y'might have t'make me a hut back at your village."

His eyes fell onto the bruise around her neck. He couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt when she'd shown it to him. He never had the chance to apologize about how things had gone down beforehand.

"I'm sorry for that. I didn't expect Radimus t'know. I didn't expect him t'alert th'town, and I didn't expect him t'shove you'n'me under th'bus. I couldn't protect you like you'd protected me at th'village. If there was any way I could make it up t'you, I'd do it."

"Let me push you around a few times and we might have an accord." she said, lifting her shoulders in a shrug as she sighed. "It certainly didn't happen the way any of us were planning, but..." she paused to look around the clearing.

"I'm sure an opportunity will arise that'll let us show the colonists what we're truly like. I don't know what, or when...but Motina's told me to be ready when it comes."

She chuckled, then. "Speaking of." Turning around and jogging back to the horse, she pulled out not one bow, but two, and a quiver of arrows that had been slipped into a saddle-bag. She passed one over to him, then took up her own.

"You said you could shoot." she told him, a small smile forming.

"Now you can show me. You want to learn what Motina's taught me? Tonight's your first lesson."

In the distance, a whirlwind of snow blew to and fro, until a pile hand formed in a half-circle. She knocked an arrow, loosed it, and watched as it plowed into the center.

Adrien looked to the arrow and bow he'd been handed, and his shoulders shrugged in a laugh. "I can shoot. Guns. Your folk use wooden instruments. We stopped manufacturing bows n'crossbows back when we started making metal shooters, Ajani."

It was nothing but an excuse. Adrien looked to the bow, almost in confusion. He'd no idea how to work it, so he looked to Ajani for assistance. She hit the pile of snow that'd formed, almost flawlessly. So, he held the bow, attempting to mimic her posture. He put the arrow to the string, and then let it fly.

A whole foot.

"See, now this isn't fair."

Her lip twitched.

"You're not pulling back far enough, see," she explained, grabbing the arrow he'd dropped and coming up behind him, she encouraged him to take his position, before she lined up her hand beneath his on the bow, her opposite arm coming around behind him.

"You have the strength. Pull back as far as you can, hold steady, and then release." The close proximity didn't bother her, even though she was essentially tucked up next to his torso.

Adrien kept the arrow between his middle and ring finger, and then pulled it back with the string. It was difficult. Far more difficult than pointing and pulling a trigger. Ajani was right, though, even though his strength had diminished the last few weeks, it was still there.

He relaxed for a moment, and pulled the arrow back again. An odd smile twitched at his lips, before he'd released the arrow.

It flew farther that time, though certainly missed the mark.

"Looks like y've got competition," He said, turning his head to the side to look at the girl behind him. "After this, I'm teaching y'how t'use a gun."

She wrinkled her nose.


They spent hours practicing, working with the bows until Adrien could shoot as far as the target she'd created. He had picked it up pretty quickly, which pleased her, though it was obvious they had a long way to go. After the long session, she was surprised to see that her fingertips were raw, and she felt tired.

It was a good kind of tired, though. Satisfying. She picked up snow between her hands, rubbing the cold over her sore fingertips. "You did really well." she told him, looking up to meet his eyes.

"Work on your strength and balance. Key to handling such a prestigious, wood-made weapon." She gave him a teasing smile.

"Do you want to go home?"

Adrien was happy to be done. After hours, his arms ached with every motion. He certainly didn't show Ajani up as his pride had made him expect to. Finally, when Ajani had seemed satisfied, he released a breath of relief, and wiped the sweat off his brow.

"I think I'd have to, right about now. 'Lest someone think something. Radimus' got me on tight lock, y'know."

Home. It wasn't a word that soothed him anymore. Not then. His expression contorted from disgust, before it resolved to a quick faux smile. "And I s'pose that you've got t'head back too. Don't want t'worry th'tribe any more than you already have, hm?"

"They don't." she said with a mild shrug. "So long as I'm away from Blakestown, they have no reason to worry." She took up the bows and arrows, walking over and slipping them into the pack on the back of the horse.

"When do you want to come back out?" she asked, turning to look at him. Then, her expression faltered just a little.

"...if you want to, that is."

"Well, y've got t'show me around, don't you? Got t'learn what Motina's taught you. If I'm not coming back, how's that s'posed t'happen?" Adrien replied, with a reassuring smile. "'Ow about two days? Let m'muscles rest a bit before y'put me to any more manual labor."

"Shall I push you into the saddle?" she asked, tilting her head to one side before reaching for his wrist and tugging him along to the horse. She climbed on first, helped him up, and set the animal off to a comfortable canter as they moved into the woods. All too soon, the wall began to rise up in front of them, like a looming warning. She looked to the top, reining the animal in as she pondered what to do.

She glanced to a towering oak, just off to her left, and dismounted to make her way over to it.

Coming to the base of the trunk, she smoothed her palms over the rough bark, her brow furrowing in concentration as she leaned closer, pressing her ear to the tree for just a moment. Murmuring softly, she turned her face to rest her forehead against the bark, palms pressing more firmly into the wood.

Then, silently, the tree began to bend towards the wall, not like it was falling...but like it was made of something softer than wood.

Adrien stayed with the horse, and curiously looked on to Ajani. When the tree began to bend to the wall, he grinned and laughed, perhaps in astonishment. Slowly and cautiously, he came to the oak tree, and hitched his fingers in a crease in the bark. Before he'd ascended, however, he looked to Ajani.

"When we're on our next course, can y'teach me how t'do that?" He asked, humor still lacing his face. "Thanks for th'easy climb. I'll rope it back down. Y'can get out of here, don't want guards seeing you, anyway."

With a last look toward Ajani and a rope over his shoulder, Adrien began to scale the wall that lead him back into Blakestown.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers
October 15, Night

She was lying on her side in the snow, her arm pillowing her head. More snow fell in soft drifts from the darkened sky, but the ethereal glow of Motina's presence gave the clearing a faint blue hue. Aja gazed across at the big cat, her brow knit together as she idly traced patterns in the snow between them. Motina was lying on her belly, gazing back at Aja with an intense, focussed look to her eyes.

Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?

"I think so." Aja replied, her lips pursed. It had been a warning, one she'd been receiving for a long time. This time, though, it seemed as if Motina was more serious than she had been before. Licking her lips she sat up, dusting snow from her cloak before she began to idly scoop snowballs into her palms.

You're doing well, you know. I'm very proud of you.

Aja smiled, glancing to Motina before looking back down at the snowballs. "I'm doing what you asked. That's all."

The big cat stood, padding forward to drag a warm, rough tongue over Aja's cheek. It's more than that. But no need to discuss it now, your trainees are arriving.

Aja's brow perked. "Trainees?"

She looked towards the entrance to the clearing, hearing the faint sound of hoof steps coming from within the darkened treeline. With a grin, she scooped up her snowballs and raced across the clearing, the sprites tossing their bodies her way as she came to a skidding stop on her knees, launching snowballs towards the horse as it finally came into view.

The horse was white as the snow beneath them, and it raced and skidded to a stop the moment that a snowball had hit it. It gave a defying whinny, before laying down. One of the riders on top of the beast huffed and stood up, only to be met with a snowball to the neck. He haphazardly threw himself off the horse, before gloved hands reached to pack snow up and send it at the assaultee; Aja. Snowy figures danced around her; something that'd surely raise a brow to his riding partner.

But, first, he raised his hand and waved to the girl. Then, he reached back to tug Xander along.

"C'mon, Sandy. Don't wet yourself, eh? We're here. Ajani'll explain it t'you."

"Yeh don't have teh pull me like tha'!" Xander hollared, flailing as he went sliding sideways into the snow. Aja threw another snow-ball, crying out with laughter when Adrien's projectile smacked her full in the face.

Overhead, stars and faraway planets dotted the vast, black ceiling above them. Their moon hovered close to them. It was a lumbering, celestial giant. Never in Blakestown were the stars as bright as they were out there. The contrast between them was the contrast of light and dark.

Adrien raised a hand, then, to block another incoming snowball.

"Come on then!" she called to the pair, sitting back on her heels and waiting for them to show their faces. "Xander! Welcome to the Forest of Whispers!"

"I'm feelin' welcome!" he called back, shaking the snow out of his hair. He looked around a bit nervously, but he didn't seem to be too bothered. After all, Adrien trusted the girl, and no real harm had come to him, had it? He looked out behind her, at the figures who were much more easy to see due to the steadily falling snow. Transparent visages, people dancing. They were all over the clearing.

His eyes widened.

"They're sprites! Forest spirits. Come on, they won't harm you." Aja said, standing and turning around to jog back to the horse.

Xander looked to Adrien.

"What kind of trick is this?" he breathed. The scene was ethereal, with the winter sprites dancing, and the girl who was just as mysteriously beautiful walking among them like she somehow belonged there. "I feel like I'm dreaming."

"Y'aren't dreaming. This is what y'get when y'wonder past the walls. I guess y'never really get used to it, 'cause I feel like I'm dreaming too." He said, with a chuckle. He opened his arms and walked backwards from Xander, as if introducing the clearing to the boy. "'Ey though, watch out, will y'? They won't hurt you, but they'll certainly knock y'down!"

As he'd said so, one of the forest spirits came to throw itself at Xander.


The soft 'pft' of snow slapping against skin echoed towards Adrien. Xander lay on the ground, a deep frown on his face, before the boy scrambled to his feet and dusted the snow off. "What was that for? I'm jes sittin here mindin my own--"

Another sprite threw itself at him, but he deftly smacked it with the back of his hand, and it dissolved with the faintest sound of laughter.

Xander scrambled back, running for Adrien while he looked all around the pair. Aja was standing off at a distance, laying out a few long staffs that were evidently meant for sparring purposes. Xander watched her a second, his brow knitting.

"She really is teachin' yeh t'fight. A girl." He looked pointedly at Adrien.

Adrien scoffed at Xander. Then, he grabbed the back of his jacket and playfully pushed the boy in the direction of Aja. "Y'spar with'er. Then y'ask me why a girl is teaching me t'fight. Go on!" He pushed Xander again, before running ahead to Ajani and picking up one of the staffs. When Xander would approach him, he's toss the weapon to the man, but not before tapping Ajani on the shoulder.

"I just want t'see how he fairs. Don't kill'm."

Aja glanced back at Adrien, smiling secretively before looking to Xander and lifting her hand in a wave. "Good to see you again, Xander!" she said, taking up her own staff and letting her cloak fall from her shoulders. She wore a kind of cotton tunic, tucked into the top hem of her brown slacks. Soft-leather boots barely made a sound as she stepped towards him.

Xander fumbled with the staff a moment, confused as to what to do with it. "Yeh fight with sticks?"

"A staff." Aja calmly corrected. "And yes. We're using a handful of different tools, but today's is the staff."

Xander looked unsure. "Dunno how I feel about hitting a gi--"

Aja had passed the staff around behind her, before lowering into a crouch and swinging the staff out to catch Xander in the heels. With a yelp, the young man fell flat on his back, knocking the breath clean from his lungs.

"I insist!" Aja said cheerfully. Xander scrambled back to his feet, a bit out of breath, but looking more determined than before. He swung for Aja's shoulder, but she brought that staff up, ducking sideways and knocking his staff away from herself.

"Don't throw your weight around." she told him. Xander didn't seem to listen. He began a series of unorganized blows, ones that were easy for Aja to block or dodge. Finally, she spun the staff in both hands, pivoting closer to Xander before smacking the hand that held his staff. He yelped, dropping it into the snow, and staggering a step back when the end of the staff Aja held came up under his chin.

She smiled again.

"Not a bad start."

"D'y'wanna ask me about why I'm being trained by a lady now, Sandy?" Adrien asked loudly, before jogging over to their position and grinning madly. In his hand, he held a staff as well. He used it to lower Ajani's. "The way you're fighting, y'might get a bit bloody n'bruised before y'actually start learning anything. Hope y'don't mind explaining t'the townspeople why 've got that nice purple round, aye?" He teased, and poked the boy in the chest himself.

"Y'might want t'start with the snowmen, though. Y'think, Aja?" He asked. Behind them still, figures frolicked and danced in the form of the snow underneath them. "Or me."

"Let him dance," Aja said, taking her staff and running it down the length of his. "I'd like to spar with you, if that's alright."

Xander was eyeing the both of them, and he looked like he was ready to say something inappropriate. Just as his mouth opened, though, a sprite slammed into him, nearly knocking him sideways. Aja laughed.

"Just hit them with the staff! They'll dissipate, I promise. Try not to use so much energy when you swing it around."

"Y'don't have to hit'm hard, Xander. Just keep swinging at'm. Y'think y'd think to turn around, by now!" Adrien said, with a laugh himself. Then, he looked to Ajani, and a slight smirk had come upon his face. "Well, if y'promise not to beat my ass."

His staff met the floor, and he'd waited for Ajani to make the first move. His eyes trailed to Xander, if only for a moment.

"Look at me."

And the moment he did, she was stepping forward, aiming the staff in an abrupt thrust forward for his chest. Xander, in the meantime, had taken to swinging at the sprites, letting out a sharp cry when one of them dissolved just as they said it would. They regrouped, attacking him at once, leaving him to flail about before he finally threw the staff off to the side and just started throwing his arms around.

Adrien's staff rotated as he looked back and stepped back. He knocked the staff away from his chest, and it laid across his arm, as if it were an extension. Then, he released and swung it around, aiming to hit Ajani in the side with the staff.

Xander, however, was on his own. With the two of them enthralled in their sparring, various srites still attacked the man, though the ones he'd hit dissolved into piles of harmless snow.

She parried the blow, pushing the staff away before swinging in close for his opposite side.

"You're getting faster," she told him, nodding with approval. "Learning quickly!"

Adrien yelped as the staff had hit his side, and staggered before catching himself. Meanwhile, his staff swept under Aja's and brought it in an arc motion over his head, before it landed on his other side. Then, he made a Jab for Aja's own stomach, similar to the one she'd given him when they'd first started.

While he fought, he yelled, "Xander! Not dying over there, yeah?"

That time, Adrien didn't look.

She caught the blow in her abdomen, huffing a breath before lowering into a crouch and spinning the staff out for Adrien's ankles. Xander, in the meantime, was getting a better handle on his form. He was street-brawling, but it was definitely working for him.

"These powder beasties don't know what's commin to them!" he called back, grinning like mad.

Adrien's foot lifted, but he hadn't lifted the other one in time enough for the staff not to catch it. It was swept under his foot, and soon, his entire body came along with him. His arm spread out to catch his head, before he'd collapsed into the packed snow. For a moment, he grumbled in pain.

"He's doing better than I am." Adrien said, dully. For a moment, he relaxed, as if giving up the fight. Whether she'd pointed her stick at him or not, though, he'd clutched onto the pole with a firm grip and swept it at her feet as well.

She was nearly gloating in her victory, up until the point where his pole suddenly snaked out, catching her ankles and sending her collapsing to her back. Her breath left her in a rush, and she stared at the sky, breathing a bit labored from the impact.

Then she laughed, tapping his abdomen with the end of her staff.

"You got in a hit and knocked me to the floor." she told him, turning her head sideways to look at him. "I'd say it was a pretty good session."

"Getting good, am I? S'pose I may have t'beat you, next time?" Adrien asked. Then, he rolled to his stomach and pushed himself up to his feet. He left the pole on the ground, and looked to Xander, then went to help the boy. He'd come up to the group that seemed to still be throwing themselves at Xander, before swatting a palm through one of the snow spirits and reaching in to tug Xander away.

"Hey! Almost good enough t'rough me up!" He yelled, and pulled the boy into a headlock. Then, he tumbled backward, intending on bringing his friend to the ground.

Xander made a sound like a choked snarl, flailing his arms as both of the boys tumbled to the ground. Aja bit her lip, watching the pair in amusement as Xander rolled, trying to sit on Adrien's chest. "Aha!" he cried as he attempted to pin Adrien's arms.

"Yer a wee pancake beneath my arse." he stated proudly.

Adrien's wrists pivoted enough to grasp Xander's, and he'd shoved a knee straight between Xander's unmentionables, before his arm shot up to the boy's pit and shoved him sideways. They rolled like a barrel, and the tables turned. Instead of trying to pin Xander's arms, though, he began to shovel the snow underneath onto his face.

"What y'say about pancakes? I'm more like a cinderblock on a stick now, innit?" He teased.

Xander was unable to speak. His face had turned bright red, his body rigid with Adrien's strike. As they rolled, he could barely get a breath in before Adrien was burying him in snow. Aja watched in amusement, before lifting a hand, turning it in closer to herself, and making a flicking motion.

A wave of snow suddenly surged, rolling over the boys and burying them fully.

The sounds of Adrien spitting out snow and flailing arms was heard beneath the snow before a dirty mop of brown-blonde hair peaked from above it and scrambled out from underneath it. He'd made no attempt to grab Xander, and forced back the attempt to bring Ajani into the snow with them.

Instead, he dusted himself off.

"Sorry for the dirty shot, Sandy. You alive under there?"

Xander's fist rocketed out of the snow and connected with Adrien's jaw.

"Jes fine, Dree!" he crooned as he scrambled to the surface.

Aja meandered closer, before plopping down into the snow next to wear Adrien was sprawled.

Adrien's jaw let out a loud smack, before he sorely rubbed it. Instead of taking his place next to Aja, he'd slid over and flopped his body onto Xander's, perhaps in a last-ditch attempt to subdue his brawling friend.

"Don't mind us, Ajani!" He said, perhaps a bit louder than necessary. "When I was a little smaller, Xander'd found he'd owed me 20 bucks for taking care of a horse'e'd forgotten. I just wail on'm every day that he doesn't pay it back. Like a mob serta thing!"

"You both look ridiculous." Aja noted mildly, kicking snow in their direction as she watched Xander simply go limp. Aja stood, taking up her staff and meandering over to the sprites, who had started to toss themselves one way and another.

She paused, before swinging her arm out and taking one sprite in the torso. In that same motion, she brought her leg up as she spun, taking out two in one kick before completing the turn. It was almost like a dance, the way she moved so easily.

"So what do you think?" she asked, referring to Xander. The man said nothing, just lay there.

"I hadn't killed him there, had I?" Adrien asked, his head turning to look to Xander. "Just knocked the breath out ofh him. He thinks it's fantastic." The boy was sitting on the other boy's stomach. He pivoted his torso, and gave a light smack to Xander's face.

"Can tell by the stoic, dead-like expression on his face."

Aja laughed, before she sprung from her position, wrapping an arm around Adrien's neck and another around his waist before she pulled him back, her chin at his shoulder as they leaned.

"The way you fight is different." she noted with a soft grunt. "The way I see animals play..."

"Don't need to hold me back! I wasn't intent on killing him! Playing possum isn't going to get you very far, Xander, y'tried it with me too many times." said Adrien, as he staggered back with Aja's grip.

"Yeah, well... We don't train or anything. Not with staffs or knives. We're not in the military."

She managed to switch their positions, getting him into the snow while she half-leaned over his body. Xander had lifted his head, and was looking on in amusement. Aja's brow furrowed as she looked at Adrien, her hair hanging over her shoulders and brushing against his chest.

"No, that isn't it. This kind of play reminds me of coupling."

Xander choked on his own breath.

Adrien blushed mildly. The red hue that hinted his cheeks because of the snow had hid it.

"It isn't!" He cried, defensively as ever. He rolled into her arm, and if it gave leeway, out from under her, before climbing to his feet. "Couples don't wrestle, anyway. Ladies aren't supposed to fight."

He faltered.

"In Blakestown, I mean."

She aimed a kick for his ankles.

"They should! Those dresses are so cumbersome! Women were not made to simply be dressed up so they're nice to look at."

"Sure is a benefit though," Xander muttered, before getting a snowball to the face.

A yelp came from Adrien, as he'd struggled to keep his footing. Ultimately, he ended up in the snow again. The hitting he'd gotten from Xander began to bruise his jaw, which he idley sat in the snow once he'd come upon it. "Ladies aren't even supposed to show their ankles, Ajani. Teaching them t'fight would be a leap."

A thought came to his mind, and he suddenly chuckled. Ellie, wielding a weapon, fighting. And without cause to the others, he rolled on his back and began to chuckle some more. His eyes met the moon above, whose position hung dangerous.

"Dree allays giggles when he thinks of the couplings." Xander said knowingly.

Ajani was watching the other young man for a moment, before she pulled in a deep breath and turned to look at the sky. It was beautiful tonight. In her eyes, every night had its own unique kind of loveliness. Tonight was special though, because she could enjoy it with others whom she considered to be friends.

"It's good to see you smile." She noted absent-mindedly. Xander, quick as ever, laughed aloud.

"I'm always smilin', miss."

Adrien threw his arms forward, and in turn, put himself into a sitting position. He looked up to Xander, an expression on his face that almost seemed dumb with curiosity. "So then, you'll be joining us - me n'Ajani - from now on? Maybe learn to fight like you're not a first-year school student." He said, a grin encroaching on the lower part of his face.

"Thinking mayhaps it's about time to get back. Want to do it before the sun rises, y'know, and cleaning up horse dung isn't going to be so easy if you're tired as all getout, Sandy."

Xander chuckled. "Aye mate, this is more fun than sitting mopin' around in town all day." He got to his feet, dusting the snow from his breeches before stretching his arms over his head. "I'll get you yet, Miss Aja. Just you wait."

Ajani was smiling, but something had changed about her expression. She was a bit more somber than she had been before, for seemingly no reason at all. She glanced to Adrien briefly.

"Can I speak to you alone for a moment?"

"Xander, go kick up the horse. Be over in a mite."

Adrien nodded to Ajani then, before waiting for Xander to leave.

"What's what, then?"

"I was talking to Motina, before you and Xander came." she said, keeping her voice low as she gently wrapped her arms around her waist. She seemed troubled. "She's giving me the impression that something awful has happened, but I can't get any kind of direction as to where the danger is coming from, or how soon we can expect it. She's only encouraging us to be ready."

She looked away from him for a moment. "I thought the immediate threat was towards us, the Vanduo tribesmen...but she insists that those who are truly in danger...are you. The colonists." Her lips were pursed, brow furrowed with concern.

"And the walls won't keep you safe."

Adrien furrowed his brow. His eyes slightly shifted to Xander, before they came to rest on the snow in front of his boots. Those boots shifted and sideswept the snow as the boy in them considered Ajani's warning. "I can't do anything about that, Ajani." He suddenly said, and his eyes met hers.

"I'm not Illiam. Or Radimus. People don't listen t'me anymore. I guess what's coming's just going t'come, whether we like it or not, unless Motina suggests some sort of alternative."

"She'll provide a way." Ajani said it firmly, fully convinced. "She won't just allow us to sit and wait for danger. Something will happen."

There was something else she wasn't saying, like she didn't know how to say it in the first place. But she wasn't looking at Adrien, and her hands were pressing tightly into her forearms.

"Something like what?" Adrien asked. "The way you're speaking tells me you're convinced, but the way you're looking down tells me you're not." He said, an unsureness still tinting his face.

"I know we will be given a reason to trust each other, our groups of people, but the fear that I have, the feeling that I'm that the threat is familiar. It concerns me."

She met his eyes. "Just be watchful. I think, whatever happens, this is going to come from someone we trust."

Adrien gave a reassuring smile, and his hand met Ajani's shoulder. "Always am. If it'll set your mind right, I'll keep a club by my bed."

It was supposed to be reassuring, but perhaps it wasn't. Regardless of whether Ajani felt comforted, distraught, or otherwise, the boy turned and looked to Xander, to whom of which he raised a hand. Not before he turned his head, though, and nodded at Ajani.

"We'll be fine."

was the last thing he said, before departing for Xander and the horse.

The setting changes from The Forest of Whispers to Blakestown


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by FizzGig
November 4th, Evening

The fever had started with one or two. Then, like vines, it crept to others, it's number exponentially growing. At first, it started with the older ones; those who were able to go out into the world, fare seas, and contract the virus. Then, it spread to the more innocent. The younger ones, whose immune systems weren't fully equipped to handle the overlooming threat of the sickness. When those affected had fell ill with headaches, fever, and flushed skin, it was of no doubt to any colonist that had traveled the lands that a wave of Velvet Fever had swept over Blakestown, and the frightening realization came with another; the colonists had no cure.

The streets grew bleak. Less children galloped across the stony pathways, more shops had been closed. Those who wandered amongst the streets kept their head down and their mouth covered, and bore such an unsurmountable expression of worry on their brows. It had become a dull, scary time for the once-flourishing city. Sickness bore no bias to caste or race, and if there was one thing that united the community, it was certainly that they were all effected by the fever one way or another.

The nurse's station had been overwhelmed with the sick. Those that were lucky enough to have isolated rooms were urged to keep their sickly there, and not to maintain contact with the unfortunate souls. It kept the same way for days upon days, with people coming and going, maintaining cautious stares and cautious distances. Some kept to wearing masks. Patsy certainly had. On the 4th, when a healthy Adrien Rune had come knocking on the door to the station. He was one of the busier boys, who kept themself to delivering wet rags, food, and water to those who couldn't make it themselves. One of the busier boys who preyed on luck not to contract the fever, and Adrien was surely pushing his luck.

His sleeves were rolled up, and his arms bore a definition that they hadn't only a few weeks back. His mouth was uncovered. In his hand, he held a bucket of water, which he dropped by the doorway. Sweat lined his brow. If that boy was going to contract the fever, by god, he would take it in stride.

"Patsy! How is it looking? I need a new rag for Radimus." He said, calling attention the already busy nurse.

She poked her head out from around the corner, her face wrapped in a damp cloth. "Y'know where the buckets are, lad. But listen, Adrien..."

She called him over to her, waving her thick hand and then grasping him by the shoulder firmly when he came close enough.

"Miss Rawls is sick here, and she hasn't stop talking about yeh since she came down with the fever. Now, you're gunna go tell her that all is forgiven, and let her have some rest, or I'm gunna beat it into yeh." She leveled a glare at him.

"Understand, lad?"

Adrien's chin wrinkled when Patsy took him by the shoulders. His eyes passed the large nurse, and laid on the door in the back. His chest heaved in a sigh. One that said that he'll do what he's told, but he might not like it. The boy sat down his supplies and moved past the nurse. "I'll do it." He said, in a half-grumble.

When he approached the door, though, he couldn't help but feel an uncomfortable welling in his chest. The symptoms had been all too familiar to him, and every time he'd seen them in another, a grainy picture of flushed cheeks and sick, green eyes came to the front of his mind. Of his mother, whose dainty ringlets had become worn from the many times she tossed and turned in her bed. It was vague, and his youth had caused her face to become nothing more than a blur in his own mind, but the image still resonated. He still recognized it.

So, he gave a knock on the infirmary door before cautiously entering in.

"Elleanore?" He asked.

An indistinct, but soft moan echoed from within the room. The sound of cloth shifting against cloth came to his ears, a voice finally making its way through the door.


She looked ill, her cheeks sunken, pale but flushed with the fever. Her hair was damp, curls flat from lying against the pillow, and she seemed to have a hard time holding still.

"I...I'm sorry."

"Hey," Adrien started. He jogged to where Ellie's bed had been, and knelt to it. For a moment, he seemed hesitant, but after seeing her condition, he took her hand in his own and held another over it. "Don't be sorry t'me."

He breathed. A loud, breathy sigh. "Don't be sorry at all. I was angry. Shouldn't be what you're thinking about right now."

A slight turn came to his mouth. It was forced, and there was certainly nothing to smile at, but if there was anything that was reassuring, it was that.

"Where's Cavis? How's he?"

"He worries." Her hand that gripped his was cold, and clammy. She swallowed thick, closing her eyes and taking a deep, shuddering breath. "Patsy says I'm very sick."

She hesitantly met his eyes again. "You'll forgive me, won't you Adrien? Please, I'm so sorry..."

A tear slipped down her cheek. "And I'm afraid."

"All's forgiven, Ellie. Don't go making your will yet, though. Patsy doesn't know anything about Velvet Fever. You shouldn't be afraid." Adrien said, convinced of his own words. His hand groomed hers as they spoke, and his chin sunk into the bedding that she'd laid on.

"M'mother. She's stuck it out all th'way until now. You don't worry about anything, Ellie."

She was still holding tight to his hand, her other one coming up to rest against her mouth. "You might get sick." she said softly, as if just realizing it, trying to withdraw her hand from him.

"Please, I don't want you to get sick. Check on my father and make sure he's alright? I don't want him to worry, and Xander..." she hesitated, her breathing shaky. "I don't want him to see me this way. Tell him I'm alright?"

Adrien let Elleanore withdraw her hand, but he didn't seem too worried about the sickness.

"Stop worrying about me, Elle. I'm just fine. You worry about you right now. I won't forgive you until you do that, hm?" He said, a slight smile coming to his face. It seemed out of place, what with tired eyes and a sweaty brow. "I'll check on Cavis, and Xander. I think Xander would like t'see you though. Talk to you. Make you feel a bit better, because love, you look like hell, and y'know the boy doesn't count on you for your looks."

"I'd even fetch him for you, if you'd let me. Cavis too, if you'd like."

She shook her head.

"Please, no. I just want to rest right now." She sighed, letting her eyes fall closed. "Thank you, Adrien. I just, I hope..."

But she'd drifted off to sleep before the rest of the words came.

"Okay, Ellie. Sorry." Adrien rasped. A guilt took over him. That he shouldn't have treated Ellie the way he had. That he shouldn't have even been hesitant when coming into her room. He bit his lip, and let his hands slack to his knees.

Patsy was standing at the door, watching the whole thing, and when she saw that Ellie had fallen asleep, she came forward to touch Adrien on the shoulder. "Lad," she breathed, calling his attention and making sure he turned to look at her.

"Listen, there's not much I can do for these people. We're wasting supplies trying teh keep fevers down, but no way to fight the illness itself. Yer not gunna hear it from yer father or Illiam, but we need help." she drilled her eyes into his.

"And I'm thinkin them tribals are the only ones who can, now."

"I don't know, Pats. What makes you think they've got a cure better than we do? I... mean. They helped me." He said, unsure of whether the nurse had heard of it or not. "But fixing a leg is mighty different than curing a plague."

"What else can we do?" Patsy asked, her voice soft.

"Least we can do is just ask. If not, then that's that, but if they do..." she sighed. "Well, I suppose we can jest hope they can forgive us for what's gone on."

"N'how do you suspect I get there? I'm not allowed to leave. You going to give me a waiver? Hell, I was trapped in Blakes because I was talking to the tribals. You don't think that'd upset my father and everyone else more?" Adrien questioned. His voice didn't carry a tone of spite, but rather of honest worry.

"As if that's caused you a problem before." Patsy said with a lifted brow. "The guards are sick, Adrien. If you go now, then you needn't worry for nuthin."

Adrien looked toward his palms, which kneaded together.

"I guess... I don't think anyone would try t'stop me. Radimus is sick as a dog. Should y'tell the villagers before I leave...?"

"You should go. I'll do the explainin while yer gone." Patsy said, patting his shoulder and guiding him towards the door.

"Quickly, b'fore yeh lose yer nerve, lad."

"Alright. I'll go. Wish me luck, Pat. I'll be checking on Xander when I get back, but Radimus still needs tending to, and I've not checked on Cavis." Adrien squeezed Patsy's wrist, before letting go.

"I'll be off, then." He repeated, before heading out the door.

The horse's stable wasn't far from there, and the streets were clean of people. At first, Adrien started off walking, before he'd ended up in a jog. When he finally found himself at the stables, the horses seemed distraught. They stamped in their places. Perhaps it was due to the absence of their owners, or the absence of those who rode them. He made his way toward a tempered, brown-maned beauty.

And that's when he mounted it. The path through the gates was one he hadn't taken in quite a while. The lone guard that stood at the door seemed fettered and bothered, and hadn't given a second glance to the exiting man on horseback. The horse carried him far and fast, perhaps a little too eager in itself to get out of the stables that held it. The two went kicking through the snow that laid a soft blanket on the ground, and the sogged dirt underneath. After they'd left the gates of Blakestown, Adrien and his steed carried quickly through the Forest of Whispers.

The weather was curious. It snowed lghtly, and forced him to keep his head down, though the branches that dangerously stuck out on his path had forced him to do the same anyhow. What little animal life that was there audibly skittered away at their presence in the woods, though never had those woods been as disturbed as the day the treaty had been cast down. That day was no exception.

Eventually, he'd come to the same entrance that Ajani had brought him when he was wounded, where he knew guards perched in the treetops and on the grounds.

That's where he stopped. To be greeted, and not to be taken as a threat. His eyes trailed upwards, then down, and he waited anxiously to be let in.

"You ride as if death chases you!" a voice called from the trees. One of the guards, and his tone was in good humor.

"Did a forest sprite frighten you, young man?"

His and another voice joined in the laughter, but it was a good signal for Adrien to continue.

Back at the village, everything was continuing as normal. Men and women took care of their households, and chiildren ran around, either helping their parents or playing with one another. At Adrien's arrival, more than a few lifted their hands in greeting, smiling to him, asking after his welfare.

Ajani was not anywhere to be found.

Adrien's worried glance toward the guards told a story that perhaps, death had been chasing him. He dismounted his horse and tied the beast to a tree, before running into the village. The happy faces of the children and the workings of the men and women only reminded him of the urgency of the situation. He nodded at those who waved at him, but nothing more.

And he made his way to where he'd been taken care of. The pathway was familiar to him. He ascended the small amount of steps and brushed away the fabric that obscured the medicine hut from the rest of the tribe. Then, he entered, and stared to the man inside with an expression unreadable.

"Our city is in trouble. Where is Ajani?"

The elderly man looked up from his work, his wrinkled brow knitting as he held up his weathered hand.

"In Consule, young man. Why the urgency?" His nose drew in deep, audible breaths, dry lips parting with wonder, as if he'd received his answer that way.

"The colonists are afflicted with illness?"

"Velvet Fever. It's sweeping over the town like a plague. We..." Adrien stopped to regain his breath. "We never had a cure. We were hoping you..."

He swallowed his words. After all the abuse from the colonists, he couldn't expect Ajani, or the medicine man, to want to help. Still, the expression on his face regaled a sort of universal anguish.

"We were hoping you would help us."

A somewhat peaceful smile came over the man's face, as if a revelation had occurred to him.

"I'm certain Ajani will be more than happy to speak with you. Fear not. Her heart has always been soft for you and your people." He rose from his seat. "Rest here, though. Take cleansing breaths."

The elderly man rose, and began to shuffle towards the door of the tent.

Adrien almost seemed bothered by the man's peaceful state. He stood up, and grasped for the fabric of the medicine man's shirt, to halt him in his steps. "Where is Ajani doing Consule?" He asked, though plea laced his syllables.

"I can't wait for this. I'm sorry."

The man staggered a bit, but he didn't seem bothered by Adrien's urgency. "To the north, there's a lake not far from here. She's at the edge of i-" The man was suddenly interrupted by the flurry of feet, which took the concerned boy through the Vanduo village. He passed the children and at a point, collided with a man, but it hadn't stopped him from reaching his destination. The thought that, if the tribals could help, and if they would help, had become increasingly overwhelming to him. The reminder that Ajani had been in charge only made matters more pressing.

So he passed through the village, and moved through the trees. It wasn't long before he'd found the lake, whose borders were surrounded by those ever-familiar imposing wooden goliaths.

There was a heaviness in the air, like a great weight was pressing upon his shoulders. It slowed his gait, caused him to pause in his steps as the lake became clear, extending like a black mirror to the distance shore.

Snow covered the ground, right to the bank, but the air had yet to cool enough to freeze the surface of the water. Yet, roughly fifteen feet off shore, a single figure stood on the surface of the water, like it was solid ground. Her back was to Adrien, silver-blonde hair hanging like a curtain down her back. Her hands were suppliant, palms facing the sky, and she was absolutely still.

Something like iron was clasped to her wrists, with a saphire stone set into the metal. They glowed faintly, with the same sort of aura that Motina emitted.

Something about the scene was enchantingly sacred. Even the snow sprites lay still.

Adrien was a stark contrast to such a peaceful place, even though when he'd entered, he seemed to quiet. He took in the serene sight, but the words rising in his chest were intent on interrupting it. His footsteps crunched leaves underfoot, and dispersed the eerie stillness that was ever-present by the frozen lake. "Ajani." He rasped, his voice filling the area.

"We need help."

"I know."

She turned her head sideways, looking off towards the east. Her eyes, from what he could see, were glowing the same, strange blue as the stones on her wrist. She closed them briefly, taking in a deep breath before turning to face him fully. Her steps were slow, but deliberate. When at last she reached the shore, her bare feet found the snow, and that strange glow faded.

With a heavy sigh, her shoulders relaxed, and she seemed to shrink before him, as if weary from the experience.

Hiding the tremble in her hand, she picked up the skirt of the white gown she wore, and ascended the bank towards him.

"How many are sick?"

"If we don't hurry - if you don't have a cure, then, everyone will be. I don't know, though. Th'streets are empty. My father... My wi - ... Elleanore. I haven't visited Xander, n'I haven't seen Cavis. Patsy's fine, but she's taking care of the sick. Can you?" Adrien asked, rather promptly.

"I thought Elleanore would be fine... My mother was fine, after getting th'fever. But she - Ellie - doesn't look good. Not at all. Patsy thinks she's dying. Radimus is sick as a dog. Others are staying in their homes, hoping it passes. I don't know what t'do, and by god, I hope you do." he continued.

She turned suddenly, reaching to take his face into her hands, before bringing it down and rather abruptly, but gently, brushing her lips against his forehead.

"Stop." she told him, sternly meeting his eyes before letting him go and turning to walk quickly up the rest of the hill. Leaving Adrien behind, she made her way back into the village, assembling those there with a sharp whistle.

"Brothers and sisters," she called, her voice keening above the din of the village. It silenced almost immediately. "Innocent people have become subject to vile illness, and they do not have the resources to take care of themselves. I'm asking every able woman and child to come with me to Blakestown to take care of their sick. The men will stay behind to guard Tribe Vanduo."

An uneasy murmur ran through the crowd.

"What of Motina?" Came a man's cry. Her eyes shifted to the one who had shouted.

"I would not have brought it to you without consulting her first." she answered honestly.

Eventually, Adrien had come up the hill as well. It had taken a long while, and his strides became steps, but he joined Ajani before realizing that he was subject to the stares of the entire village. A red tint highlighted his features.

He cleared his voice. "None of you will be hurt. Those with ill intent are too weak to do anything, and even those with strength wouldn't put the health of Blakestown at risk over a squabble with the tribes."

"A squabble is putting it mildly," someone retorted, not unkindly. Ajani reached back to gently grasp Adrien's hand.

"Motina has spoken to me, and she has never been wrong before. We are to help these colonists. I'm not forcing any of you to come with me, but I will go regardless of whomever else may come."

A quiet had stolen over the village as they gazed towards their leader.

"I'll go!" A little voice cried. Siska came forward, with three of his friends, and they were all dressed in the white of the healer's cloth. Siska rushed over to throw his arms about Adrien's waist.

"I'll go." A young woman came forward, no older than Ajani, and two more followed.

Not long after, seven women, and five children stood before her, each of them wearing the same smile of contentment that the Healer had worn. And it was he who came out finally, with a white cowl wrapped around his aged head.

"I wouldn't be true to my profession if I didn't extend a hand to all of Motina's children." he said, tossing Adrien a wink. Ajani looked to the young man.

"Motina provides." she breathed softly.

Adrien cautiously brought his hand to Siska's back, before rubbing it and offering an incredulous smile down to the youth. "Thank you. This means that you know how to treat it, right?"

His eyes suddenly came to Ajani again, his smile faltering a bit. Uncertainty came to the syllables of his voice, yet again. "I don't know that you have enough horses to carry this many people. I don't even know that you can cure our people. Blakestown is a large city, Ajani."

She shook her head, her expression unreadable, before she turned to the children, kneeling down to speak with them.

"You know what herbs we need, for the red illness. Go gather them quickly."

Nodding eagerly, the small gaggle of smiling children rushed off for the woods. The other women had already set about gathering supplies. Herbs, food, linens and other supplies were packed into leather satchels, before being carried over to the horses that awaited. Ajani merely oversaw everything, watching as the old Healer himself went back to his hut to get his things.

"We'll be able to help them." she reassured Adrien, looking to him after a little while. "Please trust that we can."

"How long will it take until you're ready?" asked Adrien, after he'd seen the children skitter off toward the woods and out of view. He had no problem looking to Ajani when he spoke again, and his features studied her own. "Tomorrow? Th'next?"

It wasn't a snide overstimation. It was a hopeful guess.

"Tonight." she said with a firm nod. "We'll walk through the night, on into the morning. You may ride ahead, if you wish, to speak of our coming." she searched his eyes.

Her own reflected a deep-seated worry, but not for the situation at hand. It was for something else entirely.

"Is that alright?"

"Fine." Adrien said. "Perfect. Thank you, Ajani. Thanks. I'm going to ride there, then. I'll keep you guys safe - if I don't, Patsy will. Promise. I'll keep this one."

He backtracked, and almost tripped, before giving Ajani a last glance and turning to find his place again, and the horse he'd mounted before. When he'd gotten to the beast, he quickly threw himself on, and headed back off into the forest.