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Xander Roan

"Y'know I gotcher back, Dree."

0 · 151 views · located in Blakestown

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

So begins...

Xander Roan's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: The Harbinger Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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Blakestown
August 14, Late morning


It had been roughly an hour since the darkly clad, mysterious third party deposited Adrien on one of the sick beds in the make-shift hospital that had been created in one of the back rooms of the town hall. The nurse and the physician collaborated to let Adrien's father know about his state as privately as possible, however, due to the nature of small towns and the fact that whispers spread like wildfires, nearly a dozen of the townspeople were present on the doorstep, inquiring after Adrien's condition and the circumstances surrounding his injuries. The nurse, a portly, aging woman who had seen her husband and all of her children buried thanks to the summer flu, regarded the growing crowd with a simpering stare, her fat arms crossed over her chest in a clear display of passive aggression.

"Will he be alright at least?" Jason Porter called from the back. The cobbler was too nosey for his own good, possibly from the practice of sticking his face into many a smelly shoe. He had a nose for good gossip.

"I'm not going to be deliverin' any information until his father comes 'ere to see him."

"Miss Patsy!"

The woman's piggish eyes turned towards the young, gangly lad who unceremoniously elbowed his way through the crowd, his mop of dark hair sticking up in all directions as he loped up the stairs to stand before her. Even though Xander was easily six inches taller than she, the young man felt intimidated by the glare that met his eyes.

"When I said his father, I meant--"

"Oh I know what you meant. You've always been such a good, dedicated nurse. But, see, here's the thing, if Adrien's dying in there, who better than myself to cheer him up as he slips into the afterlife? Wasn't there some woman as gracious as yourself who suggested that good company always eased an aching soul?" He batted his eyes.

Patsy did not look amused.

His expression withered. "Ma'am, if he was awake, he'd be asking for me. I know it."

Patsy glared for a moment longer, before rolling her eyes and jerking her thumb over her shoulder. With a cheerful grin, Xander bent and kissed the woman straight on the mouth until she blushed, before he danced out of the way of her swatting hands and back on into the sick room.

"But what about--" came an indignant cry.

"SHUT IT ALL OF YOU!" Patsy hollared, her face still a rather distinct shade of red.

As Xander slipped into the room, he noticed immediately that one side of Adrien's face was peculiarly swollen. He knew that sort of blow. It wasn't the kind one received from a fall. It was the kind one got from someone else's fist.

But he determined to keep himself cheerful for the sake of his friend. Walking over to his bed, he sat himself down, before putting a hand on Adrien's shoulder.

"You're supposed to shoot the deer, Dree. Not head-butt it into oblivion."

A figure pushed through the crowd, so very unhappy in his demeanor. He pushed past Jason Porter, the cobbler, who hollered until he'd realized the assaultant. He pushed past Myriam and Gregory, and soon, he sidestepped into the sick office, ignorant even of the nurse's presence. This man's face was red with embarrassment and anger, and he stopped in the doorway to dispel those who insisted on watching.

"Go! The lot of you! Leave!" Radimus hollered, with a flicker of his wrist. The man's voice was maddened, and his eyes, surely wild. A few whispers crossed the crowd. A few dispelled, but the nosiest of them stayed. The man, with no time on his hands to fight the colonists, turned with a huff into the room.

The lean figure that stood over Adrien's bedside was soon enough grasped by the back of the collar and shoved aside with reckless abandon by the angry father, whose words were far too loud for the sick office to bear.

"What is the meaning of this? Have you gathered the townspeople? And what of my son, who I am the last to hear of?!" He demanded, of the tubby nurse.

Xander managed to catch himself before he went careening into a counter, then decided to make rude gesticulations behind Radimus' back while the other man screamed at Patsy.

The flustered nurse was back to being all business. She regarded Radimus patiently, before her shoulders lifted in a heavy sigh. "We've been trying to look for you, Mister Rune. But when the townsfolk decided to come to harrass my patient, your son," she clarified, "I saw fit to stand by his side and keep out the riff raff while he rested."

She glanced to Xander briefly, who immediately stilled with a congenial smile on his face.

"Some figure came dragging him in from beyond the Wall." the nurse explained. "Said he'd been attacked by a tribal when he wandered too far." She sighed heavily. "He'll need your support, rather than your reprimand, Radimus."

It was easy to see that Patsy was somewhat of a mother to all, and there wasn't a single man or woman who escaped her counsel.

"You don't tell me how to govern my son!" Radimus ferociously replied, not keen on shrinking from the woman's intimidating maternal instincts like the rest. He stopped in his tracks, and pivoted to Adrien's bedside, his knuckles white with anger. "And that's it? Some figure? You've not a name, or a face? None of which I can speak to? This care is a shame!"

Adrien emitted a groan; he was coming back to the rest of them. Radimus had taken it as a sign to speak with his son.

"And you! What have you been told about the natives? What were you looking to do, wandering that far? Impress someone? The deer we eat are on the border! I thought you a smart boy. You should know this! Even after my speech!" He exclaimed, slamming his hand onto the bedside. The boy's eyes wearily opened to behold the vicious voice of his own father, who had certainly been getting ahead of himself.

"That's enough!" Patsy shouted, voluminous even for her.

"I will not have you upsetting him while he's still healing. If you do not calm down, I'll have you removed too. My priority is him." She pointed to the boy in the bed. Xander, standing off to one side, looked incredibly pleased at the turnout of the conversation.

"Perhaps you should step out, Mister Rune. Get some fresh air." he suggested unhelpfully.

Radimus regarded Patsy with hate, struggling to keep his own abusive paternal instinct over hers. Ultimately, he regarded her with no other option than to leave, as any words that would come from his mouth would certainly be of reprimand. He pushed out of the room, and shoved a townsfolk on the way out.

Adrien painfully looked between Xander and Patsy, vision still blurry. Even then, he mustered a smirk, though the other side of his face stayed swollen and bruised.

A voice came from outside.

"Well, that's'is father, then! What 'appened?"

"Xander, mind you go close the door." Patsy suggested, tiredly rubbing at her temples before disappearing back into a store room. The sounds of rummaging could be heard, as well as mild cursing. Patsy had never stuck to what her gods had told her, and spoke as she liked. Xander, on the other hand, did as he was bid, closing the door on the faces of the curious townsfolk before returning to the side of his friend.

"You look a right mess, mate." he muttered, showing concern, rather than playfulness, for the first time that day.

"What the fuck happened to you out there?"

"'Ead-butted a deer." Adrien said, with an attempt to lighten the mood. He hadn't the slightest idea why it had come to mind, though.

"W'ad ... 'Ow'd I get here?" He asked, obviously confused. His words were slightly muffled by the swelling of his face. "I got punched, s'what. 'Ow long I been out? Cun't feel m'face."

He brought a limp hand up to touch it.

Xander swatted it away.

"Stop that." he scolded. "One of them tribals got you good huh? Good thing they didn't gut you and leave you for the wolves."

There was no hint of teasing in his tone. "Why'd you go out so far, Dree? You know that place isn't safe for us. Like it as not, y'do have a girl you're eventually gunna provide for."

He paused for a minute.

"That idn't why you went out there is it?"

"W'uh? Nay, not th'..." Adrien hesitated. "Saw some white fur, 'ad m'new rifle. Was jus trackin' a tiger. Bet she was good, tooh. Didn't find'er, tracks were dry..." The hand that had been smacked away went to brace his head again, though not his jaw. He wracked his mind for the memory of the event.

"S'a ... Saw a tribe lady caugh' in a trap, n'I couhdn't just leave wifhout lettin'er free," he recalled.

Xander stared.

"You saw one of them?" he asked, his eyes wide. In the meantime, he wondered what kind of a trap could be set for a human being...

"What was she like? Did she try to gut you? Why did ..." but the sentence trailed off. Adrien was not his father. Adrien would have let the girl go.

That's one thing Xander loved about his friend.

"Shuh was stuck in a bearh trahp, guttin' me wouldn't be good for eifher of ush. She held her knifh up like I was gonna shoot her, though. Dunnoh much abouth her past thath. Think her name was..." Adrien tried hard to recall. "I didn't get her namhe."

No. He was too busy being grounded to get her name, but she certainly got his.

"Ah." Xander didn't seem too enlightened by his explanation. The young man sighed. "Well, next time, try to take someone with yah, that way you won't come back a bloodied pulp, and maybe we'll get her name before she beans you in the jaw."

"It washn't --"

He looked like he was ready to say more, but there was a soft knock on the door, and it opened to reveal Ellie and her father. As usual, she looked impeccable, and embarrassed. She didn't seem to know what to say upon laying eyes on Adrien.

Cavis was there to recover for her poor form.

"They didn't knock out any of your teeth did they?" he asked, smiling good naturedly as he gently touched a hand to his daughter's shoulder to guide her forward. "Has your father stopped by? He was pretty worried."

"Oh, he did." Xander cut in, glancing to Ellie before meeting Cavis' eyes. "Left an impression. He needed to take a walk."

"How are you feeling?" Ellie asked, shyly approaching the bed as she gazed down at Adrien. It was clear she didn't know exactly what she was supposed to do, and she almost looked like she was afraid to touch him.

Cavis and Xander exchanged glances briefly.

Adrien's explanation was also interrupted by the entrance of Cavis and Ellie. He attempted a smile, but only half of his face seemed to raise. "Hope I didn't miss another meetinh at th'manor." He joked, in an attempt to ease the tension of the room. "Don't 'ave t'act all scared."

"Nay, m'teeth're all there, sos m'beautiful smile. S'm'noggin I'm worried about. Yae, as Sandy said, Radimus stopped by. 'E means well, though I didn't'ear half th'words 'e was sayinh'."

Adrien looked toward Ellie as she approached, his smile softening a little more. "Feelin' like I got socked in th'jaw. It ain't as big'a deal as people'rh makin' it. 'Ow're ye? Look right pale."

"Ellie took the news a bit hard. She was very worried." Cavis interjected, putting an arm on his daughter's shoulder. The girl glanced away, towards the floor as she chewed on the corner of her lower lip.

"I'm glad to see you're alright." she added. Her lips pursed tight, and with a slight flourish, she turned from her father and excused herself before hurriedly leaving the room.

There was a beat of silence.

"I'm thinkin the meat on yer face made her a bit queasy, Dree." Xander noted, one brow lifting as the door swung shut behind the lady's skirts. Cavis sighed heavily.

"You'll have to excuse her. She's never done well around the sight of blood, and I think her concern for you is unsettling her." He gave Adrien an encouraging smile. Patsy entered the room not long after, with a draught that smelled curiously of whiskey.

"Alright, the lot of you need to leave so he can sleep." she told them. This time, Xander didn't seem to protest. Especially when Cavis extended an invitation to dinner that evening with them.

"Ah, my pleasure sir. Dree," Xander saluted the other lad before giving him a wave. "I'll see you in the mornin. Rest easy, mate."

And the pair exited the room in time for Patsy to hand over the steaming mug.

"Ignore what you think it might taste like and swallow the whole of it." she said, giving him a look that was not meant to be argued with.

"Well, s'nice knowinh' she wadn't runnin' cause she doesn't like me, huh?" Adrien joked, to Cavis. He watched the trail of Ellie's dress disappear from the room with a frown and a wistful sigh. The girl wasn't at all as bad as they'd made her seem, with their titles. Titles, which he was guilty of. Soon, Patsy ushered everyone else out as well, and Adrien set his head to look at the ceiling.

"Lemme go wif'm, Patsy. I'm well enough to walk. If y'can feed me brews, I can feed myself. I'll just go back to m'house and sleep there."

He took the steaming mug in hand and plugged his nose. Then, he shot back the concoction as well as he could, which wasn't quite well enough. It stained his shirt and sent him into a coughing fit, which took a bit of recovery, before he'd downed the rest.

Patsy smiled.

"Believe me, lad. There idn't too much you'll be able to do once that stuff settles. Y'might as well just let yerself rest for the night." With that, she disappeared from the room again, going away from the sick bay and into the town hall.

Not too long after she'd left, softer footsteps approached Adrien from the head of the bed.

"Looks like someone backhanded you good, boy. Giving your old man lip?"

It was the man in the dark clothing. The pistol in his hand made it clear that Adrien was not to make a sound.

Adrien's eyes, which had slowly been lulling their ways to sleep, softly opened when he'd heard footsteps. Perhaps it was just Patsy again, checking in on him, he thought. When his tired eyes adjusted to dark.

And even though darkness inhibited the room, the man's cloak was darker. The boy's eyes followed his form down, to the glint of the gun.

"I didn't thinkh y'very old at all, actually."

Even with the gun in the room, the boy displayed both a fear and a callous, obvious hate for the cloaked man. "Caught me there."

"I just came to give you a little bit of advice." the man said, a smile in his words. He came around, more to the front so that the gun was clearly visible. "Early this morning you were attacked, rather viciously, by a tribal wench who intended to nail your heart to the wall of her cave. Gave you a good blow to the jaw before a masked stranger swept in to save you." He gestured to himself.

"At least, that's what you're going to tell people, Adrien Rune. Are we clear on this?"

"N'what do you plan on doing if I don't? Acting like a native came here and shot me, too? 'Cause they very well have guns, don't they? Stop showingh that around, and g'out of'ere!"

Adrien looked to the gun, and his hand felt for the lantern at his bedside. He grabbed it, and deftly swung it in the man's direction. It was nothing but a measly lantern, but the point was made enough.

The man blocked the blow with his forearm, before seizing the lantern and tearing it from Adrien's hand. He was fast, frighteningly so.

"There's a few neat ways to kill a boy, but I can think of a few fancier ways to kill his little fiance." There was nothing but menacing promise in his tone.

"You make the choice, Adrien."

Adrien scowled, the swollen part of his face only hindering the emotion little. He seemed to huff, then, and waved the dark-coated man away. His voice shrunk, and his eyes diverted themselves.

"Get out of here, why don't y'? 'Fore I scream, and someone comes running. Leave!" He hissed.

The man chuckled.

"You didn't hear it, but that girl screamed something fierce when I sliced up her face. She's probably the ugliest thing wandering around in those woods now." The man shrugged. "Good riddance. Enjoy the rest of your night, young man."

And before Adrien had a chance to see where he'd gone off to, he disappeared.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Xander Roan

0.00 INK

Blakestown
September 7th, Early morning


It wasn't like he'd planned to find himself lying face-first in the snow. That was just how it happened. Then again, that much wasn't entirely true either, if he really wanted to be honest with himself. The events of the previous evening were still ringing in his ears, as sore as the bruise on his face. It stung. It was warm and tender, but Xander didn't think he'd hated his father more than in the moment he was slapping his mother hard enough to send her sprawling.

He hadn't thought, just acted. Even if his mother was a bitter old witch most of the time, there was no reason, none, for any of that to have happened.

What was worse was that Xander was fairly certain that most of the other colonists knew what went on in the Roan household. It wasn't like his father kept his behavior a secret. Sure, he worked hard, he put food on the table. Then he'd throw it across the kitchen in a rage, or scream about how his mother never did enough around the house. Mother would scream back, and before now, he'd never gone so far as to hit her.

Xander had never gone so far as to hit his father, either.

First time for everything.

Anyway, he was bundled up and lying in the snow, an intentional thing. It actually soothed the ache in his face, and made it easier for him to not think about what had transpired. He was numb clean through, and it felt wonderful.

A foot nudged at his side soon, however, surely becoming an obstacle to his bliss.

"What're y'doing, Sandy? That isn't no way t'take a bath. If y'want, I can pull some fresh water out'a the well for you. Just need to crack the ice on top with something hard, you dirty bastard. If you're worried about it being cold, I can always boil it at my house." came the voice of Adrien, who had come to the stable earlier than he usually had to help Xander out.

"Get up, then. I wanted t'help you feed the horses, but it looks like you're a bit busy eating dirt, huh?"

A fistfull of snow exploded into Adrien's face.

"Gotta mighty big lip," Xander grunted, grinning in spite of the swelling as he tackled Adrien at the knees, with the full intent of dragging him into the snow.

Adrien was startled, and soon found himself colliding with Xander on the ground. His hand reached to grab Xander by the shoulder, and his other hand reached for packed snow, which would soon find itself en-route to his tussling-buddy's collar, with full intent to drop it down his shirt.

"Yeah, y'do! What th'hell'd you do, get in a tussle with a guard?"

"Fuckin 'ell!" Xander rolled off of him, getting to his knees and flailing to get the snow out of his shirt. "The, yeah. Guard." he finally managed before turning and throwing himself, face-first, back into the dirt.

"Got in a tiff over a horse shoe."

"Well, that's ripe bullshit and y'know it!" Adrien retorted.

"Gave Nurse Patsy lip again, did y'? When you work that woman up into a tissy, well, she isn't like other ladies, is she? Or maybe y'just got kicked by a horse. I don't know much, but I know y'agreeing with me doesn't come easily. Lemme see it! I didn't get anything of a good look. Or if you're just gonna lay there, I think I got some horses t'tend to."

Xander snorted, lifting himself up onto his elbows so he could look Adrien in the eye. The whole right side of his face was red from the cold, but beneath that, a purpling bruise was forming against his right temple. His eye was bloodshot, nearly swollen closed, and the upper corner of his lip looked like it had been split.

"That ol' codger would dislocate her shoulder and break a wrist punching me silly." he said with a sideways smirk. "C'mon Dree. Horses need teh be tended."

He shifted to his knees, then finally got to his feet before wandering towards the stalls.

Adrien grabbed Xander's shoulder, to stop him from treading over to the horses.

"Fuck-in-hell, that looks bad. Looks like y'need t'see Nurse Patsy, Sandy. Say we go there after tending th'horses? Hell, I could do it for you if you'd wanted me. I got time before I'm going t'hunt, and wrestling a bloke with vision only good in one eye just wouldn't be the same, aye?"

Xander's expression was suddenly stern.

"It'll be fine, mate. Just let Xander take care of hisself. I appreciate the concern, though. Yer a good friend, Dree." He grinned, lopsided as it was. "Ye'll be huntin' again? Hopin to see that tribal girl who beat the shit out of yeh?"

Adrien stopped in his tracks for a moment. He'd heard the same thing from his father, and politely, from Ellie, but there was something about Xander that made him want to pull him by the shoulder and tell him everything.

So he grabbed Xander by the collar before he could pass him, and pulled him back.

"Say y'won't speak'a word of what I'm about t'tell you."

Xander's good eye widened a bit.

"Yer not into boys are yeh?" he stage whispered.

Adrien resisted the urge to shove his thumb into Xavier's bad eye.

"No, y'marmy idiot! Go on, say y'won't, or I ain't speaking a word t'ye."

Xander pouted. "I promise I promise. Dammit yer pushy. What's wrong?" He was still leaning a bit awkwardly, and he was beginning to cramp. "Ak'chully..." He grabbed Adrien's arm and pulled him towards the stables. "Tell me while we brush em down. Looks like we're workin' rather than conspiratorialisn'."

He didn't know if that was a word, but he said it anyway.

"S'better we talk in there, anyway." Adrien agreed, and let himself be dragged along. When they walked, though, he turned his head all ways, to see if anyone had been watching them. "Y'don't tell a damn soul, hear?"

When they got into the stable of one of the horses, Adrien grabbed a brush and worked on the same side as Xavier, as to whisper.

"What I been telling people isn't exactly true, n'it's bothering the everliving shit outta me."

Xander didn't even look his way.

"Tryin' teh say the tribal lass didn't hit you? You saying that just to save face?" He didn't smile. He was serious.

"What happened then?"

"Nay, and that's why it's important y'shut the hell up about it. Y'don't believe me, fine, but if y'tell anyone, I'll smother you in your sleep."

Adrien continued to brush the animal, perhaps a bit too much, as the horse protested with a whinny.

"She didn't hit me. I found'er in a trap. We were about t'go our seperate ways, when a colonial man came by and hit me on the head. Roughed her up too, but the way he'd talked tells me she's still alive."

He breathed in, and anxiously looked around again.

"Came by with a pistol after he brought me t'town and said he'd kill Ellie if I didn't blame the tribal girl."

Xander paused, staring at Adrien for a half-second longer than necessary.

"If yer makin this up, Dree..."

Adrien stopped Xander in his tracks, and gripped his arm.

"- I'm not. And y'damn well keep your mouth shut, 'cause it wasn't my life being threatened."

The other boy was staring Adrien in the eye, searching his gaze, looking for some kind of hint of a joke. It made his heart sink when he realized that his friend was telling the absolute truth. "Why'd he hit you, though? I could see the girl, maybe, if it looked like she was gunna hurt yeh..."

His gaze trailed away, and he walked to the front of the horse to pat her on the nose.

"Yer not jes goin to hunt, are yeh." He stated.

"He hit me 'cause I helped her, or maybe because I was about to see something I wasn't supposed to. Either way, we were just talking, and even if she looked like she was gonna hurt me, then punching me in th'face would be a little counterintuitive."

Adrien's eyes unlocked from Xander's, and possibly grew softer. He moved to the front of the horse, then, with his conversational partner. "You're lucky I'm not making y'cut your hand and bloodbond with me, Sandy."

"I'm going t'hunt, but... I mean. If I see'r again. She was nice, in the 'might cut your throat if you move at her too fast' sorta way."

Xander was quiet for a long moment. "He really threatened to kill that wee rose petal of a girl? I mean, I could see Patsy, but Ellie?" he gave Xander a sideways glance.

"Shouldn't we warn her? Or Cavis?"

"I think it'd have less an effect on me if'e'd threatened to kill Patsy. Ellie's my fiancée, after all. Patsy, god love'er, is a nurse."

Adrien sharply looked to Xander again.

"I already told enough people t'endanger th'life of someone. If she tells someone 'cause she's worried, or it gets around town, or if Cavis does th'same, then it's Ellie's life in the balance. Plus, he's a colonial. It's dangerous enough t'be talking about it here."

The other nodded.

"I geddit." he said softly, his brow knitting. "Jeez, Dree. What kinda mess are we gettin into here?" he muttered before shaking his head. "Y'best get outta here, mate, 'fore someone suspects. Don't be gone too long a'ight? People got worked up enough last time."

"'M just hunting, after all." Adrien said, nonchalantly. "I won't be gone long. Y'shant worry, aye? I think th'horses'd appreciate you brushing n'feeding em rather than going over the same spot thirty-three times."

He patted his friend on the back and walked to the stable exit. He turned, and gave Xander a smile that he hadn't seen since they'd started talking about the situation. "Think y'stepped in horse-shit. Maybe the snifflies you got from face-firsting th'snow kept y'from knowing th'smell."

Before Xander had the chance to answer, Adrien took off.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Xander Roan

0.00 INK

#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Blakestown
September 9th, Night


Xander sat on a pile of split logs, wrists resting on top of his knees. His body was slumped, folded over in thought as he hung his head between his shoulders. It had been hours. It was late into the evening, and still Adrien wasn't back yet. Though he shivered against the bitter cold, he refused to budge. He was going to sit there and wait up the entire night if he had to.

Up ahead, the gate Adrien typically used to get in and out of the town was firmly closed, with guards posted on either side. Their shotguns rested lazily against the ground as they amiably talked to one another, occasionally glancing towards the lad before turning back to their business. Xander ignored them, listening and waiting for the sounds of his friend arguing with the keepers to let him back in.

Hours passed. Xander waited so long that the guard shift changed. He lifted his head, narrowing his eyes blearily towards the gate before he got to his feet with a creak and a groan.

Without really stopping to think about what he was doing, Xander ambled forward, catching the attention of the guards as they paused in their quiet conversation. One of them held out a hand.

"Where're you goin, lad?"

Xander grit his teeth, straightening a bit before rolling his shoulders. "M'goin teh find Dree, suh. He went out early this mornin' and didn' come back."

The guards exchanged glances.

"Radimus' boy?"

"Dun see why it should make a difference." Xander replied, his eyes narrowing. "Look, I'm goin out of my own accord. I won't stray far. Just gotta make sure he didn't hurt himself or nothin'."

They looked like they were going to bar his way, but Xander shoved past them anyway, pushing himself outside of the wall. A surreal sensation washed over him as he stood in the moon-lit shadow of his town. He felt uncannily out in the open, unsafe, like he was being watched. Dark eyes flickered to the trees for any source of movement, his ears pricked for someone or something to catch his attention. Folding his arms firmly over his chest, he walked forward, leaving prints behind in the snow.

"Excuse me!" Came a sudden, almost shrill cry.

Xander startled hard, spinning around only to see that Dree's sweet little fiancee had come stumbling out of the gate behind him. She looked like she was in her shift beneath the heavy woolen cloak she wore, and her cheeks were flushed from the cold.

An odd warmth spread through his chest, up into his cheeks, but he ignored the feeling and forced himself to walk up to her, to hold out his hand.

"Miss Ellie, what're you..."

"I've seen you sitting on the wood pile, waiting for him to come back." she said in a rush, breathless. Xander felt his heart begin to race. She slipped her hand in his arm, hovering close as she looked around fearfully into the trees.

"I wanted to go with you to find him."

Xander blanked, his eyes flickering from the top of her pretty head to the forest beyond. "Miss, yer in nothing but your nightclothes," He was well aware. "And I haven't anything on me to keep you safe..."

"I don't care about that." she replied, her grip tightening, as if she feared he would send her away. "I'm worried about him!"

Xander stiffened, looking back to her as she angled her face upwards to meet his eyes.

God...dammitall.

"Eh, I'm worried too!" Xander said, his voice pitching up nervously before he began to walk, accidentally dragging the girl along with him. She stumbled, then struggled to get her footing before high-stepping through the snow after him.

Xander always made sure he could see the wall before he continued anywhere, constantly looking around for something that might indicate his friend had been there. After a solid half hour of disappointment, he finally made the suggestion to go back.

"We havent' found him yet!" Ellie insisted, looking over her shoulder into the darkness.

"An' we won't find him any better until the sun's up." he replied, putting his foot forward to take a step. What he didn't expect, was that he'd trip over something unusually solid, falling flat in the snow and nearly taking Ellie with him.

"Are you alright Xander?!" she tried moving to his side, but tripped over something as he had, sinking into the snow on impact. Xander pushed to his feet, kicking out at whatever tripped him up...and froze.

What in the...

He sat up, leaning to touch the hazard, and nearly recoiled with a shout. A body! They'd tripped over a--

Ellie's piercing scream indicated to Xander that she'd discovered the grizzly walking hazards as well. He got to his feet, got his arm underneath hers and dragged her to a standing position before immediately backtracking towards the wall. The guards were there to meet then, guns displayed and firm countenances fixed to their features.

"What happened?" One of them demanded.

"Bodies in the snow," Xander replied, a bit stunned as Elleanore clung to his waist. He put an arm about her shoulder, guiding her as best he could towards the gate while the guards went rushing into the dark forest. Angry shouts echoed past them, signaling that they'd found them too. But Xander was past caring. He needed to get Ellie home.

He just hoped that neither of those bodies belonged to Dree.

The setting changes from blakestown to The Forest of Whispers

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Blakestown
September 10th, Morning


He thought he'd had enough from the previous evening. Yet, when morning came, Xander found that, on top of being unable to sleep, he felt like he needed to go back out, to confirm what he saw for the second time. Even if Ellie had been there with him, with her shock and panic to confirm his own confusing and terrifying discovery, he just...he needed to know. He couldn't help but wonder if it might have been Adrien's form that he'd fallen over.

The previous evening had lead to a rather awkward interraction between himself and Cavis. But Cavis, being who he was, had played it off pretty smoothly, as if it didn't bother him in the slightest.

Ellie was still clinging to him as they walked up the stairs to her small, but well-kept home. The knock on the door had a delayed response, but soon enough, Cavis was standing there with a robe tied firmly at his waist, his eyes widening as he took in the sight of his daughter with a young man he only vaguely recognized.

"M'Adrien's mate," Xander explained quickly. "I was pokin' around tryin teh find him, and Ellie wandered out with me insistin' that we look for him together." His eyes bored into Cavis', begging him to understand. "Saw some nasty business out in the woods beyond the wall, but we're okay. I came to bring her back."

Cavis quietly opened up an arm for his daughter, who almost immediately left Xander's side to curl up against his. The man looked Xander up and down, his brow knitting together before he heaved a rumbling sigh.

"Thank you, Xander. I appreciate you keeping an eye on her." There was a moment's pause. "Mind letting me know when Adrien gets back in? I'm a bit worried about him myself."

"Yessir." Xander said, his brow furrowing. He stepped back as the door was closed, the bolt locked. With a sigh, the young man turned and headed back to his own home.


There were no guards posted at the gate this morning, which struck Xander as odd. He kept his hands in his pockets, and his eyes forward as he made a bee-line for the door. Many pairs of feet had come and gone in the last few hours, pounding the snow flat and making his steps nearly imperceptible in the cool morning. He slipped out of the gate, and began to follow the prints towards the place he remembered the bodies had been.

But upon arriving at the scene, he found nothing. The bodies had been removed. Sighing to himself, the young man nudged at a clump of snow with his boot, rolling his head back and groaning at the sky.

"It was just up this way, Gerald. I'll show you what I mean in a minute."

The sudden presence of the voice had Xander ducking down behind a tree. He sat there for just a second, before slowly moving himself into a position where he could safely search out the source of the voice without being spotted. Two men walked in the distance. There was a figure dressed in typical colonist green, and a second one, wrapped in darker colors, who was leading the former along. He paused to look back at the first, to see if he was keeping up, before moving forward again.

"I think there might have been more than just the two. The damn tribals again."

"Yeah, yeah. Y'look like a big guy. Why'd not y'bring'm back yerself?" came the voice of the second figure. The second figure, who in closer examination, held a gun so close to his chest it might have equated to the comfort of a blanket to a child. His steps were quick and his legs were stiff. His gray eyes darted around and upward, as if looking for someone else in the vicinity.

But they fell on none. "S'scary shyte, y'know. I might just be talkin' crazy, but I think th'tribals got a way with'ese forests. Swear when papa-Vandy went down, the trees were cryin' fer'em. I mean..." He stopped. "Y'know. When uh... Th'tribals took'im down. It was like the trees n'bushes n'wind were cryin' 'bout'is loss."

"So, where's it?" The man named Gerald asked, as he turned to the other man.

"Right here."

The shot went off like the sharp crack of a stone against a pillar of ice. The second man had pulled a handgun faster than the other could respond, driving a bullet straight through his heart and dropping him like a fly. Xander clapped a hand over his mouth to keep from gasping, pulling around and pressing his back to the trunk of the tree. His breath came in short gasps, eyes wide with fright as he slowly began to process what he had just seen.

When he managed to get the courage to look back around, he saw the murderer pull an arrow from his cloak, driving it into the entry wound from the bullet and leaving it there. Blood was on his hand, but he didn't seem to mind. In fact, he went running back into town, shouting for help.

In spite of his misgivings, Xander got up and ran like mad hell for the woods.

The green-frocked man was not dead instantly. In the last remaining seconds where blood ran through his veins and out the passageway of his heart, Gerald displayed a horror on his face so profound that it could shake a man's foundation. He grasped the murderer's coat, before his face fell devoid of emotion and his grasp loosened and unnaturally fell to the ground.

Scarlet blood poured from the wound and sank into the contrasting winter ground, while shouts echoed in the distance.

The setting changes from the-forest-of-whispers to Blakestown

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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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.

"Aja,"

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?"

Forever.

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Xander Roan

0.00 INK

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.

"What?"

"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. "You...you 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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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Blakestown
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.

"Horse."

"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.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
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.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
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.

"Adrien..."

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 just...be 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."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: The Harbinger Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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Blakestown
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 Plato

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Xander Roan

0.00 INK

#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
October 14th, Evening


It had been roughly a week since Adrien had started his escapades out beyond the wall. Xander and Ellie had taken care not only to avoid him, but to avoid each other. For Xander, it was possibly the worst couple of weeks that he'd ever experienced. Both of his closest friends wanted nothing to do with him, and if he were perfectly honest with himself, he wasn't sure that he'd know what to do or say if the time came. He spent most of his time these days in the stables when Adrien wasn't there, doing what needed to be done and then leaving as soon as he could. He couldn't even enjoy it anymore, which was totally ridiculous.

He'd come out the night before, unable to sleep, and deciding that the best thing to do would be to just walk around until he was too cold or too tired to do anything else. After coming upon the stables, he noticed something rather odd.

Someone had been climbing down the wall.

He'd ducked behind bales of frosted hay, watching as Adrien came across the snow-laden ground, looking every which way before disappearing into his house.

So, tonight, Xander sat and waited for Adrien to show up. He knew that he would. It was only a matter of time.

As he'd done other times, Adrien scaled down the wall. He ravelled the rope, and then threw it back over the wall. A strange tactic, if he'd been going alone. When his feet touched snow-laden ground, he placed his palms on the wall, looked about, and then backed away from the wall. As per usual, he'd looked about, before starting off.

But he stopped by the lumbering old tree, this time. The one that, in the springs and summers, provided a cool shade, in a contrast to the humid, warm air. It was bare, now, and in the moonlight, it had no shadow. It's thick bark bore the dimensionality of thin paper.

Adrien moved passed it, after running his hand over the rough bark. He took slowly toward his home, but it would be quite a walk from the graveyard.

He came into sight as soon as Adrien drew close enough to hear him. Xander's arms were crossed, his brow furrowed in concern as he looked from Adrien to the wall and back.

"Dree..." he started, coming to that awful moment where he didn't really have any idea of what to say. "It's a bit late."

"Yeah. T'is. Shan't you be sleeping, Xander?" Adrien asked, his brows furrowing to Xander's sudden appearence. He'd quickly moved past the other boy, seemingly intent on retiring, and seemingly intent on certainly not speaking to Xander. Not out of spite; their relationship had slowly repaired itself over time, though it certainly wasn't what it usually was.

"That's what I plan on doing." He said, as he passed.

Xander reached out to snag Adrien by the arm, his grip gentle, but firm. He didn't look at him as he spoke.

"Ye've been goin over the wall." It wasn't a question, but a statement. He looked back over his shoulder to the other. "Not gunna rat you out, if that's watcher thinkin. I think what Radimus is doin' to yah is downright shit." He let go of Adrien's arm, letting his own fall to his side. "What're you doin' over there?"

Adrien spun around when Xander gripped his arm, and withdrew his sleeve.

"I know y'know I've been going over th'wall. 'Else y'wouldn'ta camped out n'popped out at me like that. I figure y'wouldn't tell." The boy raised his arms, in a half-shrug. "M'not allowed beyond th'wall, and I miss th'fresh air."

"Mhm, and is the fresh air gunna throw that rope back to yah when you go over again tomorrow night?" Xander said, lifting a brow.

Adrien stared at Xander for a moment, before crossing his own arms.

"N'why y'wanna know, you said?"

"Is it that girl? Aja?" Xander asked, his expression softening. "Yer goin' to visit her?" He hesitated a moment.

"Y'know that Radimus'll sooner kill her if he finds out."

"Radimus won't be seeing'er. It's not like she's hoisting over t'Blakestown with me. N'Radimus' threatened t'break m'legs if I don't stop being rowdy, but I'd sooner break his than he break mine."

It was an answer enough, though Adrien opened his mouth again. "I'm hoisting over t'see th'tribe. N'the area. N'everything, really. Kind of opens your eyes, when y'move past th'forest." He smiled as he spoke. "N'I know I seem like a lunatic for doing it, but it's better than being cooped up in this chicken pen of a shyte town."

Xander considered that, quietly thinking over what Adrien had said.

"Y'know, I saw the tribe. I saw how worried they were for Ajani...and they didn't seem teh mind me too much. I knew I believed yah before all the shyte happened a few weeks back...but after seeing them...I could understand them too. Aja made sure I could..." He looked back to his friend.

"I want teh help. However I can. If you'll let me."

"Nay. No, Xander. I already put Ellie in danger. I can't put you in danger, too. N'..." Adrien swallowed, and raised his scarf. He looked down to the floor, then up to Xander's eyes. "Y'should stop avoiding Elleanore like y'do. Just'ave it normal, will you?"

His hand raised, and patted Xander on the shoulder. He began to turn away. "Don't think I could stand y'getting hurt, no matter how much I don't like y'right now."

A slight smirk came to his lips, before it disappeared again.

"I'm a big boy," Xander said with a broad smile. "Can handle m'self. Besides, ye've got me all curious about the tribals now. Yer hoggin them all for yerself."

He hooked his arm around Adrien's throat and dragged him into the snow. "I still like yeh Dree. Missed talkin to yah." he grunted, putting his knee on the other boy's chest. "And like it or not, I'm sick to death of the way things are goin' around here. I'd like teh change it."

"Only thing y'missed is trying t'toss me around!" Adrien shouted, though for once in a long while, it wasn't out of anger. His hands wrapped around Xander's knee, andhe pushed himself forward, intent on dropping the other boy into the snow. For a moment, things settled.

"S'pose y'did conk assassin-man over th'head, but that was just luck, innit? But, hell, Xander. Y'don't wanna risk your life over this shyte. Wasn't it you who was hollering about leaving Ellie here all alone?" he teased.

Xander's cheeks flamed, but he flopped into the snow amiably, and laid there. "S'pose I did. But I know yah didn' do those things on purpose. Didn' do anything, in fact." He sighed heavily.

"M'done silent treating yah, Dree. Dun need a girl of any kind to break us up y'know? Hell maybe we could get Ellie to go with us too." His lips were pressed into a thin line. "Couldn't hurt to get her away from all of this too."

Sitting back on his knees, he reached to brush the snow out of his hair. After a second, he fixed Adrien with a firm stare. "Another thing, too. M'parents are shit, majority of this town and the way they act towards people like Ajani is horrid. Why not try to risk my safety if it means bringin' about ... peace. At least a state of business where people aren't sittin' around hatin' each other?"

"If anything, I'd like t'get her - Ellie - out of this place, if assman's threatening'er like he is. He's not done anything yet, but..." Adrien looked toward Xander, his brow furrowing. "I know who he is. 'E carried Ellie's bags home, looked straight at me. 'E's th'one who tipped off Radimus about Ajani being in town."

For a long while, he drew in a breath. His eyes met Xander's, then drew away from them. He looked toward the bare tree in the distance.

"I s'pose y'have a point." He said. He leaned forward, placed his elbows on his knees, and his head on his hands. "Could use someone who actually has a voice around'ere."

Then, he shook his head and looked to Xander again.

"Y'sure?"

"Nah. I'm gunna flake on yah righ' when things get tough." He winked, stretching his arms over his head before emitting a heavy sigh. "I think yeh have more supporters than y'think though, Dree. Nobody'll say anything to you, but I know you at least have a friend in Cavis, and in Patsy."

He gave a slight smirk at the mention of the old nurse. "But, at any rate, I'll be with yeh through the thick of it, mate. S'wat friends are for."

"Alright, but..." Adrien sighed. "Tap out when things get too tough for y', aye? Don't want y'breaking your wee bones." He smiled again, then swatted Xander on the shoulder. "I been sneaking out to practice, y'know. Notice any change?" He flexed. "Y'won't have t'sneak out, but I don't think Ajani would mind th'support. Hell, th'tribe."

"I'm going back t'morrow, then. You up for it?"

Xander squeezed his bicep, before emitting a terribly effeminate giggle.

"Gods, Dree. You know I am. Anythin' specific I should bring with me?" He looked back towards the wall. "Perhaps a pair of wings?"

He frowned.

"Well, y'ain't th'one barred from leaving, but I s'pose it'd still look suspicious."

He paused, then looked to Xander, a big grin ever-present in his face.

"Nay, but y'ever climb a rope? Hope y've not got sweaty hands. S'a big fall."

"I'll pull you with me." Xander said, giving the young man a look. He moved to stand, offering out a hand to help the other up. "So ye've been training then? Aja fights? Is she any good?"

"Well, y'wanna see? I'm sure she'd happily oblige. Loves sparring about, that one." Adrien said, grinning.

"Then, tomorrow. Night. Y'might want t'just say y'threw your ring ball over th'wall t'get over, this time. We'll start using th'rope before things get suspicious. Right now, I think Radimus may be getting a little suspicious, if'e gives a damn."

He looked behind him, to the road that'd lead him home.

"Say we retire?"

"Sure thing." the young man replied, stretching languidly before beginning to make his way back to the stables.

"Sleep well, Dree. I'll kick your arse in front of Aja. So prepare yourself."

The setting changes from plato to The Forest of Whispers

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan

0.00 INK

#, 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.

"EY STOP!"

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 getting...is 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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Xander Roan

0.00 INK

#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
November 5, Morning


The morning dawned unusually cold. Whether it was the snow, or the gloomy atmosphere of the town, it was difficult to say. The sun was painfully bright as it rose over the tops of the mountains, shining down on the layers of snow that glittered like freshly-cut gemstones. Patsy had the windows of the town hall cracked, to let in a fresh exchange of air and to provide the ill within with some respite from their fevers. It did little to help. Adrien's lonely return hadn't helped much either, even with his promise that the tribals would soon be on their way to assist. The night had come, and gone, and no one had shown. Wary anticipation of their arrival grew to a palpable extent, with the town divided between hope and fear of what was to come. Those who had been affected, but not gotten sick themselves, were eager to find a solution to the problem, even if it meant calling on the help of witch-craft wielding tribals. Yet, there were still others who held to the old ways, greeting the thought of tribal assistance with little more than a turned-up nose, and muttered curses.

Patsy was exchanging water, dumping the old, dirty water out back, and preparing to fill it up with clean water to boil, when she heard a cry come from the top of the wall.

"They're coming!" the watchman cried loudly.

Men and women, those who were healthy (and it was a poor few) began to gather at the front gate, watching as a dozen and a half figures emerged from the trees, clad all in white, and carrying with them burlap sacks bursting with supplies.

At the head was Ajani, her head free of a hood. Silver-blonde hair glinted like starlight in the rising sun, and she kept her eyes forward, on the gate, her expression stern as she clasped the hands of the children around her. Upon coming within ten feet of the wall, the company halted, regarding those on the other side.

"People of Blakestown," Ajani addressed those who stood before her. "Tribe Vanduo has come to help heal you of the sickness that has taken hold. We bring medicine, and healers, and food, but no weapons. There is no reason to fear. There are only women and children and an old man among us."

"Where is Illiam? Radimus?" the people whispered among themselves. "Sick." Others replied. "How should we know to trust them? Who sent for them?"

"CLEAR A PATH!" Patsy hollared, barreling through those assembled, and immediately opening the gate. She looked over the women who stood, waiting patiently for instruction, and smiled to them.

"Thank you for coming to help us." she said. "Please."

And the gate was opened wide.

Ajani could feel the stares of the colonists as she lead her people through. Even still, she nodded her greeting, encouraging the others to do the same. Silent protest was written on many of their faces, but the majority looked eager, relieved, hopeful to have someone else who might solve the riddle this illness had caused.

Ajani addressed Patsy, refusing to look around for Adrien. That would come later.

"Where are the sick?"

"Along this way, lass. Too many to count."

And the Vanduo healers came, like angels from the forest, to set about healing Blakestown from the fever that had taken it.

"They weren't here to hurt us in the beginning, n'they aren't here to hurt us now."

Adrien's reply was late, but he came to the front of the crowd to greet the Vanduo. It wasn't so much as a greeting as it was reassuring himself that they weren't going to be attacked. The crowd seemed worried enough to be sated at their presence, and those women and children who bore the same characteristics as some of the colonists seemed nothing more than peaceful and cooperative.

The townspeople had begun to listen to him, although slowly. He'd taken it upon himself to visit those who were sick beforehand, and lend aide. They had begun to see that perhaps, he wasn't a horrid traitor. He could only hope that their trust extended to him enough not to attack those he'd brought in to help. It seemed that way as they entered, and just a little weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.

"W'as all th'meanin'a this, boy? Y'told us they were comin'. What makes y'think they can help more than we can?" A man said, taking Adrien by the arm.

"Y'could hit the sick with pebbles and it'd be helping more than we are right now, Porter." The boy replied. The man let go of his arm, and Adrien ran to meet Patsy. He looked to Ajani, with a hopeful smile. "Patsy. Say y'lead someone to Elleanore quick, and I'll go check on Cavis and Xander?"

"I'll stay with Ellie," Aja insisted, offering a quick smile to Adrien. She turned back to look at the other women.

"After me," she instructed, and they went as a group towards the town hall. Upon disocvering the number of people who had been taken with illness, Ajani quickly broke the women into smaller groups, assigning children to work with them, and they moved about, finding someone to care for, and kneeling at their sides to begin the ardurous process of giving them back their health.

Patsy lead Ajani back to the room that Ellie was staying in, and upon seeing the girl, feverish and restless, Aja immediately turned to grab another cloth, making her way to the young woman and laying it over her brow.

Then, oddly enough, Aja simply took her hand, closed her eyes, and began to murmur softly under her breath.

Adrien, however, had taken a different route. He had to check on Xander, who had been tending to his own father for the last few days. The illness hadn't caught Adrien, but he wasn't so sure about Xander. After Ajani had smiled and shoved off to help Ellie, he took down the stony path, and most of the rest of the villagers had dispersed. Though, some followed the tribal women and children. Some, out of curiosity. Some, with offers to help. Some urged the tribals to come to their own homes, tend to their own children, their own family.

Eventually, Adrien's feet had taken him to Xander's house. It wasn't the best looking thing in the village, and even though it'd been newly crafted, it seemed worn. It wasn't long before he'd ascended the porch, and slammed a hand on the door a few times.

"Xander? Y'in there?" He asked.

The door swung inward, and the smell that emerged was the same kind of smell that seemed to permeate the entire village. Illness. Decay. Neglect.

Inside the living room, Xander's mother sat rocking slowly back and forth, staring at the floor, her hands nervously wringing in her lap as they so often did. She didn't look up as Adrien entered, and she didn't seem to acknowledge that he even existed.

"It's so quiet." she murmured, her eyes closing.

"So peaceful."

"Mz. Roan?" Adrien asked. Cautiously, he approached her, before taking a seat next to the woman. He raised a hand, drew it back at first, and then placed it on her back. "We've found a cure for th'fever. The tribals are helping us. Can help your husband, now. Are you sick, Mz. Roan?" He asked. "If you are, it's nothing to worry about now."

She didn't acknowledge his touch, simply continued to rock in her chair.

"Sleeping. They're both sleeping. It's so quiet."

Beyond, the bedroom she and her husband had shared at one point was ajar, and Xander's father's figure was prominent beneath the single white sheet that covered him up to his chest.

His chest... wasn't moving.

Adrien's brow quirked.

"Alright, Mz. Roan. I'm going t'check on them, okay? Sit tight. Holler if you need help. I'm just going to be - " He pointed down the hallway that lead to Xander and Mr. Roan's rooms. " - Right down there."

Slowly, he stood, and made way for the rooms. At first, he slowly opened the door to Xander's room, only to see that he was sleeping soundly. His chest was rising and dropping. Maybe he'd bother his friend later. It had been a long day, but he'd sure as hell be happy to hear that help arrived.

So Adrien pushed open the door to Mr. Roan's room. At first, he regarded the man with a passive glance. He'd known help had arrived. Everything would be alright. Roan had looked paler than usual, though, and that stringent crease that always seemed to be in the middle of his brow had eased. Mr. Roan didn't stir. Slowly, he walked toward the man, and pressed a pair of fingers to his neck.

When he'd found out that the man wasn't breathing - wasn't stirring - that the man didn't have a heartbeat, he recoiled back in surprise. He had never seen anyone pass from the fever. Perhaps it was the first, and perhaps it was too late. Perhaps his help hadn't come soon enough. The thought alone made him shiver, and withdraw from the room. It was the reason why Xander's mother had been so shaken.

He moved across the hall, to Xander's room. Abruptly, he entered, and he'd taken the boy by the shoulder.

"Xander. Wake up."

Xander startled, his hand snapping up to snatch firmly around Adrien's forearm.

Bleary, his eyes bright with fever, the young man shook his head before letting his upper body fall back against the mattress.

"Scared the shit outta me, Dree." he muttered.

"You're sick, Xander." Adrien said. He knew that help arrived, and it wouldn't last, but... No smile had come to his face. "Th'tribals came. They've got a cure. You'll be fine."

His lips pulled together, as if he was restraining himself from saying something. At the very least, though, he'd wanted a smile from his friend before he relayed the news.

"Well, that's all well and good." Xander muttered, throwing his arm over his head. "Mum's alrigh'? I didn't get a chance t'see her before I passed out on the bed."

He looked like he was getting ready to stand.

"Nae, sit down - lay down, Xander. You're sick."

His head lowered, and stared at the ground. His hands wrung together, in the same guilty fashion that Mz. Roan's hands had. "Your father passed away." He said. "Your mum doesn't look too good, but she's not sick."

Xander let his arm fall down to his side, and he stared up at his friend.

"Yer shittin' me."

He looked wan.

Adrien didn't meet Xander's eyes.

"He's still in there. In'is room. I'm sorry, Xander."

Xander, without waiting, got himself up out of bed, pushing Adrien to the side and stumbling into the room. He ignored his mother, throwing open the door,and staring at the still, unmoving chest of his father's body.

"I'll be damned." he muttered, slumping against the doorframe.

"The sonofabitch is finally dead."

Adrien quickly followed after Xander, and stopped in the doorway. His chest twisted with guilt, and not long after, he stepped away, urging Xander to do the same. "You're sick, Xander. Lay down. 'Ll have one of the ladies come treat you, and when you're well, y'can talk to your mum. Sound right?"

Xander remained silent for a long moment.

"Yeh, sure."

But he didn't go to his room. He decided to go outside instead.

"Xander!" Adrien cried, his shoulders slumping as the boy left. "Y'don't need to get yourself sicker than you already are." He said, his words turning into murmurs as the boy left his company. After a few moments, he'd gone running after his friend, stopping him by the arm. "Lay down. Will you? Even at my house, if y'want. Just lay down. Last thing I want is having t'drag you somewhere. I understand you've got to be upset about your father, but --"

"But nothin', Dree." Xander whirled and shoved the man away. "He's dead. I'm not fuckin layin in that house with his body rotting two rooms away. I'd rather freeze." he hissed.

"Then come t'my house!" Adrien begged, his brow furrowing in concern. He staggered backwards, but hadn't retaliated past that. "Radimus isn't dead! I'm not letting you sleep on a bench somewhere. Y'wouldn't even make it there, Xander. You're sick as a dog."

Tears.

Xander never thought he'd cry over the old bastard, but there it was, real salt tears that stung worse than any beating he'd ever gotten. He put his hands on his knees, growling loudly in his own agonized frustration.

"Goddammit!" he shouted angrily, standing fully, and staggering with the sudden shift in his weight. A woman had seen him, one of the tribals, and was rushing across the snow towards the pair. Xander caught sight of her, his brow knitting comically.

"An angel?" he muttered.

Adrien gave a pitiful smile to the approaching tribal woman, and steadied Xander with a hand behind his back. "Y'd like to get treated by one?" he asked, eager to change the topic. When the girl had reached them both, he nodded toward her. "He's sick. 'D like if you could take him to Radimus' house. Say Xander'll lead you?"

He looked between Xander and the girl, though his gaze ended pointedly on Xander. "I'll keep your mother company while you're gone. Make sure she's okay. Y'keep an eye on Radimus for me. He's not looking too good. Don't kill him."

"I'll try not to."

Xander accepted the offered shoulder of the young woman, who began to lead him in the direction of the town hall. Obviously, she didn't know where Adrien's home was, at this point. She was simply going to where the medicine was.

Meanwhile, Ajani was hard at work, a pile of herbs resting near her left hand on an old wooden stool that Patsy had brought over for her. She was crushing them in a bowl in her lap, adding water occasionally, watching as the paste she made turned a deep, watery green. Ellie was sleeping rather peacefully, no longer tossing and turning, and her face had lost that terrible flush.

"Just a little water at a time." she told Patsy. Other women around them were doing the same thing for their own patients. "You don't want to make them drink too much fluid. It'll make them sick. Just a couple swallows."

When the concoction was finished, Ajani rested a hand on Ellie's arm, pleased to feel that her skin was not feverishly warm, but cool. No longer shivering, the girl was covered in a thin layer of moisture.

In a matter of hours, Ajani had broken Ellie's fever.

The girl woke up, taking in a deep breath before turning to look at the woman at her side. Aja passed over the cup. Ellie, after glancing into it, lifted a brow and asked, "What's this for?"

"It purges the infection." Aja told her. "Just drink. It'll taste like a strong tea."

Ellie looked doubtful, but she did as she was bid, her brow wrinkling a little as she brought the cup to her lips, and drank deeply of the medicine Ajani had made. Afterwards, she handed the cup back, and lay down.

"Wasn't too bad." she murmured, heaving another deep sigh. Aja smiled, and rose to stand. Patsy stood too.

"She already looks better, just after a few hours." The older woman marveled, shaking her head in disbelief. She reached for Ajani, pulling her into a tight embrace that caught the other woman off-guard. "Thank yeh. After everything that's happened...yer still inclined to help us."

Ajani's eyes closed, and she returned the embrace.

Perhaps this was what Motina had intended from the beginning. Could the relationships be healing? Might they find peace?

Choosing not to linger on that, Aja pulled back, smiling encouragingly at Patsy before bending to gather up her supplies. "It'll take a day or so for her to be completely well. She needs to rest, drink and eat as much as she can tolerate. She needs her strength back."

Other women were hard at work all around her as she made her way to the front of the town hall. She needed to find Adrien, to tell him that Ellie would be okay.

But as she broke out into the cold morning air, a single man barred her way. Frozen, she stared at his face, remembering those eyes, the copper curls. He was smiling at her.

"Cute trick." he murmured, low enough so only she could hear. "Clever way to get inside, but I'm warning you. For your sake, you shouldn't rest alone. Bad things happen to girls who think they're untouchable." He chuckled, rubbing at his neck.

"You look well, at the very least. For someone who nearly died."

Aja didn't stay for any more. She brushed past him, ignoring his laughter as she all but ran down the snowy street towards Adrien's home.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: The Harbinger Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
November 11th, Early evening


The day had been overcast, though the festivities below were a far contrast to the skies above. By then, most of the villagers had come to good health, and even a few had taken to aiding the tribals with those who weren't. The casualties were very few and far between, with only Cameron Roan and Joesephus Rake, the latter of which was old and already on his way anyhow.

But, in the square that day, people locked arms and sang merry tunes, whether they belonged to the Vanduo, the colonies, or otherwise. On the sidelines of the square laid tables upon tables of food and drink, to which people added to and took from as the day gradually went on.

Those who didn't keep so well to the tribals' presence were advised to stay in their homes, and so they had. Some, even with their fear, took to the square as well, and stayed on the sidelines to watch the festivities. The jolliness of the day was certainly contagious.

Among the crowd was Adrien, who had stayed to the food. While the music and dancing was enticing, it asked for a trait that the boy certainly hadn't picked up along the way. Xander was mingling in the crowd as well, and no doubt would the boy be near to perfectly healthy, then. He was accompanied by Elleanore, whose health had been fixed just the same. Radimus had chosen to stay at his house that day, though no doubt did the chattering and melodies of the townsfolk pierce the walls that he'd hidden behind.

The tribals had added their own delicacies, with cooked fowl and vegetables, roots and berries that blended to create a uniquely exquisite taste. Many of the girls sat and mingled with the colonists who had gathered to enjoy the festivities, since the majority of them were wed, with children of their own. They did not seek out partners in dance. The children were playing with one another, chasing each other through the square and tumbling into the snow. Aja, who had gone back to the camp and returned after a day's much needed rest, was standing more on the sidelines, watching the dancing with a comically concentrated look on her face.

Just then, the music ended, and a different tune picked up. The group of dancers broke off into pairs, spinning and whirling around and between one another. There was much laughter, too, as people struggled to keep up with partners who were either too fast or too slow.

"You seem very interested, Ajani." A voice said, just behind her. She turned, finding Elleanore's father standing there with a gentle smile on his face. He held out his hand.

"May I show you?"

Aja paused, her brows lifted, before a great big grin broke out on her face. She took his hand, allowing him to lead her to where the others were dancing, and then, quite suddenly, he was sweeping her away. At first, she was clinging to him, but then the movements became easier to follow, and she was dancing along, unable to help the grin that had fixed itself to her face.

Adrien's eyes couldn't help but wander to the tribal leader who'd made it all happen, and how she was merrily dancing with Elleanore's father. He grinned and covered his mouth, before a snowball had hit him on the side, and he stumbled. When he looked to his aggressor, he'd seen that it was the small, blond-headed tribal boy from before, Siska. A grin came to his face, and he'd bent over to pack snow and throw it back.

But, before he could, the boy had come running at him, and grabbed him by the palm of his hand. He slowly began to drag Adrien to the square, where people had been locking arms and going on their merry way. "I'm not a kid, you know," He said, in the Vanduo's language. "I can dance too! Just like everyone else!"

Adrien began to protest, but before he'd known, he was locking elbows with the child and dancing in circles. Interestingly enough, Siska had kept a better beat than the boy years older than him. Soon enough, though, everyone had began to split partners, and it'd be then that Adrien would notice that the younger boy had brought the pair next to Cavis and Ajani.

Siska held an expectant hand up to Cavis, and Adrien looked to the dignified tribe leader, chuckling at the events that had just transpired. Almost hesitantly, he held a hand to the girl.

Cavis pulled Ajani to a stop, one arm behind the young woman's shoulders as he gave a rather comical bow to Siska. The pair whisked away, and Aja met Adrien's eyes, her eyes bright and cheeks flushed, before clasping his hand and stepping up close. The tempo of the music did not allow the pair a moment to pause, and in the same moment they were dancing along with the rest.

She kept up, at the very least. It was nice not to be tripping over her own feet the second time around. Smiling the whole time, and clinging to him as they moved, she couldn't help but wonder at the situation. Months ago, when she'd first met Adrien, she'd been freezing, heart broken, and holding a knife against him.

Now?

"Didn't I tell you that she'd find a way?" she said to him in Vanduo's tongue. She gave his hand a squeeze.

"Look at us now. I feel ridiculous, but I'm happy. We're happy."

"We're not all convinced yet, only most of us," Adrien said, humorously. He had been struggling to keep up with the tempo, but he'd danced and kept all the same. With a small chuckle, he began again. "It looks as if neither of us have ever danced in our lives."

A considerable amount of comfortable silence between the two grew, the vacant space being filled with the melodies that the bard had conveyed.

"I hope it stays this way." he said then, his voice flatter. "It's amazing how everyone's changed."

And that was certain. Those who were protesting the tribals, calling them horrid names and fixing for their burning, had now locked arms with them. They had brought them into their city, and the best of all was that they were welcome in their city.

Weeks earlier, he had been outcasted for bringing one in. Now there were many. Months ago, he had seen the tribal woman caught in a bear trap, and he couldn't imagine the way things would've been if he hadn't helped her. If she hadn't helped him, just as well.

As the song came to a close, people slowed to a stop, and Aja hesitated for only a moment before she embraced Adrien.

"Thank you." she told him, smiling before pulling away. "For everything."

"Mind if I cut in?"

The voice startled her. Turning about, she saw Cain standing with his hand outstretched to her, a pleasant smile on his face. His eyes were on hers, never once looking to Adrien.

"Lets not make a scene, little Princess. Come dance with me."

Adrien took a sharp breath in, and paused only momentarily, for the shoulder of another townsperson had met his.

"He won't do anything." The boy suddenly said, knowing full well he couldn't interject without a few pointed glances from the people around him. Suddenly, his hand had been grasped by another's, and a pair of townsfolk fit themselves in-between the three.

Aja hesitated, but reached to put her hand in Cain's. He gripped it gently, but firmly, pulling her in and taking her by the waist before leading her off into another dance. He chuckled, leaning to whisper in her ear.

"Smile."

She tried, but it only came out as a wan upturn of the corners of her mouth. She took a deep, shaky breath, attempting to relax even though she could feel the man's breath on her cheek. It was disconcerting, like playing with a dangerous animal.

"I just wanted to give you fair warning," he murmured. She looked around pretending as if he wasn't speaking.

"There's a lot going on now. It's kind that you took your time to come out and heal our sick, but we don't have need of you anymore. Do you understand?"

She closed her eyes. "Illiam doesn't seem to think so."

"Illiam is a fool." he replied smoothly, his hand giving hers a painful squeeze. She struggled not to flinch. "As it is, we're here to help him make decisions. This is one of them. You and your people will return to the tribe in the woods and never come back."

She was staring, the smile fading. She dared a look at the man's face, and he was gazing down at her with another one of his smiles on his face.

"If you do," he said, matter of factly, "I'll kill Adrien."

She stumbled, but it hardly mattered. The song had come to an end. He released her, stepping back and offering her a bow, to which she simply nodded.

"Choice is yours, Princess." he noted before slipping his hands into his pockets and walking off, whistling merrily.

The townspeople began to disperse then, cleaning off tables and beginning to amble back to their homes. Aja tried to help as best she could, but she felt so conflicted, and behaved in such a distracted manner that it was getting harder for her to concentrate.

"Ajani!" Xander called, meandering over to her with Ellie in tow. "Grab Adrien. We're gunna go on an adventure."

He popped up on his tip-toes, waving a hand towards the lad he could apparently see. "DREE!"

Adrien hustled over to the three. After leaving Ajani's hand, he'd taken himself away from the crowd to the sidelines again, to worriedly watch the goings-on of what was happening between the townspeople. He'd only gotten a few glimpses of Ajani and Cain, and even then, they looked as if they were dancing like any other pair. He was dangerously eager to ask what had happened, but Xander and Elleanore were far too close to ask her about such a thing anyhow.

So he looked to Ajani, gravely, then to the other two, with a forced smile.

"Lets go, then. Ajani?"

She nodded, smiling for him, even if it was a strained one, at best. She took a steady breath, watching as Xander and Ellie lead the way, walking arm in arm. Studying them for a moment, she glanced to Adrien, before walking up and slipping her arm in his too.

She'd have to keep her peace for now. She didn't want to risk anything, especially not if Adrien's life hung in the balance.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: Xander Roan

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Blakestown
November 11th, Night


Tonight wasn't a night for altercations. Tonight, people were celebrating being healthy, happy and whole. Even if there were those who were still suspicious of the Vanduo's presence in Blakestown, those who had accepted the tribals into their fold far outnumbered the rest.

So when the small group of young people approached the gate leading to the outside, they were permitted to pass, including Adrien, after the guards had given them a fair word of warning. Ellie was on Xander's arm, and Aja walked with her hand loosely gripping Adrien's forearm. Behind them, the gates closed with an iron clang, and above, the twin moons were beginning to split with the approach of the winter solstice.

Aja glanced upward, her brow furrowed in thought, while Ellie described in vivid detail how much she adored the evening.

"I mean, I wasn't entirely sure about how everything would turn out, but once Ajani saw me and I started feeling better, my hopes were immediately restored." She chirped, her cheeks flushed from the chill. Xander, at her side, merely looked on in amusement.

"Did you enjoy yourself Ajani? You and Adrien seemed to dance pretty well, and Adrien doesn't dance!"

"He hobbles like a cripple." Xander said with a grin. "With two left feet."

"I had fun." Ajani supplemented, glancing to Adrien. "I think his feet are fine."

"Y'll be hobbling like a cripple once I make you one, Sandy," he warned, though dully and humorously. He, too, looked up to the twin moons, before glancing between the group, and smiling toward Xander and Elleanore.

"I'm glad you're better, Ell. I really am. And..." Adrien glanced toward Xander, and his smile seemed to fall more than it rose, at that point. Suddenly, he looked toward Ajani, almost as if attempting to move onto something else.

"Thanks for helping Radimus, Aja. Even though he's a right prick."

Ajani smiled back, but it wasn't as enthusiastic as she would have originally expressed. "He's your father." she told him, lightly shrugging her shoulders. "I would have wanted the same done for my own."

The wall disappeared as the four walked further into the woods. There didn't seem to be any anxiety out here now, not since the colonists had obviously taken in the tribals and accepted their presence. Coming to a small clearing in the midst of a copse of trees, Ajani stepped away from Adrien, releasing his arm and walking to the center of that small patch of snow-laden ground. Her brow furrowed as she concentrated, her arms held close to her chest as she looked around her for a moment, then, with a sudden sweep of her arms, frigid gusts of wind came swooping in, dusting the snow away until nothing but cold earth remained.

Xander, who looked a bit disheveled after the small demonstration, glanced to Ellie, who could do little more than stare about herself in confusion. She didn't seem to be making the connection.

"Adrien can you help me find some branches?" Aja called, waving him towards her. Xander stepped forward, as if meaning to help, but the woman stopped him.

"We'll be back. Stay here with Ellie."

"For a fire?" Adrien unceremoniously replied, as if the association of tribals and magic hadn't really come as new news to him now. His feet carried him toward Ajani, though when he'd reached her, he gave a smile back to Xander. "Y'can't carry lumber anyway, Xander. Only us brawny men can. A log'd crush your lanky bones!"

Then, he looked to the girl he'd followed. "Though maybe just Xander and I should've gone?" he added, almost teasingly.

Aja glanced away momentarily. "If that's how you would prefer it." She seemed to miss the joke, gazing at Adrien curiously, as if she didn't understand why he was saying as much. She shook her head, lifting a hand to her brow.

"Or I can just go on my own."

Adrien's smile faltered, and he set a flat hand on Ajani's shoulder. "I was kidding, Aja. We best leave those two together alone anyway." he said, and nodded toward the deeper forest. His hand fell to his side. "Y'seem edgey, if any. Something messing with you?" he asked.

She nodded, seeing no need for any kind of pretense. "Just, earlier..." she began, walking ahead of him and coming to the base of a tree. Stepping close to the trunk, she lay her hand against the bark, turning her eyes away and pausing for a moment.

A 'crack' resonated above them, and a thicker branch came crashing down, landing softly in the snow not a few feet from where Aja was standing.

"Cain threatened you. He said if I came back..." she hesitated, shaking her head before she looked back to Adrien.

"We need to tell Ellie what's going on."

"If'e threatened me, don't worry about me, because I can damn well take care of myself." Adrien started, rather suddenly and defensively. Then, his brow softened, and his lips pulled into a thin white line. He glanced backwards - to where Xander and Elleanore were waiting for them both. "About the threat he made against her?" he asked. "Or everything?"

Almost hesitantly, he'd hauled the thicker branch over his shoulder, and looked to Ajani for an answer. He thought, that perhaps if she hadn't known, there would be less things to worry about. He could only imagine it peculiar why they would've come out so far anyhow, and the Vanduo leader certainly supplied an answer.

"Everything."

She walked over to stand near him, glancing to his face before looking away. "She deserves to know. If Cain plans on holding on to any of his threats, then she isn't going to be safe." Her eyes went past him, towards the distant woods, and the town that lay beyond that wall. "Where we're at, right now, is good. But I don't know how long it's going to last, or what forces are at work to destroy what we've tried to build."

With a sigh, and a short laugh, she smiled at Adrien, but it was reserved. "I just want all of us to be prepared for the worst, should it happen."

"My father still thinks ill of the tribes. Like helping us was a ploy, so you could be closer. The man is going senile, and he isn't even old enough yet. He's still yet to tell me about the red-haired man." he said, with an expression that starkly contrasted the girl's. "What good would come of telling her if we're not doing anything about it?"

With a long sigh, he glanced toward where she had. He wondered, if he could overlook the tops of the trees, if their wall would still be in view. "I know where he lives - but I'm not killing a man if I can help it. So what are we to do?"

"I won't come back after tonight." she said. "I need to make sure the tribe is doing well, and then there's the matter of Junea..." her voice trailed off, expression suddenly falling to one of worry. "He's yet to come back, and I may have to go out to look for him myself."

So much worry. It was weighing her down at the shoulders. "I've been so distracted that I've nearly forgotten everything else that's been happening."

"Junea?" Adrien asked, his eyebrows pulling tight at the name. He hadn't heard it before. "Is that a good idea? Looking for him yourself? And what about the Vanduo? They depend on you. I know that much, and I've not been there but twice."

He bore the same look as Ajani. "Don't take on what you can't handle. We wouldn't be... heartbroken if you hadn't come back or tried to help us repair the relations between mine and your people. That can wait as long as Illiam can make it. If you need to take care of your tribe, then..." His stomach churned as he spoke, and he hadn't particularly believed the words that he was saying to the girl.

She looked unsure, her lips pursing tight as she crossed her arms over her chest. Continue to come back? Or leave? Which would cause fewer problems for her friends, the people she'd come to care about?

Gritting her teeth, she stared at the ground as the wind stirred powerfully, shaking the snow from the branches around them. "I don't know what I should do anymore. That man frightens me, and I know you can take care of yourself, but I don't know that I could forgive myself if something happened to you...or Ellie or the others."

She searched his eyes. "I want to keep my distance, but leaving wouldn't work either. Not when we're making so much progress."

He pivoted to look at her, and furrowed a brow. "What if... we were to bring Elleanore to the Vanduo? She'd be safe there, if Cain kept on his promise about me getting in the way of things. I wouldn't, still, but I don't need a babysitter. If anything, I could stay somewhere else and that hound wouldn't be able to catch a whiff of me. Blakestown is big; bigger than you've seen. Our walls go on for miles."

"I don't want to abandon this - what we're doing. Not entirely. If it comes down to it, we can just move the people he's threatening, Elleanore and I."

She looked away with a sigh.

"It could work." she murmured. "It's definitely a better choice than just...leaving." She didn't know why she'd even suggested it in the first place. Closing her eyes, she ran her hand over her face before letting her arm drop to her side. Her eyes rolled skyward.

"I'm sorry." she said finally. "I'm letting fear drive my decision-making. I think I'm more tired than I originally thought."

Embarrassed at herself, she started to walk back towards the others. Adrien started off with her, and like he'd promised to Xander and Elleanore, his hands reached for sticks along the way, while his shoulder ached with the heavy wood that Ajani had disjointed from the tree.

They made it back to camp - it wasn't so far away. And, when they had, Adrien happily dropped the lumber into a pile. He moved stones around it, to keep the flames, then looked to his tribal partner as his stomach twisted again, a little afraid of relaying the news to Elleanore, which the three other kids had already known about. Before she could reply to his look, however, he sat himself by the pile of lumber and spoke.

"Can I do the honors? I've been practicing."

Ajani smiled, coming down to sit next to him. Adrien and Ellie crowded around curiously. "Please do." she encouraged, propping her chin in her hand so she could watch.

Adrien had eagerly thrusted both hands forward, palms out, toward the pile of broken sticks and lumber. For a moment, he closed his eyes, and his forehead kneaded with concentration. After a few moments of silence, he opened his eyes again, and looked embarrasedly toward xander and Ellie, then Ajani.

He drew a breath in again, and without closing his eyes, raised his hand to face the firewood again. the boy stared at the pile of wood, and if only for a moment, his vision begun to vignette.

But before that could happen, a spark suddenly rose from the middle of the pit, and caught the fire alight. It was a small fire, and certainly not as impressive as Ajani's magical charades, but the grin on his face that he happily showed to everyone gave the impression that he was rather impressed with himself.

Aja was pleased, just as pleased as Adrien was. She reached to grip his shoulder, squeezing it encouragingly as a soft laugh left her. Ellie and Xander were both staring with widened eyes.

"You can do magic too, Dree?" the young man asked. Ellie, who was standing close to Xander, came to kneel down next to Ajani, her blue eyes wide with wonder as she watched the small flame grow.

"I thought only the tribals could do that." she said, looking past Ajani towards Adrien. Aja, to say the least, looked more than a little proud.

"We all have it in us. This power." she explained, reaching for Adrien's hand and drawing it closer to herself so she could study the veins in the back of his hand. "It's only a matter of learning how to reach it."

She glanced up to Adrien's eyes, unable to help her smile. "How does it feel?"

"Warm." Adrien said, with a grin far wider than Ajani's. It was obvious. He was proud. He'd taken on the same skill that the tribals had, and at the very least, he was coming to a nice start. After trying to turn the corners of his mouth down for a little while, he glanced to Ajani, and the reason why they were here became evident to him again. His proud smile dropped as quickly as it fell, and he gave another wistful sigh.

"S'pose y'two don't know why we came out here to talk?" he asked.

Ellie's eyes widened in curiosity, and Xander came down to sit on her other side. He looked at Adrien with slightly narrowed eyes, as if he suspected what the other might start saying. Aja let go of Adrien's hand and turned to look at the other young woman.

"What do you know about the first time we tried to have our peace treaty signed?" she asked.

"Now, wait a minute," Xander said quickly. "I thought we agreed we weren't gunna talk too much abou' this..."

Ajani looked to Adrien quickly, her brow furrowed.

"It's fine, Xander. Sh'needs to know if she's involved. And she is." Adrien retorted, and gave a quick nod to Ajani before Xander could say anything more.

So, Aja launched into a synopsis of everything that had happened that day, including how she met Adrien, how they'd continued to meet, how she'd come to the town and encountered the man who was responsible for killing her father.

And how that same man had threatened her life in order to keep Adrien from going to see Ajani.

Ellie' eyes were wide, her hands clenched tightly in her lap. Xander looked as if he'd swallowed a lemon. "I don't understand." the young woman said. "What...why doesn't he want you to see her? What does he have against the tribals?"

"What did any of us have against 'em, except stories and some shitty religious reasons." Xander offered. Aja looked from one to the next.

"All we want, Ellie, is to coexist peacefully." she said gently. "We need to learn to rely on one another, and come together as one group of people, and not two." She reached for Ellie's hand and grasped it firmly.

"But that might mean that I'll need to take you to my home to keep you safe, at some point in the future. The last thing any of us wants is for someone to get hurt."

"Sometime soon, Ellie." Adrien corrected. "Do you remember, if any, the man with red hair who helped you carry your things? That was him. His name is Cain. He's a dangerous man, and I don't know if you could stay in Blakestown while we carry on trying to help us coexist without something happening t'you. It sounds selfish to put it that way, but something needs t'happen," he said. "He threatened me. I'm going to move, too."

"What's the urgency?" Ellie's eyes couldn't get any wider.

"Something else is coming." Ajani said, her tone low, and her eyes dark with foreboding. "I don't know what, but I do know that if we can't work together, it's going to destroy both Blakestown and my tribe." She shook her head slowly. "I can't let that happen, to either of us. My father might have suspected it before he di-"

Her throat got thick, but she cleared it quickly, taking a moment to compose herself.

"I think he knew what was coming, and for whatever reason, Radimus, Cain, and a few others are convinced that our cooperation cannot happen."

Even Xander was surprised.

"So, it's like...some big bad is comin' teh get us?"

Aja's throat was thick when she spoke again.

"It's already gotten some of us." she said, her voice quavering. "My people...who live in the homesteads out in the plains...they've gone missing, and I sent a team to go find them, weeks ago. They've yet to return."

Adrien looked to Ajani suddenly, as if the information that she relayed had come as some surprise to him. To him, they felt familiar. His brow unfurrowed soon enough, though, and he gave a deep sigh. He had hoped the dreams he had - the evil she'd spoken of - was just gut feelings and nightmarish dreams. But, their people disappearing? "We don't wander out that far," he said, as if rooting out the possibility that his own could've done it.

Then, he looked to Elleanore again.

"Would you be willing t'go with the Vanduo? They'll keep you safe - from Cain. And... Xander can come to the tribe as well, if he wants to visit you, but I don't think he's in any danger. He's got the mark."

He looked to the faint symbol on his hand. He'd noticed it on Xander before.

"Now?" Ellie tensed, leaning closer to Xander as the other put his arm around her shoulders.

"Soon." Ajani clarified, her lips pursing as she took in a deep breath through her nose. "We'll tell your father, so he won't worry. We just need to keep you and Adrien away from Cain and the others."

Ellie's breathing was faster, but she nodded. "I trust you, all of you. I wish there was more I could do to help."

To the surprise of everyone, Ajani smiled, leaning to cup Ellie behind the head and alighting a kiss on her brow. She rose quickly.

"Best if I went back home," she told the other three. "The rest will come soon, but there are things I need to see to."

Adrien nodded, and gave a light smile toward the two girls. "You be off, then." he said, though suddenly stopped, and lightly took Ajani by the wrist. "But, don't be afraid to come back. I'll move, and I'll take care of myself. Cain won't get to me. I promise."

Then, he let go, and looked to Xander and Elleanore. "I'll be moving from Radimus' house, anyway. I don't know to where yet - and he can't know either. You're going to have to go without an extra farmhand for some time, Sandy."

"I'll come back." she reassured him, before turning and walking into the woods. She glanced one last time back towards the three as they gathered around the fire, smiling tiredly before disappearing into the trees.

Xander watched her go, his brow knit with concern before Adrien's words caught his attention. "Where yeh gunna be, Dree? Or will Ajani be the only one t'know."

Ellie held tight to Xander's hand, watching Adrien quietly.

"Ajani's gone." Adrien noted, dully. He looked to the ground for a moment. The fire he'd made was rasping and dying. Briefly, he shook his head.

"I don't know... I've not explored the city enough t'know. But, I'll tell you when I find out. So, if Ajani comes, you can tell her. I don't think I'm going to stay around the square, though."

He brought a hand to the back of his head and itched at it, seemingly distraught at the lack of an idea.

"I don't know."

"We'll help you figure something out." Xander said. "I mean y'can always stick close to my place if y'need."

"We have a cellar, too." Ellie offered. "It's warm, even during this time of year." Her lips pursed slightly. "It's an idea, anyway. In case you can't find any other options. Father wouldn't mind. I know he wouldn't."

"He'll want to help." Xander seconded, offering a half-smile. He looked back towards the woods.

"So, what's goin' on with Aja? Girl's usually smilin. She just seems...down."

"She's worried about'er tribe. And us; me and Ellie. She's got a lot to take care of; her entire people, and then she's got t'manage relations with us while trying not to get anyone killed." he said, giving a worried look in the direction that the girl had ran off to.

"I don't know about staying with you folk. I mean... Cain knows y'two the best as who I'd go to. Happen I get found, I don't want something t'happen to Cavis, or you, Xander, or your mom."

Seemingly troubled, he put his face in his hands, and rubbed at his temples.

Xander hesitated a moment.

"So...why not go follow her now?" he suggested.

Adrien furrowed his brow for a moment, before standing up abruptly. "That's... something I hadn't considered, I guess. Y'take Ellie to town safe, hear? And you know where th'tribe is, if something happens. If something happens, you tell me."

He looked upon the two that were left with concern, before pivoting and abruptly disappearing into the trees that Ajani had stalked into beforehand.

Xander and Elleanore watched as he disappeared, before Xander went and stomped out the fire. He gave Ellie one last look before reaching for her hand and tugging her along back to the village.

Ajani, in the meantime, had let her succumb somewhat to the emotional pressure that had been weighing her down for the last few days. Sure, she'd rested well enough and she had done some good things for the colonists. Her father would have been proud, and certainly Motina would be pleased...

...but what of her people? What of Junea and the search team? What of those she had left behind at Tribe Vanduo? Could she possibly take on the mantle of caring for all of these people? Spear-heading the effort to make sure that the colonists and the tribals got along? How could she do all of that when she couldn't find out what had happened to her own brothers?

She didn't feel like a leader, just then. She felt woefully inadequate, frightened like a child, and terribly lonely.

So she walked until the tears blurred her vision, and she was forced to stop. Wiping her eyes did little to help, since more tears came, so she turned and sat herself down at the base of a tree, curling up and resting her forehead, briefly, on her knees.

She didn't know how long she sat there. Time seemed to be of no consequence.

Adrien followed suit, though aimlessly. He'd been to the Vanduo village enough to know where it was, but suddenly, wandering haphazardly through the woods hadn't seemed like such a bright idea after all. Not if he couldn't find Ajani. So, he pushed past bushes and dodged trees, until he'd seen the upset path that another had taken just before him.

He tracked it, until he'd come across Ajani again, whose start was not so far from his. It was only when he'd realized that she was on the floor and against a tree that he stopped, and approached cautiously. At first, he was concerned to her health, but then, it was evident he'd caught the girl in emotional turmoil.

The boy almost recoiled.

"Sorry," he said, immediately. "I thought I'd stay at the village - too - for now. Didn't know..."

She spun around, flying to her feet and nearly stumbling in the process as she struggled to right herself. She stared at him, taking a few deep breaths before planting a hand on her hip and using the other to push her hair back away from her face. Still flushed, but obviously startled out of her emotional breakdown, she merely shook her head, muttering something in abrupt Vanduo and then nodding.

"Yes, yes of course. I don't know why I didn't think to invite you back."

"I can just... go back to Blakes, if it'll help. I didn't know it was that bad. 'M'sorry, Aja," he said again, lowering his eyes, and taking no heed to her words. He pivoted to return to the trees again.

"Adrien!" she called suddenly, perhaps a little more desperately than she intended. She was mid-step, as if she intended to follow after him.

He'd been startled by her call, though, and abruptly turned back to face her. His face bore that of guilt and his shoulders tenseness. Part of him didn't want to turn back to her, and part of him had. Still, he waited wordlessly for her to speak.

"I need your help." she said, her eyes flooding. Angrily, she wiped them away with the sleeve of her dress. "I just... need you with me. I need your friendship, your presence is a comfort to me, and whenever you're around I feel like, on some small scale, that I'm capable of accomplishing what I've set out to do." She gripped her hands tightly in front of her.

"My motivations are purely selfish, but it's the honest truth. I won't make you come if you don't want to."

"I want to. I think I'd be safer there; Cain doesn't know where the tribe is, and I wouldn't have to stay at Xander's or Cavis' and endanger them. And..." he drew a breath in, and held it, for an amount of time. "I guess I feel the same way. When Radimus had kept me behind the walls, and Xander and Elleanore hadn't been talking to me," He hesitated, and then gave a forced shrug. "I was ready to give up everything I worked for."

Then, he smiled coyly, and took toward the girl, still cautious in his pursuits. "I'll come. I want to. As long as you stop crying. I don't feel too welcome when you do that."

Ajani rolled her eyes, turning and scooping up a wad of snow before lobbing it at his face.

"Whatever you say, Dree." she said with a small smile.

He was lucky enough to duck it, and then stuff his hands in his pockets and walk tribe-ward. He jutted out a tongue.

"Well, lets go, then? I'm sure your tribe misses me."