Hidden 20 days ago Post by LadyAnnaLee
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Darin was ready to scowl at life in general. Everybody who knew what she was doing said that she must have been picked for a reason. She wasn’t sure that she brought that. After all, The Gardener died not more than two breathes after giving her The Seed. Ridahne didn’t know that, and Darin wasn’t sure she wanted to tell her that. However, the villagers didn’t have that excuse. They were the ones that buried the Gardener. Yet Milla, Thomas, and even the elders that didn’t like her said Darin must have been given The Seed for a reason. If there was a reason besides last options Darin didn’t know what is was.

She gave her head a shake. She had been thinking those thoughts for what seemed like forever; at least since she got The Seed. It wasn’t helping, and she knew it. Darin knew that the job was important. She may not have been the best choice. She may have even been the last choice. However, she was still the choice The Gardener had made. She had to do the job. With Ridahne’s help she might even manage to get it done. At the very least her odds had increased dramatically. So, Darin would count herself lucky; at least for today.

Darin nodded at Ridahne, “Well then. We best get started. We aren’t going to find where we’re headed by standing around.” She finished her apple, “Besides, I’m sure the people of Greyrock wouldn’t mind if we left sooner rather than later.”

That was probably an understatement. Darin checked to make sure she had her pack. It was strapped to her back. She supposed it wasn’t necessary to check on it, but since she lost her pack mule, she had been paranoid about losing her supplies. She was already down a shirt because she lost her sewing kit because she lost her pack mule. She wasn’t inclined to lose anything else. That just made good sense. She wondered if Ridahne would be willing to share her supplies. Darin gave her head another shake. She couldn’t ask for more than the Elf was willing to give. That was rude.

She did ask, “Do you have a map? I would like to keep better track of where I’ve been already.”

That was another problem. Darin was lost when Ridahne found her. In a way she was still lost. She knew she was in Greyrock. That didn’t mean she knew where she had been or where she was going. She couldn’t keep wandering like that. She wanted to make sure that she was being systematic. Well, that wasn’t right. She wanted to be mostly systematic. If she got a feeling to go in a certain direction she was going to go in that direction. She still needed a map. If Ridahne didn’t have one, they would have to buy one. Darin was tired of being lost. She wasn’t doing it anymore. She was going to know where she was going from this point forward.
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Ridahne nodded, some secret oart of her relieved that Darin had agreed to take her on. She wasn’t lying when she said that she had nothing to go back to, not really. But she wanted the dignity of returning without additional shame. She wanted to redeem herself, and she wanted to see this task done and, looking At Darin, she wasn’t sure she trusted anyone else to be a protector.

“I do have a map. I can show you where you came from and that will give us both an idea of where you’ve been.” Shoving the last bit of bread into her mouth indelicately she stood. “Go and learn how to saddle Talbot, I’ll meet you there.” Ridahne went upstairs, collected her things, settled with the innkeeper and went off to the stables. Mitaja was happy to see her, giving a pleased yowl both when Darin showed up, and then Ridahne. Tsura seemed glad of Talbot’s company and greeted him with pleased knickers and friendly nuzzles. Tsura, it seemed, recognized what Ridahne had guessed from the start, that this magnificent beast was likely a long descendant of legendary horses.

Ridahne was wearing her traveling clothes again: a loose, sleeveless indigo shirt with only some silver embroidery around the collar, and grayish pants tucked into well worn leather boots. There was no evidence of the blood from the day before. She had her dark hair tied back, though as always, she left the two bone-beaded braids near her ears, one on either side, down. “Make sure you go through all of your gear before you mount. Failure to do this might cause trouble later on and as you’ve already discovered, you don’t want trouble on the road. I got us some good traveling food though Mitaja usually provides meat and in this region we’re likely to find wild roots or nuts or things. But I like to be prepared. There’s water and even a little whiskey. Before we go, is there anything else you need? A proper knife, maybe?” Ridahne smirked and folded her long arms. Really, Darin should have two. One for regular use and defense, and another, very small one to go in her boot…just in case. “You might want a cloak, if you don’t have one.”

Ridahne mounted Tsura, and though she’d previously shown that she was smooth and quick getting in the saddle, she purposely took the motion slow and deliberate, looking back at Darin to see that she was paying attention. “Riding will get easier for you very quickly,” she assured. “Especially with such a fine steed as Talbot. He won’t let you fall, I think, and will be willing to listen to you. Unlike Tsura. I had to break him myself many years ago and he took a lot of work.” She patted the tan and black animal’s neck affectionately. “But get ready, you’ll be sore tomorrow morning.”

She urged Tsura out of the stables, her body moving with his, though once outside she stopped and waited. Tsura did not like this idea and tossed his head, stamping his black feet impatiently, but Ridahne reined him in quickly. “If there’s anything you need before we go, then let’s get it. If not, then you lead and I will follow.” Ridahne would be her shadow, though if she felt she had something to contribute to the subject of navigation, she would offer it.
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Darin nodded to Ridahne as she left to head back to the stable. The Elf was right. If she wanted to take Talbot with her, she needed to know how to take care of him. That was only polite after all. She hurried towards Talbot. The rest of the town was waking up. Darin wanted to get Ridahne out of here. She had seen mobs in Lively before, and the human was willing to bet that once the gossip of last night spread One would start to form. As long as they got out before all sense was lost, they would be okay.

The farmer looked like he was repairing some sort of tack. He looked up as Darin skid to a stop, “I need to learn how to saddle Talbot.”

He was clearly confused, “Have you never rode before?”

Darin shook her head, “I know how to use plow horse. I’ve only rode once and been on top of a horse twice.”

The farmer stood up, “Well Talbot won’t let you put a saddle on him or use a bit. Let’s see if we can convince him to let you at least have reins.”

Together they walked over to Talbot. The farmer pulled a set of reins of a hook by his stall. He held them up for the horse to look at. The horse snorted inelegantly. It was clear what he thought about that. Darin couldn’t blame him. She wouldn’t like it either.

The farmer spoke calmly, “Yeah I know you don’t like tack Talbot, but he’s never really ridden properly before. I won’t let him saddle you, but do you really want him falling off.”

Talbot scoffed again but he did lower his head. The farmer showed Darin how to put the bitless reins on and take them off. Then Darin did it a few times as well. It wasn’t even that different from hooking up a plow. The reins would not only help Darin stay on, but they would also help Darin get on. Darin needed all the help she could get so she would take it for sure. With the reins in hand she led Talbot out into the center of the barn. At one point the farmer disappeared. Darin was a little worried about the lack of a bit because that was how a rider typically told a horse which way to go, but Talbot seemed smart. Hopefully he wouldn’t be too stubborn.

That was when the farmer came back with a few things, “I found a few spare things you can have.” He held out a brush, “Make sure you brush Talbot every night.” He gave her a bar of soap and a cloak, “Talbot seems to think you could use all the help you can get. So here you go.”

He was silent as he handed her the last thing. It was a sickle. Darin pulled the covering out and knew that it was not a spare. The steel was brightly polished, and Darin could feel the cuts just by looking at it. She immediately began to protest. This was his tool and he didn’t know her. There was no reason to give it to her.

The farmer cut of the protest, “Talbot told me what you’ve got. When you get the job done let me come see you.” He grinned, the leather of his skin breaking into countless lines, “Just to smell it.”

Darin was almost overcome with the amount of kindness she felt form this farmer that had been working the land for longer than she had been alive. This was the future she had envisioned for herself. The Seed reacted as well. It started to burn, but this time it was almost pleasant. Darin didn’t think The Seed liked the thought about the farmer coming to smell the new Tree. It wasn’t enough. She wrapped the sickle back up

Without even think about it she threw her arms around him, “I make a decent apple pie.” She was whispering in his ear, “You should come taste it. When I’m ready for guests.”

The Seed liked that, or maybe Darin was imagining it. Either way it seemed right. The farmer was caught off guard for a little bit, but then returned the hug. When they pulled away Darin noticed that Ridahne was back in the barn. Her horse and Talbot seemed to get along. It was a nice little party. Darin nodded again. It was time to be on their way.

Darin put the soap and brush in her pack, “I’m ready.” The cloak went on as she walked over to Talbot, “We best get going. There’s no point wasting anytime.”

Talbot bent his knee and head. Using the reins Darin tugged herself to the back. She tried to be gentle, but she knew she tugged too hard. She patted Talbot’s neck and he rose to his full height. Darin was caught off guard for a moment. She held on to the sickle as she looked around. Her eyes fell on the farmer.

She was tying to be polite, “Thank you so much.”

He patted her knee, “Just take care of Talbot, and make sure you get it done.” He gave her one last piece of advice, “Learn to listen to Talbot. It will do you good.”

Darin nodded, “You’ve got it.” She turned to her companion, “Where to now? Which direction?”
Hidden 17 days ago Post by Blackfridayrule
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Ridahne took a piece of rolled, thin leather from her saddlebag and tossed it to Darin. The leather was soft and worn in, obviously old. And as it was unfurled it revealed a map inked onto the smooth, beige surface. She maneuvered Tsura beside Talbot and pointed to a spot on the map. “This is us here, Greyrock. Lively.....is....ah, here.” She pointed to a location west of their current position. “You’ve probably spanned this area here, so we can skip that direction unless you feel you want to go even further west. That leaves north, south, and east and any direction between. I know you don’t really know where you’re going, but maybe I can give you some perspective. If we go west, eventually we’ll find the sea. Northeast is siren territory and more ocean, obviously. But there’s a mountain range we would need to cross. There are reasonable passes here, here, and here.” She pointed to several different spots along the ridge, and the southerly one led into Azurei. She was very familiar with that route. “It will get colder as we go north, and it starts to get dry up in the mountains. Other than that...” she shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. You’re the one with the job to do. Tell me where you’d like to go and I can guide you there, but I cannot tell you where to go.”

Ridahne let Tsura pace a few steps as he tossed his head again. He was a spirited horse even for a gelding, and despite his beautiful coloring and build, he was passed over by many. But not Ridahne. His fire suited her, and the two made a good match. One alike to the other. Both were passionate, sturdy, and fearless. Neither suffered fools and Tsura had been known to bite people who were not his rider. Those were loud, foolish people though, and Ridahne had thought that if she were a horse, she would have bitten them too. His name reflected his nature; Tsura meant ‘flame’. She had shared him with her brother Hadian at times, though with him, Tsura was a little more subdued. It was like he sensed something in Ridahne that got him excited.

“Answer me this. Where would you have gone had you come to Greyrock on your own?”

(sorry for the short post but it gets them moving)
Hidden 13 days ago Post by LadyAnnaLee
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Darin poured over the map that Ridahne had given her. She knew that Astra was sea-locked. She hadn’t realized just how close to the Endless Waves her home had been compared to how far it was from the center. She was half tempted to just race back home and then on to the ocean. She knew that you couldn’t go far from Astra’s land. The Barrier prevented it. Darin gave her head a shake. She couldn’t leave Astra even if she wanted to. She didn’t want to. Even before this journey she wasn’t “wandertouched” like the elders said others in the village were.

She traced her finger over her map, “I wasn’t going anywhere in particular.” She shrugged, “I don’t have a goal, or at least not a place as a goal.” Her finger landed on a spot, “Though that wouldn’t be a bad place to start.”

It was The Tree. Darin had never seen it. She never had plans to see it. Even though she had The Seed strapped to her thigh she still had no plans to go see it until just now. However, the farmgirl was suddenly struck with a desire to know what was causing The Tree’s decay and withering. It might give her clues as to where she should be going in order to plant The Seed. The Tree was close to human lands though it was technically in Elf lands.

Darin took a moment to see if The Seed had any objection to that plan. Now that she was thinking about it Darin realized she didn’t know how close she would have to get in order to know that a place she was at was the place she needed to plant The Seed. For all she knew She would have to actually walk over the spot. If that was the case this was going to take forever. Darin hadn’t realized how big Astra was. Three months suddenly seemed like no time at all.

She held out the map towards Ridahne, “Can we head towards The Tree? I would like to see it before.” She paused, almost unwilling to say it, “Before it’s gone.”

The Seed didn’t seem to object to that plan, and it was a better plan than wandering about Astra without one. It would give her a chance to see the mountains and they would cross a few rivers. Darin heard rumors that Sirens lived in rivers as well as the oceans. She had met and Elf. She sort of wanted to meet a Siren as well. She was planting The Seed for all of Astra. She wanted to know the people she was all but fighting for. Maybe she was fighting for them. She had come supper close to letting Talbot crush that one lady’s head in after all.
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For a while, Ridahne was thinking she would have to come up with a suggestion just to get them moving. There was no way of knowing for sure where to go and so for all Ridahne knew, she could just proclaim a heading and go that way and it would be as good as any other. She tried to think of where she'd go if it came to it. North, she supposed. She'd never really been truly north in Siren lands, though she had met a few in her lifetime. That seemed like ages ago. They weren't found in Azurei often, if ever, since there was very little water that went through the barren desert. If they were seen at all, it was along the coastline where Ridahne grew up. Maybe they'd go east? But she was thankful that Darin finally decided, as she didn't have any real conviction about where to go.

Her amber eyes scanned the thin leather's surface to the place that Darin was pointing and she swore she felt her blood run a little colder. The Tree. Darin was right, it did seem like a sound decision. It would make sense for the Gardener to see the Tree, and maybe they could gain some clues about what kind of place the Seed should be planted in. Ridahne did not voice it, but she felt a distinct hesitation. Not for Darin's sake, but for her own. It was said amongst her people that the Great Tree had strange powers, the most notable of which was to make it difficult for evil to gain a foothold in the world. But up close, she'd heard other stories. Stories of the soul or spirit of the tree peering into one's heart and bringing to the open everything that person kept hidden or forgot. Powers of introspection, of discernment. Ridahne did not know the truth of these rumors and stories, but still she was afraid of what she would see in herself when they arrived. Would she be satisfied with what was dredged from the past? Would she be satisfied with who she was?

For the first time since Darin had met her, Ridahne looked visibly shaken. It was subtle, but enough of a change that it was noticeable. The elf woman was solemn as she nodded. "Yes..." she said slowly. "Yes, we should do that. Come then, let's go." She guided Tsura southeasterly and the two began their journey onward. The people of Greyrock had nothing against Darin, but they were spooked by Ridahne and wary of her, if not outright mad at her. Among them walked a killer, and she was not welcome there. Seeing her and her young apprentice ride away brought a bit of relief to them all.

Ridahne was silent for some time, riding just a bit ahead of Darin with her head down. Her hands were wrapped tightly around her reins, fingernails idly scratching at the worn leather. Finally after a long stretch of silence she checked Tsura's pace a bit so she was more even with Talbot and Darin and said, "I've seen it." The admission was soft, simple, but it held weight like a ship's anchor. Something about her tone seemed tight, restrained, and guarded in a practiced sort of way, but in its very coldness it betrayed how deeply the thought made her feel. "The tree. I...In my vision. I saw it and Ajoran told me I had screamed...I believe it. It's not..." she swallowed. "It's not good, Darin," she said softly.

If there was any ambiguity about Ridahne's commitment to the mission, any question of her true intentions, that moment blew them all away. Despite Ridahne's practiced impassivity, the true, deep heartbreak at what she had seen in her vision was painfully evident. A traitor, an exile, and a killer she might be, but when all was said and done she wanted the Tree of Astra to be alive and whole, whatever that took. To see it otherwise broke her somewhere deep in the soul of her being.

They left Greyrock behind. Back into the forested lands around it they went, picking their way through dense underbrush and trees with branches that intermingled with its neighbors'. Mitaja would disappear for a while and then reappear, and that seemed to simply be her way. Azurian hunting cats were given free range at all times, no cage or tether would do. Only the young kits were penned inside the house to teach them to trust their handlers and learn manners of the home. Mitaja enjoyed her freedom and made good use of it; once she came back with wet red stains in the fur of her face from her kill, the one she would have for herself and not surrender to her master to receive a portion of later. These kills were often small things, rabbits and the like.
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Darin followed Ridahne as they left Greyrock. She may have been imagining it, but she could swear she could feel the tension leave Greyrock with them. She couldn’t help but feel like her connection to people was changing. It scared her, but even scarier was the fact that that it excited her. She couldn’t explain either feeling. She couldn’t explain this connection. It came from The Seed. She knew that much. She had to wonder if it was only because of The Seed. A quiet part of her whispered that a connection took two people to make a connection. What if it was her?

Darin gave her head a shake as she continued to follow Ridahne. She wasn’t really following. Talbot was following. Darin was honestly just along for the ride. She was not riding very well. She knew that she was basically a novice. She had to wonder if the fact that Talbot was so big was contributing. She didn’t know at all. She supposed she could ask Ridahne.

Darin looked over to ask and immediately fell silent. Ridahne looked like she was thinking about something deep. The human had no way of knowing what that was. She didn’t know if an interruption would be welcome or not. Darin moved to speak again but couldn’t find her voice. Darin blew some air outside of her mouth. She wasn’t used to being silent. She talked to herself all the time. Now that she had people with her, she felt an indescribable urge to chatter at them. Luckily, she had practice being quiet. The elders didn’t like pointless noise. For once Darin wasn’t the one upsetting them. She clung to that with a tight determination until this trip. Now it didn’t matter.

Finally, she found her voice, “Ridahne? Can you give me some tips on riding? I feel like that I’m about to fall off.”

Now there was a fact. She didn’t know if it was her incompetence, Talbot’s size, or a combination of both, but she literally felt like she was one misstep from falling off. Talbot must of sense that because all of the sudden he broke into a brief trot. Darin let out a small shriek as she quickly wrapped her arms around his neck. After the trot was over, he let out a whinny that sounded almost like a laugh.

Darin slowly sat up as she scolded him, “That’s not funny Talbot!”

The human didn’t think that the horse agreed with her because he just whinnied again. Darin suddenly felt the urge to get off and walk. She resisted that urge. She had just asked Ridahne for help. She would never learn without practice, and she did need to learn. Maybe it would be easy. Maybe not. Darin was thinking that it wouldn’t be easy. Nothing lately had been easy. Well that wasn’t true. Getting Talbot was easy. She had a really nice sickle. That was a big plus. It was currently siting on her lap. She didn’t want to lose it. Maybe she could turn her ripped up shirt to a harness or belt for it. That would be amazing.

She was also wondering how long it would take to get to The Tree. Darin supposed that depended on if they took a direct route. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to do that. Then again Ridahne seemed apprehensive of going to The Tree. It might just be best to get it over it. Darin couldn’t decide what the best course of action would be. That was standard at this point. At least one thing was constant.
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Ridahne could feel the weight of the Sota-Sol's eyes on her like boulders, crushing her where she knelt. The woman was ancient by even elf standards and she had lost none of her razor sharp intensity and wit. Nor had she lost her wrath, which Ridahne was now feeling in earnest. Kneeling there on the marble floor, Ridahne began to doubt what she had seen; maybe it hadn't been a true vision but a dream born of all her fears and the last surges of anxiety before she passed from this world and finally met the Keeper. Maybe it was guilt? No, she thought with hard resolve. No, she did not feel guilty for what she'd done. It needed to be done. She was only sorry she had to be the one to do it. A new wave of determination flooded her and she looked boldly into her Stoa-Sol's dark amber eyes.

"I have no reason to lie to you, Sol. Not about this."
"Actually you have many reasons to lie, Torzinei," the ancient woman snapped, venom in her tone. "Such are the empty words of a soul condemned to die. And weightless from the likes of you, traitorous snake. Go now and await your death. It's all you deserve."
Ridahne cringed but steeled herself against the crashing wave that was her ruler, her leader. "I won't deny that. But I know what I saw. You of all people should know important the Great Tree is to all of Astra and it's currently worse than you ever imagined, Sol."
The woman's voice was a cold snarl of anger. "You presume too much, eija. You do not know your station and it is the reason you are here now. Do not speak to your Sol that way again."
Ridahne kept her head bowed and her voice cool and even, but even she trembled at the nerve of her next words. "My Sol has disowned me, I have none to command me nor stay my tongue."

Ridahne heard the crack of a hand against her cheek before she felt its sting, and though it galled her and went against everything she knew, she stayed still. "War will come to your door, Sol, should she fail. And all of Azurei will burn and suffer if I don't go. Astra will fall into chaos and ruin. This isn't about me, it's about her. About this...seed bearer. Will you leave her to struggle alone, whoever she is?" When the Sota-Sol was silent, she continued, "Send me, Sol, and I will not return unless I fulfilled my purpose. If I never find her, I will remain in exile. If I return before fulfilling my purpose, kill me."

The woman seemed to have lost some of her ire, though she did not regard the young elf kneeling on the floor of her palace kindly. For all her treachery, she had a point. The Tree mattered above all else.


Darin's words brought Ridahne out of an almost haunted reverie and she offered a ghost of a smile at Talbot's antics. "Really he's doing most of the work for you...he's a fine horse. But first and foremost you need to relax and move with him. Loosen your hips and let them sway with his body as he steps. Keep your back straight, like this," she demonstrated proper posture, making sure to point out just how much her torso pivoted on her hips, allowing her upper body to remain somewhat still instead of swaying from one side to the other.

"And erm...typically with horses, you squeeze with your legs to go a little faster. The harder you squeeze, the faster they go. And usually to stop them you pull back on the reins but...Talbot is going to be a little different. Unless he is trained otherwise, the legs are still a good signal to speed up, but to be honest I don't know how to tell him to slow down without reins, not without knowing how he was trained or how he is. Same goes for giving him directions I...." she shrugged. "Tsura requires a lot of control but Talbot is different, you'll just have to experiment. Besides, I'm sure he responds differently to you than anyone else." Ridahne gave a little smile. "I'm not sure he would suffer me. As for posturing, I can help you there. You need to be comfortable on horseback. We'll be spending lots of time like that but also if you're ever pursued, you don't want to be thinking about how to ride. You want to just...do it. So you should practice galloping, cantering, trotting--everything. Daily." This last part was said firmly, like an instructor speaking to a student.
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Darin muttered to herself, “Right. Straight back, moving hips, squeezing my knees means go faster.” She looked up from her lap, “Are we good with that Talbot?” Talbot let out a snort and shook his head in a sort of nod, so Darin nodded as well, “We are good then.”

It wasn’t actually that hard once Darin found herself in position. At times Talbot would go a little faster. Darin found herself paying attention to Talbot’s ears. The left one would flick back when ever he sped up. So, the next time they were just walking, before Talbot got a chance, Darin reached out to tap his left ear. The horse flicked the ear back as he broke out into a trot. This time he didn’t stop. The human thought for a moment before reaching out to tap his right ear. Then he slowed down. That was certainly going to be an interesting system, and Darin could already see how it would cause problems.

She told him that, “That won’t work for everything Talbot.” He snorted at her, “I mean it! It’s fine for training me to ride, but in combat or running away it won’t work.” This time his snort conveyed the feeling of reluctant agreement, “Thank you. But we will figure something out. I promise.”

Talbot nodded again. He was by far the smartest horse Darin had ever meet. He wasn’t as sweet as Heath, but he was more intelligence. The farmer had told Darin that Talbot told him things. She was willing to believer that the horse was smarter than most people, herself included. Then her eyes went wide as she suddenly remembered something.

Her tone was accusatory, “Your person said you told him what I was doing! How did you know?”

The noise Talbot made could only be described as a laugh. Darin stared at him in shock. This was a big deal. Talbot may have seen the band around her thigh, but how had the horse known that it contained The Seed? Darin believed that Talbot knew. There was no doubting that. Still, she needed to know how he knew. That way she could make sure that her tell didn’t tell other people, people like Mark.

She scolded Talbot, “This isn’t funny! Going faster when I’m not expecting it; I can see why that would be funny. Tossing me off could be funny if I wasn’t seriously hurt. The Seed is important, and I don’t want people to know I have it if I can help it.” She gestured out to Ridahne, “I didn’t even tell Ridahne! She had to figure it out for herself!”

Talbot stopped suddenly, and it took all Darin had just to stay on. She got the impression that Talbot wasn’t all that impressed with her. That was okay, Darin wasn’t impressed with herself either. Then, with as little warning as when he stopped, Talbot started up again. He hadn’t told her how he knew. Then again, maybe he had, and She just wasn’t listening or paying attention properly. She supposed that was more likely. It would explain why he was irritated with her.

Darin asked another question in a softer tone of voice, “Can people like Mark find in the same way?” Talbot shook his head, “Well okay then. I’ll take that.”

Talbot let out another whinny. His left ear flicked twice. Darin’s eyes went wide. She was just in time. As soon as her arms were wrapped around his neck. he took off faster than he ever had before. Talbot bucked a little bit, and Darin forced herself to sit up straight. It wasn’t that bag. In fact, once she got use to it, it was a nice way to move. Then Talbot stop suddenly, and she fell straight off.

Darin landed on her back to stare straight up at the sky, “Owe.”
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Ridahne sat back and watched her new traveling companion experiment with guiding and controlling her horse. That beast was magnificent, she thought, and Ridahne knew a good horse when she saw one. And did Darin say something about the horse...speaking? Communicating, rather, Ridahne thought. She couldn't even imagine what kind of voice an animal like that would have if it spoke the tongues of men, but though she'd never actually seen the like, she had no trouble believing that this horse could communicate complex thoughts or ideas. She'd heard many stories of the Isfali line of horses and no longer had any doubts that Talbot was a distant relative.

Ridahne did not offer much in the way of pointers, partly because Darin needed to figure out Talbot's ways since neither of them really knew, and also because experience was the best teacher. Darin needed to feel like she could try new things with her newfound steed and together they would grow and bond. She did, however, sent Tsura into a gallop after them when Talbot decided to have a run. The buckskin gelding leaped forward, jealous of his companion for being able to run so freely. Talbot had great speed and a strong gait but Tsura was bred for bursts of speed and caught up with him easily. For once, Ridahne did not hamper him, though she did check him to a walk once Talbot launched Darin off his back. Ridahne and Tsura circled them once, her spirited horse tossing his head excitedly, and the elf chuckled.

"Talbot has more attitude than I would have guessed, despite what the farmer said. Cheeky thing. You'll have to learn how to control him, Darin. I'm...not sure how since he doesn't wear a bit or anything but..." Ridahne shrugged. "Seems like you're getting the hang of him already. Do you...like horses...?" Ridahne asked, face scrunching up in a curious expression, making her tricolored tattoos crinkle and warp with her skin. Her facial tattoos seemed to be the one part about her that she really cared how they looked. She kept her hair free of tangles and her clothes reasonably clean for someone who lived on the road, but not much else. Her ojih, though, she made sure was clean at all times and when her hair was down, she often brushed it aside so the tattoos would show clearly.
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Darin stared up at Ridahne, “I like horses fine. It’s being on top of them that I am not sure I can handle.”

She slowly pushed her way into to a sitting position. Without really thinking about it her hand came up to cup her injured shoulder. It had begun throbbing during the gallop and being tossed off had caused more pain. It wasn’t anything Darin couldn’t handle. In fact, she had suffered worse and believed she would suffer worse in the future. It just stung a little bit. At least Ridahne’s stiches seemed to be holding. Darin did not want to go though blood loss again. That had been a new experience. She didn’t like slowly losing conciseness as she struggled to stay awake. IT had been a battle she couldn’t win. It was terrible.

She looked around at where they were, “In fact, I like most animals better than people. Animals tend to be nicer, and if they are being mean they are usually defending territory or have been trained by cruel people.”

Honestly the human had a high opinion of animals than she did of people. That wasn’t a new opinion either. When her father had left the village, no one had come to help out her mother and her at the farm. They didn’t make them social pariahs, but they hadn’t done anything to include them either. Darin could only hope that Thomas and Milla were keeping their promise to take care of her mother. She had no proof that they would. Darin had never had that problem with animals. They had no concept of selfishness or greed.

Darin had been starting off into space as she had these thoughts. Slowly she turned to stare at Talbot as she slowly realized something. Talbot stared right back. Darin looked around for Ridahne’s cat. The human couldn’t remember the animal’s name. She couldn’t find them. That cat had come right up to her when they first meet. Ridahne’s horse had done no protesting when Darin got on yesterday. Darin knew that she had to have gone though areas with creatures such as wolves and bears. She had worried about them but had never actually never seen them. She had just though it was luck. She wasn’t sure that was true anymore.

Darin focused on keeping her breathing slow, “Your cat, what’s their name? Where are they?”

Talbot let out a snort as Darin continued to look around. He putted out. Darin slowly stood and walked over to him. With out looking she reached out to stroke his nose. Her back was to him. He put his nose on her uninjured shoulder, so Darin instinctively twisted her arm. She thought she might have figured out how Talbot knew she had The Seed. She wasn’t sure how to prove it though. If she was right Darin had both more allies than she thought and a bigger problem than even Ridahne could handle.
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Ridahne gave a small laugh and nodded. She sort of agreed with her statement about animals, as she found that animals rarely ever disappointed her. Animals would not have thrown her out of her home, even after what she'd done. They were practical creatures and would have understood why she did it. They were much simpler to understand, too. Meet their needs, know their personality, and that was all it took. There was no binding law of honor or duty to bind them either.

"You'll get used to it soon enough. You're about to spend your life on horseback for an unknown period of time. Could be years, could be three weeks, I don't know. But before you know it, you won't have saddlesores, you'll find the smell of horse to be your own personal perfume, and you'll wonder how you ever struggled keeping on his back. And animals are simpler than people. Much simpler. They are bound by less and want for little."

A breath of wind swept past, giving life to her dark curls that hung about her shoulders. Ridahne sniffed, wondering if rain was coming. Usually she liked rain, as it was a rare occurrence in Azurei except up in the mountains or far off the coast. She liked to stand in it, let it tap on her skin in warm drops. Except up this way rain was rarely warm. It was often quite cold, in fact, and it was made all the worse by the fact that when it struck, she was usually somewhere on the road and didn't have any proper shelter and was forced to sleep under a barely waterproofed waxed-canvas sheet, though she always seemed to wake up soaking wet anyway. By the tree, she hoped it didn't rain.

"Mitaja?" Ridahne shrugged and shook her head. "Not sure...around somewhere. We have used her kind for hunting for centuries, as long as our people lived in the sands. They are native to that region and are excellent at finding game, so we tamed them and brought them into our homes. But we do not keep them captive like dogs here, no collar or leashes for them. We let them roam," she said with a lax wave of a slim hand. "They go where they will, but they answer our calls and heed our commands. But they do it because we are partners, not because they have to. I've had Mitaja for twenty years and she has been good to me. Here, I will call her..."

Ridahne tilted back her head and let forth a long, two noted whistle. The sound was loud and sharp and echoed a little even amongst the trees, and after a few breaths of silence, the sound of padding feet crunching through underbrush began to get louder and nearer until the cat appeared by Ridahne's side, brushing her face against Tsura's foreleg. The horse was used to her and didn't shy away, though he seemed a little irritated by having something so underfoot. The cat looked at her handler with big yellow eyes and, not receiving a command, flicked her tail lazily and padded off to say hello to Darin. Her head was easily the size of the human's, though wider, and her paws were the size of Darin's palm. Yet unlike a tiger, she was not thickly built but tall, leggy, and slender. Her coat was fine and close, and where it was not dulled by road dust it was glossy. The cat sniffed at Darin's hand and purred, pushing her head under it to demand pets like any little housecat would. Her purr was deep and rumbling, resonant from her deep chest.

"She likes you...a lot," Ridahne remarked. "She's amiable to strangers usually, though not so outgoing about it. Usually she's a bit more aloof than that. You can thank her for leading me to you on the road. I think she knows. I think she's always known," Ridahne said with a slow nod of understanding. "Do you...have abilities now that you're...?" She didn't say it out loud, it was best not to. "Or have you always had a way with animals? Do you have the same with people, too?"
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Darin absently pet Mitaja. She figured that Ridahne was correct. This was a hunting cat. The human was fairly positive that hunting cats should not be this friendly to strangers. Her handler’s words only proved that. Darin liked animals, and they tended to like her. Still, this went beyond that. This was something more. This was something the human didn’t quite understand.

Darin had one hand on Talbot and another entangled in Mitaja, “Animals like me better than people do, and I like animals better than I like people. In fact, I strongly dislike people though there are certain persons I like.”

That may not have made complete sense, but it was true. Darin only liked select individuals. Her mother, Milla, Thomas, Rolland, maybe Ridahne, but definitely the farmer from Greyrock. That was less than ten. On the other hand, Darin had only meet one animal she disliked, but that dog had been trained to be a bully and abused by their person. That was the first time since her father left that Darin had spent time with people her own age. The dog’s human was an older man and the teenagers of the village had worked together to get the creature away from the abuse. It had bit all of them at some point. Darin had to fight a smile. George still had teeth marks in an unfavorable location. Darin was lucky she did not. Her bite marks had healed nicely. So, there was that.

Darin shook her head, “But this is new. I think they all know. I haven’t been attacked by any animals in areas where I should have given the fact that I’ve been traveling alone. I know Talbot told his person about it. Which means other animals can tell as well, and they could tell their person. Which may not be a good thing.”

There were other people like Mark out there. There might even be people worse than Mark out there. They had to have horses and dogs and maybe even cats. Animals were loyal. They might not be able to communicate the same way Talbot seemed to be able to do, but Darin knew better than to count on that. This whole journey was making Darin a paranoid mess. She had to resist the urge to rub her hand against the band on her thigh. Ridahne hadn’t asked to see The Seed yet, and the human didn’t want to give her a reason to do so.

Talbot pressed closer to her. Darin smiled over her shoulder at him. It was clear that the horse was trying to offer some level of comfort. Darin removed both her hands from the pair of animals. She looked around for her sickle. She had lost in when Talbot all but tossed her. Talbot trotted over to a spot. Darin moved with him to see her weapon on the ground. She bent down to pick it up. Talbot blew at her hair as she stood back up. Darin looked at the horse. Once Talbot was sure he had the girl’s attention he looked at the sky.

Darin smiled and let out a small laugh, “You’re right. It is about to rain.”

The farmer could smell it, and the clouds in the distance were a sure indication. The undersides were steadily becoming a darker grey. They were also moving this way incredibly fast. Darin tucked the handle of the sickle into her belt so she could use both hands to grab on to the reins so she could get back on top of Talbot. Talbot decided to be kind and bent down so Darin wouldn’t have to climb so high. The human figured that the horse wanted to get moving just as quickly. This was going to turn into a storm; not the kind of rain anyone wanted to be caught out in for any reason whatsoever. As soon as Darin was upright Talbot unbent his knees.

The human told Ridahne, “We might want to find a place to wait out the rain. We have an hour or two at most before it hits us.”

Darin had no idea why she was telling the Elf this. Ridahne was the well-traveled warrior. Darin was just a farmgirl. Ridahne probably knew better than her. Maybe it was because Darin wanted to make it clear that she did know somethings; like weather. Her livelihood depended on the weather. Darin had learned to read the sky quickly. It was one of the few things her father had taught her. It was something everyone in the village had known how to do. If Darin was back home the whole village would be finishing up their outside work, or at least finding a stopping point, and preparing to start work that could be done in doors. That was just pure common sense.
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Ridahne studied Mitaja, watching the way the cat leaned into the human's hands. Usually she was only like that with her or Hadian, and perhaps with Ajoran too. There was something to this girl. She might doubt any significance that she had, but Mitaja knew, Talbot knew, Ridahne knew. And unfortunately Mark had too. She really did hate him. The elf shrugged and gave an easy smile--something that didn't come out unless she was in good company. She looked less dangerous when she smiled like that, and part of why she did intimidate people was that she was often aloof and closed off with most people. That and the ever-present blades she wore. "If it makes you feel better, Mitaja did not tell me anything. I had to guess on my own. But yes..." she sighed as if realizing the task she had ahead of her as this girl's protector. "We will have to be wary of people's pets and things. But Mitaja and Talbot will be your protectors there. They know their own kind better than we do and they will defend you. Talbot already has."

If it was at all ever possible for Ridahne the elf-warrior to look petulant, she did then as she looked back up at the sky. "I was afraid of that..." she mumbled. "I hate the rain...well then," she sighed, raising her hands up and letting them slap against her thighs. "I suppose we should get as much road behind us as we can before we have to set up camp. I think we should reach the tree sooner rather than later..." Not that she was particularly eager to get there--it would be hard for her and she knew it. But they needed to go and there was no use dallying.

When they did finally get back on the road, Ridahne maneuvered Tsura so that he strode beside Talbot, her body swaying and moving with her horse's steps like she'd been born on horseback. In the small village of Atakhara, those who weren't busy fishing for their food were out hunting it in the Dust Sea. Ridahne's family did both, but since Hadian was older and destined to follow the family line of fishing, he had gone to sea and that left Ridahne to raise ithali kits for hunting, and to break horses that would tolerate long days in the sands alongside a predatory cat. In some way, she had been born on horseback.

"So I never did ask, how old are you anyway? My judge of human age is..." she teetered a long hand back and forth, "not so good. But you are young for your kind, yes?"
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Darin answered the question easily enough, “I’m nineteen. I started working my farm at 14 almost 15.” She went on to explain, “I should have started looking for a spouse at about 17 and if I make it to about 25 30 without finding one, I’ll be what many people call an old maid.” She shrugged, “That’s how most human females that aren’t warriors measure if they are adults or not, by marrying age. In short, I’m considered an adult, but like a brand-new adult.”

Darin only new the stuff about marriage because that was what the elders had wanted. They started coming to her mother with proposals and potential matches (It wasn’t really marriage. It was more like steady commitment. The people of her village rarely did what was consider legally or religiously binding marriages.) when she was 16 and one day. They were all second or third sons. People were looking to use Darin’s farm as their child’s inheritance. Thankfully her mother wasn’t having any of that. That plus the fact that Darin had kneed the one boy who tried to kiss her where it truly hurt. He had tried to claim her publicly. He had put hands where she didn’t want him putting hands. So, she humiliated him in public. Then there was the fact that she wasn’t really pretty, and the fact that she didn’t act the way her village thought she should act. All talk of marrying Darin off had been squished by the time she was 18.

Which was fine by her. Darin didn’t know that she wanted to commit to anyone. She certainly didn’t want to make promises like that to anyone in the village. Besides, though promises meant absolutely nothing, Darin knew that. Her father had broken all of the promises he had made to her mother the night he ran off. She didn’t want anybody to do that to her. Her mother was strong, but something had broke inside her that night. In addition, Darin was almost certain that one of those promise was kissing, and other such activities and she had never seen the point of those types of activities. Well, she understood the making kids part, but other than that it was a mystery to her. She had talked to her mother about it once. Darin was assured that it would all make sense when she met the right person. Darin wasn’t so sure the right person was out there. Besides, it wasn’t like she could go looking for them. She had more important things to worry about. She needed to get The Seed planted. Then she could worry about romance; if she wanted to.

Darin asked a question of her own, “What about you? How old are you?”
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