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Mateja: Revolution

The Forest of Whispers

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a part of Mateja: Revolution, by FizzGig.

A quiet wood, filled with towering oaks and evergreen trees. Many a creature live here, as well as the Vanduo tribe, who frequent the tedious border between the colony's Wall and the rest of the wilderness.

RolePlayGateway holds sovereignty over The Forest of Whispers, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

402 readers have been here.

Setting

This wood extends for miles between the outskirts of the tribal homesteads, and the Wall that divides the wilderness from the colonial settlements. Subject to seasonal changes, especially in the North, the wood is filled with trees of all kinds, and houses many different animals, as well as outlying tribesmen who patrol the borderland forest. Towards the south lie the plains, where trees become scarce, dissolving to nothing but an ocean of grass.
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The Forest of Whispers

A quiet wood, filled with towering oaks and evergreen trees. Many a creature live here, as well as the Vanduo tribe, who frequent the tedious border between the colony's Wall and the rest of the wilderness.

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The Forest of Whispers is a part of Plato.


2 Characters Present

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Tell me everything." she breathed.

----

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

Silence, as the doorway was pushed open.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

----

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolish child,

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

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

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

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

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

I'm learning, Motina. Please...help me.

3 Characters Present

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


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

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

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

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

It was white fur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He raised his hands.

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

One hand gestured for the knife to be put down.

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

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

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

"If you leave, I die here."

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

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

"Hell."

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

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

She gave him a look that clearly expressed her answer.

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

The boy held a hand out.

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

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

There was a look of disappointment in her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Numb fingers my arse."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I know. You were...kind...to help me."

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

"Are you afraid of us?"

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

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

"This is going to hurt. Say when."

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

"Take it out..."

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

"Now!"

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

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

"We're human. Like you."

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

"Well, are you afraid of us?"

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

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

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

"What's your name?"

"Adrien Rune. Yours?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"This isn't what it looks like - "

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

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

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

Crack.

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

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

She'd let her guard down.

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

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

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

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

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

2 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune
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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 9th, Late Morning


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aja.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are there more? Is he dangerous?"

"He means to kill us all!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At a point, however, he looked to Aja.

"Thank you. For taking care of me."

Her smile was weak.

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

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

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

The one who had cut her face.

"I was worried he might have hurt you."

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes hardened.

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

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

The healer turned to Adrien.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adrien paused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aja stepped over her opponents legs and stalked off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune
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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 9th, Late Evening


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ff-shit!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aja paused, her expression blank for a moment.

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

"Do you want to come with us?"

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

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

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

Aja half-smiled.

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

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

"Motina is no ordinary cat."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adrien Rune.

The voice was like silk velvet against his mind.

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

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

Perhaps it was due to magic?

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

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

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

The boy did not return Motina's courtesy.

Motina's eyes narrowed slightly.

Does Ajani?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We do not kill our own."

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

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

But nor had his father, had he?

The boy took toward the forests again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 9th, Night


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adrien's fist curled.

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

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

She rose to her feet.

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

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

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

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Forest of Whispers, Blakestown
September 10th, Morning


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Right here."

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

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

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

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

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

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???


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's when he woke up.

Forest of Whispers, Vanduo Tribe
September 10th, Morning


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

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

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

Oddly enough, he could understand what they were saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Y've gone and confused me."

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

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

She finally met his gaze.

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

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

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

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

"M'not sure what it meant."

Her brow furrowed in concern.

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

She sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aja hesitated, her brow furrowing slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man's laugh was snide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nanuk chuckled.

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

Adrien suddenly turned his eyes to the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Adrien Rune
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Forest of Whispers
October 7th, Evening


Adrien had spent a few days after Radimus' speech stuck within his home, wracked with fear of the townspeople's vindictive stares, scared of what Xander, Elleanore, Patsy, and Cavis thought of him, then. After some days of seclusion, he'd drawn himself out of his home, if only for small duties. As he'd expected, he'd met the persecuting gazes of nearly all, but after days, he learned to ignore them. The guards still didn't let him beyond the walls, and he was met with a hasty shove if he'd approached.

Then he'd withdrawn himself into his house again. Radimus had run out of callous words to speak to him, and that was certainly a blessing.

Every day, however, after Elleanore had long since been gone, he'd visit her mother's grave. He didn't know why. Perhaps it was the white flowers that still yet bloomed. He'd bring paper and quill to write a letter of his own to his mother, whose own letters had been growing short.

The graveyard was a peaceful place, if he didn't think about what laid underneath them. The trees which normally bore healthy green leaves were shaken bare, and casted a creeping, veiny shadow over the yard. The townspeople's whispers and shouts didn't reach the gravyard, and if they had, they soon dissolved into nothings as they went along their way. A thin blanket of snow and frost covered the area, though it hadn't bothered him by then.

Adrien had written his letter to his mother for the day; they'd been coming more frequently to her, as he'd nothing else to do, and if he'd found solace in anything, it was surely that. So he stood to leave, but hesitated as he passed the bare trees.

Suddenly, a ball of snow plopped in front of him. In any other moment, it would have gone unnoticed, if not for the second ball of snow that landed directly on top of Adrien's head.

Adrien's hands flew up to knock the snow off of his head, and his letter clattered to the ground. Quickly, he picked it up and shoved it inside of his jacket, before looking around. To his surprise, there were no children about, only graves. His eyes flitted upwards, while his stepped beyond the shade of the frosted tree.

Another plop of snow landed right on his upturned face.

Aja was perched on the wall, crouched as she gazed down at him. A cowl was wrapped around her face, but there was no mistaking who it was. She waved to him, holding a finger to her lips before turning to grab a thick, long length of rope.

It was dropped over the edge, and the girl disappeared from sight.

Adrien's eyes, after they'd been wiped of snow, landed on the rope. His heart thudded, and he glanced around, before quickly latching his hands onto it. Even if it hadn't seemed like a fantastic idea, the concept of being able to go beyond the wall appealed to him like no other. Thoughts of the forest beyond overwhelmed him. He began to scale the wall, though it's surface was sleek and frost, and it was no easy task.

A few times, his boots gave underneath him, and he'd struggled to hold his place. Not before long, though, he was peering over the edge of the stony walls that kept him imprisoned for so long.

"Adrien," she whispered, though her voice carried in the quiet evening. She was holding the rope, part of it looped around the branch of a tree she was standing in, and held tight in her hands. Upon seeing him come to the top, she released the rope and walked out to him, standing on one branch and holding to another above her to keep her balance.

She held out a hand to him.

"Pull up the rope then step over to me."

Adrien mounted the wall and quickly ravelled the rope he'd come up upon. He passed his wrist through it, wearing it on his shoulder, before his hand clasped Ajani's. Ever slowly, he stood up, and placed a foot on the branch Ajani had stood on. He slowly looked to her, fear lacing his eyes.

"This doesn't seem like such'a good idea, now."

They were a dangerous height above the floor.

"I won't let you fall." she replied. "Don't look down." She took a step back, encouraging him to come closer.

"To me, Adrien."

His other hand firmly clasped the other side of Ajani's wrist, and he had quickly brought his other foot onto the branch. It croaked underneath their weight. When he'd found that he wasn't falling, however, his eyes unstuck from his feet and came to Ajani's eyes again.

"This is going t'kill me."

"If you keep talking like that, it might." she warned, taking another step back. "Reach up. Grab the branch above." They were both close to the trunk. "You can do this."

It was either that, or go back down into the town, and she knew that he didn't want to do that.

He slowly let go of Ajani's hand, and held his arms to his side, as if to balance himself. His eyes fixated themselves on Ajani's, awkwardly, but he was heeding her warning not to look down. One hand slowly raised to grasp the branch, and when his fingers met bark, the other grasped the branch above as well.

"I think this's just about th'worst time'a th'year t'go tree climbing, Ajani." He breathed, his words quivering. Still, he looked to her for advice, while his arms were hoisted above his head.

"I know you aren't complaining." she teased, easing back and encouraging him forward. "We can always go back, of course."

He'll get used to it, she told herself. She would make sure he was as comfortable climbing trees as he was walking on the ground.

Adrien grinned, a challenging grin.

"Tch. If y'd have me, I'd live in your tribe instead'a this shoddy town. Lets'ave at it, then? If I fall, y'damn well better catch me." His eyes fell to the ground for a second, before whipping back upwards. "Following you."

She tossed him a smile.

Turning, she released the upper bow and easily walked back, her balance second nature. Once she reached the trunk, she lowered herself to sit, before tentatively reaching with her foot for another nearby branch that sat lower.

"Just watch for ice." she told him as she turned back to wait.

Adrien, however, used to branch above him to keep himself from falling. When he reached the trunk, he let go of the branch above and slowly lowered himself as Aja had. His boot slipped out from under him, however, and he'd only nearly wrapped his arms around the icey branch to catch himself. Shaky breaths rattled from his chest.

His foot felt for the branch underneath; the one Ajani had been waiting on, and he slowly released himself to rest on it. When his hands were free, he hugged the trunk.

"If I die, take th'letter out of my pocket, n'mail it t'my mum for me."

But she'd already made her way to the branch. In fact, she was making it look far easier than it probably was. Moving swiftly from one branch to the other, she finally came to a distance where she felt safe to jump, and so she did, landing in a crouch, then rolling onto her back so she could look up at him.

"Not so bad!" she said, only slightly raising her voice.

Adrien let his arms release from the trunk, and slowly stepped onto the branch behind him. His eyes caught sight of Ajani, who had swiftly made it from branch to branch. The thought unnerved him. He looked to the ground.

Then he transitioned to the next branch. He was moving at a slightly faster speed. His feet tok him from branch to branch, until he slipped, yet again. His feet came out from under him, and he tumbled to the snowy ground below. Thankfully, it'd been just a bit higher from what Ajani had descended from.

He laid on his side in the snow, groaning from the aches that falling had brought him.

She sat up, moving to her hands and knees and crawling over to where he lay. She lay down next to him, smiling the whole while as she rested her head on her arms like a pillow.

"See?" she said. "Now you've fallen. You won't be so afraid next time." The look softened as she, too, rolled to her side,and looked up at the wall. "You're free for a little while."

"M'not so sure that's how falling works." he groaned. He wiped his eyes, which were blinded by the snow. When he beheld the wall in front of him, he couldn't help but ecstatically smile. "Free for a little while. Hell of an effort t'get out, though. Blakes feels like a prison now, and th'only reason they haven't put me in jail is 'cause I'm Radimus' boy."

He rolled onto his back, and stared up at the trees he'd descended from. One of them merrily dropped a pile of snow on his face. He shot up, spat out, and wiped his face.

"I'm guessing y'don't want t'meander around here, then?"

"Not even a little bit."

She balled up a wad of snow, launched it into his face, and then burst to her feet, sprinting off into the woods with a wide smile spreading across her face. He was free. They had hours. She didn't have a single idea what they were going to do, but at the moment, it didn't matter. She'd been so worried for him, constantly watching out, listening for news that something might have happened.

But nothing had. She'd rescued him. It couldn't have been more perfect.

Skidding to a stop as her horse came into view, she eagerly threw herself up onto its back, looking back to wait for Adrien to catch up.

"Come on!" she called, knowing that the woods would swallow her voice now.

Adrien's face had sorely reddened by the amount of snow that had been dropped in his face, by then. Again, he wiped the snow with a red hand and climbed to his feet. His hands firmly tied the scarf around his neck, before he'd took off right after Ajani. When he'd reached her, he placed a hand on the horse and bent over, obviously out of breath.

For a moment he recovered, and then hauled himself onto the horse as well.

"Where're we going?"

"You've never been outside the wall except to hunt," she told him. "And I don't know that you went that far to begin with." a smile began to spread across her face.

"So we're going to go a bit farther this time. Hang on tight."

She drove her heels into the horse's flank, leaning forward as the animal burst into flight, its hooves kicking up a flurry of snow as they began to fly through the trees. Aja didn't guide the horse with touch so much as thought, her fingertips pressed against the animal's neck as they moved. The animal's canter was fluid and comfortable. It practically glided across the ground, carrying its passengers as though they were riding a cloud.

On either side, dark trees stood like frozen sentinels, each of them snow-laden and quiet. The forest was asleep, but for the shadows that errupted all around them from the flickering moonlight.

Adrien's hands laced around Aja's waist as they glided across the frosted and snow-covered grasses. At times, he'd resisted reaching out to touch the dark trees and their stony appearences. He hadn't come to these woods in a while, and he'd certainly never ventured that far. The vapor of their breaths left behind a trail like dissipating smoke, which lingered only momentarily, before leaving the forest to it's slumber again.

Too soon, the trees began to space out, until they disappeared altogether, leaving nothing but a vast expanse of snow-laden ground. Overhead, the sky stretched like a glittering dome, millions of stars pricking through and giving the landscape a heavenly haze. In the distance, the sound of moving water could be heard, a glittering black river lacing its way through the valley.

His eyes flitted upwards, though through the bitter cold, he'd trouble keeping them open. When he couldn't behold the night stars above, his eyes traced the winter blankets, and his ears, the black rivers which cascaded and sloshed.

Still, Aja didn't slow. Now, more than ever, it felt as though they were truly flying.

It was late after they started when Adrien spoke up. He nearly shouted, for the wind that glided past their ears made it difficult to hear eachother.

"What about th'wildlings? Are they out this far?"

"No!" she called back, leaning a little so she could turn to put her lips at his ear.

"They hunt in the day. Even still, they're not going to bother us. Not while I'm here." She pulled her face away, looking down towards the ground, where the horse was kicking up snow. Her eyes widened suddenly.

"Adrien watch!" she said, pointing towards the ground. What looked like, at first, the wind kicking up sloughs of loose, powdery snow, occasionally shaped itself into the form of...people...all in the wild turns of a dance. Aja finally reigned in, smiling so wide she knew her cheeks would be sore.

All around them, in gentle spurts, were those same, strange figures, disappearing from sight as soon as they were noticed.

"The solstice is coming." she whispered, the sound nearly deafening after the roar of the wind in their ears.

"So the sprites are coming to celebrate."

"Is that magic?" Adrien asked, his eyes focused on the dancing, snow people. They scared him, at first. Then, the fear subsided, and a slight smirk played to his face. Then, an incredulous grin. "That's amazing. S'like nothing I've seen. If Blakestown saw these..."

He shook his head. "They'dn't be able t'think it was witchery!" He yelled, trying to raise his voice over the wind.

"Sprites?"

"Spirits." she clarified, her brow furrowing as she looked out across the field of snow. She dismounted, smiling to herself as the bursts of snow periodically tossed themselves her way. She held out her hand, palm facing forward, watching as a sprite formed to briefly touch themselves to her fingertips.

"Come on Adrien! They don't hurt you." she explained.

The horse simply stood, its teeth rolling together amiably.

Adrien dismounted the horse as well. The bitter cold that overtook the both of them was combatted by the friendliness of the spirits, who threw their bundles of snow his way as well. He instinctively jerked back, and placed himself between the horse and Aja.

"Spirits? Like... Dead people?" He asked. Slowly and cautiously, he withdrew from his hiding place. "What d'they do, then?"

"You know...I don't know who they are." Aja mused, glancing back over her shoulder to look his way. "We're all so interconnected...I don't know if I'm looking at an ancestor or a reflection of myself." As she turned forward, a burst of snow swatted her in the face.

Puffing out a breath, she dusted the snow off of her face and smiled. "They're not very helpful in letting us know either." As she continued to walk, one sprite came at her from the side, and she quickly pivotted on her left leg, swatting clean through what could have been the sprite's torso with her right.

"They play." she said as she came to stand on both feet again. "I come here to spar."

"Dunno if you n'I have th'same definition of play, but -"

A block of snow splashed against Adrien's face as well. Both hands raised to wipe the frozen water out of his eyes. His still-swollen nose, cheeks, and lips were a blood red. He took a moment to tie his scarf tightly around his face.

"Getting a little tired'a snow being in m'eyes." He mused, though a slight smirk had come to his lips. The forms shaped themselves in the snow like waves when they'd come to him, only forming like humans when they'd come closer to him. He jerked back when another had come, and swatted his hand through it's form.

It scattered, and fell formlessly back into the snow beneath his feet.

"How'd y'find these guys? Aren't you afraid'a what, uh... Y'might find? If y'keep exploring like this?"

She'd taken a knee, smoothing her hand over the fine white snow. "I've lived here my whole life. Motina's been teaching me Mateja's secrets since I was old enough to understand who she was." She glanced back over her shoulder at him.

"There's very little I need to be afraid of here." She looked around, murmuring something under her breath. The wind slowed, finally stilling, and the sprites calmed. Everything became quiet.

"There's more power here than your people realize." she told him. "But it isn't hostile. Not in the slightest. Not unless we decide to use it that way."

"I hope y'won't have to." Adrien said, his voice calming. "Maybe y'can show me th'things Motina showed you. If that'd be alright. If they're all anything like this."

He smiled to Ajani.

"It seems like th'only place where anyone's afraid of anything is Blakestown. I want t'calm it, but I'm nothing but a boy. A man, even. And no one's been looking at me th'same way since Radimus gave his speech. Xander, maybe, and Cavis, but Ellie..."

His smile faltered.

She held out her hand, showing him the infinity symbol that was painted to her palm. "You have everything you need here," she explained. "I'll just have to teach you how to ... see. Really see. And when your family learns to see, too, they'll understand."

She stood, walking over to him and grasping his right hand, turning it over so she could lay her right palm flat over his. "We're connected. All of us. You'll be able to do everything I can do, and the sooner the colonists realize this...the sooner they realize that we're not as evil as they seem to think," she met his eyes.

"We'll have a chance."

"Th'colonists won't listen t'me anymore. Radimus made it so they won't listen t'you. Xander doesn't want involved with'it. Elleanore doesn't want involved with'it. I don't know that we do, Ajani. No one's speaking for you, er, us. No one that anyone'll listen to."

Adrien lowered his eyes to their hands. Although his eyes were sad, but he'd repeated the same scenario in his head so many times that his words came off apathetically.

"I don't know that we do have a chance, but I s'pose I've got nothing else left t'fight for anyway."

She shoved him.

It was light, not intended to hurt, but to wake him up to what he was saying. "I know I didn't hear you imply that you're giving up. This was never meant to be an easy task. We're trying to change the minds of two very different groups of people." She tilted her head to one side, reaching up to pull the cowl away from her neck. The skin was bruised in a ring, scapped in places where the whip had lanced her skin open.

"I'm fighting, because I don't want this to get worse than it already is. People are going to die, Adrien, if we don't do something."

"I'm not giving up. I'm not going t'lose more good things than I already have. If I've a chance of making them better then I'm for it, 'cause they're at their worst now. If things continue like they are in Blakestown..." Adrien faltered, then smiled. "Y'might have t'make me a hut back at your village."

His eyes fell onto the bruise around her neck. He couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt when she'd shown it to him. He never had the chance to apologize about how things had gone down beforehand.

"I'm sorry for that. I didn't expect Radimus t'know. I didn't expect him t'alert th'town, and I didn't expect him t'shove you'n'me under th'bus. I couldn't protect you like you'd protected me at th'village. If there was any way I could make it up t'you, I'd do it."

"Let me push you around a few times and we might have an accord." she said, lifting her shoulders in a shrug as she sighed. "It certainly didn't happen the way any of us were planning, but..." she paused to look around the clearing.

"I'm sure an opportunity will arise that'll let us show the colonists what we're truly like. I don't know what, or when...but Motina's told me to be ready when it comes."

She chuckled, then. "Speaking of." Turning around and jogging back to the horse, she pulled out not one bow, but two, and a quiver of arrows that had been slipped into a saddle-bag. She passed one over to him, then took up her own.

"You said you could shoot." she told him, a small smile forming.

"Now you can show me. You want to learn what Motina's taught me? Tonight's your first lesson."

In the distance, a whirlwind of snow blew to and fro, until a pile hand formed in a half-circle. She knocked an arrow, loosed it, and watched as it plowed into the center.

Adrien looked to the arrow and bow he'd been handed, and his shoulders shrugged in a laugh. "I can shoot. Guns. Your folk use wooden instruments. We stopped manufacturing bows n'crossbows back when we started making metal shooters, Ajani."

It was nothing but an excuse. Adrien looked to the bow, almost in confusion. He'd no idea how to work it, so he looked to Ajani for assistance. She hit the pile of snow that'd formed, almost flawlessly. So, he held the bow, attempting to mimic her posture. He put the arrow to the string, and then let it fly.

A whole foot.

"See, now this isn't fair."

Her lip twitched.

"You're not pulling back far enough, see," she explained, grabbing the arrow he'd dropped and coming up behind him, she encouraged him to take his position, before she lined up her hand beneath his on the bow, her opposite arm coming around behind him.

"You have the strength. Pull back as far as you can, hold steady, and then release." The close proximity didn't bother her, even though she was essentially tucked up next to his torso.

Adrien kept the arrow between his middle and ring finger, and then pulled it back with the string. It was difficult. Far more difficult than pointing and pulling a trigger. Ajani was right, though, even though his strength had diminished the last few weeks, it was still there.

He relaxed for a moment, and pulled the arrow back again. An odd smile twitched at his lips, before he'd released the arrow.

It flew farther that time, though certainly missed the mark.

"Looks like y've got competition," He said, turning his head to the side to look at the girl behind him. "After this, I'm teaching y'how t'use a gun."

She wrinkled her nose.

"Maybe."

They spent hours practicing, working with the bows until Adrien could shoot as far as the target she'd created. He had picked it up pretty quickly, which pleased her, though it was obvious they had a long way to go. After the long session, she was surprised to see that her fingertips were raw, and she felt tired.

It was a good kind of tired, though. Satisfying. She picked up snow between her hands, rubbing the cold over her sore fingertips. "You did really well." she told him, looking up to meet his eyes.

"Work on your strength and balance. Key to handling such a prestigious, wood-made weapon." She gave him a teasing smile.

"Do you want to go home?"

Adrien was happy to be done. After hours, his arms ached with every motion. He certainly didn't show Ajani up as his pride had made him expect to. Finally, when Ajani had seemed satisfied, he released a breath of relief, and wiped the sweat off his brow.

"I think I'd have to, right about now. 'Lest someone think something. Radimus' got me on tight lock, y'know."

Home. It wasn't a word that soothed him anymore. Not then. His expression contorted from disgust, before it resolved to a quick faux smile. "And I s'pose that you've got t'head back too. Don't want t'worry th'tribe any more than you already have, hm?"

"They don't." she said with a mild shrug. "So long as I'm away from Blakestown, they have no reason to worry." She took up the bows and arrows, walking over and slipping them into the pack on the back of the horse.

"When do you want to come back out?" she asked, turning to look at him. Then, her expression faltered just a little.

"...if you want to, that is."

"Well, y've got t'show me around, don't you? Got t'learn what Motina's taught you. If I'm not coming back, how's that s'posed t'happen?" Adrien replied, with a reassuring smile. "'Ow about two days? Let m'muscles rest a bit before y'put me to any more manual labor."

"Shall I push you into the saddle?" she asked, tilting her head to one side before reaching for his wrist and tugging him along to the horse. She climbed on first, helped him up, and set the animal off to a comfortable canter as they moved into the woods. All too soon, the wall began to rise up in front of them, like a looming warning. She looked to the top, reining the animal in as she pondered what to do.

She glanced to a towering oak, just off to her left, and dismounted to make her way over to it.

Coming to the base of the trunk, she smoothed her palms over the rough bark, her brow furrowing in concentration as she leaned closer, pressing her ear to the tree for just a moment. Murmuring softly, she turned her face to rest her forehead against the bark, palms pressing more firmly into the wood.

Then, silently, the tree began to bend towards the wall, not like it was falling...but like it was made of something softer than wood.

Adrien stayed with the horse, and curiously looked on to Ajani. When the tree began to bend to the wall, he grinned and laughed, perhaps in astonishment. Slowly and cautiously, he came to the oak tree, and hitched his fingers in a crease in the bark. Before he'd ascended, however, he looked to Ajani.

"When we're on our next course, can y'teach me how t'do that?" He asked, humor still lacing his face. "Thanks for th'easy climb. I'll rope it back down. Y'can get out of here, don't want guards seeing you, anyway."

With a last look toward Ajani and a rope over his shoulder, Adrien began to scale the wall that lead him back into Blakestown.

3 Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aja Thorn Character Portrait: Xander Roan Character Portrait: Adrien Rune
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#, as written by FizzGig
Forest of Whispers
October 15, Night


She was lying on her side in the snow, her arm pillowing her head. More snow fell in soft drifts from the darkened sky, but the ethereal glow of Motina's presence gave the clearing a faint blue hue. Aja gazed across at the big cat, her brow knit together as she idly traced patterns in the snow between them. Motina was lying on her belly, gazing back at Aja with an intense, focussed look to her eyes.

Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?

"I think so." Aja replied, her lips pursed. It had been a warning, one she'd been receiving for a long time. This time, though, it seemed as if Motina was more serious than she had been before. Licking her lips she sat up, dusting snow from her cloak before she began to idly scoop snowballs into her palms.

You're doing well, you know. I'm very proud of you.

Aja smiled, glancing to Motina before looking back down at the snowballs. "I'm doing what you asked. That's all."

The big cat stood, padding forward to drag a warm, rough tongue over Aja's cheek. It's more than that. But no need to discuss it now, your trainees are arriving.

Aja's brow perked. "Trainees?"

She looked towards the entrance to the clearing, hearing the faint sound of hoof steps coming from within the darkened treeline. With a grin, she scooped up her snowballs and raced across the clearing, the sprites tossing their bodies her way as she came to a skidding stop on her knees, launching snowballs towards the horse as it finally came into view.

The horse was white as the snow beneath them, and it raced and skidded to a stop the moment that a snowball had hit it. It gave a defying whinny, before laying down. One of the riders on top of the beast huffed and stood up, only to be met with a snowball to the neck. He haphazardly threw himself off the horse, before gloved hands reached to pack snow up and send it at the assaultee; Aja. Snowy figures danced around her; something that'd surely raise a brow to his riding partner.

But, first, he raised his hand and waved to the girl. Then, he reached back to tug Xander along.

"C'mon, Sandy. Don't wet yourself, eh? We're here. Ajani'll explain it t'you."

"Yeh don't have teh pull me like tha'!" Xander hollared, flailing as he went sliding sideways into the snow. Aja threw another snow-ball, crying out with laughter when Adrien's projectile smacked her full in the face.

Overhead, stars and faraway planets dotted the vast, black ceiling above them. Their moon hovered close to them. It was a lumbering, celestial giant. Never in Blakestown were the stars as bright as they were out there. The contrast between them was the contrast of light and dark.

Adrien raised a hand, then, to block another incoming snowball.

"Come on then!" she called to the pair, sitting back on her heels and waiting for them to show their faces. "Xander! Welcome to the Forest of Whispers!"

"I'm feelin' welcome!" he called back, shaking the snow out of his hair. He looked around a bit nervously, but he didn't seem to be too bothered. After all, Adrien trusted the girl, and no real harm had come to him, had it? He looked out behind her, at the figures who were much more easy to see due to the steadily falling snow. Transparent visages, people dancing. They were all over the clearing.

His eyes widened.

"They're sprites! Forest spirits. Come on, they won't harm you." Aja said, standing and turning around to jog back to the horse.

Xander looked to Adrien.

"What kind of trick is this?" he breathed. The scene was ethereal, with the winter sprites dancing, and the girl who was just as mysteriously beautiful walking among them like she somehow belonged there. "I feel like I'm dreaming."

"Y'aren't dreaming. This is what y'get when y'wonder past the walls. I guess y'never really get used to it, 'cause I feel like I'm dreaming too." He said, with a chuckle. He opened his arms and walked backwards from Xander, as if introducing the clearing to the boy. "'Ey though, watch out, will y'? They won't hurt you, but they'll certainly knock y'down!"

As he'd said so, one of the forest spirits came to throw itself at Xander.

"EY STOP!"

The soft 'pft' of snow slapping against skin echoed towards Adrien. Xander lay on the ground, a deep frown on his face, before the boy scrambled to his feet and dusted the snow off. "What was that for? I'm jes sittin here mindin my own--"

Another sprite threw itself at him, but he deftly smacked it with the back of his hand, and it dissolved with the faintest sound of laughter.

Xander scrambled back, running for Adrien while he looked all around the pair. Aja was standing off at a distance, laying out a few long staffs that were evidently meant for sparring purposes. Xander watched her a second, his brow knitting.

"She really is teachin' yeh t'fight. A girl." He looked pointedly at Adrien.

Adrien scoffed at Xander. Then, he grabbed the back of his jacket and playfully pushed the boy in the direction of Aja. "Y'spar with'er. Then y'ask me why a girl is teaching me t'fight. Go on!" He pushed Xander again, before running ahead to Ajani and picking up one of the staffs. When Xander would approach him, he's toss the weapon to the man, but not before tapping Ajani on the shoulder.

"I just want t'see how he fairs. Don't kill'm."

Aja glanced back at Adrien, smiling secretively before looking to Xander and lifting her hand in a wave. "Good to see you again, Xander!" she said, taking up her own staff and letting her cloak fall from her shoulders. She wore a kind of cotton tunic, tucked into the top hem of her brown slacks. Soft-leather boots barely made a sound as she stepped towards him.

Xander fumbled with the staff a moment, confused as to what to do with it. "Yeh fight with sticks?"

"A staff." Aja calmly corrected. "And yes. We're using a handful of different tools, but today's is the staff."

Xander looked unsure. "Dunno how I feel about hitting a gi--"

Aja had passed the staff around behind her, before lowering into a crouch and swinging the staff out to catch Xander in the heels. With a yelp, the young man fell flat on his back, knocking the breath clean from his lungs.

"I insist!" Aja said cheerfully. Xander scrambled back to his feet, a bit out of breath, but looking more determined than before. He swung for Aja's shoulder, but she brought that staff up, ducking sideways and knocking his staff away from herself.

"Don't throw your weight around." she told him. Xander didn't seem to listen. He began a series of unorganized blows, ones that were easy for Aja to block or dodge. Finally, she spun the staff in both hands, pivoting closer to Xander before smacking the hand that held his staff. He yelped, dropping it into the snow, and staggering a step back when the end of the staff Aja held came up under his chin.

She smiled again.

"Not a bad start."

"D'y'wanna ask me about why I'm being trained by a lady now, Sandy?" Adrien asked loudly, before jogging over to their position and grinning madly. In his hand, he held a staff as well. He used it to lower Ajani's. "The way you're fighting, y'might get a bit bloody n'bruised before y'actually start learning anything. Hope y'don't mind explaining t'the townspeople why 've got that nice purple round, aye?" He teased, and poked the boy in the chest himself.

"Y'might want t'start with the snowmen, though. Y'think, Aja?" He asked. Behind them still, figures frolicked and danced in the form of the snow underneath them. "Or me."

"Let him dance," Aja said, taking her staff and running it down the length of his. "I'd like to spar with you, if that's alright."

Xander was eyeing the both of them, and he looked like he was ready to say something inappropriate. Just as his mouth opened, though, a sprite slammed into him, nearly knocking him sideways. Aja laughed.

"Just hit them with the staff! They'll dissipate, I promise. Try not to use so much energy when you swing it around."

"Y'don't have to hit'm hard, Xander. Just keep swinging at'm. Y'think y'd think to turn around, by now!" Adrien said, with a laugh himself. Then, he looked to Ajani, and a slight smirk had come upon his face. "Well, if y'promise not to beat my ass."

His staff met the floor, and he'd waited for Ajani to make the first move. His eyes trailed to Xander, if only for a moment.

"Look at me."

And the moment he did, she was stepping forward, aiming the staff in an abrupt thrust forward for his chest. Xander, in the meantime, had taken to swinging at the sprites, letting out a sharp cry when one of them dissolved just as they said it would. They regrouped, attacking him at once, leaving him to flail about before he finally threw the staff off to the side and just started throwing his arms around.

Adrien's staff rotated as he looked back and stepped back. He knocked the staff away from his chest, and it laid across his arm, as if it were an extension. Then, he released and swung it around, aiming to hit Ajani in the side with the staff.

Xander, however, was on his own. With the two of them enthralled in their sparring, various srites still attacked the man, though the ones he'd hit dissolved into piles of harmless snow.

She parried the blow, pushing the staff away before swinging in close for his opposite side.

"You're getting faster," she told him, nodding with approval. "Learning quickly!"

Adrien yelped as the staff had hit his side, and staggered before catching himself. Meanwhile, his staff swept under Aja's and brought it in an arc motion over his head, before it landed on his other side. Then, he made a Jab for Aja's own stomach, similar to the one she'd given him when they'd first started.

While he fought, he yelled, "Xander! Not dying over there, yeah?"

That time, Adrien didn't look.

She caught the blow in her abdomen, huffing a breath before lowering into a crouch and spinning the staff out for Adrien's ankles. Xander, in the meantime, was getting a better handle on his form. He was street-brawling, but it was definitely working for him.

"These powder beasties don't know what's commin to them!" he called back, grinning like mad.

Adrien's foot lifted, but he hadn't lifted the other one in time enough for the staff not to catch it. It was swept under his foot, and soon, his entire body came along with him. His arm spread out to catch his head, before he'd collapsed into the packed snow. For a moment, he grumbled in pain.

"He's doing better than I am." Adrien said, dully. For a moment, he relaxed, as if giving up the fight. Whether she'd pointed her stick at him or not, though, he'd clutched onto the pole with a firm grip and swept it at her feet as well.

She was nearly gloating in her victory, up until the point where his pole suddenly snaked out, catching her ankles and sending her collapsing to her back. Her breath left her in a rush, and she stared at the sky, breathing a bit labored from the impact.

Then she laughed, tapping his abdomen with the end of her staff.

"You got in a hit and knocked me to the floor." she told him, turning her head sideways to look at him. "I'd say it was a pretty good session."

"Getting good, am I? S'pose I may have t'beat you, next time?" Adrien asked. Then, he rolled to his stomach and pushed himself up to his feet. He left the pole on the ground, and looked to Xander, then went to help the boy. He'd come up to the group that seemed to still be throwing themselves at Xander, before swatting a palm through one of the snow spirits and reaching in to tug Xander away.

"Hey! Almost good enough t'rough me up!" He yelled, and pulled the boy into a headlock. Then, he tumbled backward, intending on bringing his friend to the ground.

Xander made a sound like a choked snarl, flailing his arms as both of the boys tumbled to the ground. Aja bit her lip, watching the pair in amusement as Xander rolled, trying to sit on Adrien's chest. "Aha!" he cried as he attempted to pin Adrien's arms.

"Yer a wee pancake beneath my arse." he stated proudly.

Adrien's wrists pivoted enough to grasp Xander's, and he'd shoved a knee straight between Xander's unmentionables, before his arm shot up to the boy's pit and shoved him sideways. They rolled like a barrel, and the tables turned. Instead of trying to pin Xander's arms, though, he began to shovel the snow underneath onto his face.

"What y'say about pancakes? I'm more like a cinderblock on a stick now, innit?" He teased.

Xander was unable to speak. His face had turned bright red, his body rigid with Adrien's strike. As they rolled, he could barely get a breath in before Adrien was burying him in snow. Aja watched in amusement, before lifting a hand, turning it in closer to herself, and making a flicking motion.

A wave of snow suddenly surged, rolling over the boys and burying them fully.

The sounds of Adrien spitting out snow and flailing arms was heard beneath the snow before a dirty mop of brown-blonde hair peaked from above it and scrambled out from underneath it. He'd made no attempt to grab Xander, and forced back the attempt to bring Ajani into the snow with them.

Instead, he dusted himself off.

"Sorry for the dirty shot, Sandy. You alive under there?"

Xander's fist rocketed out of the snow and connected with Adrien's jaw.

"Jes fine, Dree!" he crooned as he scrambled to the surface.

Aja meandered closer, before plopping down into the snow next to wear Adrien was sprawled.

Adrien's jaw let out a loud smack, before he sorely rubbed it. Instead of taking his place next to Aja, he'd slid over and flopped his body onto Xander's, perhaps in a last-ditch attempt to subdue his brawling friend.

"Don't mind us, Ajani!" He said, perhaps a bit louder than necessary. "When I was a little smaller, Xander'd found he'd owed me 20 bucks for taking care of a horse'e'd forgotten. I just wail on'm every day that he doesn't pay it back. Like a mob serta thing!"

"You both look ridiculous." Aja noted mildly, kicking snow in their direction as she watched Xander simply go limp. Aja stood, taking up her staff and meandering over to the sprites, who had started to toss themselves one way and another.

She paused, before swinging her arm out and taking one sprite in the torso. In that same motion, she brought her leg up as she spun, taking out two in one kick before completing the turn. It was almost like a dance, the way she moved so easily.

"So what do you think?" she asked, referring to Xander. The man said nothing, just lay there.

"I hadn't killed him there, had I?" Adrien asked, his head turning to look to Xander. "Just knocked the breath out ofh him. He thinks it's fantastic." The boy was sitting on the other boy's stomach. He pivoted his torso, and gave a light smack to Xander's face.

"Can tell by the stoic, dead-like expression on his face."

Aja laughed, before she sprung from her position, wrapping an arm around Adrien's neck and another around his waist before she pulled him back, her chin at his shoulder as they leaned.

"The way you fight is different." she noted with a soft grunt. "The way I see animals play..."

"Don't need to hold me back! I wasn't intent on killing him! Playing possum isn't going to get you very far, Xander, y'tried it with me too many times." said Adrien, as he staggered back with Aja's grip.

"Yeah, well... We don't train or anything. Not with staffs or knives. We're not in the military."

She managed to switch their positions, getting him into the snow while she half-leaned over his body. Xander had lifted his head, and was looking on in amusement. Aja's brow furrowed as she looked at Adrien, her hair hanging over her shoulders and brushing against his chest.

"No, that isn't it. This kind of play reminds me of coupling."

Xander choked on his own breath.

Adrien blushed mildly. The red hue that hinted his cheeks because of the snow had hid it.

"It isn't!" He cried, defensively as ever. He rolled into her arm, and if it gave leeway, out from under her, before climbing to his feet. "Couples don't wrestle, anyway. Ladies aren't supposed to fight."

He faltered.

"In Blakestown, I mean."

She aimed a kick for his ankles.

"They should! Those dresses are so cumbersome! Women were not made to simply be dressed up so they're nice to look at."

"Sure is a benefit though," Xander muttered, before getting a snowball to the face.

A yelp came from Adrien, as he'd struggled to keep his footing. Ultimately, he ended up in the snow again. The hitting he'd gotten from Xander began to bruise his jaw, which he idley sat in the snow once he'd come upon it. "Ladies aren't even supposed to show their ankles, Ajani. Teaching them t'fight would be a leap."

A thought came to his mind, and he suddenly chuckled. Ellie, wielding a weapon, fighting. And without cause to the others, he rolled on his back and began to chuckle some more. His eyes met the moon above, whose position hung dangerous.

"Dree allays giggles when he thinks of the couplings." Xander said knowingly.

Ajani was watching the other young man for a moment, before she pulled in a deep breath and turned to look at the sky. It was beautiful tonight. In her eyes, every night had its own unique kind of loveliness. Tonight was special though, because she could enjoy it with others whom she considered to be friends.

"It's good to see you smile." She noted absent-mindedly. Xander, quick as ever, laughed aloud.

"I'm always smilin', miss."

Adrien threw his arms forward, and in turn, put himself into a sitting position. He looked up to Xander, an expression on his face that almost seemed dumb with curiosity. "So then, you'll be joining us - me n'Ajani - from now on? Maybe learn to fight like you're not a first-year school student." He said, a grin encroaching on the lower part of his face.

"Thinking mayhaps it's about time to get back. Want to do it before the sun rises, y'know, and cleaning up horse dung isn't going to be so easy if you're tired as all getout, Sandy."

Xander chuckled. "Aye mate, this is more fun than sitting mopin' around in town all day." He got to his feet, dusting the snow from his breeches before stretching his arms over his head. "I'll get you yet, Miss Aja. Just you wait."

Ajani was smiling, but something had changed about her expression. She was a bit more somber than she had been before, for seemingly no reason at all. She glanced to Adrien briefly.

"Can I speak to you alone for a moment?"

"Xander, go kick up the horse. Be over in a mite."

Adrien nodded to Ajani then, before waiting for Xander to leave.

"What's what, then?"

"I was talking to Motina, before you and Xander came." she said, keeping her voice low as she gently wrapped her arms around her waist. She seemed troubled. "She's giving me the impression that something awful has happened, but I can't get any kind of direction as to where the danger is coming from, or how soon we can expect it. She's only encouraging us to be ready."

She looked away from him for a moment. "I thought the immediate threat was towards us, the Vanduo tribesmen...but she insists that those who are truly in danger...are you. The colonists." Her lips were pursed, brow furrowed with concern.

"And the walls won't keep you safe."

Adrien furrowed his brow. His eyes slightly shifted to Xander, before they came to rest on the snow in front of his boots. Those boots shifted and sideswept the snow as the boy in them considered Ajani's warning. "I can't do anything about that, Ajani." He suddenly said, and his eyes met hers.

"I'm not Illiam. Or Radimus. People don't listen t'me anymore. I guess what's coming's just going t'come, whether we like it or not, unless Motina suggests some sort of alternative."

"She'll provide a way." Ajani said it firmly, fully convinced. "She won't just allow us to sit and wait for danger. Something will happen."

There was something else she wasn't saying, like she didn't know how to say it in the first place. But she wasn't looking at Adrien, and her hands were pressing tightly into her forearms.

"Something like what?" Adrien asked. "The way you're speaking tells me you're convinced, but the way you're looking down tells me you're not." He said, an unsureness still tinting his face.

"I know we will be given a reason to trust each other, our groups of people, but the fear that I have, the feeling that I'm getting...is that the threat is familiar. It concerns me."

She met his eyes. "Just be watchful. I think, whatever happens, this is going to come from someone we trust."

Adrien gave a reassuring smile, and his hand met Ajani's shoulder. "Always am. If it'll set your mind right, I'll keep a club by my bed."

It was supposed to be reassuring, but perhaps it wasn't. Regardless of whether Ajani felt comforted, distraught, or otherwise, the boy turned and looked to Xander, to whom of which he raised a hand. Not before he turned his head, though, and nodded at Ajani.

"We'll be fine."

was the last thing he said, before departing for Xander and the horse.