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Alone No More (Attn Sages - Newcomer!)


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The travel had been long and though they hadn't pushed themselves past endurance, Anabel was more than happy to have reached the edges of the woods that surrounded her beloved Stedding.  The familiarity of it gave her step a little more swing and she smiled over at Darin as they walked.  "Nearly there." She said in her slowed down speech that allowed for others to understand her more clearly.  She stopped suddenly, remembering the one thing she hadn't told him.  Something that would probably upset him without the warning considering his fear of being alone with this thing.  "Something that I should warn you about.  Tradition in the Stedding is that no person may speak with you until the Sage has seen you and pronounced you ready to join us.  You will see people come out and they will watch, but they will not speak to you until you are cleared by a Sage."  She smiled at him again.  "Which really just means she'll check you out and see that you are healthy and aren't going to hurt anyone."


She looked at the man and wondered what was going on behind his face.  It had been a hard journey for him, not physically, but the emotional aspect of what he was doing.  Of what he was becoming.  She hoped he'd adjust to the wolfkin in time.  He'd had a hard break to come this far and she had every intention of helping him if she could.  Maybe a friendly face would be enough to keep him from falling back into hateful thoughts.  If it was, then he would have that.  He'd been a good traveling companion, if silent, always moving efficiently through the routines and making sure he did his portion of the work.  Staring at him now, she took a deep breath.  "Alright.  Any questions, or are you ready to go and meet the rest of the Wolfkin?"



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It had been a long, hard journey, over hard ground. But Darin was a soldier, a Child of the Light; he was used to such conditions. He had questioned his companion, Timewalker she called herself, the length of the trip, and had learned to at least grow to tolerate talking with the wolves. Even though the terrain hadn't been hostile, that hadn't kept his golden eyes from constantly searching the countryside for a threat. Or at least, that's what he told Timewalker he was watching for when she asked. In truth, he was watching for a flash of white among the endless green, the clatter of horse's hooves as a column of the Anointed rode down on them both.


The dreams he'd started having about halfway through their journey hadn't helped either. They were always different, or at least, he thought they were. In them he was clad in the steel armor and white cloak of the Children, though the steel gleamed brighter than he could ever have polished it, and the cloak seemed whiter than snow. Then the wolves would come, even in the one time he was in the heart of the Fortress of the Light, the wolves came, and suddenly his clothes would become exactly what he wore now, a travel-stained shirt and trousers, with a knee-length coat embroidered in green. All that remained constant was his sword. He would run with the wolves, and always it scared him to the point of death to think he was losing himself to the wolf.


He shook his head, his long hair barely moving. Now was not the time to think of the dreams. He was about to face the largest test of his faith since joining the Children. He snapped back to focus as Timewalker spoke to him again. "I understand, it is a matter of security, yes? Well if that is the case, then I think we should get going, I want to meet my new...brothers and sisters I suppose the word is, as soon as possible, or I think I may go insane." He flashed a wolfish grin, his golden eyes gleaming in the sunlight filtering through the trees. "Shall we be going?"

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The wolves had given Aleeza a few hours warning before Timewalker and the new Wanderer even crossed the boundaries into the Stedding.  Not that this was particularly beneficial to closed-off, nervous-around-people, anxious new Sages who couldn’t help but check, re-check and re-re-check that everything was set up for the exam and then proceed to pace the room—nobody should ever give Aleeza any more time to do anything than was absolutely necessary.  Actually, it would probably be better that someone made her “alright” before she was supposed to be making sure everyone else was “alright”.  However, thus far only Anton was having any luck at all opening her up and that was only around him—unless you counted Korrena and it was probably for the best that Aleeza was that open very often.


Anyways, by the time Timewalker and the Wanderer walked in, Aleeza must have positively reeked of her nervousness.  She had seen Timewalker a time or two around the setting, and Anton had mentioned her, but they had never really met.  The other blonde woman smelled edgy, Aleeza wondered whether it was her own unease that was setting the Tracker off.


As for the Wanderer, physically he seemed in pristine health.  He was muscular and though he was not tall, still towered above the tiny Sage.  All in all, he could not have seemed more different that she was: big and bulky while she was tiny and thin, black hair to her blonde and he had a confident and self-assured air that Aleeza so desperately lacked.  In fact, while he was wary, the Wanderer seemed a great deal more at home than she was, even in the home she had been living in for almost a year.  Only their eyes marked them as anything alike.


“I’m Dark Sun Rising...err...otherwise known as Aleeza.”  ‘Why on earth did I give him my wolfname?’  “I’m a Sage here in the Stedding.  I don’t see anything wrong with you physically.  But what happened... before?  Well... during your Howling I mean.  Umm... Timewalker?”  The flustered young woman turned towards the Tracker hoping for an explanation.

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Anabel gave the woman a small smile as she began talking.  Nerves.  She had known before they walked in that the Sage was nervous, but probably no more so than she had been the first time Anton had forced her to take on a Wanderer for herself for the first time.  Even if he had been there, she'd been a mess.  No, there was nothing wrong with her current companion and she nodded when the Sage said her name. 


"There isn't much to tell for me." She said, her speech coming out a bit quicker now that she was back in the Stedding.  "Found him in Amadacia and we had an easy enough time coming home." She said.  It had taken her quite a while to think of the Stedding as home, but it was now and she longed to see it and feel the peace of it around her almost as much as she wanted to find Anton and see what he had been about since she'd gone off. 


She found a pot of tea brewing in the corner and to do something, she poured them all tea and took a seat next to Darin.  "Now is the time to ask any questions you have.  The Sages are those who dedicate their lives to healing and helping the pack." She said with a small smile for him.  "You don't have to be afraid to talk to her, about anything."  She added, remember the early dreams he had told her of.



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Darin saw the small woman approaching a good bit before she reached them. He was not a tall man by any means, but he towered head and shoulders above the little woman, with only the golden eyes to hint at anything even slightly fierce about her. But it was more than that. She smelled...odd, as if she was nervous about something. He shook his head, still uncomfortable doing that, finding things out about people by their smell. He shifted uncomfortably as he noticed her gaze looking him over like cattle. He struggled not to grow defensive under that probing gaze, as a Child of the Light, he was not used to receiving such looks, and it unnerved him in no small way to receive his first from a woman nearly half his size.


He listened quietly as she gave him her name. Both of them. He smiled and shook his head, he didn't have a second name yet, but he supposed it wasn't that far off. Who would have thought wolves gave names to each other, much less people? He smiled as the two women conversed, it seemed only yesterday he had thought wolves, and all who associated with them to be creatures of the Dark One. And look at where he was now, a stedding filled with men and women who could communicate with wolves.


He was a moment in realizing he had been spoken to, and shook himself out of his reverie. "I think I've asked most of my questions of you, Timewalker. There is only one thing I need to do before I am ready." He unbuckled his sword belt, and held it out before him. This was the last thing linking him to the Children of the Light. The last thing linking him to who he had been. "I was a Child of the Light once." His voice was soft, reverent as he spoke. Looking back over his shoulder at the forested mountains they'd been travelling through for days. Wrapping the belt around the sheath and hilt to make sure they would not separate, he took the sword and threw it into the forest, where he would hopefully never find it again.


He turned back to the two women. "I was once First Lieutenant Darin Saine in the army of the Anointed of the Light. Now, I'm just a Wanderer seeking his place in the world. And my place is here, if you will have me."

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Aleeza smelled reproach while looking him over; nervous and shy as she was, humbleness and patience weren’t exactly her virtues and whatever beliefs she held, nothing could stop the fierceness gained from spending too much time alone among wolves or her nasty temper.  Some of the Wolfkin had already discovered this particular trait during a certain training exercise earlier in the year.  Violence was wrong and served no good purpose, but some people did occasionally need rocks thrown at them or their crotches kicked—in fact, the Wolfkin should make rock throwing a routine with a particular younger member.  However, now was not the time to brood on past wrongs by Korrena, numerous though they may be.


When the Wanderer announced that he was a former Child of the Light, the Tinker couldn’t help but eye him warily, though she refrained from stepping away from him.  Instinct told her to run when he touched the sword at his belt, even though it was obvious from his smell he had no intention of using it on Timewalker or her.  She eyes the blade with contempt.  How much blood had it seen; whether or not said blood was “innocent or guilty” was beside the point?  No good came of a weapon whose sole purpose was to take the life of another human being.  There was no “self-defence” when it came to swords, there was only one reason the sides were sharp at the metal tapered to a sabre point: to kill.


However, as quickly as Aleeza’s respect for the younger man had gone, it returned as he threw the blade into the woods.  She did not follow it with her eyes as it flew through the air, instead focusing on Darin’s eyes.  “The Stedding will have any and all who are cast from the world for the colour of their eyes and the abilities that mark them as special.”  In her contemplation of his act of throwing away the sword, Aleeza forgot to be nervous.  “You have passed my examination, and, pardon but, I would have to say there is less wrong with you now than when you passed through our boundaries a little while ago.”

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  • 3 weeks later...

Darin smiled at the short sage, but blinked at her last statement. Then he caught the meaning. Putting together the multiple grimaces and general unease she had directed towards his weapon, and the vast relief he could smell rolling off of her when he threw it away, he deduced that she was likely Tuatha'an, sworn to do no violence, even in defense of their lives. Darin, as a soldier, had to fight back a sneer at this realization, but he managed to turn it into a smile. One did not advance in the Children without some knowledge of Daes Dae'mar.


"I thank you, Mistress Aleeza, but I think you misunderstand. I threw that sword away because it was a piece of my past; it was a link to someone I no longer am. However, the sword, or rather, the art of swordsmanship, is part of me, regardless of my walk of life. The ways of the soldier are too deep in my system to ever be given up. I will take up other weapons, but the sword will always be foremost in my hands. I hope you forgive my transgression on your Way."


He nodded, a rather lengthy speech for him, but it mattered not. Silently he reflected, and nearly laughed with a mad glee. Only weeks ago, hours though it seemed, he had been marching with a hundred Children under him, to investigate rumors of a possible Darkfriend, though there had been rumors of Shadowspawn as well, and now here he was, among a people he had believed only rumor, and had dubbed based on hearsay as Darkfriends. He could not suppress a chuckle at the irony. Smiling a smile that barely touched his eyes, he nodded again. "If I have passed your test, please, show me the way; it grows cold out here, and I have not slept in a proper bed in years." He smiled wryly before adding, "Cots in a field tent hardly count."

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      "Apparently I came back a bloody idealist," Erik groaned as he lifted himself higher.

Bits of bark were already in his hair and down his back and he could feel the slivers up his fingernails. Sweat was heavy on his brow and he knew it would only take a little bit of rot no matter how deceptively strong the thick branches seemed for him to go breaking his fool neck.

His body hugged the trunk of the tree. His muscles shivered at the strain of lifting him higher still. A morning of sword forms and hammering down new floorboards apparently wasn’t enough of a workout for them.


Erik looked down.

A wool-headed fool move by all accounts.

Well they don’t call it the second tallest tree in the Stedding for nothing,” the acrophobic concluded precisely, some fifty paces above the ground.


Gritting his teeth, his arms slid forward and grasped a moss covered branch overhead and pulled. One nimble foot caught a branch, found grip for a deceptive heartbeat, then slid off, and dangled adeptly and uselessly. The other foot remained planted against the trunk of the massive redwood tree, both arms clenching the above branch with all their might, and the knee of his most nimble feet making a loud cracking noise as it slammed against the slippery branch.


It’s more fun on the way down… It’s more fun on the way down…


The foul smelling sword in it’s scabbard poked Erik in the back of his head for the fortieth time, and for the fortieth time Erik asked himself exactly why he was doing this.


* * * *


I was a Child of the Light once.


Erik’s head spun round. The trees sheltered him, the forest pressing all around him. With hands still gripping the dry moss he looked at the speaker. Perhaps twenty paces away to the right, Aleeza and Anabel stood with a Wanderer, the man who had spoken, the man who had been a Child. Erik had ignored the majority of their conversation, caulking and kindling a more pressing matter than introductions he would see to later. But even speaking low Erik knew the man had said he had been of the cloth.


It was instinctual. His hackles quaked and he suppressed the growl rumbling in the pit of his stomach. If any Wanderer were to have lurking demons within themselves to deal with, this one would. Erik lowered his stance, keeping himself close to the tree roots and rocks, and shallowed his breathing.


The man removed his scabbard; the golden hilt Erik knew all too well, wrapped the belt tight round, and hurled it into the trees. It landed with a dull thud a little off to Erik’s left yet still in view of the road.


Erik’s respect for the Wanderer climbed.

Sometimes a tool was more than just a tool. An item, it became a piece of time itself, a memory, captured and preserved. No matter who holds it, those memories bleed through fresh and cold. This man was prepared to part with it, the blade each Child was in a sense married to, the tool that had been witness to all the bloodshed and horror this Darin had seen. No man deserved that reminder lingering in a new life.


I was once First Lieutenant Darin Saine in the army of the Anointed of the Light,” Erik cracked a smile. A First Lieutenant, a man who would know the battlefield… He could appreciate that. “Now, I'm just a Wanderer seeking his place in the world. And my place is here, if you will have me.


Wait… What am I doing? The thought occurred to Erik as he slid from rock to rock, eyes intent on the group as they finished talking and continued along their way. Slowly, he made his way over to the blade. His body was tense, his breathing low.. he was stalking it.

It’s not alive… What am I doing I-Then he could smell it.


Feral and rotting, he could smell the familiar odor. It was fainter than what he remembered, but it was the same foul scent and it was leeching from the golden hilted tool. It smelled wrong, rabid, diseased.


It’s just a sword… Erik told himself as his hand reached out to grasp it.

If any Wanderer had demons in their past, this Darin would be in the forefront, and Erik knew the temptation and pain of the past. Like grasping a viper Erik’s hand seized the scabbard and blade in a single motion, muscles tensing, before he threw the belt over a shoulder. Eyes watching the dark of the trees and the sun filled path, Erik sunk back into the shadows, turned, and began to bound through the forest over roots and stones and fallen trees.

When did I become a bloody idealist?


* * * *


The hole was oval, dark, and deep. Erik poked his head through, looked into the sinking abyss within the tree’s center. That’ll do. It had better bloody do.


With a final glance at the blade, he dropped the foul thing down the hole. A soft thud was the only proof of its passage. Erik was content.


Now, just in case he can track it to here…


Erik steadied himself on his perch, began to undo his trousers and was grateful he hadn’t sweat out all of the ale from the night before. By wolf standards he was a pioneer, marking his territory at the top of a tree rather than the bottom.


Okay… Now comes the fun part I’ve been promising myself…


A slow thirty foot climb down, followed by a more hurried pace down fifty feet as the branches he had suspected were rotting proved him correct, then followed by a very very fast descent to the forest floor below, by all accounts, was not the fun part.


I’m going home, and I’m going to bed,” Erik grunted, looking up through the moss covered branches to the blue sky above. “As soon as I can move, straight home.


This had better be just be a phase I’m going through.


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