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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

Mindeans and their tempers - Finding Arienna


Wolfsbane
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        The small boat glided softly over the coarse river soil. With a quick jerk it came to rest and its occupants shared a hesitant look. The sun had long set; twilight cast its pulses of pink and purple through the sparse trees and over the subtle hills. A town perhaps a mile down stream glowed with evening life. But the two meant to keep quiet and unnoticed.

 

“How long will you be?” The old man croaked, his coarse hand laying the oar in his lap so he might scratch his wiry beard.

 

“No more than two days. Lynx won’t enjoy being cooped up for much longer than that, nor will I like too much longer in Murandy.”

 

“Don’t want your head on a pike in Lugard, eh? Well you have another day’s trek before you’re even out of Altara anyway boy. And Jaeb can look after your horse plenty fine ‘til you find what you’re looking for.”

 

Erik turned to look back at the old man. Erik knew except for his golden eyes and the hazy outline of his head and shoulders, the old man would not be able to distinguish a facial feature in this waning light. He could tell where the fleas had bitten on the old man’s bald head and see the beginning of eye-mist in his dull cow eyes. Erik knew no herbal cures for it, but he did want to repay the family for their help over the years. A rest station for any brother or sister out of the Stedding was a welcome and rare thing, and Erik had known of the Standish stop since he first became a Tracker. He never asked why they helped, and they never said why. Good enough reason for him to let the question sleep.

 

“I’ll make good time so long as Jaeb is keeping a watch along the river for us and not you, old man.”

 

A laugh croaked out him, his hand slapping the paddle side of the oar, “Aye, he will. Tomorrow night he’ll come across and spend the night and day here. Don’t know how much help the fool boy will be around the rest of place since he lost his thumb.”

 

“Accident?”

“Altaran combat training,” he said with gravel and weight in his throat.

The awkwardness of the silence pushed Erik from the boat. With a final nod he pushed the small craft back into the waters and it slipped from the shore almost silent.

 

Night was pressing in as the stars burned through the cloud cast. With a quick check of his surrounding Erik dropped the small satchel behind a log, the bits of twigs and cloth dangling out, and he pushed a sweep of sand over top. Just in case they were early… Or very very late.

 

“Let’s go with being early… for once…”

 

Erik shrugged his pack over one shoulder and his baldric over the other. He was making good time, despite the fact the signal was at first hazy a few days past and grown in intensity that day. He’d been along Garen’s Wall, setting up an outpost in the small Stedding he’d found there the last winter, when he felt it.

 

It was a female, he was certain of it, with eyes that shift and shiver and she moves like quicksilver. He hoped he would be able to get through Murandy and its many river divisions to the Wanderer in time. Erik settled into a steady pace as he climbed the small hills. He ached for the cover of trees, safe and sheltered away from eyes, but all he could see were small growths in couple pace wide bunches.

 

The beacon pulled him onward to Midea. The Kin had no eyes and ears in there, a town famous for its people’s tempers and their pride for being short-tempered.

Not a bramble patch I’d like to stumble into if I can avoid it.

 

    He opened himself to the wolves, felt their hearts and thoughts beat inside him and flood their names and locations through him. Hold on Sister.

 

Erik

 

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From the base of an old oak tree, Arienna groaned. Or at least, became aware that she was groaning. A dull throb around her left cheekbone told her that she had just hit her head hard, but the thought fled before she could start to make sense of it. She should try to get up now, probably.

 

As she slowly opened her eyes, pushing herself up from the roots she had fallen on, she tried to see where she was. There was grass. Trees too. Many trees... What was that word again? Ah yes, forest. Now, how did she get here again?

 

Exhaling, she let herself fall down again, this time on her back, looking up at the star-lit sky. Something wet flowed into her left eye now, but no clouds were overhead. Strange. She absently wiped it off with her hand before inspecting her fingers, red with blood, before looking up again, wondering where the clouds were to have rain fall on her face.

 

Her ears felt like there was water in them, half-dazed as she was, and the sounds of the wolves didn't register to her as she kept looking at the stars through the canopy of the big tree. There was a thought, something about a sister, but it was drowning in others before she registered it.

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She bleeds Night’s howl

 

He barely brushed the grass with his feet as he moved, like an eagle dipping its wings against the water as it swoops. They made an odd sound as they moved along the country side. The pat-pat-pat of Cool Water in the Late Autumn’s paws against the grass was rhythmic and helped Erik to steady his breathing.

 

Light his lungs ached.

Erik increased his pace as they cut through the shallows of a feeder stream to the River Storn, Cool Water bristled with frigid droplets clinging to her fur. The small stones clicked under his feet as he moved from one to the other until he reached the other side and continued on into the brush.

 

~Guard her.~  Erik sent as the forest began to thicken, the emotions and senses of blood in the air growing stronger in the messages. The wolves didn’t know how serious it was, from where the Wolfsister bled, and why. The image of her flat on her back, staring up at the sky seethed in his mind. The wolves stood watch away from her, outside of the clearing, watching, and waiting.

 

Erik knew he would make better time without his bag and sword, but he let them continue to knock against him, weigh him down, as he brushed tall cedars and alders with his shoulders.

The image, the beacon in his mind was only a little way off… She had left Midea and entered the woods in his direction… Erik was grateful and annoyed at the same time.

 

If the girl had stayed in the town she may have remained in danger, but then, she may have not been injured or would have received care and attention if she had…

Erik ground his teeth and pushed harder, until he couldn’t hear his own gasping breaths over the roar of blood in his ears.

 

Night’s howl shivered in his mind and Erik clamped down on the beast. Felt it give in to his restraint and disappear. As of late the animal had been quieter, more cowed by his mental grip, even with the smell and image of blood it slid back into the recesses of his mind and was no more. Erik refocused on his pacing, keeping his breathing low and steady, his eyes set forward.

 

Cub may be lost Night’s howl.

Erik had never experienced a wolf’s emotion of doing something in vain. With a world like the Dream just outside reality where anything was possible, Erik had never expected a wolf to understand the concept.

 

~Sister will live Cool Water. Sister will not die so close~

 

The gray and silver wolf made a light groaning noise, an imitation of a grunt, and continued on along the grass hills beside him. They moved in silence as the stars made the sky into a shimmering canvas of diamonds and pearls.

 

Erik

 

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Due to the night's cool air, and being too dazed to think about the nights events even if she'd been able to, Arienna was able to calmly start arranging her thoughts. She was in a forest, though she could not quite remember getting there. Judging by a small vine of undergrowth entwined around her ankle, and the sharp pain she was feeling whenever she moved her facial muscles, she gathered that she had tripped, and hit her head.

 

She wiped her face again, only now really noticing the blood. She groaned again, and tried to get back up to assess the damage, but lost her balance before she could return to a sitting position.

 

Taking a couple of deep breaths, she decided to wait a bit longer and allow herself to recover. Her hearing had started to return as well, now having improved to a loud ringing, and along the edges of it she could make out some sounds, though she couldn't make out enough to be able to tell what they were.

 

For now, she'd wait a few more minutes. There was nothing else she could do the way things were now anyway.

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Erik breathed again and the sparks from the flint fluttered into the dry bits of kindling. Like spiralling snakes of fire they came to life, slithering around the thin slivers of wood and fattening. With a quick crackle the leaves and twigs caught and the hungry flames licked at the sticks arranged like a lean-to. Erik puffed again into the moss bed at the bottom, spreading the orange and gold heat evenly around, before laying more sticks to support the others. Sliding the hatchet back into its sheath Erik dropped the small axe atop the pile of dry wood he had amassed, branches and thick roots; he did not have the time, tools, or energy to cut down anything of size more than a sapling.

 

Erik sat back from the fire, his back to a young oak that would not miss a couple stray roots, crossed his legs and closed his eyes.

 

~Come to the warmth.~

 

The message was clear and precise, direct. Erik could feel her, not twenty paces in the dark, sense her emotions. Her mind and thoughts were hazy and unsettled; she was injured, not critically, but her weariness might get the better of her. But she was conscious now and more than anything, he did not want to frighten her and get her more injured.

Erik breathed out, his shoulders rolling in the fresh shirt from his bag and hands resting on the cloak on his lap. He sought the Void and it was there.

 

~Come Sister. Come to the warmth.~

 

She was a beacon of focus in his mind, and he would know the instant she fell unconscious. He would prefer she come to him, rather than he to her, but knew if she struggled too hard to reach him or blacked out he would intervene.

 

~Food and safety. Warmth. Come. You are safe. Come.~

 

“If I get another fist in my gut carrying a Wanderer, I might rethink letting her ride back to the Stedding,” Erik whispered to himself, his body grateful to be sitting. Limbs and joints groaned and did not want to change his position, helpless Wanderer or not. “Light just don’t let her have small sharp fists.”

 

If only he were so fortunate.

 

-Erik

 

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After a few minutes of lying still, taking deep, steady breaths of the cool night air, Arienna was feeling much better. The late hour was having its effects on her as well though, and she stifled a yawn. Eyes half closed, she thought of the time she went camping with her father back when...

 

~Come to the warmth.~

 

Her eyes opened again, her face frowning in puzzlement. Where did that come from? Her hearing had returned a while ago now, but for some reason she wasn't able to pinpoint where the person that had said that was.

 

~Come Sister. Come to the warmth.~

 

- "O...kay. I think it's about time you got out of here, girl."

 

Mumbling softly to herself, she got up, somewhat satisfied at being able to stand this time. Her head still spun, but at least she wasn't going to fall over this time. The side of her face still felt damp, and she was feeling a little light-headed, but at least she was back on her feet. Now, time to get out of this fore--

 

~Food and safety. Warmth. Come. You are safe. Come.~

 

- "...Must have hit my head harder than i thought."

 

Grunting, she shook her head softly, an arm leaning against the oak she had woken up next to. She noticed a light a little ways off, and started heading for it. Voices in her head or not, that looked like a small fire, and where there was fire, there usually were people. Maybe she'd find someone there that could help her get back home.

 

Upon almost quite literally stumbling into the clearing, she noticed a man sitting there. He was only slightly taller than her as far as she could tell, and wide shouldered enough to remind her of Taren. There were a couple of dogs with him as well, though she didn't recognise the breed, but she focused her attention on Erik. With the amount of noise she had made reaching the clearing, she wondered if there'd be anything in the forest that hadn't noticed her by now...

 

(OOC: Yes, she's referring to the wolves as 'dogs'. City girl, remember? ;))

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Is she trying to bring the whole bloody forest down?

If there was a twig or branch left on the forest floor that this girl hadn’t stepped on or smashed through, he’d be surprised.

The massive wolf to his left bristled, his black and grey fur shifting as he puffed out a heavy breath and lowered his head onto his paws. Smoke seemed much more casual than Cool Water, who stood staring at the Wanderer.

Cool Water looked agitated, concerned, and it drifted in her scent.

 

~Go Cool Water. Smoke and I will watch over from here on. Tend to your pack.~

 

The alpha female nodded, regarded the tall tenderpaw for a moment longer, and then disappeared into the night. The fire crackled, the glow blossomed around the campsite and Erik raised his eyes just enough to look at the Wanderer himself. She was lean, tall, good Murandy stock, and ripe with the smell of blood, sweat, and dirt. He could feel the heat of two burnished golden eyes set on him. She was turning.

 

“Good evening,” Erik feigned surprise and ducked his head a hair, respect, and keeping his eyes lowered still. “Awfully late for adventuring Miss… And it does not look like the woods have been kind to you.” He ducked a small smile. Meeker than warm milk keep it casual, informal, unprepared. “If it’s no bother, I was just brewing some pine needle tea and doing some bandages up for myself… Woods aren’t ever too kind to me in my line of work… You can take a seat,” Erik gestured over to the saddle bags and cloak bunched together as a seat, arranged to look as casual and comfortable as possible, to his right, away from Smoke. The girl seemed fine with the wolf in their presence, a little too fine. Did she know what she was going through? “And rest a little bit. I mean no harm, it’s rare to see a friendly face, and I’ll share what bread and cheese and meat I have.”

The girl looked beaten and tired and like she had been dragged through the trees for a little while, but he could measure a person’s steel by their stance. Even exhausted she’d put up a fight, a quick dirty fighter he’d have to watch his ribs more from knives than fists, but she seemed to recognize no threat. A part from the uncertainty of a camp out in the middle of Murandian forest, her scent gave off no fear or doubt about encountering a shy Andoran with wolves for companions. Fear or not now, keep your eyes down. There’s a limit.

 

The small pot steamed in its nook by the fire and Erik bent to pour a cup of the tea, a small branch acting as a lever, the warmth and spice tingling against his face. Erik lifted the cup up to the girl.

Their eyes met. Maybe she’d assume it was the fire’s effect on his eyes, the crackling gold and crimson blaze reflecting in his eyes, or something else. He held up the cup and licked moisture back onto his lips.

“The name’s Erik. And what do they call you Miss?”

 

Pips or Dark Eyes. The turn of the dice, it always depends on what game you’re playing. Risking a coin, or risking a life, the rules and random control the fate’s balance. Time to roll, drop the cup and see what you can walk out with. Pips or Dark Eyes.

 

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Arienna absently nodded, moving to the seat that had been offered. Or at least looked like one, but in the state she was in she wasn't about to get picky. She gave a weak smile at his offer for bread and cheese, only half paying attention. There was something that felty... odd about this encounter, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it what it was. Something about the dog, maybe?

 

- "Thanks. It's fortunate you were here. I tripped, and hit my head pretty hard back there and--"

 

Brief surprise, and then puzzlement. She knew she hit her head, and she also knew she was in a forest, but had no recollection of why she tripped or even what she was doing outside of the city. Her eyes met Eriks, and she felt that sensation in the back of her head that she was overlooking something again.

 

- "Gah... I can't remember. I was bringing soup up to Lord Maric and then... i woke up here..."

 

With a semi-annoyed snarl directed at her own memory, she sighed, taking a deep breath. Erik introduced himself to her, and she took that as her cue that she should pay attention to the matter at hand first. She'd try to figure out the hole in her memory another time.

 

- "Me? I'm Arienna. Arienna de Orasaigh, from Mindea, near here."

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    "De Orasaigh? You're of noble blood? Even stranger to run into you here then, My Lady. Almost done with the bandages."

 

In Andor an al before your last name represented nobility, like de or do was for Murandy, or on the outskirts of Haddon Mirk families still held on to the tradition of having mar. The books did not specify if this had been a tradition of the noble families before Mar Haddon was consumed by the forest, or if it was in memory of it. Erik held no name or claim to nobility. The Black Hills and Caralain Grass were not of that way, and their traditions views were fused with his blood. Erik kur’Hammar… Or Erik ter’Hammar… It sounded odd enough to bloody well laugh.

 

    His hunting knife cut wide strips from the white cloth, dipping and sliding across the stitching, until they came free with a tug. He lowered each one into the pot of bubbling water by the fire, the scents of elder, peppermint and hyssop jumping up his nostrils as he drew in close. The tea was as good for purifying the bandages as it was for cleansing the body, but the pine needle drink had warmed her bones and if he drank any more he'd be up marking his territory for the remainder of the night. The last strip dropped in and Erik reached for a pronged stick, an arm's length long and as wide as two fingers. The stick tucked in around the steaming bowl, and Erik tested it, rocking the bowl out of the fire a couple of times.

 

    "Here," Erik coughed as he brought the bowl over to Arienna, his eyes careful on his task; callused hands gripped the branch like a sword. He blocked the fire's glow cast on her for a moment as he passed and it was a pair of golden eyes that shone out, watching him carefully.

    "It's best to clean the wounds now to prevent fever. And get that blood off your face, My Lady.” He winked. “It may help ease your head pains and help you sort how you got here from your… Lord Maric, you said?” Erik lifted a bandage and held it poised in front of Arienna, waiting for her ascent. The girl had an air of casual stateliness, the way her head was held back, how her shoulders squared themselves; this was a relaxed side to her he doubted few saw. He was a stranger, a foreigner, out of the dark and of no connection to her life with a Lord or Lady.

    He looked her in the eyes, her hands lowered and she gave a nod, turning so he could clean the scratches and blood with the warm damp cloth. The perfume from the water ballooned into the air overpowering the musk and dirt. With tender care he brushed the bandage against her skin, pulling the dirt away with gentle presses.

    “I had heard from long and far that Mindeans had tempers worth being proud of, so I have to wonder, maybe you were sent out from your township for having too little of one?”

He smiled at her.

He shifted his weight to his left knee and slid enough so the fire’s light could dance across Arienna’s face. She was young, not so young the Howling would damage her he hoped yet only the Creator knew, maybe four or five Winters younger than him. More blood pulled from her hair as he brushed deeper, two cloths already in the fire, and the third coming back stained with red and black.

 

Two-legs, Night’s howl.

Erik could see them, well, feel them, through the wolves. He could see the men heading in their general direction, following the ground, the glint of weapons and fire in their hands a point of interest to Broken Tooth and other four wolves with him. The men looked like brawlers and thugs, six including the smaller man that was looking at the ground and pointing, hunting Arienna’s tracks, and heading towards them.

 

Smoke rose to stand, looking in the hunters’ direction. Erik could feel his jaw tense, his hand pulled away from the Wanderer’s face.

 

“I don’t think we have long here.” Erik stood, threw the cloth in his hand into the fire and kicked the pot of water into the licking flames. With a depressing cough the red glow died in a plume of grey smoke and the night crept back in around them. As Erik’s eyes adjusted he looked to Arienna.

“You may not have your memories back yet my Lady, but men with swords and torches are drawing close and I think they’re looking for you, and I don’t think they mean you well.”

 

Bending Erik lifted his baldric over a shoulder and gathered what he could into his saddlebags. The pot and bowl and cups would be left behind, he decided as he kicked them under a bush. They were too hot, wet, and scented to keep and carry the distance they needed to go. The rest bundled up quickly; Erik resented the practice he had had over the years of cleaning up a camp in a matter of seconds, but did not regret it.

 

“Arienna de Orasaigh,” Erik made sure his voice was just loud enough for her to hear, just enough to be heard over the gentle dying hisses of the fire’s remains, “I know in this darkness you can see as clearly as if it were day. I know that before you did not have odd dreams and have strange thoughts tumbling through your head, emotions and images you had never felt or seen in your life. I know you can hear the men getting closer, hear them crashing through the brush, that you can hear better now than anytime before in your life.

“I know you have just met me and know nothing more than my name, but I need you to trust me and I need you to believe that if we remain here we may not see tomorrow.”

 

-Erik

 

OOC: Figured there’d be some retracing of the House’s plots to kill off Maric’s advisor. Whether Arienna agrees or not, I’ll leave that up to you. Just knew Erik would need a device to say out right what he needed to, and thugs and brawlers normally do the trick.

 

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OOC: No probs, works for me ^_^.

 

IC:

 

Arienna gave Erik a grateful nod when he offered to help clean the blood off of her face. Though she felt she'd be able to do it on her own, she still didn't trust herself well enough to have pulled off more than a basic imitation. In this case, having someone else do it would be more effective, especially considering the wound in question was on her face where she couldn't see it.

 

Her eyes widened slightly at being treated as a noble, though she withheld her comments until Erik would be done with the bandages. She winced at the first touch, but tried her hardest to keep her facial muscles relaxed so he could do a proper job. When he was done, she smiled at him in return, noting to her satisfaction that he had done a good job with the bandages, as they were too tight nor too loose.

 

- "Not quite. My family can barely call themselves a House anymore, though we still kept the name. Lord Maric is the Lord i work for."

 

As she said that last part, her thoughts went back to him, unconsciously tracing her finger in the dirt. From her body language, especially as he was looking at her, Erik would be able to tell she saw him as more than just an employer. Her head shot up when he brought up the Murandians' boasted tempers though, and she smirked as she gave a reply.

 

- "My mother was Altaran, and they have a reputation of being fierce as well. So far you're in my good graces though, so i guess i'll hold back for now." :)

 

And then... he was breaking up camp as fast as he could. He brought up people approaching, though she was unable to tell just how he knew. She also wondered how he knew about her perception, as she had never seen him before, and knew her secret role in Maric's household was too well-kept for an outsider to know about her.

 

A mass of questions jumbled in her mind, but the thought of being chased... triggered something. The feeling was gone before she knew it, much like trying to grasp water, but she somehow felt... no, knew it was true. Perhaps one of her lost memories?

 

- "Listen, i don't know what happened or how i got here, but i have a gut feeling that you're right, and i've learned to trust that feeling when i get it. Lead the way, though you owe me an explanation later."

 

With her mind now being able to focus on a task, she stood up, her thoughts racing on how to best deal with the matter at hand. She was wearing the uniform the servants of Maric's House wore, and the dress would likely slow her down in thick growth, so best avoid bushes to prevent getting tangled into them. Her shoes were sturdy enough to handle the uneven footing and...

 

Having finished her check, she looked at Erik, giving him a serious look and a brief nod to show him she was ready. With her mind now focused, she noticed he had the same eye color she had -- or near it anyway -- but wrote it off as a rarity, like blue eyes were to Tairens. Whatever, it wasn't important right now anyway.

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“Lead the way, though you owe me an explanation later.”

 

The girl gave him a nod as she finished her check, her eyes fastened to his.

Erik let a low growl rumble up through his lips.

 

“Maybe much later, either road it may be, follow me,” Erik turned into the bush, his path cut along something that may have been an old trail some years past. He tensed his legs and arms, tested the weight on his back, held himself back as the girl made noises as she climbed over roots and brambles behind him.

 

Trees and shrubs slid past them as they moved, the darkness did not hinder their movement as they dodged rocks and reaching limbs and moved closer to the border. Erik puffed as his legs punched the ground, his limbs aching for a night’s rest, but further he pushed on and Arienna remained behind him.

 

The wolves flanked them, silent in the dark, as they scouted ahead and watched for more hunters. Erik could feel them, Smoke with them, as they too slipped through the trees and over the rolling hills.

 

Erik wondered if she could feel them yet, sense the wolves in the dark, and know they were there because she knew what they smelled and tasted and thought. A wolf’s thought… Erik would’ve thought himself crazy to even consider the thoughts of a wolf when he was her age, before he turned, before the Howling took him. They had been monsters, things of the dark, much more real than any Trolloc or Shade for a boy guarding his farm.

 

Hills began to crest around them as the trees began to give way to the rolling pastures. The forest broke and they pushed harder to climb each and get further out of sight. Again, Erik felt naked as he ran down the other side, but was content in their progress.

 

“We’ll stop here ‘til day break,” Erik’s voice was a croak. The bag and scabbard slid to the ground and his knees collapsed underneath him. They were near an outcropping of trees, on the western side, and had a long lead on the slow going brutes.

 

Erik looked up and gave a quick smile to the Wanderer.

“Rest or answers Arienna? At this point, I can only give one.”

 

-Erik

 

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Erik had set a hard pace, one Arienna had trouble keeping up with. Long hems weren't made for running through bushes with. Still, she had her eyes fixed on the back of the mnan she was following, determined not to let him out of her sight or forcing him to backtrack to look for her.

 

She let out a relieved sigh despite her intentions not to as the forest broke. Though they would be in the open in case their pursuers were keeping up with them, it also made it far easier for her to move, and the increase in pace meant they'd likely get a good lead on them due to her leaving behind less tracks to follow.

 

As they approached a small outcropping, Erik stopped, and she sat down shortly after he did. While she had always considered herself to have good stamina, she wasn't used to running on uneven terrain, much less wearing her maid uniform. Thank the Light for good boots though. At Erik's question, she made a gesture to tell him she needed a bit of time to catch her breath, and when she did, she leaned out from behind the tree she had been leaning against to check for her pursuers. Seeing nothing, she turned back to Erik.

 

- "Answers, please. Now, much as i regret to say this, but i can't help but wonder just how... convenient our meeting back there was. Especially considering i was being followed, and you camping less than twenty feet away from where i hit my head. So... Mind telling me how you knew i was there?"

 

She wasn't intending to waste time trying to find out what was going on. As much as she'd like to trust Erik, especially after he had led her to (at least temporary) safety, this was all just a bit too coincidental to her liking. She wasn't ta'veren as far as she knew, and blaming all of this on either fate or luck would feel like an insult to both their intelligence.

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Erik clasped his hands together and smiled. The stars overheard were slowly being blurred out of existence as the night waned and morning dared closer.

 

"I suppose saying the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills would not satiate, nor do justice to what you are experiencing and what you will experience." Erik loosened the draw strings on his shirt and puffed out in relief. Summer may be breaking, but Light it could be cooler still.

 

"Our meeting was no coincidence, you are right about that,” he licked his dry lips, “I have been traveling all the way from Garen's Wall to get to Mindea as fast as I could. To get to you as fast as I could." Erik spoke softly, his steady eyes watching her.

 

"It's the eyes that first turn, that identify people like you and I from other people, those that are following us, those that would hurt you. A rare hue, but it does not make you a shadowspawn. Far from it. But I cannot begin to go through the counties and townships that have run me out once they got a hint of the colour of my eyes. Gold is a dangerous thing, in one's pocket or in one's eyes, and that is why I had to come as swiftly as I did."

 

Erik leaned over to his bag and pulled out the small bag of bread, wafer thin, more like crackers, and dried hare meat. He handed the bag to Arienna; he would not need to eat for sometime nor wanted to, and rested his hands on his knees.

 

"But to your question, which I seem to have been avoiding. I knew you were there because the wolves knew you were there." Erik paused so she would not mistake him for saying something else.

"The wolves, like Smoke and Cool Water who were with me when you first arrived, could sense the change happening inside of you. That is what drew me to you, all the way to Murandy, like a beacon in my skull, I had to come to you and guide you out of danger."

 

The lambskin of water from his bag held less than a mouthful. He placed his finger on the spout and got enough to wet his lips before he traded it for the bread from the young Wanderer.

 

"Like the channelers, the Aes Sedai, there lies in very few people the potential to experience what is happening to you right now. I do not know much of what they undergo in Tar Valon, nor would I like to, but I do know some women are born with the spark, the ability to channel, and it will manifest within them regardless of their actions. So too has an ability manifested within you. Like being a ta’veren, you are just born with it, and what you make of it is how your thread will weave."

 

Erik held up a finger. Even in the darkness he could see the beginning of lines and wrinkles he did not recognize. Twenty-three Winters, he was already an ancient.

 

“First, this is not the work of the Father of Lies, Heartsbane. You are not a shadowspawn. This is the work of the Wheel, the Light, or the Creator himself, and it is not a curse. It is a gift and will come to be as much a part of you as your brown hair.

 

“Second,” his middle finger rose to join the other, “you are in the midst of a change. You are a youngling, by our standards, and just awakening to the senses and the world around you. Your eye sight should be keener, sharper in the dark and able to see further and in more detail. Your hearing will increase until you can hear a groundhog’s heartbeat below the ground or hear an owl glide on the air. Same with your sense of smell which will help you read scents for hunting, danger, and normal everyday communication. And, if you haven’t already, you will begin to have dreams.

 

He gave her a stern look. He wasn’t too certain why, it just seemed like a proper point for a stern look.

 

“Dreams about wolves. Talking, walking, running, hunting with them, it’s natural and inevitable, and not something to be feared.

 

“Lastly,” his ring finger lifted, “there are more of us, as you may have already guessed. We make our home away from any land or border, to the west. North of Ghealdan and west of Andor, a community to ourselves, a Stedding we call it, where we take care of one another and look after each other. I know this is a lot to take in Arienna. Trust me, the first time I heard about wolves and dreams and golden eyes, I was five winters younger and scared and cold. But they saved me, helped me, and took me in.

“I have known many a Wanderer in my time, that's what we call people like you in your situation- a Wanderer.. I've been all kinds of places pulling them out of danger, sometimes by their ears, sometimes while fighting off the city guards. And I don’t want you to reject my invitation because you don’t want or need charity. It isn’t like that. Though it will be the only place in the world where golden eyes are not feared or hated, and you will be looked after and concerned over without need of gold or silver, they, we need you as much as you could ever need us. The pack is stronger together, solidified, than any time a part.

 

“I am sorry,” Erik brushed his forehead with his palm and looked down at his lap, “I do not mean to overwhelm you or burden you with rhetoric and what-not. I often talk a lot when I am tired, and Light I am tired. But what of you, Arienna de Orasaigh? What do you feel, what do you think?”

 

The wind rustled the leaves of the outcropping and Erik felt it blow through his golden shaggy hair. Another few days, and I can sleep in my cabin and eat stew and…

Dream about traveling the countryside and eating off the land once again, Erik could’ve sighed. This is what he got for being a Tracker.

 

-Erik

 

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Despite her intentions not to, Arienna couldn't help but roll her eyes at what she heard. While she had first noticed the change in her irises only a couple of months ago, Maric had his personal physician check her health, but the man hadn't found anything actually wrong with her. Now hearing that this change marked her -- a born and bred city girl! -- as part of a group of people whose senses would sharpen to the point of absurdity, all the while following wolves -- wolves! -- around, and it would be easy to understand why Arienna was feeling more than a little skepticism.

 

- "Well, always good to know i won't be turning into a Trolloc then."

 

Skepticism triggered annoyance, which in turn was fueling her temper. Folding her arms in front of her chest, she leaned back, an annoyed grunt leaving no doubts as to what her feelings were. Still, Erik had proven to be helpful enough in shaking off her pursuers, and even if he was a little odd she supposed it was only fair that she'd keep her temper in check...

 

- "Sorry, but i'm still a little skeptic. I still can't remember why i was here, just that i've just ran from a group of people chasing me, together with someone who claims to 'run with wolves' and take me to 'others like us'."

 

She shook her head, picking some twigs that had gotten stuck in her hair out before looking Erik directly into his eyes, clearly trying to keep her temper in check -- and barely succeeding, proof of which being the somewhat sarcastic undertone in her voice.

 

- "Now, unfortunately for you i'm not a sucker for a cute pair of eyes -- no offense -- and although i'm grateful for the help, it'd still be a little too early for me to drop everything and elope to another country with someone i've met ten minutes ago."

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Erik chuckled.

His fingers interlocked behind his head and he leaned back to look up at the sky.

By the girl's scent he was surprised she hadn't slid the blade that was up her left sleeve into his chest already. The girl’s temper could burn down Mount Dhoom.

He had to laugh. It wasn’t the first time nor would he ever be close to the last time a woman would look sceptical and annoyed with him and cross her arms over her breasts as she reminded him how fool he sounded.

 

“Perhaps, a demonstration then? If I’m going to make some fool claims I should be able to perform some fool trick to convince, though I doubt I’ll be able to pass anything over you, My Lady,” he stood, dusting off his pants and gave the Wanderer a wink. Her scent flared and Erik eyed her left hand for a second.

He had needed a way to convince a Gleeman that he was a Wolfkin, once, outside of White Bridge, and had had to do something close to the same. Funny folk, like the Tuatha’an, he needed to show him something without strings or chance.

 

“First, maybe a game,” Erik pushed his hand into his pocket and pulled out five marbles. The small details like the silver blue tinge to each, or the white sparkling iris set in three of them were indiscernible in the dark. But their shape was clear and obvious. He rolled the balls in his hands, over his knuckles, and back into his palm. He moved his hands behind his back away from Arienna, and rolled two balls into his left hand and three into his right.

“Let’s start off easy…” She rolled her eyes at him and he felt the balls groan in his hand for a second. “How many balls in my left hand?”

He visualized it, the image, of the two balls in his left hand. He pictured the way they would look with sunlight bending off their sides, swirling inside the iris, shimmering in his hand. The triangle imprint above his middle finger knuckle, the thin scar that stretched across the back of his hand similar to the one that wound up his shoulder, he set it perfectly in his mind’s eye. To say he sent just ~Two balls~ to the girl would be a gross injustice to the image, but likewise Night’s Howl was an abbreviation for the image.

The girl’s mouth tightened and her temper backed down for a moment. Before she could open her mouth Erik opened his palm, revealing the two spheres.

“Two balls. Lucky guess I suppose…”

He ducked both hands behind his back and rolled the marbles back and forth in his palms. He had made the mistake with the Gleeman of sending the statement rather than the image of the marbles, or stones, or whatever he had had on hand, so the man dismissed it for some form of ventriloquism and nothing more.

“Alright how many in my right hand?”

~Three balls.~

“Oh good guess.”

 

Every time she looked as if she were to answer, every time her temple pulsed and her eyes flashed, he’d open his palm, roll the marbles along his knuckles, duck his hand back, and bring it forward again.

The game wasn’t a trick; it wasn’t to see if she could trip him up or break into another tangent of argument or reason. The game was to imbed that little seed of doubt, that little bit of unknowing. Why would she know how many were in his hand each time? Why would he act like he knew she knew?

Don’t give a girl a chance to dance her own steps then she has to follow yours if she’s going to keep up.

 

“Alright,” the marbles rolled back into his pocket and he faced the Wanderer without anything in his hands, “enough of that. Let’s see… How can I convince you there’s something more than fool trickery about me…? Hmm…

“I was born on the Black Hills,” he could feel the memories flow back to him and he let them flow through into her, every image and scent and flavour, “along the River Ivo,” the rushing waters and roiling eddies, the churning wash and summer days spent swimming in the slower oxbows with Maethius and Samuel, “where not much happens. We have no Lords, no Ladies, no feuds to war for or revolutions to battle or follow. We do what we must,” summer morning in the field, afternoons in the woods, evenings in the barn reading, “to survive and that is all. Some say you cannot imagine the way the sun hits the plains so perfectly, in Brohampton, the way the wheat all chime together as one, while the wind gusts splash across you like the river washing over you.” He knew she could feel it, feel the memory, as if it were her own, as if she was experiencing it.

 

“Tell me what my mother’s name was, what she looked like,” he imagined her, brown hair to her shoulders, hazel eyes full of warmth, tall, lean… He paused and scratched his eyes; the memories were getting too strong. “Tell me where she lives now.” He touched it, in his memory, her gravestone, tracing the writing with his fingers, feeling the dip and loop of each letter of Corrine Jeren-Hammar’s name. He could feel the dust beneath his fingers, the smoothness of the stone, how cold it felt.

 

It would take the men hunting them an hour to reach where he and Arienna sat by the pace they were moving. The wolves tailed and flanked the group of now five men—one had left the safety of the group to pursue a rustle and Erik could taste the man’s blood on Red Maw’s tongue. But he’d slam understanding into this girl’s head if they waited until the men were on top of them. He would like some rest and his hands ached to hold his sabre and end their pursuit.

 

 

-Erik

 

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Arienna had the impression she was being tricked as Erik kept reading her mind about what she'd answer. What was more disturbing however was that he was right. It wasn't the amount of balls that had been in his hand that was the problem -- any Gleeman she'd seen could do sleight of hand tricks -- but actually knowing what she'd answer time and time again was starting to confuse her.

 

As soon as she wanted to bring in an argument, he forestalled her by telling her about his home. While his speech certainly did remind her of a Gleeman with all of the flowery descriptions, she could almost feel as if it were her memory. While truly talented Gleemen could make a story alive in their listeners' minds -- and having worked in a Lord's manor for several years, she had heard quite a few -- she knew that this was different. It felt as if... her imagination and her memory were almost disagreeing on what it looked like.

 

Had she been less perceptive, she'd have overlooked that detail. Unfortunately though, she hadn't become Maric's eyes and ears because of her cute smile, which meant she was painfully aware that these memories were somehow being implanted into her head.

 

- "Very well, let's just say i believe you for now. From what you said, i'll be going through this Howling thing soon enough, so that should provide me with all the proof i'd need. Let's go, we're wasting daylight."

 

She was still skeptical, and more than a little suspicious about a man that could seemingly control memory. There was still the problem with her still not remembering what had happened before she woke up, and the tricks he pulled just now weren't exactly helping much in proving he had nothing to do with that either. Still, if he was responsable for it, it could possibly lead her to a plot being set up against Lord Maric.

 

She'd follow him, for now. The more she could learn of this group he was telling her about, the better she'd be able to assess the treat. She'd send a message back to Lord Maric at the first suitable opportunity.

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Sunlight shone in the scarce dew among the grass. Erik could feel the sun, humming as it strained to surge higher and higher above the horizon.

 

"Apart from complimenting my eyes, that's the smartest thing you've said all night," Erik laughed as he bent down to pick up the bag and baldric. His limbs ached like wooden joints but the rest had given him a chance to catch his breath and rest his legs. "Come, a safe house is a little over two leagues away and I could use a cooked meal and something softer than ground for my bones."

 

Erik set a steady pace, his breathing and steps in tune. They kept out of the sight, following outcroppings and bushes, trails through small woods. Erik knew the trackers had given up and headed back to Mindea, or close enough that the wolves felt content enough to leave the two-legs. He also knew they were making good time, Arienna checking the horizon behind them every few minutes, and he did want something softer than rocks and dirt for his old bones. Living out in the wilderness had granted him some social inadequacies, and he hoped he was making some of them back, but the first softening he felt was his appreciation for a soft warm bed. The one in his cabin was old and stuffed with straw, but Light, was it glorious those few weeks back.

 

The silence except for their breathing filled the woods around them, the life in the treetops seemed to still be asleep and ignoring their passage through.

"Arienna, do you know what you get when you cross an Ogier Stone Mason and a chicken?"

More breathing, more silence.

"A brick-layer."

 

The silence could swallow an earthquake.

 

"I suppose I'll keep the farm jokes to myself then," Erik forced a smile and continued on down the path.

 

* * * * *

The River Manetherendrelle cut through the land like a lance through shields, carving away at the small mountains and towering hills on the eastern side to the passive woodlands on the west. It pushed against the banks and the banks pushed back. Small brush and washed up logs littered the side where they stood.

 

They’d cut through most of the hills, small trails and sparse growth helped ease their passage through. But the going had been tough and sun stood at its zenith above them with little regard to how hard they were working or how hot they were.

 

“Rest… get your breath… We have some time to wait before Jaeb, that’s the Standish’s boy, before he comes across…” Erik smoothed the irritated skin beneath his shirt tenderly, the straps felt like they had rubbed off most of his flesh.

 

“Help yourself to the food in the bag if you’re hungry… I think I need a dip to cool off,” Erik slowly pealed the white shirt from his shoulders. He nodded to the Wanderer. “Anything you need before I go?”

 

-Erik

 

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Arienna, a bit hesitant to enter the house still, paused for a few seconds after Erik had entered, eyes and ears focused almost entirely on sounds that might give away others inside. Regardless of the situation, she was a woman on her own, and by no means did she believe herself gullible. Still, she only picked up Erik, and decided to follow suit and step into the house as well.

 

The Tracker would likely detect another pang of at least mild distrust as he peeled off his shirt in front of her. This was exactly why she had been hesitant to step into the cabin, but fortunately (for him) he stuck to just removing his shirt. She found an opening in the question he asked though, and simply shook her head.

 

- "If i need to find something, i could always look for it myself. I'm more accustomed to that, so i'll manage. Thank you for the offer though."

 

The distant, yet politely formal way she talked to him said she still didn't trust him fully, something she didn't imagine would happen until this Howling would provide her with some solid evidence. In his absence, she decided she'd return the favor of being rescued by cleaning up the place, though it should be mentioned that she was most definitely planning to use that excuse to sift through the entire place with a fine comb looking for... well, basically anything, really.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The cabin was a vestige of safety, jutting out from the woods and bordered by the rolling river, it was... a little bit of home.

 

He could hear the thump of the girl moving about and moving things inside. If she was looking for something... even the things he had hidden in there would be benign appearing enough for her he doubted she'd pay them any mind. Erik paddled in the oxbow, no more than five or six paces across, but a calm stretch of the river. Maybe that's all Erik could hope for in life were the little oxbows, little stretches of peace every few miles down the rolling raging river. It'd keep life exciting yes, life had certainly been anything but dull since his eyes turned a burnished gold and he could feel wolves in his head.

Jaeb would be soon. The boy would often escape to this little shelter on the other side of the river to get away from his parents for a time. Did the boy lose his hand or his thumb? Either way his father was right, it would hamstring his abilities on the farm. A man out in the country depended on everything that was attached to his body to help him get through the day.

 

Erik shook off the water as he stood, the trees and brushes obscuring his view of the cabin, and likewise the view of him from the cabin. The towel grated against his skin and had smelled strong enough of mothballs he could almost justify using it as kindling.

 

"I hope Jaeb is leaving early." The river was near a mile wide, enough he could barely make out where Jaeb would be sliding the boat into the water, and the Standish house much further up the river among the dense part of trees to the north.

 

* * * * *

 

Jaeb ran from the house, paddle in hand, certain if he didn't come back with the golden eyed man and whoever the men were talking about, he'd lose his parents forever.

 

-Erik

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Arienna wiped some sweat from her brow as she checked on the work she had done. The cabin was now as clean as she could have made it with the methods available to her, and years of working as a maid had given her quite a bit of experience in that field.

 

Everything, right down to the last piece of furniture, had been moved away from where it stood and moved back again after ages of dust that had accumulated behind it had been removed. She twitched her nose, barely able to stop herself from sneezing as some of the dust had gotten in her nose, and decided to go out for some fresh air for a bit while the wind blowing through the open windows freshened the air a little.

 

Taking a deep breath of air, she sat down on a stack of firewood, running a hand through her hair as she tried to figure out what House Erik could possibly be affilated to. Either he managed to hide his tracks perfectly, or he really didn't have anything to do with the Murandian Houses. But then again, what would he be doing in the country in the first place?

 

She did sneeze this time, looking a bit disheveled after all the work had been done. Light, this is getting on my nerves. Also, time was against her, as she'd need to return to Lord Maric sooner or later. The thought of returning there seemed to cheer her up a bit, and she felt pleasantly warm thinking back on picking up her life again.

 

I wonder who's bringing him his lunch now... Mariena, perhaps?

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  • 3 weeks later...

The splash of an oar hitting the swift moving waters was frantic, even from the distance Erik stood, he knew something was wrong. Every hair on his body twitched, agitated, waiting for something to strike or explode. The air was tense and he knew Jaeb was earlier than he planned, it wasn't even close to dusk yet. The boy was still a bobbing dot on the other side of the water.

 

A scream.

Erik turned. He felt his shoulders hunch and he pushed his senses as far as they could. For all he knew the three of the them, himself, Jaeb and Arienna, could be the last three people in the world. He discarded the towel and moved up the stones to the cabin door, wrenching it free. The wood and small hinges groaned with the pain of a dying bear, low and croaking, shaking through the silence. Silence.

There was too much silence.

 

Erik's feet pounded along the wood slat floor. He had the creeping sensation thick slivers had worked their way into the soles of his feet as he stood puffing. The rank taste of iron hit his tongue and slithered up his nostrils. Erik filled his lungs with air and Arienna's name died in his throat as he saw the first splash of blood.

It was not large, but dark crimson and smelled of fresh pain. Another a foot away from the other, and another beside that. That's where he found her, behind the old green felt chair that smelled of old men and their pipes, huddled, clutching her hand. A piece of cloth was wrapped around her bleeding palm and she held it tight as she stared at the floor.

 

"Arienna? Arienna are you alright?"

 

The girl ignored him, as her scent whipped from fear to pain to anger and back again. Erik bent to look her in the eyes and met a blank stare back at him.

 

This is too early.. Erik never claimed to know the process of the Howling completely, but he knew the general progression of the transformation. The changes as they became more than human, more than a common two-leg. Somehow she had reached the conduit stage, drawing in all the emotions, images, senses, memories from every wolf and Wolfkin from as far as she can stretch herself. For some it is a scary and troubling experience, for others an enlightening and incredible moment in their lives, but for all it is almost always painful. They push themselves too far and have to shut out the voices or be overwhelmed. But this.. normally he can get the Wanderer to the Stedding or at least close enough to it that the experience can be better controlled.. better weathered.. But with the girl's memory loss and his own 'intrusions' into her mind..

 

"Arienna! Arienna!" his shouts fell on deaf ears. He shook the girl and she did not bat an eye.

Erik surveyed the room and realized what had happened, how the girl had been tidying things up or moving things around and cut her hand on a small adze head he had left with some of his other tools. The blade was sharper than his saber, its job required it to be, and the tool glistened red.

 

What had the blood done? What had it re-awaken in her?

 

Erik could hear Jaeb shouting from the shore but he stared down at his charge. He walled off his emotions, his thoughts from her, to try to relieve her stress but the act did nothing he could see. There were too many wolves near by, even within ten miles he knew the packs that were moving through, and he did not know how to teach them to block their minds off from the girl.

"Come on girl, don't make it this far and stumble now!"

Her shoulders felt tiny between his hands, but he held her and he spoke, waiting for a flicker, a movement beyond the shallow breathing and the sound of blood rushing.

 

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Deep within her mind, Arienna's consciousness tried to find a safe refuge from the maelstrom of emotions and thoughts that seemed to be swirling all around her, trying to pull her in like a mental vortex. Looking back, she tried to figure out how she ended up the way she had.

 

She was cleaning the house, trying to find out more about Erik, when she noticed a blade, and felt the edge. It was sharper than she expected, but for some reason the blood had... triggered something, though she couldn't remember what it was. She vaguely recalled it had something to do with why she went into the forest though, which was irritationg in itself since she couldn't remember why the blood had caused fear. She had cut herself before, Light, she bled every month without having anxiety attacks, why start now?

 

The vortex pulled her closer as she fought it. She was vaguely aware of being... held, aside from what seemed like a hundred sensations blending together in her head. Knowing she wouldn't be able to stave it off forever with her sanity intact, she set about to suppress her anger. It was a risk, given that her anger was keeping her conscious, but she couldn't afford the time to try something else. As expected, her anger started penting up, and Erik would notice the flow of blood speeding up as her temper started bashing against the dam that had been put up to wall it off.

 

- "... ...out of..."

 

Erik would hear a soft mumble, almost beyond his hearing. It would be the only warning he'd get before the dams would break, and her pent-up anger and fierceness would come rushing out of the floodgates, sweeping away the thoughts of the wolves and all unfortunate enough to be in the immediate area.

 

- "... Get ... out ... of MY MIND YOU WALKING SWINEHERD!! HOW DARE YOU INVADE THE MIND OF A HELPLESS MAIDEN WITHOUT ASKING PERMISSION! LIGHT-BLINDED DOGS! FILTH! I'LL KICK YOUR SORRY BEHINDS THE WAY YOUR MOTHERS SHOULD HAVE!!!"

 

Halfway through this mental tirade of hers, she noticed she was indeed being held by the shoulders. By Erik. Whom apparently had done so while she was unconscious. Taking advantage of her now, was he? She was vaguely aware of a vein popping up in her temple as she launched her fist upwards aimed at his chin, fully intending to beat him off of her 'like any woman would have'.

 

- "AND YOU! GET *PUNCH* OFF *STOMP* ME *KICK* YOU *BOOT* BASTARD!!! WHAT IN THE CREATOR'S NAME WERE YOU THINKING, TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A GIRL LIKE THAT?!? *WHAM* TRY THAT AGAIN AND I'LL BREAK BOTH YOUR ARMS, AND THEN YOUR LEGS FOR GOOD MEASURE!!"

 

Too carried away with taking her anger out on poor Erik (both mentally and physically), it hadn't occurred to her that she wasn't actually speaking as she ranted at him, but that her entire tirade was broadcasted mentally to him, as well as any wolves (and Wolfbrothers) within range. Though it should be mentioned she showed no signs of stopping anytime soon either.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Erik reeled.

 

The girl's words smashed against his thoughts over and over again, as the dull thud of sharp fists against soft flesh smacked again and again into the air. His mind couldn't piece a coherent thought together, just draw in deeper as he sought the Void, which would form and shatter as the girl roared again and again.

 

Blood oozed from below his eye and his jaw ached and he wondered if it was broken. On his back, arms shielding his face from her, she could feel her shifting her weight to deliver punches with more weight and more accuracy.

 

He choked around his tongue as he tried to talk, the shout, the growl… Just groans and coughs as she howled and howled against him again.

 

Erik roared in his mind but it was a whisper compared to the thunderstorm going on in the girl’s mind. Hate and embarrassment and disgust raged from the girl as she shook with every punch, her fists bloody and not just with his. He’d shove her back but she’d be right back over him, slamming her knuckles into his chest or head.

 

She mouthed silent snarls, eyes burning, as she struck.

 

It came suddenly. Erik fumbled for the Void as he felt it rush through him. He knew what it meant, knew what he should do, but he allowed himself to sink deeper into his mind. Away from the blood, away from the pain of the moment and the past, Erik sank away and let go.

 

The girl slammed a fist against the body, his body, he guessed it was his body, he couldn’t feel it nor could he feel the boy in the background of his thoughts. It was a buzzing, as the boy began to push harder and harder to regain control. But there was a reason he had been allowed out, this she was doing damage and the boy had hesitated to take the necessary action. She pulled back to strike again.

Night’s Howl flexed his fist, tested his senses, and pushed forward. It was simple, in his mind most things weren’t complicated or hampered, it was obvious and clear. The girl had the advantage over him, positional wise, but two-hundred and twenty pounds of hardened muscle and bone slamming into her was not going to be stopped by a girl of a hundred pounds or so.

She kicked. He could feel the soft parts of the body bruise beneath her paws, especially between his legs, but Night’s Howl neither felt the pain nor cared. The boy screamed. He was merely a conduit of the pain to the boy, who felt everything without his precious oneness.

With gravity and position on his side, Night’s Howl grasped hold of the girl’s throat with his left hand and clenched. He pulled his weight onto her, forcing most of it onto her right side, to pin the arm while he held the other down with his right hand.

She pushed. He twisted.

Her knees still bit into him, little bites, nothing at all really. He could feel her strain to breathe through the windpipe he was pushing down on. Her eyes were wild with fear, not rage now.

 

Night’s Howl howled. He howled in her mind first, let it smash and rip through her torrent of rage, her oceans of hate, until the soft song of his voice filled her up. Then he howled with the boy’s voice, echoing around them, resonating in her flesh as he poured his bloodlust in.

The girl’s left hand struggled to break free and Night’s Howl pushed his fingers into the gash in her flesh.

Pain? You think you know agony? Young one you do not know the beginning of rage, the depth of hate and suffering that I know. I can crush you in an instant, while your precious guardian is trapped, I can rip you to shreds and all he can do is watch in horror. You are transforming and yet you deny who you are. I can feel it, taste it from you. You are as much wolf as you are person. Wolf. You are wolf. Predator. You can feel blood on the wind, rip sinew with your teeth.

 

The boy was pushing as hard for control as ever, Night’s Howl gripped with all his might for a last few seconds of time.

 

Damage the boy again and he might not be able to stop me before I finish licking the blood from your bones. I will show kindness where kindness is due though.

 

And Night’s Howl severed the girl’s connection to the wolves, to the boy and the others like him. It would grow back, ebbing a little at first, and then little by little returning to normality. The overwhelming rush ceased, her road would be easier. Night’s Howl released his grip on her throat, and was gone.

 

Erik licked his lips, tonguing the breaks and cuts along the top. The flesh was jagged, he could feel it mending, but he knew he had looked better after a tree landed on him. He was kneeling, at Arienna’s feet, as she lay quiet and unconscious. He could feel Jaeb’s breathing outside, hiding somewhere near the brush by the shore, but he ignored it as he watched his charge breathe. Bruises crawled up her arms and back down, large purple ones around her throat that matched the size of his hand.

 

It had been too long since he had felt Night’s Howl in the back of his mind, let alone wrestling for control with the Beast… Erik shook his head and tightened the cloth bandage around his arm. One thing was for sure, it would be a long time before he be able to ride any kind of horse.

 

-Erik

 

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Arienna hadn't really been aware of what she had been doing. In hindsight, she'd realise that seeking to escape had somehow overpowered all her other senses, and she'd probably have hit her own father should he have been the first person she'd have laid her eyes on. Yet, Erik hadn't been her father, and was about as much a stranger to her as one could be. And, more importantly, he had stood between her and the door.

 

She was vaguely aware of something around her throat, would have recognised it as a hand had her veins not be pumping pure adrenaline to every part of her body. Consciousness left her, but it somehow felt comforting: She disliked not being aware of what went on around her, much less to have lost control of her own body. At first, she feared it, feared the vortex of thoughts waiting for her again, but felt relief when she noticed it wasn't there. Had she been conscious, she would have taken a deep breath.

 

Yet, the last remnants of adrenaline that still lingered in her body caused her to stir not too long afterwards, a couple of minutes at best. She felt tired, and sore all over, but she forced herself awake, coughing a couple of times as she wondered why her throat felt so sore.

 

She saw Erik near her, and gave him a puzzled look as she shifted her seating, now leaning against a nearby cupboard. The silence in her mind felt comforting now, and she felt more at ease as she had felt in a long time. Looking at Erik again, the last remnants of unconsciousness left her, and she noticed his wounds.

 

- "Hm? Umm... As much as i hate to ask, what happened?"

 

Her voice sounded hoarse, but she ignored it. What she was painfully aware of however were the way her hands and legs were feeling, and had more than a little suspicion that she had quite a bit to do with Erik's current physical condition. Pulling up her knees to wrap her arms around them, she looked at an undescribed floorboard as she tried to recall what had happened.

 

- "I remember... wanting to escape from something. At first, i couldn't, but then my temper flared up and... I don't know. Whatever caused it seems to be gone now, but i get the feeling i'm responsible for those wounds of yours."

 

She looked at him again, feeling her own throat and finding a rather large bruise starting to form. She had a hunch of what he had done to stop her, though judging by the beating he had recieved she chose not to bring it up, instead looking at Erik as she regained her depleted stamina.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Erik spat another puddle of blood onto the floorboards, his fingernails drawing faint trails into wood grain as he worked his jaw. He'd dislocated fingers before and a shoulder, his right one, after falling off a building at night and onto a cobblestone street and had to put it back in himself.. Right now he wanted to pop his face back into place.

 

The girl stirred and his jaw groaned. Every muscle along his stomach and chest burned inside with liquid fire, he could feel grit between his joints as he moved, and he knew the damp feel on his face wasn't from sweat alone. Bits of his scalp had pulled loose, his right eye was almost completely closed from the bruises, and his chin and beard were a bloody mess of a maw.

 

"Hm? Umm... As much as i hate to ask, what happened?"

 

The girl sounded like she'd eaten gravel.

Erik grunted a bit, tried to smile but his teeth felt loose enough and his jaw popped twice with breathing.

Erik could feel himself, sense everything around him, everything within. He knew Night's Howl was inside, somewhere, lurking, but he could not feel it. It scared him. He knew the Beast was there, and he couldn't feel it, sense it. But worse, what concerned him more than anything, was that he was grateful for the thing. Somehow. He remembered so little, the flickers of his memory.. But he knew the girl was better because of whatever the thing had done.

 

"I remember... wanting to escape from something. At first, i couldn't, but then my temper flared up and... I don't know. Whatever caused it seems to be gone now, but i get the feeling i'm responsible for those wounds of yours."

 

"And I yours, Arienna. We'll have time for questions.. and closing wounds later.. Our boat's here and I think he's scared out of his mind by us."

 

Erik's jaw shot with pulses of white hot pain and he stopped trying to smile.

"Gather your things, I'll go fetch the boy out of the bushes."

 

Erik stood and he regretted it.

 

-Erik

 

 

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