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Mateja: Revolution

Blakestown

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a part of Mateja: Revolution, by FizzGig.

The main colony of Mateja, largest in population, and greatest in financial diversity.

RolePlayGateway holds sovereignty over Blakestown, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

641 readers have been here.

Setting

Blakestown was the first colony of Mateja. As it grew in population, several people decided to branch out to other towns. As it remains, Blakestown is the most financially diverse of the Matejan colonies, and contains the most wealth, and the largest number of people.
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Blakestown

The main colony of Mateja, largest in population, and greatest in financial diversity.

Minimap

Blakestown is a part of Plato.

7 Characters Here

Adrien Rune [18] "If I die, take th'letter out of my pocket, n'mail it t'my mum for me."
Elleanore Rawls [14] Head in the clouds, nose in a book.
Aja Thorn [13] The Winter Rose
Xander Roan [11] "Y'know I gotcher back, Dree."
Radimus Rune [9] "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 -"
The Harbinger [7] Always who you think he's not, and never who you think he is.
Illiam Ormond [2] "You children should be off."

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Setting

4 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Illiam Ormond Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls
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#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
August 13th, 9:27 AM


"I think that it's time we've come upon this decision now, don't you, Cavis? It has been a long time coming and you, a long time friend. Perhaps it will even help with the unification of our classes, I'd think. A measure in good faith." Radimus said, and wrapped an arm on the shoulder of his 'long time friend'. Quickly, he released, and found himself moving toward one of the lavish couches by the mantle and fireplace. Fondly, he'd taken a picture of Elleanore in his hand, and regarded it as he'd spoken.

"Your daughter is absolutely lovely, and my son is the hardest worker I've seen. Given the opportunity, he would be nothing less of a great man. Unfortunately, with the place he'd been set in life, he had not a chance."

The man set the picture down. Radimus. A poor man, whose only adornments came from the military he served in. He took the effort to wear clean clothes, and present himself kindly, however. He was kempt, though strong from the work he'd been put through. It was of no surprise he'd be in the company of richer men.

Cavis stroked his thin beard, watching Radimus as the man walked around his parlor. Radimus had a calculating gaze, a quick eye, one that assessed a situation and sought for the way that it could best benefit himself. He couldn't help but feel a distinct discomfort when the other man picked up the picture of his daughter, his precious Ellie, and fawned over her like she was some kind of a horse on the sale block.

He let none of this show, however. His smile was thin, but he made sure it was believable.

"I know Adrien." he said calmly, his voice smooth and low. "And it was never a concern that he couldn't make a place for himself in this difficult world. We all had to make something from nothing. Adrien is not lacking in those skills." He glanced to the stairwell, as his daughter in question descended. Her chestnut hair was done up in curls, blemishless face adorned with a blush as she regarded the pair of men who eagerly looked to her arrival.

The dress was her finest, yet still simple. A soft pink thing, as soft as baby's skin. Cavis continued to smile as her eyes met his.

"Papa..."

"Your future father-in-law, Elleanore."

The girl seemed surprised, but took it all in stride. She gave a delicate curtsy towards Radimus, clasping her hands in front of her as she rose to her feet. She knew of Adrien. He was a handsome boy, even though he was poor.

"Where is Adrien?" she asked, looking from one to the other.

--

"GAH! Yah ninny! Why the fuck'd you hit me straight in the kneecap!"

The dark-haired boy was swinging his stick around, lying flat on his back with his long legs sprawled awkwardly beneath him. "I can't feel me toes, mate! Yeh've made me a cripple fer life yeh have!" Then his face melted into the most pitiful expression, as he lobbed his stick at his scuffle-mate with no sense of remorse. He hoped it jabbed the other lad in the kidney.

"Because I very well know how to scrap!" said Adrien, whose hand held a stick of it's own. A juvenile sword, if you will. "Stop complaining! Maybe y'shouldn't've gotten into a scrap with me if you'd think it cripple ye --"

It would be then that the stick hit him square in the jaw, and he whined out while holding his face. His hand came from his face to the line of his eyes.

"Blood! You drew blood! S'at what you're looking for? To kill me, now? Are there any Blakes guards around? Hey, get up!" Adrien chimed, and with a hand, bent over to grab Xander's shoulder. In friendliness, it was, though his own stick was still pointed to the gut of the poor boy on the ground. "I'm a mad animal on the ground and I don't want to choke you out, so lets make it fair, yeah?"

"A'ight mate!"

And Xander's ropey arm wrapped around the back of Adrien's neck, jerking the other young man to his knees as he took his knuckles and rubbed them furiously against the top of Adrien's head.

"Say uncle!" he warbled, grinning like a lunatic.

"Hey! Get off! Y'll make me have bald spots and I won't get anywhere in life if I've those!" Adrien squealed. He swept a foot behind him, locking it behind Xander's, and hurled forward. Hopefully, not to choke himself, and hopefully, to send his scuffle-buddy flying over his shoulder.

By then, the sticks had been dropped. "Y'know y'can't win against me, Sandy. What happened last time, aye?"

"I know last time yeh didn't have a broad to romance, Dree."

This time the grin was just wicked.

"Ah, what?"

And then, the realization washed over his face. Oh, Radimus would kill him. He'd string him up tight by a noose. "Oh, you bastard, you knew, you knew! And I'm all mucked from fighting! By the gods, where's a bucket of water?"

He rushed around the stable. Soon, he'd come upon the delapidated well which sat with bucket nearby. Quickly, he laced his hands around the rope and drew water. In that time, he almost ignored Xander's presence, dedicated on cleaning up before he'd meet at the mansion, late indeed. A bucket full of water would present itself to poor Adrien, who would haphazardly shove himself face-first into it.

"For someone who doesn't like the uptight powdered wigs we like to call 'women' nowadays, yer sure awfully intent on impressin' the young lass." Xander said unhelpfully.

"We all know what you really do with them sheep in the woods, Dree."

"You're a dolt! Not even Ellie I care for, really. You know Radimus! By the gods, he's even tried to rough YOU up a few times for muckin' with me in good spirits! I'm supposed to be at Cavis' manor, for gods sake, and you know how important it is for us t'leave an impression on the powdies. At least, for him." Adrien explained. Then, he approached Xander quickly, as if he were about to collide into him. His face was sopping wet.

"Alright. Give me your shirt. It's not as dirty as mine, and god knows the fact I'm bleeding from the face'll leave a good impression."

"Don't hurt meh!" Xander cried pitiously. "Just don't make it last long, mate. I need my dignity!"

He ripped his shirt off, giving Adrien a shove before throwing the shirt at him. He flexed then, tanned skin stretching over a chest that was more bone and sinew rather than muscle.

"I rival the sun, mate! Lookit!" Then, he seemed to debate that, and added, "Ahh get the hell outta here. Don't buy the cow until yeh get a chance to drink the milk!"

Adrien caught the shirt and quickly replaced his for Xander's. It was a little tight on him, as his frame was a little larger than Xander's, but it fit. He threw the dirty shirt in Xander's direction when he'd gone so far as to flex. "Cover it up, Sandy, y'stringy dolt."

"N'trust me. I'll make it last as little as I very well can."

He looked between the stable exit and Xander, before taking off running.

--

"I don't..." Radimus looked about, as if his son were hiding someplace. Then, he brought his hand to his face and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Promising as he may be, he's still a boy, and I can make confident bets that he's still hard at work and forgot our date."

Hard at work. Radimus didn't believe those words himself. A hard worker was he, but his free-time was only spent doing menial things. Impatiently, the man tapped at his own crossed arms, his gaze piercing through the door in which Adrien would enter by.

And Adrien had. A bit too quickly. A slam, and the door swung open in an arch to reveal the long-awaited Adrien. He'd looked unkempt, at best. His hair was wild and dirty blonde, and his skin tanned from the sun outside. A worker's tan. When he'd found himself in the staring presence of the others, he quickly adjusted himself, and gave a neat bow at the door. His shoes were left at the mat, before he'd come jogging to meet the three.

"I'm deeply regretful about my lateness. The date escaped my mind." He said, almost earnestly. Oh, but he was putting on a show, if only for his father and 'Ellie'. He bowed toward the lady, and looked to Cavis and Radimus with worry. "Fillin on what I missed?"

"Not a whole lot," Cavis said, clearly amused. Elleanore was staring, her cheeks flushed with sympathetic embarrassment at the way Adrien was presenting himself. When the young man turned her way, she inclined her head stiffly, her lips pulled into a thin, white line.

"Good to see you again." she murmured, clearing her throat for a moment before lifting a hand to touch her knuckle to her bottom lip. "Perhaps we were not communicating the time well enough?"

"I'm sure he had better things to do." Cavis said with a sudden laugh. "Come along now, the lot of you are as tense as if we were at a funeral."

Ellie looked distinctly uncomfortable. She tried not to sigh, keeping her thoughts to herself as she forced a smile for Adrien. Better things to do than meet your fiance? Oh dear.

Adrien, as dense a boy as he might have seemed, then, was not a stranger to Ellie's discomfort. He warmly smiled her way, and perhaps his smile was laced with a little bit of vindiction. They were powdies, after all. What could he really expect? Soon, though, he addressed Cavis.

"Nothing better to do? Nay, I'm simply a miss with times. There could be nothing better than existing in Radimus', yours, and lady Elleanore's presence." He said, with a chuckle. In all actuality, though, he looked for his own father's approval. His father, who stared at the floor and shook his head.

That, before raising it, clearing his voice, and correcting Adrien. "You mean, your father's presence."

"That I do!" Adrien cheerfully replied. "Now, what was it we were to?"

"The Governor's coming back." Ellie spoke up, her voice as soft and delicate as her dress. "There was an announcement he was meaning to make, and he wanted the whole town to come together to hear it."

"She's right." Cavis said with a sigh. "I have a feeling it isn't good news either, just so you're all prepared." And it was true. Colonists who had strayed from the walls of their towns had been brutally attacked. There had been one fatality, and one of the tribesmen had been killed in a previous raid attempt on a pair of hunters who were coming in with fresh game. The violence had increased so dramatically in the last three weeks that it had alarmed most of the more well-informed folk.

"I'm certain he'll have a plan." Ellie added. "He must. Its his job to keep us safe."

"The Governer is coming back, and I plan to aide him. Governer Ormond and I were at the treaty site when the conflict had initially started, and so, I will be aiding him with his speech. He is a strong man, but surely a timid one, and perhaps not the best at speaking. But, at that, I have no doubts that he will keep us safe from the savages in the woods." Radimus quickly added, his tone so regal it would come a surprise he wasn't a high-class man at all. Still, they were laced with poison when mentioning those who lived in the forest.

He continued on.

"I expect Adrien and Elleanore will be attending together, and our Cavis, if he feels the need?" The man asked.

"If only to educate myself." the man replied, obviously bored. He took a deep breath, heaving a sigh before waving a hand to Elleanore and the others. "May as well start walking now, otherwise the crowd'll be too big for us to see."

--

The town square was a spread out, nearly empty section of the town, located near the very center of the collection of houses and buildings. In the distance, the wall that separated the colonists from the tribesmen stood tall, like a grim reminder of the violence that lay in store for anyone who went too far away from the safety the town provided. Cavis came to the edge of the crowd, rising to his tiptoes to peer over a few thicker heads. He smiled, however, relaxing as the Governor ascended the platform.

"Easier for us to see." he explained to the two younger companions. Radimus, as it were, had decided to go to the podium itself.

The crowd quieted as the governer ascended, as well as Radimus. Taking the platform as well was Gerald Mason, whose timid, background position would come to show that he was only there to complete the trio of those who were there on the fateful day that war was waged.

Illiam was a quiet man, now, though his face was wrecked with distraught. He was pale, with a tight bowtie, that of which he loosened rather quickly. On him, he bore war medals, and the outfit of a commander. It was not the outfit he'd worn that day, but then again, none of the three had worn the same. Quickly, Illiam cleared his voice, and fixed his jacket. All eyes were on him. He began to speak.

"It is on this day that I regale to you the news of which you all have probably assumed the worst of. I thank you all for attending, even if it be such a grim spectacle. A grim spectacle this is, though it was not nearly quite so grim as the day I had presented the treaty to the Vanduo tribe that borders us; that we build so high of walls to keep out." Illiam had started. He gestured to the gigantic walls; those which confined the colonists in, and kept those tribemen out.

Suddenly, however, he glanced to Radimus. The man, white as he may have been, grew only paler in the face. He clutched his heart again, as if continuing only made him weary.

"Excuse me for a moment."

He stepped back, to consult with Radimus. Their whispered words could surely not be heard by even the crowd directly in front of them.

Meanwhile, Adrien had taken to the side of Ellie. His face was calculating; a strange look for a boy so rough. He couldn't draw them away from Illiam, and particularly, his father. When they stepped away to speak, he looked to Ellie and Cavis.

"Do you think Governer Ormond is right? I mean -- Right for us. Well, I mean... Well?" He asked, garnering for the opinion of the two.

"He should have killed the tribesmen where they stood." Ellie said, the words unusually harsh for someone so, well, delicate. Cavis glanced to her, his brow wrinkling for a moment, before he turned to Adrien.

"I don't know that any of us expected so much trouble coming here." he said. "Ormond has always been a good leader, even now. Every man has his breaking point, and if what I heard was true.." he sighed. "He has a right to be as upset as he is. What he saw was no easy thing to witness."

"That's pretty easy to say when you're not the one having to brave the forests to feed our people meat, huh?" Adrien countered, though his voice didn't carry a tune of aggression at all. "Even if you kill them, there's going to be more, and starting a feud with a bunch of forest people isn't such a good idea when we need that place to catch game."

"Ahem." spoke a voice, from up front. It was Radimus'. Illiam had stepped back for a moment. "I apologize for the intrusion, but it comes that it would be better if every one of you knew the events that happened the treaty day, gruesome as it is to retell." He breathed in.

"We took our horses to meet them. Earlier on, Governer Ormond had made reconciliations with the tribe leader of the Vanduo. It was brave; we encouraged men to go with him, but he declined, in hopes that he wouldn't come off as a threat to the tribesmen."

And so, he met with the tribe leader. All went well, until the date when three of ours and three of theirs were to meet and sign the treaty. But we did, and Illiam -" Radimus stopped to correct himself. "General Ormond had presented the document. The Vanduo turned it down."

The first lie.

"They were to use a ... rune? Is that what they called it? I expected it in good meanings; they had not shown violence as of then. When our dearest Governer was to accept the rune in good faith, an arrow strung out from the canopies."

The second lie.

"These ... people turned against eachother, for such crude reasons. No; they did not want peace. They did not want to come into terms with ours. It was simple enough; they wanted to be left alone, and they would assault their own kind to do so. It was in their plans. The tribe leader fell, and they put us to blame for such an act, nearly killing us in our escape. It was then that our war had started. We all escaped without harm, but Governer Ormond had taken a threat to his life in the process."

These people do not want peace. They don't want the harmonies of our people. They want to stick to their ways of witchcraft and devilry. It is to Governer Ormond how we will deal with that thus."

Ellie had remained silent, her brow knit together in disapproval as the crowd began to shout, crying out in their indignation at the behavior of the tribesmen. Various calls echoed, anger mounted. The scene began to get more rowdy than it was before.

"Well it was our own damn fault wasn't it?"

Xander's voice echoed louder than the rest.

"We did kinda, y'know, invade their homeland didn't we?"

"Papa I want to go." Elleanore said to Cavis, who glanced down at his daughter, and then to Adrien.

"Begging your pardon, sir." he said, tilting his head before offering his arm to the young lady. She all but clung to him as the pair exited the square.

"We did not invade. We settled." Came Radimus' voice, which grew in anger. "We settled on lands flat and unclaimed, and all we ask is that we use the forest for game hunting. To feed our people! As if the forest had belonged to a single man! And, we stayed in our own. We built walls. Then, when we ask for peace between us all, who mutually share the land, they spit in our faces. Is that not injustice, Xander?"

The crowd roared.

Oh, yes. He would put the boy on the spot. As would he with anyone who did oppose his reasoning. A man powerful was a man frightening. Adrien nodded toward Elle and Cavis as they released themselves, and jabbed Xander on the elbow.

"Just don't." He harshly whispered.

"Yeh remembered my name!" Xander said, his grin wicked. It was clear that he didn't care one bit what this man thought of him. "I happen teh know yours too, so now that everyone's been reminded, why don't yah tell us just what we're supposed to do now? Go out into their forest and kill em all?" He sighed, turning and shaking his head before tossing a hand in Radimus' direction.

"Feckin stupid, the whole lot of yah."

"And this is why we must educate our youth. We came peacefully, but again, they spat in our faces. And we are to take it? Nay, we have not even came to a decision about the tribesmen yet, and yet the youth assumes that we're set on killing them! A violent youth! That is not what we are!" Radimus explained.

Illiam only sat in the background, with wide eyes. These were lies. He knew it, Gerald knew it, but neither of them dared speak up against a man so charismatically powerful. The crowd spoke out.

"That boy'll learn!"

"Those savages'll learn too!"

"Yae, what is it ye'll d', Governer Ormond?"

Adrien grabbed Xander's arm. "What say we get outta here? Let you take out your frustrations on me if y'like. Before the crowd starts taking theirs out on you, or you get a rock thrown at your head."

Xander's look was sharp.

"I'll say what I like, cuz I mean every word. I like you, Dree, but I don't like yer old man. I know a lyin face when I see one, and he's about as slick as the serpent was in Eden." He jerked his arm free of the other young man's grasp, and stormed off.

"C'mon! It's just politics anyway!" Adrien mimed, and took off after Xander as well.

Setting

5 Characters Present

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

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls
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#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
August 21st, Late afternoon


Snow had begun to fall more and more frequently, leaving the ground blanketed in thin carpets of snow. At first, it melted to a slush by the time the sun rose to its peak, but today was the first day that the snow had lasted into the afternoon. Elleanore left her father's home, her shoulders bundled in a heavy shawl, with a basket hanging off the crook of her arm. She seemed to be determined, her lips pulled into a thoughtful frown as she traipsed through the snow in thick leather boots, leaving footprints behind as she made her way for the northeast corner of Blakestown.

There was a distinct cough, coming from the young man who soon exited the print's office down the street. Under his arm were three bundled newspapers; one for himself, another for his father, and the last for his friend. His hands clasped together when his body met the bitter Winter chill, and his cheeks, even through tan skin, flushed red. This particular boy was shielded against the cold as well, with worn, fur-wrapped boots and a cloth shawl of his own.

His eyes fixed on the colonists that passed; some ran into buildings for fear of the cold, and some kept the same rigid, steady gait as they had in the August days. Still, he had a place home, and he began toward it.

A girl passed him, of familiarity. Although his eyes were bleary, her chestnut curls and fancy clothes stood out in stark contrast of the other colonists that wandered the streets. Quickly, he opened his mouth, and with a smile.

"Elleanore? I was just about t'ead over n'deliver a few papers to Xander and Radimus. Mind if I walk with you?" Adrien called.

She hesitated, coming to a halt as she turned to look over her shoulder. When she saw Adrien, she couldn't help the small smile that pulled at the corners of her mouth. She turned towards him, hugging her arms and her basket closer to her chest as a bitter wind picked up, tossing her shawl and her skirts around. She ducked her head, her eyes squinting closed before the wind finally settled, and things became quiet.

"I was going away from town." she told him. "I fear it would be out of your way."

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, to keep herself warm.

"I would love your company, though. It's good to see you out of the sick bed." Her smile grew, warming her eyes.

"Well, for what? I can't think it would be too out of the way, aye?" Adrien tucked the newspapers he had under his arm as well as he could, for fear the ink might run. Still, if Elleanore and himself were to be wed, then he'd put the same amount of work into enjoying it as he did into his duties.

"Face 's healing up well, I'm proud t'say. Gave everyone a good scare, but it wasn't anything to fuss about."

When he spoke of his injury, he had done so with a sort of indignation, and stubbornness to admit it may have been more serious than he'd given it. The boy drew his eyes away, and placed them on the path in front of the two. When he wasn't looking at Elleanore, he watched his own feet kick up snow.

"Let me be a gentleman for once, n'carry that for ye." He suddenly said, and gestured to the basket that the girl clung so closely to.

Her expression softened, and there was a sort of tender appreciation at his gesture. Keeping her eyes down, she nodded meekly, passing over the basket before crossing her arms firmly over her chest. "Thank you." she told him, glancing to the side of his face. She smiled at him, when she thought he wasn't looking, and then turned her eyes forward.

"I never thought you weren't a gentleman." she said after a moment. "And I'm sorry if I seem a bit...out of touch." Her brow wrinkled. She didn't know how to put this. "I'm a bit...new at this." she finally said, her tone breathless as she met his eyes again. She was blushing, and not just from the cold.

"I don't know how I'm supposed to act."

Adrien took the basket under his other arm, and gave the girl the consideration of not peering into it, although the curiosity begged at him to do so. Instead, he shifted between looking to Elleanore when she spoke, and the path ahead when she didn't.

"Is that so? You seem t'be the only one of that opinion, hm?" He rebuttaled, though friendly in his dialogue. "Not sure what y'mean. Arranged marriage? No one's used t'it. What y'think about it, anyway? I'm not to keen on marrying a lady who doesn't like me."

"I like you." she countered, nearly insisting on it. For a moment, she seemed flustered.

She looked at the ground. "It's...it isn't an unpleasant thing, thinking of marrying you. I mean, it certainly could have been worse."

There was a moment's hesitation as the realization of what she said finally came over her. Her eyes widened, and she clapped a hand over her mouth. "I didn't mean it like that, Adrien. I'm so sorry."

Adrien laughed.

"Maybe 'til be a little bit easier t'talk if you aren't so afraid of saying something wrong. 'M not gonna lash out. I get it. I'm not th'most favorable fella to wed, being poor and all, and you a lady with money. Think it's m'father's ploy to hitch a ride into the upper-class, in all honesty, but..."

He shrugged.

"I'll give it my all just as I'd give my duties; if it can turn out t'be something good." He paused. "Say, where are we heading, anyway? Out of town, you said?"

There was a moment's pause, and then,

"The graveyard. I'm going to visit my mother."

She hugged her arms to her chest, and pushed ahead, ducking her chin down as another strong gust of wind blew strongly against her slender frame.

"Ah."

There was a silence, before he spoke again. "Must have been nice, if you're visiting'er in weather this cold."

"I loved her." Ellie replied, her voice unintentionally stern. "Today is her birthday."

She glanced back to him. "The weather isn't that bad when you get into the graveyard. It's protected from the wind." Her tongue flicked out over her lower lip. "You...don't have to come, if you don't want to."

"If y'don't mind, I'd like t'come."

Adrien drew in a tense breath, before looking to Ellie and smiling. "My mother's back in Dallenburg. I s'pose it's not the same, but I miss'er too. Wouldn't let her come on the boat because she was sick. Still is. But I write'r."

"I'm sure she loves that." Ellie replied, her face softening into another one of those tender expressions.

She hesitated for just a moment, before reaching back to take his free hand. Her cool fingers squeezed his hand gently, before guiding him along, between buildings and towards the open pastures where the colonists had started to learn to grow their crops. Nothing grew now. The land was nothing but a soft, white blanket. It was unusually quiet out here, with nothing but the sound of the wind through the trees to accompany them.

"My mother should have stayed." she said quietly. "I wonder, if she had, if I'd be able to write her letters too."

"Still can, if ye'd like. If y'follow the mainstream god-fearing thought-train, she may just be reading'em over your shoulder as you're writing'em. Hell, don't cut yourself off just because she's passed." Adrien advised.

He was led through the buildings, into the pasture that was lush with soft snow. Still, white flakes continued to dot the landscape, and the tracks of their boots had made fresh, autonomous tracks on the landscape.

"W'as in this basket anyway, if you don't mind me asking? Thinking of having a snow picnic?"

"Roses." Ellie replied. "My mother brought over several from home. I dry them during the summer and save the petals." She uncovered the top of the basket, to show him the deep red petals that nearly filled the basket to the brim. There was no smell to it, and a few of the petals flew out as they were caught up in the wind. She quickly covered the basket back up.

"It's...strange. But I like to decorate her grave."

Adrien faltered for a moment. He was at a loss for words; not because it was too strange, but, well... There weren't really words to say. That's nice? After an amount of silence, he opened his mouth.

"Well..." He started. "What are you going to do when y'run out of roses?"

"I haven't figured that out yet." Ellie said, shrugging delicately as she faced forward. She didn't seem to mind holding his hand, so long as he didn't mind holding hers. Her attention was elsewhere, anyway, towards the rise of a hill that extended not too far from where they were walking. On the other side, she knew, the graveyard lay in wait. She gave a wistful sigh.

"What do you think of the tribals, Adrien?" she asked him. The question was so out of the blue that it made it painfully obvious that the subject had been on her mind for quite some time. Either that, or she was desperate to avoid the subject of her mother.

Adrien stopped, and the hand that interlaced with Ellie's fell to his side. For a moment, he frowned, before his lips pulled into a tight line. Instead of trying to regain her hand again, he rubbed the side of his leg.

"What do you think of them?"

She pretended to not notice his hand, and her steps did not falter as she continued forward.

"They frighten me." she replied honestly, her eyes on the snow. "Perhaps, not the people, but the idea of what they're capable of." Her nose wrinkled with distaste. "I mean, I honestly don't know how they could live out here. It's so unpredictable. So...wild."

It was obvious that she missed the comforts of home. She clung to the old ways desperately, as much and as often as she could. It was when she was most comfortable. Ellie liked being comfortable. "Mama never wanted me to be judgmental, and I try not to be, but it's difficult, especially when everyone around you fears them too."

She looked to him.

"Are you afraid of them?"

Are you afraid of us?

The boy looked to Ellie with a sort of zeal, before speaking. "Well, I can't imagine they feel any different. They've killed our people, but we've killed theirs too. They can live out here like we can live back home! I mean, we're different, but we're all human, we adapt, and -"

He stopped himself, and looked around, as if there were somebody behind him. He hushed his voice.

"I mean... It's good not t'be judgemental. Remember that you're hearing from one side of the fence."

It was a strange thing to talk about, as the boy had surely been beaten by one of those 'tribals' a week earlier. He vacantly rubbed the side of his jaw.

"The only things I'm afraid of are being killed, and certain breeds of cats. We're afraid of them."

Her brow wrinkled.

"You almost sound defensive." she said quietly. "They hurt you, didn't they? And what were you doing? You hadn't gone that far, and certainly you hadn't done anything to deserve getting hurt the way you did!"

She sighed in frustration. "I don't understand it. What other side could there possibly be?"

"No,"

was the last thing that Adrien had said, before the two of them had come upon the wrought black fence that surrounded the graveyard. On top of the hill, the wind picked up a little bit more, and the boy wondered if Ellie's rose petals would even stay. He raised his free arm over his mouth, which expelled air that visually contrasted against the frosted air.

"Which one is hers?" He asked. The question was not out of the blue, but it was certainly asked if only to change the subject.

She looked confused, but said nothing further on the subject. In her mind, it really wasn't worth it. Not then, anyway.

"Here." she said, leading him down the few dozen rows that made up the graveyard. The site was eerily quiet, as many yards were, but here, so high above the rest of the town, it was easy to think that you were removed from everything. From this vantage point, you could even see over the wall.

She wondered if they were out there right now.

She stopped when she found the grave she was looking for. Old flowers had been buried in snow, with the top of the stone dusted with the white, powdery covering. She knelt down , right there in the cold, and sat back on her heels.

"Do you think I'll get to meet your mother?" she asked, her head tilting to one side.

"Nah." Adrien said. "They aren't letting her overseas cause'a her sickness. Last I heard from her, it wasn't quite going away as we planned it't. I like t'be optimistic, but if it's th'Velvet Fever we were having over there, you'd have as much'a chance of meeting her as you'd have locking eyes th'big man up above."

He came to Ellie's side, and set her basket down next to her. For a moment, he regarded the newspapers under his arm as well, whose ink had run from the snow that had been hitting them. For a moment, he looked weary of joining on her the ground, but he soon collapsed shins first next to her.

"Unless we voyage out there, I mean. Not sure I wanna see'r if she's got velvet. I like her words a little better. S'at sound cruel?" He asked.

"No."

She was watching the grave, reaching forward to dust the snow away. "Sometimes its kinder to delude ourselves with a reality that's easier to handle. I don't think its wrong at all that you would want to remember your mother healthy."

She wondered, for a moment, about the nature of cruelty in all of its forms. "I like to pretend we're safe here. It's...easier to believe that we're untouchable behind the walls."

"We are." Adrien insisted.

He wasn't so sure himself, but, as Elleanore had said. Perhaps it would be kinder to convince him and herself of a delusion than deal with the reality. Perhaps he'd even come off satirical, given the words she'd just spoken.

"Are y'gonna...?" He asked, thumbing at the basket of rose petals.

She glanced at him, almost irritatedly, and nodded.

She reached for the basket, scooping up a handful of petals before scattering them over the grave. It really was a rather lovely effect, to have the stark contrast of the petals against the pale snow. She didn't have much to say, so she said very little.

At least, until the cold began to settle into her knees.She watched as a few petals drifted away on the wind,

"Probably should head back." she said quietly, rising to her feet. "Thank you for coming out here with me."

Then, without hesitation, she quickly began to walk away from the yard by herself.

Adrien held his breath as she stood up. He'd expected her to wait for him, but she continued on. He lowered his head. Perhaps, in lieu of recent events, he wasn't as socially suave as he'd thought he was.

He'd take his own time at the grave, though, even if it didn't belong to his own.

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: The Harbinger
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Blakestown
August 21st, Night


Radimus waited for his guest of honor to arrive.

In preparation, there was not much. Unlike the other people he'd ever so rarely invited to his home, he was not trying to impress. The only thing on his mind was the business that they'd had to get done. So, the couches were prepped with pillows, the fireplace stoked, and the man who had done such a miniscule amount of work waited impatiently for a knock on his door.

There were no others in the house, surely. Adrien had gone hunting only recently then, and wasn't expected to return in, at the very least, an hour. So they had time to converse; time enough.

The knock was not long in coming. Upon answering the door, the man who had come to call was resting lazily against the frame of the door, his chin angled slightly towards his chest as he gazed at Radimus up through the thickness of his lashes. Dark eyes, hard and calculating, narrowed slightly as his thin lips pulled into a rather mocking smirk.

"You called?" he said, his voice a deep, rumbling drawl.

"Only to discuss business." Radimus replied, with a certain anxiousness. He ushered the man inside to come in, have a seat, or stand if he'd really liked. The point was to discuss, not to mingle.

"Adrien will not be a problem. He's off... In the woods, somewhere. Speaking of Adrien," The man's gaze sharply shot upward. "If, somehow, he gets in your way, you may deal with that, but to kill him would be nothing more than an embarrassment. Completely unacceptable, no matter how his ignorant mind sympathizes with the natives. Are we understood on this matter?"

He laughed, an abrupt, booming noise, and planted his hands on his hips. "I could have killed your son twice over if I cared enough. He's too damn nosey for his own good, Radimus. Why aren't kids practical and by the book anymore? Like Rawls' little girl."

The smirk became a little more pronounced. "By the way, good find. Adrien sure as hell wasn't going to get a girl like that on his own."

"Yes, well, the boy reacts poorly to reprimand. He's of his own thoughts. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Bah! If I'd more control over him, I would surely make it so he wasn't such a ..." Radimus shook his head, as if he'd lost the word. "A smack or thrice does him no good, however."

"Elleanore, herself, is nothing but a step forward on my part to be inducted and introduced to those of higher-class than I. With how he is, I imagine the boy couldn't find a girl worth or above his own if he'd even worn fine clothes and spoke properly. Formerly, I might have chastised you for such a comment, but it dawns on me now that it is not a comment so far off."

Radimus moved to his own couch, and promptly sat down.

"Are you ready to talk business? I didn't call you to mingle, however charming your presence might be." Radimus said, a certain sarcasm to his voice.

"You're the one doing most of the talking." the other replied, folding a pair of lean, muscular arms over his chest. He tilted his head to one side, blue eyes turning gold in the reflection of the firelight. His smile melted to a look of calm calculation.

"You'd said something about damage control." he said, the red of his ear-length, wavey hair glittering like spun gold as he turned away.

"Make another mess that I need to clean up?"

"Gerald Mason. The man was something of a recruit; used his family ties to join Ormond and I at the initial meeting with the natives. I had only met the man a few times previously, and he was meek, with a slippery tongue. I'm not quite sure he could keep the incident under wraps. As a riot of some sort would surely break out if the people had found we'd lied to them, I want him eliminated, if we are to cover our bases. He was a coward, anyway. Ran away when you'd taken your shot."

Radimus' eyes rested on the man, a tinge of annoyance settling behind them.

"Ormond would be a problem if he hadn't gone along with it. I believe he's to keep his lips shut, and as he stands, he is the outer cover of our operations, anyhow. To kill him would devastate the people."

"I thought the general idea of being here was 'kill the tribals'." the man replied disapprovingly. "What am I supposed to do? Drag this man out by his ear and say the tribals killed him?"

His eyes narrowed slightly. "Listen, killing savages is one thing, but another man?" He jabbed a finger in Radimus' direction. "A man who considers you a friend, no less. It's something else entirely."

A pause, and then the man's smile turned wicked.

"Yet, as always, your wish is my command."

Radimus' face twisted into an angry scowl, before he'd hastily stood up and slapped the other man's hand away. "You do not lecture me on morals, sir, when you know the situation that adheres you to I. It is a moralless concept in itself, no less a binding one. Do not bring hypocrisy into my household."

"Yet..." He continued, his hand lowering. "What you speak of isn't so bad an idea. If he must be killed, it must not be evident that it be by one of us. You have experience in knocking people out and dragging them to places, only to blame it on the tribals, have you not?" He asked, his tone reprimanding.

The man chuckled heartily.

"What? Now you suddenly care about the boy? I'm surprised." He stretched his arms over his head, looking more bored by the minute. "We finished? I have other things to do."

He eyed Radimus lazily.

"The sentiment I shared was only to inform you of your own hypocrisy." Radimus said, a scowl ever-present on his face. "If you are so busy, then take such a thing out of my household." Radimus sat down, and squeezed the middle of his brow.

"You are dismissed."

Setting

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune
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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

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls
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#, 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.

Setting

5 Characters Present

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

Setting

4 Characters Present

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--

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

She hadn't intended to fall asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adrien looked weary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Promise y'will."

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

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

"I promise."

Setting

4 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Radimus Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls Character Portrait: The Harbinger
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Blakestown
September 16th, Late morning


Elleanore, admittedly, had spent most of the morning looking for Aja. The idea of losing the poor tribal girl in the midst of her townspeople was not something she liked to think about, especially when everyone was so hot-headed over the issue. In light of Gerald's recent murder...whoever may be the cause of that, it had stirred everyone up, putting all on edge. The town was not a peaceful place like it had once been. Something was poisoning it from the inside, turning it into a destructive, angry place to be.

But Aja had done a good job of hiding herself amongst the people. Ellie didn't see her once. So, she decided to make her way off to the tailor's shop, with the intent of getting a few bolts of cloth so she could sew something together for her father for the Winter Solstice.

Not too long after, she came out of the store carrying a couple of things in her arms. She was going to head back home, to sort through her purchases and hopefully wait for Aja to return. On the way, she was meandering her way down the road, her eyesight partially obscured as she shifted her grip on the packages.

She thumped rather solidly into a man's chest.

"Hey now," he said, taking her by the shoulders before snatching a few things off the top of her pile. Ellie glanced up into a dusky pair of blue eyes, his face wreathed in rose gold curls. She blushed at her mishap, and averted her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she said, grimacing slightly. "I didn't mean...sorry about that."

"Not at all!" he said, rather cheerfully. "Here, mind if I help you walk your things home?"

She thought about refusing, but the idea of running into someone else mortified her, so she was forced to agree.

Adrien had strolled down the street, leisurely as ever. He'd woken up rather early, a contrast to his usual schedule. He was eager to get things done, however, and eager to see what was of Blakestown after his absence. An absence that everyone seemed to perpetuate felt like forever.

He was on his way to the print shop, that day. It was early, and the newspapers hadn't been picked up. To busy himself, he'd bring one for his father, himself, Xander, and Xander's family. It was an occurrence that happened every week, for possibly years.

His eyes were turned upward, and as always, they met the features of the people around him. If they'd met his own, he'd smile, and nod.

The shopping district was a rather small center, with a fountain in the middle that shut off by nighttime. Then, however, it whirred with life, spouting a clear and elegant stream from a cherub's mouth, only to meet the bottom. That was not of concern, then, however. The very same print shop Adrien had visited was across from the fabric shop Elleanore had.

The glint of red-golden curls caught his eye, from the day beforehand. The same figure, to whom it belonged to eluded him. Perhaps, perhaps it was a family friend. But the same man had been helping Ellie with her fabric.

Something wound in Adrien's chest, inexplicably so. He quickly stepped to the fountain, to observe the events that transpired between his fiancée and the red-golden haired man.

And then, almost like in a dream, the man looked back over his shoulder, meeting Adrien's eyes firmly, and without hesitation. He smiled then, a dark look to his eyes as he gave him a brief salute, before looking back to Elleanore and gently guiding her forward by the elbow.

--

Adrien slammed the door behind him, and dropped the papers that belonged to his household at the door.

"I don't know how to deal with an unruly child. Spare the rod, spoil the child. They say, they say. What do I do with you, Adrien Rune? Tell me. My fatherly passion for you has been dismissed by petty quips, after days upon days of wretching abscence. I thought you were dead, and you could not show me the least bit of compassion or empathy when I'd set my eyes on you again, a dead child walking. Have I done something to deserve this treatment? Have I wronged you in some way, other than providing a roof over your head? Other than providing you with food, and a place to sleep? What have I done, Adrien?!" Radimus violently quipped.

He had folded up his book, then. It had taken a day before these words could collide and interact in his head. His actions were violent, even though he'd harmed none. They were quick and jagged. His hands slammed into the arms of the chair he'd been sitting in, before pulling himself up.

Adrien stopped in his tracks. He was on his way to his room, an already worried expression on his face. His eyes fell to the floor, and no doubt did they seethe in the anger and resentment of Radimus' lies.

"Stop acting like you care that I was gone." The boy said.

"I have a responsibility!" Radimus hissed. "Have I not been appeasing it th'last... What, twenty years? And you're still in my house. I still support you, even as an adult. But you, you're still nothing but a boy." A snarl came to the man's face.

"And how much'ave you lied? In the last twenty years, Radimus. How much'ave you bloody well lied? D'ye expect me that y'only lied when y'took th'stage, with Ormond, and dictated what y'knew was wrong? What you knew would not only cause war, but destroy peace between us and th'tribals? 'Ave y'lied about me? 'Ave y'lied to me? Gods, n'y'can't even fathom what being a father is like, can y'? It's just all business with y', isn't it? Believe it or not, putting a roof over my god damned head doesn't make you a father!"

Adrien's speech had come like a poisoned knife to Radimus. For the first time in a long time, he had felt attacked, rather than being the attacker. He reeled back, and his features showed a certain disgust that rattled throughout his entire body.

"How did you know about that, Adrien?" He asked, his breaths becoming short. Radimus approached the boy then, though he'd kept his distance. "Do not get yourself involved in the business of people higher than you. That isn't a suggestion, child, it's a warning."

An uncomfortable lapse of silence came between the two. The man's hands gradually balled into fists, and a wave of understanding washed over him. Adrien kept his silence, and his fists were balled. His eyes concentrated on the woven, red rug beneath him. When Radimus jabbed a finger into his chest, he flinched.

"You've been communicating with the savages, haven't you?"

"No." Adrien said. "They aren't savages. They're people, Radimus -"

"I am your father."

"Father. They're people. Humans. Just like us."

"They're humans who've traded their human qualities to the devil. They communicate with only lies and treachery, and their witchcraft comes from palpable evil. Do you think that is human, Adrien?" Radimus asked. His finger was still implanted into the center of Adrien's chest.

"Yet you've lied th'same way."

"I lied to protect our people! There is no peace from communicating with savages, and if I find that you've been fraternizing with them, Adrien..." Radimus stopped. "Do not get yourself involved with the business of adults. You will sorely regret it, child. You are not only endangering us, but Blakestown in it's entirety. It's unfathomable how you could do so with such ease, and play into their lies. How am I to trust that you won't do the same next time you go into the woods to hunt? Is that where you were? At one of their ... hovels?"

"No." Adrien replied. His eyes, which formerly rested on the ground, were fixated on Radimus' shoes.

"You're lying. Never were you a good liar. You will show me where it is."

"I will not." Adrien said, his eyes suddenly coming up to meet Radimus'.

"You keep behaving this way, child, and you're going to lose everything of a blessing that's come to you. You will lose this house. You will lose my trust. You will lose the opportunity to write those shitty letters to your mother. You will lose your pretty little wife, perhaps, to a marmy streetchild!" He retorted, a slight smirk coming to his face. It was as if Adrien's discontent were a comfort to him, then. "And if you do not give up these ways, I will see to it myself that it happens. Am I making myself clear enough to you, son?"

Son.

The word was laced with enough hatred to turn Adrien's cheek.

"You are forbidden from going beyond Blakestowns' walls. I will see to it that every guard in the city knows. Consider it a blessing, because if I were to reveal that you were fraternizing with the tribals, then much worse would come of you, and not by my own hand."

"And how am I to hunt? T'bring food t'our tables, father?" Adrien rebuttaled, an incredulous expression upon his face.

"I will see to it that there is food upon our tables like I saw to it there was a roof above your head for twenty years, and a bed for you to sleep. It is a disappointing, wretched shame that I have to do so, but you've forced my hand like no other man. Consider it help from me, you disgraceful swine."

"Help? You're helping me? From forbidding me beyond th'walls? I'm an adult, Radimus."

"You are a threat to Blakestown's safety. If I find you betraying my trust that you will stay within city limits, I will have you thrown in our jails. My influence over this town is far greater than you know, and the slop there is far less forgiving than what I will supply for you, and the beds stone. Fit for a criminal."

"You'll not."

The palm of Radimus' hand met cleanly along the side of Adrien's face. Barely controlled anger emanated from the man's body. When the boy reeled, and held his cheek, Radimus had only gotten close. His then-red palm laced around Adrien's collar, and jerked the boy forward.

"You act as if you're deaf. If you don't follow my orders, you will find yourself lame."

He released Adrien's shirt. Adrien staggered backward, a hand still rubbing over the jaw which had been sorely reddened. For a moment, he didn't know what to think. Quickly, his palm placed against Radimus' chest and pushed, which had sent the man a few steps backwards.

Then, the boy climbed the stairs, and retired to his room.

Setting

5 Characters Present

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

4 Characters Present

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

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Radimus Rune
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#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
September 17th, Night


Adrien came into his house again. His hand was clasped firmly over his nose. By then, the bleeding had mostly stopped, but the pain still remained. The embarrassment warded him away from Patsy, who'd surely ask prying questions. The last person he had to deal with was Radimus, who, as ever, had sat in the living room under lamplight. His eyes were in a book, but they turned up to meet the disheveled figure of his own son.

"What have you done?" Radimus asked.

"The wedding is offh." Adrien nasally replied, a hint of newfound apathy in telling the news to Radimus.

"I suppose that is karma. It's such a shame, though, I imagined it would help tie the higher and lower class bonds a bit, wouldn't it? And you'll have trouble finding another on your own." Radimus replied.

Adrien had no energy to fight with the man. He supposed that, perhaps it was karma. Still, Radimus' words slid like glossed paper, and hardly seemed to garner the same response as the biting words had beforehand. What seemed to stop Adrien released itself, and he crawled up the stairs to his room, an obvious fatigue overtaking him.

The blood loss hadn't helped.

He'd shut the windows of the room, whose cracks bore a bitter cold to the air he'd intended to sleep in. Surely, though, sleep would be hard to come by. So he collapsed on the bed, a hand still clasped over his face.

Just as he'd begin to settle down, however, a shadow was cast across his floor, from the moonlight being obstructed by a rather familiar figure. She was dressed in slacks and a duster, her hair hanging in loose tendrils all around her shoulders. She wasn't so much crouched as she was reclined in the sill, one leg dangling lazily over the edge. She reached out to tap the window.

"Adrien," she said, low enough so as not to be heard, but loud enough for him to hear.

Adrien groaned. The calling of his name had only brought upon weariness. At first, he hadn't stirred, assuming the devilish pranks of a distraught mind had been cast upon him. When the tapping hadn't ceased, however, he sat up, and looked to the figure in the window. At first, it excited a jolt of surprise out of him, before he'd realized who it was that sat upon his sill.

Breath escaped him. Quickly, he grabbed a wooden chair and lodged it under the door knob, before hitching his hand under the window and pulling it open.

"Why are you hereh? M'dad is downstairsh. He'll shoot you if he sees you."

The girl was undoubtedly allowed passageway into the house, though, as the window was wide.

"I was worried about you." she replied, climbing inside the room and quietly sitting down on the floor. No need to risk making the floorboards creak and groan. She decided not to mention the fact that he'd ignored her. "You seemed upset, I just wanted to check to make sure you were doing okay."

She was also having trouble finding sleep, but she didn't mention that for obvious reasons.

Adrien let his hand slack from his face to his side. His nose was swollen, bearing shades of red and purple. The nasally sound he bore would become of no surprise, then. "Peachy."

"Th'only people I talhk to now hate me, n'I cancelled m'weddingh. And... I think if I go t'sleep, I might choke t'death." He collapsed on the floor beside her, his back to the bed. It seemed he was less concerned with making noise than she.

She pulled her knees up, eyeing him curiously. She had no idea what had transpired, and if she had, there was the possibility that she wouldn't know how to react to it. So she waited a moment, watching him, and then she reached to grasp his hand, squeezing his fingers for a moment.

"What...happened? May I ask?"

Adrien looked to their hands. He frowned, and gently withdrew his own. He crossed both his arms against his chest, and leaned forward into his legs, so only his eyes peaked beyond his knees.

"M'fiancée kissed m'friend. M'friend also said m'fiancée never loved me anyway. I hit him, n'he hit me a bit harder. Maybe I was overreacting, but..."

He shook his head and looked toward the ground.

"End result's th'same. Ellie doesn't love me, whether she was making kiss facesh withf Xander or not. That much's evident, n'my father's right, as far as predicting m'love life goes. N'I thought I could help bring unity t'our people, but I'm just some 20-some bloke with a broken nose fighting over ivory-studded ladies."

Aja didn't seem bothered by his withdrawal. In fact, she didn't pay it much mind anyway. Looking towards his eyes, she traced the lines of his face, emitting a soft sigh.

"The situation's unusual for me, but I don't know that you were wrong for feeling the way you did." she told him, her eyes now looking to the ground.

"I know it isn't easy to hear, but, in truth, it's almost good that you know now...instead of when its too late."

"I s'pose I can't be mad at'er. Or Xander. I s'pose I just feel like I'm the butt of some cruel joke they'dn't gaven a ratsh ass t'tell me abouth. Gods, if I knew, I wouldn't've..."

His hands gripped the top of his head, and he dug his eyes into the tops of his knees.

"Ajani, I can't even achieve keeping a spouseh, let alone helping us, th'colonists n'your people, t'get alongh. Maybe this entire thing should just be forgotten. Nothing's going t'come of'it."

"Now you just sound like an idiot." Aja glowered, her eyes boring into the side of his head. "I refuse to believe that my father's death was for nothing. Listen, I know this is difficult for you, but you can't just...give up on everything because one part of your life doesn't go as you expect it."

The glower turned to a soft frown.

"If I'd done that..." she shrugged, glancing away. "It wouldn't have ended well."

"Thanks for th'words of encouragement." Adrien chimed, sarcastically.

"You're not seeing th'big picture, Ajani. Radimus disallowed me from even venturing outside th'walls. Th'man doesn't even pretend t'like me anymore. Half th'townspeople think I mingle with 'savages', n'the other half're too busy easting caviar n'fine wine t'care. M'marriage is gone, and th'lady I love is threatened because I was stupid enough to go out into th'woods and -"

He stopped.

"I don't see any progress, is all. All I see're th'side effects."

"What is the alternative?" she shot back. "With giving up? Your people will continue to hate mine. Contentions will grow, and who is to say that the man who threatened Ellie might not threaten you? What if your father, as passionate as he is, leads a march?"

Her frown deepened. "And if my people were to respond? Bloodshed. The resistance we meet now is only an encouragement that what we are doing is right, and not without struggle."

Adrien responded with silence, for a long while.

"I'm nothing but a man, Ajani. All it takes is a bullet. Or an arrow."

"Which is why we should do all we can to make a change." she replied quietly.

"At the risk of -"

BANG. BANG. BANG.

"What're you doing in there, Adrien? Perhaps it would be better to see Patsy before you attempt to fall asleep. As much disdain I bear for you right now, I can't say having my son die in his slumber would be anything but counterintuitive." Came the voice of Radimus, from beyond the door.

The door handle rattled, and with a push forward, the man had found he couldn't enter the room.

"Come now. You've barred the door?"

Adrien looked to Ajani, almost in panic.

But she was gone, the window open, and the barest flash of the edge of her cloak disappearing with a 'snap' as she ascended the roof.

After he'd seen that Aja left, Adrien went to remove the chair from his door. It was only to be seized by the arm, and herded downstairs.

"Put your coat on. I'd like to drop you off so I can retire as well." came Radimus' voice.

Setting

4 Characters Present

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

5 Characters Present

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

Setting

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Elleanore Rawls
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#, as written by FizzGig
Blakestown
November 4th, Evening


The fever had started with one or two. Then, like vines, it crept to others, it's number exponentially growing. At first, it started with the older ones; those who were able to go out into the world, fare seas, and contract the virus. Then, it spread to the more innocent. The younger ones, whose immune systems weren't fully equipped to handle the overlooming threat of the sickness. When those affected had fell ill with headaches, fever, and flushed skin, it was of no doubt to any colonist that had traveled the lands that a wave of Velvet Fever had swept over Blakestown, and the frightening realization came with another; the colonists had no cure.

The streets grew bleak. Less children galloped across the stony pathways, more shops had been closed. Those who wandered amongst the streets kept their head down and their mouth covered, and bore such an unsurmountable expression of worry on their brows. It had become a dull, scary time for the once-flourishing city. Sickness bore no bias to caste or race, and if there was one thing that united the community, it was certainly that they were all effected by the fever one way or another.

The nurse's station had been overwhelmed with the sick. Those that were lucky enough to have isolated rooms were urged to keep their sickly there, and not to maintain contact with the unfortunate souls. It kept the same way for days upon days, with people coming and going, maintaining cautious stares and cautious distances. Some kept to wearing masks. Patsy certainly had. On the 4th, when a healthy Adrien Rune had come knocking on the door to the station. He was one of the busier boys, who kept themself to delivering wet rags, food, and water to those who couldn't make it themselves. One of the busier boys who preyed on luck not to contract the fever, and Adrien was surely pushing his luck.

His sleeves were rolled up, and his arms bore a definition that they hadn't only a few weeks back. His mouth was uncovered. In his hand, he held a bucket of water, which he dropped by the doorway. Sweat lined his brow. If that boy was going to contract the fever, by god, he would take it in stride.

"Patsy! How is it looking? I need a new rag for Radimus." He said, calling attention the already busy nurse.

She poked her head out from around the corner, her face wrapped in a damp cloth. "Y'know where the buckets are, lad. But listen, Adrien..."

She called him over to her, waving her thick hand and then grasping him by the shoulder firmly when he came close enough.

"Miss Rawls is sick here, and she hasn't stop talking about yeh since she came down with the fever. Now, you're gunna go tell her that all is forgiven, and let her have some rest, or I'm gunna beat it into yeh." She leveled a glare at him.

"Understand, lad?"

Adrien's chin wrinkled when Patsy took him by the shoulders. His eyes passed the large nurse, and laid on the door in the back. His chest heaved in a sigh. One that said that he'll do what he's told, but he might not like it. The boy sat down his supplies and moved past the nurse. "I'll do it." He said, in a half-grumble.

When he approached the door, though, he couldn't help but feel an uncomfortable welling in his chest. The symptoms had been all too familiar to him, and every time he'd seen them in another, a grainy picture of flushed cheeks and sick, green eyes came to the front of his mind. Of his mother, whose dainty ringlets had become worn from the many times she tossed and turned in her bed. It was vague, and his youth had caused her face to become nothing more than a blur in his own mind, but the image still resonated. He still recognized it.

So, he gave a knock on the infirmary door before cautiously entering in.

"Elleanore?" He asked.

An indistinct, but soft moan echoed from within the room. The sound of cloth shifting against cloth came to his ears, a voice finally making its way through the door.

"Adrien..."

She looked ill, her cheeks sunken, pale but flushed with the fever. Her hair was damp, curls flat from lying against the pillow, and she seemed to have a hard time holding still.

"I...I'm sorry."

"Hey," Adrien started. He jogged to where Ellie's bed had been, and knelt to it. For a moment, he seemed hesitant, but after seeing her condition, he took her hand in his own and held another over it. "Don't be sorry t'me."

He breathed. A loud, breathy sigh. "Don't be sorry at all. I was angry. Shouldn't be what you're thinking about right now."

A slight turn came to his mouth. It was forced, and there was certainly nothing to smile at, but if there was anything that was reassuring, it was that.

"Where's Cavis? How's he?"

"He worries." Her hand that gripped his was cold, and clammy. She swallowed thick, closing her eyes and taking a deep, shuddering breath. "Patsy says I'm very sick."

She hesitantly met his eyes again. "You'll forgive me, won't you Adrien? Please, I'm so sorry..."

A tear slipped down her cheek. "And I'm afraid."

"All's forgiven, Ellie. Don't go making your will yet, though. Patsy doesn't know anything about Velvet Fever. You shouldn't be afraid." Adrien said, convinced of his own words. His hand groomed hers as they spoke, and his chin sunk into the bedding that she'd laid on.

"M'mother. She's stuck it out all th'way until now. You don't worry about anything, Ellie."

She was still holding tight to his hand, her other one coming up to rest against her mouth. "You might get sick." she said softly, as if just realizing it, trying to withdraw her hand from him.

"Please, I don't want you to get sick. Check on my father and make sure he's alright? I don't want him to worry, and Xander..." she hesitated, her breathing shaky. "I don't want him to see me this way. Tell him I'm alright?"

Adrien let Elleanore withdraw her hand, but he didn't seem too worried about the sickness.

"Stop worrying about me, Elle. I'm just fine. You worry about you right now. I won't forgive you until you do that, hm?" He said, a slight smile coming to his face. It seemed out of place, what with tired eyes and a sweaty brow. "I'll check on Cavis, and Xander. I think Xander would like t'see you though. Talk to you. Make you feel a bit better, because love, you look like hell, and y'know the boy doesn't count on you for your looks."

"I'd even fetch him for you, if you'd let me. Cavis too, if you'd like."

She shook her head.

"Please, no. I just want to rest right now." She sighed, letting her eyes fall closed. "Thank you, Adrien. I just, I hope..."

But she'd drifted off to sleep before the rest of the words came.

"Okay, Ellie. Sorry." Adrien rasped. A guilt took over him. That he shouldn't have treated Ellie the way he had. That he shouldn't have even been hesitant when coming into her room. He bit his lip, and let his hands slack to his knees.

Patsy was standing at the door, watching the whole thing, and when she saw that Ellie had fallen asleep, she came forward to touch Adrien on the shoulder. "Lad," she breathed, calling his attention and making sure he turned to look at her.

"Listen, there's not much I can do for these people. We're wasting supplies trying teh keep fevers down, but no way to fight the illness itself. Yer not gunna hear it from yer father or Illiam, but we need help." she drilled her eyes into his.

"And I'm thinkin them tribals are the only ones who can, now."

"I don't know, Pats. What makes you think they've got a cure better than we do? I... mean. They helped me." He said, unsure of whether the nurse had heard of it or not. "But fixing a leg is mighty different than curing a plague."

"What else can we do?" Patsy asked, her voice soft.

"Least we can do is just ask. If not, then that's that, but if they do..." she sighed. "Well, I suppose we can jest hope they can forgive us for what's gone on."

"N'how do you suspect I get there? I'm not allowed to leave. You going to give me a waiver? Hell, I was trapped in Blakes because I was talking to the tribals. You don't think that'd upset my father and everyone else more?" Adrien questioned. His voice didn't carry a tone of spite, but rather of honest worry.

"As if that's caused you a problem before." Patsy said with a lifted brow. "The guards are sick, Adrien. If you go now, then you needn't worry for nuthin."

Adrien looked toward his palms, which kneaded together.

"I guess... I don't think anyone would try t'stop me. Radimus is sick as a dog. Should y'tell the villagers before I leave...?"

"You should go. I'll do the explainin while yer gone." Patsy said, patting his shoulder and guiding him towards the door.

"Quickly, b'fore yeh lose yer nerve, lad."

"Alright. I'll go. Wish me luck, Pat. I'll be checking on Xander when I get back, but Radimus still needs tending to, and I've not checked on Cavis." Adrien squeezed Patsy's wrist, before letting go.

"I'll be off, then." He repeated, before heading out the door.

The horse's stable wasn't far from there, and the streets were clean of people. At first, Adrien started off walking, before he'd ended up in a jog. When he finally found himself at the stables, the horses seemed distraught. They stamped in their places. Perhaps it was due to the absence of their owners, or the absence of those who rode them. He made his way toward a tempered, brown-maned beauty.

And that's when he mounted it. The path through the gates was one he hadn't taken in quite a while. The lone guard that stood at the door seemed fettered and bothered, and hadn't given a second glance to the exiting man on horseback. The horse carried him far and fast, perhaps a little too eager in itself to get out of the stables that held it. The two went kicking through the snow that laid a soft blanket on the ground, and the sogged dirt underneath. After they'd left the gates of Blakestown, Adrien and his steed carried quickly through the Forest of Whispers.

The weather was curious. It snowed lghtly, and forced him to keep his head down, though the branches that dangerously stuck out on his path had forced him to do the same anyhow. What little animal life that was there audibly skittered away at their presence in the woods, though never had those woods been as disturbed as the day the treaty had been cast down. That day was no exception.

Eventually, he'd come to the same entrance that Ajani had brought him when he was wounded, where he knew guards perched in the treetops and on the grounds.

That's where he stopped. To be greeted, and not to be taken as a threat. His eyes trailed upwards, then down, and he waited anxiously to be let in.

"You ride as if death chases you!" a voice called from the trees. One of the guards, and his tone was in good humor.

"Did a forest sprite frighten you, young man?"

His and another voice joined in the laughter, but it was a good signal for Adrien to continue.

Back at the village, everything was continuing as normal. Men and women took care of their households, and chiildren ran around, either helping their parents or playing with one another. At Adrien's arrival, more than a few lifted their hands in greeting, smiling to him, asking after his welfare.

Ajani was not anywhere to be found.

Adrien's worried glance toward the guards told a story that perhaps, death had been chasing him. He dismounted his horse and tied the beast to a tree, before running into the village. The happy faces of the children and the workings of the men and women only reminded him of the urgency of the situation. He nodded at those who waved at him, but nothing more.

And he made his way to where he'd been taken care of. The pathway was familiar to him. He ascended the small amount of steps and brushed away the fabric that obscured the medicine hut from the rest of the tribe. Then, he entered, and stared to the man inside with an expression unreadable.

"Our city is in trouble. Where is Ajani?"

The elderly man looked up from his work, his wrinkled brow knitting as he held up his weathered hand.

"In Consule, young man. Why the urgency?" His nose drew in deep, audible breaths, dry lips parting with wonder, as if he'd received his answer that way.

"The colonists are afflicted with illness?"

"Velvet Fever. It's sweeping over the town like a plague. We..." Adrien stopped to regain his breath. "We never had a cure. We were hoping you..."

He swallowed his words. After all the abuse from the colonists, he couldn't expect Ajani, or the medicine man, to want to help. Still, the expression on his face regaled a sort of universal anguish.

"We were hoping you would help us."

A somewhat peaceful smile came over the man's face, as if a revelation had occurred to him.

"I'm certain Ajani will be more than happy to speak with you. Fear not. Her heart has always been soft for you and your people." He rose from his seat. "Rest here, though. Take cleansing breaths."

The elderly man rose, and began to shuffle towards the door of the tent.

Adrien almost seemed bothered by the man's peaceful state. He stood up, and grasped for the fabric of the medicine man's shirt, to halt him in his steps. "Where is Ajani doing Consule?" He asked, though plea laced his syllables.

"I can't wait for this. I'm sorry."

The man staggered a bit, but he didn't seem bothered by Adrien's urgency. "To the north, there's a lake not far from here. She's at the edge of i-" The man was suddenly interrupted by the flurry of feet, which took the concerned boy through the Vanduo village. He passed the children and at a point, collided with a man, but it hadn't stopped him from reaching his destination. The thought that, if the tribals could help, and if they would help, had become increasingly overwhelming to him. The reminder that Ajani had been in charge only made matters more pressing.

So he passed through the village, and moved through the trees. It wasn't long before he'd found the lake, whose borders were surrounded by those ever-familiar imposing wooden goliaths.

There was a heaviness in the air, like a great weight was pressing upon his shoulders. It slowed his gait, caused him to pause in his steps as the lake became clear, extending like a black mirror to the distance shore.

Snow covered the ground, right to the bank, but the air had yet to cool enough to freeze the surface of the water. Yet, roughly fifteen feet off shore, a single figure stood on the surface of the water, like it was solid ground. Her back was to Adrien, silver-blonde hair hanging like a curtain down her back. Her hands were suppliant, palms facing the sky, and she was absolutely still.

Something like iron was clasped to her wrists, with a saphire stone set into the metal. They glowed faintly, with the same sort of aura that Motina emitted.

Something about the scene was enchantingly sacred. Even the snow sprites lay still.

Adrien was a stark contrast to such a peaceful place, even though when he'd entered, he seemed to quiet. He took in the serene sight, but the words rising in his chest were intent on interrupting it. His footsteps crunched leaves underfoot, and dispersed the eerie stillness that was ever-present by the frozen lake. "Ajani." He rasped, his voice filling the area.

"We need help."

"I know."

She turned her head sideways, looking off towards the east. Her eyes, from what he could see, were glowing the same, strange blue as the stones on her wrist. She closed them briefly, taking in a deep breath before turning to face him fully. Her steps were slow, but deliberate. When at last she reached the shore, her bare feet found the snow, and that strange glow faded.

With a heavy sigh, her shoulders relaxed, and she seemed to shrink before him, as if weary from the experience.

Hiding the tremble in her hand, she picked up the skirt of the white gown she wore, and ascended the bank towards him.

"How many are sick?"

"If we don't hurry - if you don't have a cure, then, everyone will be. I don't know, though. Th'streets are empty. My father... My wi - ... Elleanore. I haven't visited Xander, n'I haven't seen Cavis. Patsy's fine, but she's taking care of the sick. Can you?" Adrien asked, rather promptly.

"I thought Elleanore would be fine... My mother was fine, after getting th'fever. But she - Ellie - doesn't look good. Not at all. Patsy thinks she's dying. Radimus is sick as a dog. Others are staying in their homes, hoping it passes. I don't know what t'do, and by god, I hope you do." he continued.

She turned suddenly, reaching to take his face into her hands, before bringing it down and rather abruptly, but gently, brushing her lips against his forehead.

"Stop." she told him, sternly meeting his eyes before letting him go and turning to walk quickly up the rest of the hill. Leaving Adrien behind, she made her way back into the village, assembling those there with a sharp whistle.

"Brothers and sisters," she called, her voice keening above the din of the village. It silenced almost immediately. "Innocent people have become subject to vile illness, and they do not have the resources to take care of themselves. I'm asking every able woman and child to come with me to Blakestown to take care of their sick. The men will stay behind to guard Tribe Vanduo."

An uneasy murmur ran through the crowd.

"What of Motina?" Came a man's cry. Her eyes shifted to the one who had shouted.

"I would not have brought it to you without consulting her first." she answered honestly.

Eventually, Adrien had come up the hill as well. It had taken a long while, and his strides became steps, but he joined Ajani before realizing that he was subject to the stares of the entire village. A red tint highlighted his features.

He cleared his voice. "None of you will be hurt. Those with ill intent are too weak to do anything, and even those with strength wouldn't put the health of Blakestown at risk over a squabble with the tribes."

"A squabble is putting it mildly," someone retorted, not unkindly. Ajani reached back to gently grasp Adrien's hand.

"Motina has spoken to me, and she has never been wrong before. We are to help these colonists. I'm not forcing any of you to come with me, but I will go regardless of whomever else may come."

A quiet had stolen over the village as they gazed towards their leader.

"I'll go!" A little voice cried. Siska came forward, with three of his friends, and they were all dressed in the white of the healer's cloth. Siska rushed over to throw his arms about Adrien's waist.

"I'll go." A young woman came forward, no older than Ajani, and two more followed.

Not long after, seven women, and five children stood before her, each of them wearing the same smile of contentment that the Healer had worn. And it was he who came out finally, with a white cowl wrapped around his aged head.

"I wouldn't be true to my profession if I didn't extend a hand to all of Motina's children." he said, tossing Adrien a wink. Ajani looked to the young man.

"Motina provides." she breathed softly.

Adrien cautiously brought his hand to Siska's back, before rubbing it and offering an incredulous smile down to the youth. "Thank you. This means that you know how to treat it, right?"

His eyes suddenly came to Ajani again, his smile faltering a bit. Uncertainty came to the syllables of his voice, yet again. "I don't know that you have enough horses to carry this many people. I don't even know that you can cure our people. Blakestown is a large city, Ajani."

She shook her head, her expression unreadable, before she turned to the children, kneeling down to speak with them.

"You know what herbs we need, for the red illness. Go gather them quickly."

Nodding eagerly, the small gaggle of smiling children rushed off for the woods. The other women had already set about gathering supplies. Herbs, food, linens and other supplies were packed into leather satchels, before being carried over to the horses that awaited. Ajani merely oversaw everything, watching as the old Healer himself went back to his hut to get his things.

"We'll be able to help them." she reassured Adrien, looking to him after a little while. "Please trust that we can."

"How long will it take until you're ready?" asked Adrien, after he'd seen the children skitter off toward the woods and out of view. He had no problem looking to Ajani when he spoke again, and his features studied her own. "Tomorrow? Th'next?"

It wasn't a snide overstimation. It was a hopeful guess.

"Tonight." she said with a firm nod. "We'll walk through the night, on into the morning. You may ride ahead, if you wish, to speak of our coming." she searched his eyes.

Her own reflected a deep-seated worry, but not for the situation at hand. It was for something else entirely.

"Is that alright?"

"Fine." Adrien said. "Perfect. Thank you, Ajani. Thanks. I'm going to ride there, then. I'll keep you guys safe - if I don't, Patsy will. Promise. I'll keep this one."

He backtracked, and almost tripped, before giving Ajani a last glance and turning to find his place again, and the horse he'd mounted before. When he'd gotten to the beast, he quickly threw himself on, and headed back off into the forest.

Setting

4 Characters Present

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

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Radimus Rune
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Blakestown
November 7th, Late Evening


For the first time in weeks, Blakestown was celebrating.

It was a modest celebration, of course, considering the majority of the people were still lying abed, recovering from illness and exhausted from the healing process. But that was just it. They were healing, and at an incredible rate, too. When word of the tribals' success got out, people came to town hall to request that the women in white come visit their homes, to heal their children and their loved ones. Slowly but surely, the women traveled from house to house, spending a few hours in each, and educating the families on how to continue taking care of the sick while they recovered.

Those who were well had started a bonfire in the town square, and tables had been set up for the distribution of food. Children from Tribe Vanduo and the colonist children were tumbling together in the snow, playfully tossing bits of it back and forth, and racing between the houses. One Vanduo woman, and another colonist were watching over them all, amiably talking to one another. People were mingling peacefully, and there was a pleasant air hovering over the gathering.

Ajani did her best not to stumble as she emerged from the last house that day. She saw the fire, smelled the food, but oddly enough, didn't feel hunger. Not yet. Perhaps later. She made her way back to the town hall at a measured pace, intending to ask Patsy where more of the sick lay.

After Adrien had tended to some of the sick on his own, he'd come to his house. Radimus was still sick in bed, grumbling and complaining about this or other. How the tribals shouldn't be there. That it was a ploy. Most of the village seemed to disagree, then, and when the boy told his father of the celebrations, he was met with a quick scoff. In the very back of his mind, Adrien hadn't wanted Radimus to heal. He much preferred the man idle.

But it was a horrible thought. Radimus was still his father. After he'd resolved himself from the busy work of helping the villagers and the healers, he had come to help his own father. Though it would assumably be the first thing the boy should've done, Radimus denied his help, and worked against him. He requested a specific healer. The first times he had, Adrien dismissed him, and ignored the weak attempts to stop his work. Finally, when his father had raised his voice and dumped his bucket, Adrien seemed to comply.

So he made way for the town hall. He hadn't mingled with those he'd wanted to in days. Everyone was busy in one way or another, or sick in bed. He waited with Patsy for the arrival of Ajani, though the jolly nurse seemed to be ignorant of his presence, there. It wasn't she who he'd wanted to speak with.

Her entrance was quiet, eyes downcast as she focussed on not tripping over her own feet. When she came into the warmth of the hall, she lifted her eyes to the opposite end, one hand coming up to idly rub at her temple as she crossed the room to meet the pair.

Dark circles were under her eyes, but she managed a smile for them.

"There are more," she noted, glancing from Adrien to Patsy. "Where?"

Before Patsy could get a word in, Adrien started. He uncrossed his arms, and bore a worried frown for the girl. "M'father - Radimus - won't let me treat him, Ajani. He's asking for you. If you'd like, I could just put the old man out and treat him whether he likes it or not, but so far, he's spat out the medicine and discarded the rags. He's acting senile."

He drew a breath in, and spoke again. "You look like hell, though. I think it best you sleep. I'll get him t'comply. Now that I think about it... Nevermind, Ajani."

She held up a hand. "I'm alright, really. We need to get your father well." She stepped around them, not caring to glance back, before picking up a satchel of fresh supplies.

She turned back, taking Adrien by the hand, and leading him out of the hall.

"After this, then, Ajani. Y'need rest." He insisted. "You're wonderful for doing this - you are - but like you said, we're all human. Last thing we need is for you t'pass out doing something, isn't it?"

They both carried themselves to Adrien's house. It was unkempt. Radimus had neglected to take care of it the moment the altercations with the tribals started. With his recent illness, it had only gotten worse. When Adrien had put a hand on the door to open way for the two of them, it conjured dust.

It opened them up to the living room, where Radimus lay on the couch. He insisted not to move - he hadn't the lamplight for reading in his own room. Even then, he refused to make it up the stairs. When the pair of healers entered, though, a slight smirk came to his face.

"Pleasure to see this one again. I just wanted to know if it was true; if you even dared come into our city after what happened. But it's good to know you're winning the favors of our people."

"You have to be quiet if you want to be treated. Talking only makes you sicker, father."

"Probably the swine that introduced Velvet fever to Blakestown in the first place. You think it a coincidence that it swept over us after she'd left? They carry different diseases than us."

Very faintly, Ajani flushed.

"I can see where you get your charm, Adrien." she said, the smallest hint of a smile curving the corner of her mouth. Releasing his hand, she walked over to Radimus' bedside, hovering over him a moment before reaching to lay a hand on his forearm. Hot, with the lightest hint of a tremor.

"What I have will break the fever." she told him, her expression calm. "If you don't let me do what I need to do, you will die, Radimus Rune."

"I know I will. But this won't gain me favor of your people, miz Ajani. The townspeople can laugh and celebrate all they'd like to. I know that you're swine, and they will as well, in time."

Adrien moved to stand behind the couch. By then, Radimus' ramblings were meager and ineffective. "Quiet, father." He said, to which the man returned a grumble.

"Well, I suppose I have to continue on my promise. I'll let you treat me."

Aja took a deep breath, taking up her position at the man's side. With the herbs sitting in a pile in her lap, she took her hands, resting one on his shoulder, and the other over his heart. Inclining her head, she closed her eyes and began to softly murmur.

Radimus' breathing began to slow as he relaxed. It wasn't long before she pulled her hands back, and began to mix the paste.

"He looks no different than the last time I saw him." she said quietly, glancing to Radimus' face. She was referring to the Treaty day. Her brow knit.

"Then, I didn't think I'd ever be able to come to this place with a lack of murderous intent. Motina softened my heart, and I'm glad she did." She glanced to Adrien, then back to the sick man on the bed.

"I'm sorry for how I treated you, that first day we met."

"I don't think murdering my father would help our relations any." Adrien added, though his tone wasn't at all serious. "I've considered it a few times."

By then, Radimus had closed his eyes. Wearily, he opened them, and pointedly aimed them to the figure above. "Your incompetance is no fault of my own." he murmured. "How is the other man? Not... the bigger tribal man. He's very dead. We all know that. The one I shot..." He started to trail. "Didn't look too good. I wonder if he died. I suppose my aim wasn't well enough."

Adrien's eyes flitted up to Ajani's, and his brow furrowed apologetically.

"Junea fights as well as any warrior." Aja said softly, continuing to mix the paste. "He holds no ill will, either."

Presenting the drink to Radimus, she encouraged him to drink. "It will clean the illness from you." she explained. Her voice seemed softer than before.

"That one man found me, the other day. Hard as I try, I haven't been able to rest." She admitted, squeezing her eyes shut a moment.

"He's a competant man." Radimus added.

At that point, Adrien recoiled. His hands released the couch, and his expression contorted into disgust. The boy looked between Ajani and his father. "You know him?" He questioned.

Radimus did nothing but murmur. His eyes struggled to stay open. Like a zombie, he'd done whatever he was guided to, and drank the mixture Ajani had presented to him. Afterwards, he smiled. "That's a shame. That he didn't die. I aimed for the wrong person."

"Radimus. You know him?"

Ajani was quiet, unable to trust herself to speak. She knew that Radimus had lied, but she didn't know that he knew the assassin they spoke with.

Her heart hammered in her chest, a light flush coloring her cheeks. That, and Radimus' obvious threat bothered her.

"He's asleep." she said softly.

Adrien withdrew from the couch and backed to the wall. His demeanor had changed. He hadn't taken his father seriously, then. He was just a mumbling, senile man who'd seen too much. His hands rubbed his face, and he looked to Ajani.

"We'll... Can you send someone on one of our ships?" He asked, taking himself away from the thought of the assassin. "To my mother."

Her brow knit. "Your mother? Why?"

She was on her feet now, unsteadily, but standing nonetheless. "I mean, of course..."

She swayed, teetering dangerously before she gripped a nearby chair.

"Goodness..."

The boy came from the wall, and gripped Ajani's shoulders.

"Ajani. Y'need to sleep, before you start resting whether you like it or not. Xander's in my bedroom, but you can sleep in Radimus'. You've got bags under your eyes bigger than dinner plates."

He drew in a breath, before his shoulders seemed to relax. It was a gesture made, if only to reassure her. "I'll make sure no one comes in. Gets t'you. You won't have anything to worry about. The other ladies can take care of the sick, and if you'd like, you can get back to it. In the morning."

She looked unsure, her eyes reflecting an obvious discomfort at the thought.

"You dont have to do that." she replied, but she made no effort to resist him.

"'Course I don't have to." Adrien said. He'd taken her by the hand, and led her to Radimus' bedroom. It was quaint, to say the least, but the pictures that hung on the wall work a stark contrast. It was kempt, except for the dust that clinged to the furniture and corners of the walls. There was one bed, nothing much more.

"I'll sit out there, with Radimus. Any noise, and I'll come running, hear?"

She put a hand to the side of her face, quietly studying the room he'd shown her. A light shiver ran down her spine, and it was difficult to say whether or not it was from discomfort, or the cold. But, she knew from the way Adrien was looking at her now that he wasn't going to back down no matter what she said, or how convincingly she said it.

So, she gave him a small nod, licking at her lower lip before entering the room. She didn't bother to close the door, simply walked to the bed and sat down on the edge. Her shoulders slumped forward.

"I must seem foolish." she murmured. "To be behaving this way. It's a wonder I can take care of your people when I hardly know how to take care of myself."

She rubbed at her eyes.

"Anyone would be the same." Adrien said. "He's in th'town. I'm not going t'tell you otherwise. But he won't be in this house. Promise y'that. Know my promises don't mean much, after the first time, but I promise I won't let anything happen t'you again."

He stood in the doorway.

"Going to be able to sleep, you think?"

"No way to tell." she replied, looking towards the window. She seemed hesitant to lie down. Her eyes closed tiredly, before she turned to look at Adrien.

"Tell me about your mother?" she asked. There was an uncertainty to her tone, as if she wasn't sure Adrien would be eager to talk about it, or humor her at the very least.

Adrien smiled.

"She's got Velvet. Same thing in the town. I can't say I wasn't a little bit ... It sounds bad, but I s'pose I got a little hopeful, when Velvet came up in the town, and we'd found a cure for it. You guys."

He moved from the doorway and sat on the bed next to her. "I was hoping that we could send someone t'help her. Velvet's the only reason she wasn't able t'come over with us. They didn't want her spreading the disease t'the new colonies."

The hopeful smirk that lit up his face extended to his eyes, wrinkling them. "She still writes me letters. Could show one t'you, if you want. It was a long time ago that we'd left without her, though. Back when I was a baby."

Her smile was soft. "Yes, please."

She thought about getting up to follow him, but knew that it would only end in her looking ridiculous, stumbling around from how tired she was. "Whenever I asked Papa about my mother, he told me that Motina had adopted me very early on. He said it made me special."

She smiled fondly. "He would have liked you, Adrien. I wish you could have met him."

"Me too, Ajani." Adrien said. He placed a hand over hers, if only for a quick moment. "Maybe, once m'mum is treated, you'll be able to meet her. If they let'er overseas."

Then, he stood up. The boy made his way through the doorway, almost in a jog, and passed the resting Radimus to go upstairs. Quietly, he slipped into his own room, which bore the resting figure of Xander. On his desk laid a pile of papers, to which Adrien sifted through. He pulled one of the letters off the top file, and quietly slipped out of the room again.

When he rejoined Ajani, he was smiling down at the letter in his hands.

"Do y'... Want me to read it? Do you want to read it? S'one of my favorites."

She looked almost embarrassed.

"I can try to read it. I haven't tried to do that yet with your language. I'm not sure how much Motina's allowed me to understand."

She gently took the paper from his hands, holding it between her fingers, and decided ultimately to read it aloud.

"My son," she began. "With each breath I take, I think of you. I wonder at how you grow, each and every day, into the man I know I can be proud of. I wonder, my precious Adrien, if you think of me as well. In those moments, my wish is that you see me in health, awaiting my chance to cross those vast oceans to rejoin my family. Do not think of my illness. Do not dwell on hopelessness. Cling to the magic that allows children to believe in their dreams. Never let that go.

"Forgive me for not being there, to watch as you take your first steps, or to marvel with you as you learn about the new world you now call home. Know that I am with you, no matter the distance, and that I am proud of who you are becoming.

"I love you."

A tear plopped against the worn page, and Aja, with a start, sat up straighter, and handed it back to Adrien quickly. "I'm so sorry." she murmured, hastily wiping at her eyes.

"That was beautiful."

Adrien's eyes fell to his hands as Ajani read the letter. Only when he looked up, and she was done, did he realize that she was crying. Still, a smile lit up his face. For once, it wasn't due to a tragedy, or a death. He took the letter back, and delicately folded it in half, before shaking his head. "It's seen some use. Don't think a little water'll hurt it none."

He laughed, for a moment.

"Lovely lady. From what I remember, n'what she tells me. Can't think of why she married a man like Radimus. Maybe leaving'er is what made him so bitter. If I were older when it happened, sure as hell would've made me a little bitter. I s'pose that's what keeps me from whacking him over the head with one'a those books he reads."

Two dimples grew on his face, and the corners of his mouth turned downward a little. "Miss'er, I do. But I think... Sending over one of your healers, and fixing her, I'd be able t'see her again. You would too."

"I would go myself." she told him, and there was the hint of a promise there. "If it wasn't for my responsibilities here. I can ask, of course, to see if someone might be willing to go."

She frowned, then, rather suddenly too.

"But I don't know that Mateja is safe for your mother. Or anyone. Not right now."

Adrien's frown deepened. He pressed a palm to his eye and tilted his head upwards, before looking to Aja and speaking again.

"Maybe she won't come back, then. 'D just like t'know she's safe and healthy."

He took a breath in, and stood up. Then, he moved to the doorway, and looked back to the girl. "I should let y'sleep. Don't need t'keep you up with this silly thing," The letter had been lifted up, then dropped. "Can't imagine how tired you are. Tell you, though. If you hadn't come here... I don't know what we would've done. Can't thank you enough. We can't thank you enough. Sleep well on that, not about th'bad things."

She tentatively pulled up her legs, smiling tiredly in return to his praise, and modestly waved him off. "It's nothing." And her smile grew.

"But I knew Motina would provide a way, somehow. Perhaps it is the illness that will bring us all together." She could hope.

Glancing towards the pillow, she cautiously lowered herself flat, her figure curling as she relaxed, still gazing towards the window. She seemed to be whispering something under her breath.

The words of the letter.

Then, unaware of Adrien, her eyes drifted closed, and her breathing slowed. Quietly, the boy exited the room, and delicately shut the door behind him.

It seemed that she was finally able to fall asleep.

Setting

4 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune Character Portrait: Illiam Ormond Character Portrait: The Harbinger
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Blakestown
November 8th, Early morning


The morning had come slowly, and of the bodies that rested in Radimus' household, Adrien was the first one to stir and rise. The healthiest of the bunch, whether it be to his amount of sleep, or his curious lack of the Velvet Fever that had been thoroughly subsiding the last days. He awoke in the living room, having eventually drifted to slumber in the only remaining place of rest in the house; an upright recliner. He awoke with a startle, though the dreams that posessed him the night before were hazy, at best, to the boy.

Quickly, he drew himself up and made for the room which Ajani slept in. Light pierced the curtains, and they certainly were a harsh mistress to his eyes. But, it was validation enough that morning had come, and no doubt would the tribal woman be cross with him if he hadn't asked her to wake as well, with how studious she'd been in treating the colonists.

So he'd cautiously approached the girl and rustled her by the arm. "Aja - Ajani, wake up. S'morning." He said.

It took more than usual to get the girl to rouse. Her exhaustion had been so thorough that she hadn't moved from the original position she had lay down in. But, steadily, her eyes opened, a distinct, clear blue in the light of the morning. She sighed, shifting to roll to her back as she lifted her hands to run them over her face. Her fingertips stopped just underneath her eyes, and she turned to gaze at Adrien.

"So soon." she said, shaking her head before struggling to sit upright. "Mn. Everyone's alright? People should be waking now. Walking..."

From the moment she slept to the moment she woke, she had thought of nothing but the people she could be helping.

"People are waking, alright. Stirring right up out of their beds and taking to the streets, with what you guys have been doing for us." Adrien stopped for a moment, then smiled. "I heard a rumor about Illiam - er... Governor Ormond, the other day. He was talking about having an official celebration once everyone is well and healthy. Food in the plaza. And honoring the Vanduo at it, too. It'd be like a holiday. Don't know what they'd name it."

"But, people are getting better, Aja. It's been more good than it's been bad, with you being here, you know. I wouldn't blame you if you told me to get out, and went right back to sleeping. No one else would, either."

Her attention had been won the moment he mentioned Illiam's name.

"Governor Ormond is like your chieftain, yes?" she asked, her eyes boring into his.

"Yeah. He's pretty high up there. I guess we get used to calling him Illiam, 'cause every time someone meets him, he insists it. People say he doesn't really have the backbone to be a good leader - not since the treaty - but he takes care of Blakestown like we're Anabelle and Josie Ormond." He said, nodding.

She was up rather abruptly, one hand lifting to smooth through her hair. "I need to see him. As soon as possible. Now, even!"

She didn't say why, simply that she needed to go. She turned abruptly to Adrien. "Can we? Do we have time?"

"Everyone has time since Velvet hit. He's probably up in his house. Got two little girls to take care of, and one of them had the fever." Adrien said, his dullness probably due to the morning.

"I can take you there, I guess. I usually try look nice before I hit the streets, but I guess no one is looking that great. Why's it so important?"

She was pacing restlessly, from one side of the room to the other. "I need to apologize to him. As soon as I can."

She came up to stand in front of him. "I can go myself. It isn't a bother, really. I just..." She looked almost nervous.

"I just need to."

"Alright, alright." Adrien said, standing up with the woman. His fingers raised to his eyes, which vehemently rubbed at the morning crust that had accumulated there. "He's not going to disappear, you know. It's only morning."

He moved to the door, to open it for Ajani. Meanwhile, Radimus stirred in the living room, and groaned incoherencies. "We're off." Adrien said to the man, who soon rolled over to face the back of the couch and rest again.

When he'd gotten to the door, he'd pulled Radimus' coat off it's hanger, and tossed it to the girl. He took his own and wrapped it around his shoulders. Then, he held the door open.

"After you."

There was someone she was trying to avoid, but it was hard to go explaining that to Adrien, especially now. She'd awoken with a certain clarity of mind, and she didn't want to let go of that any time soon. "Quickly," she said, slinging the coat around her shoulders and jogging off into the snow.

All around, people were finally starting to come out of their homes. They smiled and laughed, waving to one another and marveling over how quickly the illness had subsided with the help of the tribals. There was an air of peace, one that was nearly palpable. The air felt lighter, here. But Ajani couldn't stop now to enjoy it with them. Not yet.

She didn't stop until they came to the foot of Illiam's home, and it was with a certain eagerness that she came to the front door and knocked.

Shouts of laughter and reassurances had come from beyond the door of the regal-esque home. The pitter-patter of tiny feet and the stomps of larger ones had grown closer to the door, until the mahogany slab was opened, if only to reveal a raven-haired young lady, whose eyes swept over Ajani with a certain recognition.

"Oh!" She started. "I remember you! None of us are sick anymore, though." She said, almost haughtily. Her voice had the certain charismatic strength of a child proud of their accomplishments.

"That's not the same girl as earlier," came another woman's voice. A slender hand had taken the door and opened it further, to reveal a woman of darker skin, and even darker hair. She smiled at Ajani, and then to the boy who'd taken place behind her. Her other hand held the underside of her stomach. She gave a warm smile to them both. "Illiam, dear? You have visitors."

"I do, I always do." Came the voice of Illiam, who, in his hand, held another young girl. Younger than the one who'd opened the door. "Ana, oh, move, will you?" He asked, and the very same girl squeezed between the two and disappeared into a room beyond. When Illiam's eyes had come up to meet Ajani's, however, a certain paleness had stricken his face. He handed off the child to his wife, and then closed the door to which only he and they could converse.

But he didn't speak a word. Instead, his lower lip quivered into his top, and he fought with what to say.

Her eyes swept over the family, wonder in her gaze as she took in the sight of the beautiful children. Her heart was hammering in her chest, but she still managed to smile, looking between all of them with a certain eagerness to her expression.

Then, when Illiam appeared, she felt like she would stop breathing.

"Illiam." she began, an incredible wash of emotions sweeping over her. "I wondered if I could speak with you privately?" She didn't look back to Adrien. She couldn't afford to, then.

"I suppose," Illiam started, his voice grave. "I should not subject my family to this."

He hesitated to step into the bitter cold. He looked behind him, to where the two couldn't see, and grasped the hand of his wife, before closing the door momentarily.

Adrien looked to Ajani, his brow furrowed. "You don't have to apologize, you know. Not to him. He wasn't the one who's had'is father shot." The boy said, ignorant as to why Ajani had seemed so distraught. Before he could continue, the door had been opened again, and Illiam stepped out to greet the both of them in Winter clothes. His eyes fell on Adrien, who had gone to take a step back.

"Should I leave y'two be?" Adrien asked. "Y'wouldn't mind at all if I'd gone in and played with Josie again, would you, Illiam?"

Ajani hesitated, looking towards Adrien before she gave a quiet nod. "We won't be too long," she murmured, shrugging out of Radimus' coat and handing it back to Adrien. She looked to Illiam, her expression meek, before quietly making her way down the stairs.

Adrien nodded, and ducked inside Illiam's house. He'd gone to Josie, who was held by Illiam's wife. The small child grasped his finger, and he laughed, before the door had been shut, and Ajani and the Governor had been left together.

"I'm sorry to pull you away from your family." she said to him when they had come a distance away from the house. There were people around, and some of them glanced their way as they passed. "I just..." Her brow furrowed as she heaved a very great sigh.

"Many things happened that day." she murmured, not looking at him. "There were things said and done that were unforgiveable. On both sides." She momentarily looked to his face.

"But, as the leader of my people, and their representative...I wanted to come to you especially, because, plainly...I wish to apologize."

Illiam regarded the girl's words with a certain timid quietness, and his eyes had kept to the ground, until Ajani had uttered the last syllable of her apology. Then, he'd looked up to her, his eyes flashing with mild surprise. "Oh..." He murmured, and suddenly took Ajani by the shoulders.

His next words came like a flurry of pent-up practiced speeches and apologetic pleas. "I'd wished to apologize too, you know. But, you were gone. And through all of it, I'd wanted to let you know - that I didn't condone your father being killed. I had no play in it. On behalf of me -" He stammered. "I mean - our... Blakestown. I'm apologizing as well. Never did I hold any ill will toward your people, and it hadn't only been the death of your father, that day. I can't imagine what it was like. I thought he and peace had died, but..."

Suddenly, he came to a realization. That, perhaps, he had been getting a bit too excited. The man's cheeks still bore a deathly paleness. He withdrew, releasing Ajani. "You've been good at restoring that. I... haven't been, so much."

There were tears in her eyes, even as she listened to his heart-felt apology. There was some anger, certainly, but she had to school herself to direct it elsewhere. This man had not been responsible. She remembered the look on his face when the bullet had pierced her father's heart.

"I should never have threatened you the way I did." she breathed. "It was dishonoring to my father's memory, and a disgrace to what my people had set out to accomplish. I can only hope that what has happened in these last few days can at least repair some of the damage our ignorance has caused."

She said 'our' with some emphasis.

"I wish to maintain this peace, as best we can. It's so very important, Illiam. We're going to need each other." She glanced away, trying to keep her thoughts in order. "I fear a destruction is coming. If we do not stand together, then we're all going to suffer for it."

Back at Illiam's home, the front door nearly bent with the slamming of a fist against its surface.

"Illiam!" A certain red-headed man said, loudly. "I insist you open up!"

Finally, a smile had crossed the man's face, though it was meek. "I don't know what sort of destruction you're talking about, but even without, I can't help but agree. There is no way for us to reside here for so long without coming to terms on something, is there?"

With the faint call of his name, Illiam glanced to where his home rested. A chill had gone up his spine, though he watched from a distance what was to transpire. The mahogany door had opened up, with the small face of Anabelle Ormond peeking beyond. In her hand was Adrien's, who had to bend over to accomodate the child's grasp.

"My daddy isn't home right now, he's -"

The girl was cut off by Adrien, whose eyes had met their copper-curled visitor's. "Out. He's out. Anabelle, I think Josie's crying." He said, rather plainly, and shooed the girl off. He stepped outside, nearly pushing the larger fellow away from the door. Though his voice seemed firm, when it softened and faded, it quivered with slight fear. "He's not here. Neither's she." He added, though 'she' had been rather ambiguous.

His eyes nearly flitted in their direction, before landing up on the visitor's again.

The man grit his teeth in frustration, glancing to the side, before pausing to look...really look.

"Not a problem." he all but growled, turning abruptly and jogging down the stairs, across the lawn, and down the road towards Illiam and Ajani.

Aja was holding her breath, and her shoulders went stiff when she saw that the one man she feared most in this town came, practically running for them.

Her face had gone unusually pale, but she maintained her composure even as the Assassin approached. He glowered at her, a wicked look that was filled with obvious animosity. "I would have thought you'd be a bit more cautious, Illiam." he insisted.

"Lest you catch that awful fever."

Illiam had glanced to the man, almost passively, but it was certainly a ruse. Inside, the man had shaken him to the very core as well. "Cain," He started. "I was just going to direct this young lady to the nurse's hovel. She seemed lost, and, well, I consider myself a good Samaritan."

Adrien followed close behind Cain, and joined the group as Illiam finished speaking. "I... need a pail for Radimus, so I don't think it'd be wrong I come with you all."

"If you've a matter for me, well, can you bring it up later? I'm a busy man." Illiam continued.

"She knows damned well where the hovel is." Cain suddenly snarled, taking a threatening step closer to Ajani. She stood frozen, simply boring her eyes into those of the man who had, on more than one occasion, tried to take her life.

"She's been sneaking into the village," Cain accused, pointing a hand visciously at her. She flinched. "Scouting us out, and here you go, letting the whole lot of them into the town without so much as a hesitation. It's foolish. You are foolish."

He looked disgusted, stepping back and nearly shoving Adrien to get him out of his way. "Well, I won't be fooled. There are those of us who will be happy to see these people gone."

He shook his head, looking between the group of them before turning and stalking back towards the village. Aja didn't say a word for a long while.

Then, "Should we get the pail, Adrien?" she asked, her voice soft.

Adrien balled a fist.

"Radimus doesn't need a pail. I swear, if he knows that man -"

"Isn't something you should be involved, or concerned with, Adrien. Politics between the tribes and colonies is a dangerous thing, and you're lucky to have had Radimus' status protecting you." Illiam said, his voice full of scorn. Though, it seemed stricken, and almost fearful at points. "Consider yourself lucky."

For a while, the silence between the three of them grew, before the Governor had spoken again.

"You children should be off."

"Thank you for speaking with me." Ajani said quickly, before turning to walk off down the road. Ironically enough, it was away from the town hall... in the opposite direction that Assassin had gone in. She didn't pause to see if Adrien was following, but surely enough, the boy had worriedly stalked after her.

Setting

5 Characters Present

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

4 Characters Present

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