Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Riven Wight
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Riven Wight Insomniac Vampire

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The air always smelled of brine and earth. It was an odd combination, but one that Nikita had long since grown to consider as the smell of home. She opened the last of the windows in their three-roomed cottage. Summer's heat had been teasing them lately, but the cooler weather of spring wasn't quite ready to let go yet. A chilled wind blew in off the sea, staving off the waiting summer and flooding the stuffy cottage with its freshness.
Penelope, the town's healer, always claimed that the fresh air would do Nico good, and the more the better. Besides, having the windows open made the heat from the stove almost bearable.
The sunlight caught in her eyes, intensifying their already vivid green. The silver specks in them glittered as if competing to outshine the sun’s brilliance.
She hurried back to the wood-burning stove. Eggs sizzled on the skillet. She’d even managed to purchase a few slabs of bacon, which already sat separated on two ceramic plates at their table.
“You up yet, Nico?” she called, stirring the eggs.
An indistinct grumbling floated from behind the half-open door of what was once intended to be a ‘nursery.’ Now, it was simply Nico’s room.
She’d gotten the same answer when she’d gone in there to open his windows.
“I’ve got to get some wood split today,” she went on. “Feel like coming out with me? You could do with getting some sunshine.”
“There’s already too much sunshine.” This time, she made out his whining answer. “Sunshine belongs outside, not inside!
“Your windows face North.”
“Bright is bright in every direction! …Do I smell bacon?” His tone changed instantly.
“Get changed, and you’ll find out!” Satisfied the eggs were done enough, she took the pan to the table and dished them out on either plate, one more heaping than the other. “I put your clothes on your—”
“I know, Kita.”
“Then shut up and get ready for the day!” She placed the now empty skillet back on the stove. “Just because the moon’s asleep, doesn’t mean you should be, too!”
“Yeah, yeah.”
She pulled one of the four chairs out from the table. Though once a fairly fine thing, time had worn it down, and its wood glistened from the oil of many hands and meals. She paused, listening to the rustles of Nico getting out of bed. Rather, listening to make sure it didn’t sound like he needed her help.
She bit her tongue to keep from asking if he needed help. He'd been getting testy lately about her always asking. Not that she could blame him, really.
It always took him a while to get ready. She stepped to his door at the familiar tap of his crutches on the floor, then opened it wide as he reached it.
The boy limped into the main room and to the table, his weight supported between all his limbs using the crutches. He was short for his age, and, while his clothes hung loosely, his skin clung tightly to his fragile-looking form. Nico sat in the chair she’d pulled out, then leaned his crutches against the side of the table.
Nikita joined him. She sat across from him and pushed the fuller plate toward him. No matter how much she fed him, she could never get the skeletal ten-year-old to gain weight.
He reached for one of the wooden utensils in a cup at the table’s center. He eyed the food suspiciously, then poked at one of the thick slices of bacon. “How’d you afford this?”
Though having meat on the table wasn’t a surprise in itself, it was always from the local game Nikita hunted. Pork was much harder to come by here in Baxtree. The only farmer nearby with pigs for slaughter was, on the best of days, a greedy man—even when dealing with people who weren’t believed to be cursed.
She shrugged, selecting a spoon of her own. “Sold my soul to Mr. Grayson.”
“I knew he was a demon!” His coffee-brown eyes widened in exaggerated shock. His thin lips formed into an almost perfect O, creating darker shadows in his already sunken cheeks.
Nikita laughed at the ridiculousness of the expression. “Steven gave me some hours unloading cargo at the docks. Felt like celebrating.” She pointed her spoon at his plate. “Now stop complaining, and eat before it gets colder!”
He rolled his eyes, but tucked into the mound of scrambled eggs. She watched him for a moment, making sure he actually ate. The circles under his eyes looked darker than normal; he’d been having troubles sleeping lately.
As thin as he was, she could see the shadow of their late father in his features. A strong jawline, with soft, hooded eyes. His pale brown hair matched hers, though he wore his longer than Nikita’s messy pixie cut. But he was as pale as their father had been (and Nikita was) tan, as frail as the man had been burly. Though they came from different mothers, even Nico's mother’s physique didn’t explain his fragility.
When they’d finished breakfast, Nikita helped him to the bottom step of the back porch. There, the stairs were half in the sun, half out. Their plot of land stretched out from the steps, partially hemmed in by the thick forest.
“Would you grab my book?” Nico asked, settling himself on the stair in the warmth of the sun. “The top one on my nightstand. Penelope said she was going to quiz me tomorrow,” he finished through a groan.
“Good, wouldn’t want you mixing up hemlock with basil!”
Nico glared at her. “Those don’t look anything alike!”
“Exactly! You just answered question one correctly!” She winked at him, then rushed inside to collect the book of herbs the healer had given him.
A couple years back, when Nico had first begun to show interest in learning herbal remedies, Penelope had taken him on as a sort of second apprentice. Nico had shown an aptitude in learning and memorizing, and took to the title with gusto.
She returned and handed him his book. The amethysts on the ring she always wore glittered in the sunlight as he took it. Not wanting to ruin the ring by wearing it while working, she twisted it from her finger and reached for the chain around her neck. Noticing Nico watching her, she paused. "Hey." Instead, she handed the ring to him. “Keep an eye on this for me, would you?”
He blinked at in in surprise, then, with a proud smile, took it and slipped it onto his thumb. Though it snagged on his knuckle, it hung loose beneath it.
Though she felt strangely naked not having the ring on her, she fetched the axe from the old caravan that had once been her home. Now, it was used as nothing more than a shed rotting beside their cottage. She paused only to slip on a pair of tattered work gloves.
Back outside, she glanced to Nico, who already had his nose in his book. She rested the axe on her shoulder and began to sing as she headed to the tree stump turned chopping block and pile of dry wood waiting for her. The pile was a lot smaller than she wanted, but it was all she’d managed to collect last year to let dry out for this season.
She could only hope she could either find more, or make what they had last the winter. But that was a worry for later. Right now…
O out in the emerald wilds,” she stepped over one of their free-roaming chickens as it darted in front of her. “There once lived an old man strong.” She placed the first dried, cut log onto the stump. “His axe was sharp and polished,” she heaved the axe to her side, ready to raise it, “But it sung a sorrowed song.
Tha-crack! The axe split part of the dry wood with one hefty, practiced swing.
“For the blood of the trees, it cries out,” she whacked the log a second time in-tune, and it split in half, “It begs for life restored.” She tossed the wood into a bin opposite the log pile. “But winter’s breath was nearing;” She thumped another log atop the stump, ever in time with the song, “Time, he could not afford.”
“So chop! chop! went his sharp axe,” Nico chimed in from behind her, his wispy voice a bit off-tune amidst her sweet notes. Smiling, Nikita brought the axe down, accenting the slight pause in his words. This one split enough in one swing for her to pry it the rest of the way apart. “And the cries of nature’s skin—”
“Rang loud in the emerald wilds,” she continued with him, bringing her axe down again. “Spreading word of the strong man’s sin.”
She paused in her work, turning to Nico as they took the first refrain together:

“But warmth and light is worth the fight
Before Winter’s callous cold.
For in the blight before the light
Our hope’s worth more than gold.”


He met her gaze, and they shared a warm smile. She winked at him again, then set back to work. She sung all the while, the tale of the woodcutter long and filled with both horrors and joys. Each time she reached the refrain, she stopped singing, letting Nico take up the lyrics.
Then, as she paused for him near the end, his voice didn’t pick up the song.
“Nico?” She stopped and looked over her shoulder. Her heart jumped into her throat.
Nico had slumped bonelessly against the railing of the stairs, eyes shut. His book laid on the ground, splayed open.
She tried to swallow her panic as she dropped her axe and rushed to him. He needed sleep, and she’d been singing, after all. But still, fear churned in her stomach.
“Nico.” She shook him gently by the shoulder. “C’mon, let’s get you inside to bed.”
But Nico didn’t stir.
“Nico?” she tried again, breathlessly. She shook him harder. “Nicodemus Norman!” Panic squeezed her chest and narrowed her world to include her brother, and nothing else. “Nico, if you're messing with me, this isn't funny!”
But it wasn't a joke. He was breathing, that much she could see. But no matter how hard she shook him, he wouldn’t wake up.
She easily scooped him up in her arms, his body so thin she could feel his ribcage though his tunic. “Come on, Nico, stay with me!”
She needed the healer. And maybe the doctor, too.
She rushed into the house, kicking the door open, not caring if it damaged the jam. Not wanting to risk jarring him by running him to Penelope’s house, she placed him gently in his bed, then raced out of the cottage, praying to whatever higher power would listen that Nico would still be alive when she returned.

Hidden 3 mos ago Post by rise13eyond
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The process of selecting a mother and father for the man’ai was one part volunteer and one part ritual. Parenting the unusual elf child was considered a great honor, volunteers were usually many and if the two could not be selected that way then the matter was taken up with the gods.
A fire would be lit then a basin of water was poured over leaving the names in the coals. Of course sometimes there was a bit difficulty in reading said names, but more often than not it served it’s purpose.
Children were very rarely born to the elves. Most of them had lived for thousands of years and showed no sign of aging or dying, children simply weren’t necessary for their way of life. The man’ai were quite different in many ways.
The first was obvious when Illion was born, when his mother gave birth the entire room was surprised to see a kicking and screaming baby boy, when nearly every other time the man’ai had been girls. Still he was welcomed lovingly.
Or as lovingly as possible. Since on their hundredth birthday they’d be sacrificed for the better of the village. Yes at times the parents would be distressed but it was always expected of them, therefor they were treated well, especially throughout the pregnancy.
Jenelai had been chosen this time, and two men had been chosen as a selection between said two had never been distinguished. They may never know which man fathered the child.
Illion was the type of child that spent more time in the dirt than out of it. He spent his childhood making mud pies, drawing in the dust, and climbing trees only to fall out giggling (even if he injured himself doing so). Jenelai would always scold him at first, but it wouldn’t take her long to give in and hug him before dragging him inside to patch up his scrapes and cuts.
She adored her son, which would make the sacrifice difficult for her when it came. At night when Illion slept she would sneak out and over to the village head, crying that she didn’t want to give up her son. She was assured that it was for the best and it was too late to do anything about it. She cried a while and the returned home before her son could wake.
Illion remained clueless as to why his mother wept, if he were aware of it at all. When he had been small he would hug his mothers legs and tell her “there, there”, like she always did to him. Even as he grew up he would still try to comfort her, though he knew not why she was upset.
His fate was kept secret from him, he’d hadn’t even been properly explained to why he was different, even though he knew he was.
“Hey, wait for me”! Illion panted as he ran up the side of the waterfall, but his words seemed to be lost in the rush of water.
The older (yet perhaps more immature) elf looked behind himself and grinned at Illion. Ausa was the next youngest, right after Illion, yet was much, much older, but he was still willing to play and mess around with the young elf so the two were often seen together getting into trouble.
The two climbed the steep hill that overlooked the waterfall. It was one of the few places in the village that wasn’t completely hidden by trees. The hill was wet and slippery, threatening to send anyone attempting to climb it sliding back down and covered in mud. Illion knew he was going to hear about it later but didn’t care.
Once they reached the top they could nearly see over the trees. Illion loved it there. He knew he shouldn’t, but he so wanted to leave the confines of the woods and see what was beyond, even if he were to run into a human.
If anything could be said about the relationship between the elves and the humans is that the elves loathed them. They avoided them like the plague, which was why they lived their solitary lives in the woods, far from human’s reach. Illion didn’t share this hate, even though he’d been told time and time again.
“Manr en aekar.” Everyone said. They were crude, violent, and inferior. Though despite that, Illion didn’t care, at times he wasn’t even sure they told the truth, but since he’d never actually met a human he had no leg to stand on.
“I’ll never get tired of this.” He said to Ausa.
“That’s because you haven’t seen it eight-thousand times.”
“No one’s making you come up here, you know.”
“Yeah but if I didn’t you might trip and break your neck, how would that feel?”
“Hey, I’m not that clumsy.”
Ausa laughed and gave Illion a nudge, making the younger elf step back to keep himself from falling.
“Watch it! It’s slippery.” Illion returned the push while smiling. Truth be told he really didn’t care if he got muddy.
“What, you’re not afraid of a little med are you?” Ausa winked and gave him another little push.
The two laughed as they took turns pushing each other until Illion actually did begin to slip, but by the time he could say anything Ausa was giving him a harder push and he’s completely lost his balance.
Illion tried to grab onto Ausa or something solid but failed to do either and went tumbling down the steep side. Despite his best efforts he did not land stable, instead he landed on his ankle. It made a little popping sound and although he wanted to scream Illion only took in a sharp breath. He didn’t dare touch it or move lest he hurt it any more.
“You alright down there?” Ausa called down.
“No...” Illion cringed at the slightest movement and made a pained groan. “...My ankle!”
The other elf carefully climbed down then jumped at the half way point. There was something none of the other elves could relate to, and that was the man’ai’s penchant for injury. They were simply easier to hurt.
“It looks fine.” Ausa tried to get him to shrug it off.
“Well it doesn’t feel fine. I just wanna go back home.” Illion complained.
“Want me to carry you?” Ausa teased.
“No! Just help me up.”
He tried not to put any undue pressure on the ankle, but simply standing upright killed anyway.
“See, it’s not so bad.”
Illion glared at his friend and said “Just let me lean on you.”
“Alright, alright.”
Illion slipped his arm over Ausa’s shoulders. “You know I’m gonna blame this on you.” He said.
“Right, right after your mom finished scolding you for following me.”
Ausa was known for being reckless, with himself and others. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, he just didn’t realize others weren’t as tough as him. But despite that he let Illion use him as a crutch and the two slowly made their way back to the village and Illion’s home.
Carefully Illion was sat down on a chair outside, too afraid to track mud inside.
Jenelai came out a minute later and sighed heavily. “I don’t know how you haven’t learned not to follow him everywhere he goes.” She said referring to Ausa.
She clicked her tongue in disapproval but picked up a rag and grabbed a small pouch from a cupboard inside. By then the ankle looked swollen and bruised, but she didn’t seemed worried. Despite Illion complaining and saying “ouch” in more than one language his mother gently wiped off the mud and washed the ankle before pouring a sparkling clear substance over it. Within seconds the swelling and pain went down until both were gone. If there was one thing to be said about elven medicine is was that it was very effective.
“How do you manage to do this to yourself all the time?”
“Well Ausa and I were climbing and it was muddy...”
“Next time think before you climb something muddy.” She kissed his forehead and shook her own, knowing those words would go in one ear and right out the other.

Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Riven Wight
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Despite the fairly early hour of the day, the town was alive with people. Here, the earthiness in the air fell away, replaced with both the pleasant aromas and stench of people.
But Nikita paid none of the townsfolk any heed. She nearly barreled into a bakers’ apprentice delivering a basket of goodies. She bumped into a few others, but didn't bother with apologies. A couple of them shouted after her, some jeers about wearing ‘man’s’ clothes, others with expletives from nearly being bowled over. Others, even some who simply recognized her as she streaked past, cross themselves, hoping her family’s curse wouldn’t pass on to them from her proximity.
Cursed indeed.
She sped down the familiar paths, turning from a main cobblestone road onto an earthen backstreet. Penelope would be home at this hour, not at the shop.
The houses were packed together like gossiping crones. The houses were narrow, but two or even three stories tall. She skid to a stop in front of one of the doors. Panting heavily from the run, she pounded on it desperately.
It was only a moment before someone opened it, but to Nikita, it felt like hours. A girl a couple years older than Nico stood in the doorway, her dark hair piled atop her head in a tight bun. The skirts of her plain dress were hiked up so they didn’t brush the ground, and an apron protected its front.
Her blue eyes widened as she took in Nikita. “Mom!” she called over her shoulder before Nikita could speak. “It’s Kita! Something’s wrong!”
A woman who looked exactly like the girl, but somewhere in her late thirties rather than thirteen, rushed to the doorway.
“Kita!” The woman stepped out and grabbled the panicked girl’s shoulders with a firm gentleness. The scent of fresh herbs wafted from her. “What’s wrong?”
Nikita managed to tell her what had happened between huffs.
The healer wasted no time. She disappeared inside for a heartbeat, reemerged with a satchel slung over her shoulders, then raced off down the street. Nikita hurried after her. The younger girl hesitated, but then followed, too.
Nikita fought against telling the slower Penelope to hurry up.
“Should I… get Dr. Ashdown?” she asked instead, passing the older woman. She hated having to deal with him, but his sciences did have their useful moments.
“Not yet!” Penelope puffed.
Nikita took the woman quickly to Nico’s room. To her relief, he was still breathing.
Though sparsely furnished, the room wasn’t lacking its own spice of décor. Dried herbs hung from the ceiling, some half-plucked and others still leafy. Different stones Nikita had found and brought back to him decorated shelves their father had put up long ago. Books and stray papers piled high on his nightstand and small desk.
Penelope hurried to his bedside and placed a hand on his forehead. Her daughter hesitated at the doorway, shifting her weight and glancing about nervously.
“He doesn’t have a fever,” Penelope muttered. She tried to lightly shake the boy awake. This time, Nico groaned softly, but still didn’t open his eyes.
“I tried that!” Nikita snapped, fingers tangling in the short spikes of her hair.
“I’m aware, love.” Penelope said, her voice calm and soothing. She took his wrist and checked his pulse. “It didn’t hurt to try again.” She leaned down to him to better listen to his breathing. After a moment, she straightened and reached into her satchel. “Walk me through your morning with him. Leave nothing out.”
She told the woman every detail as Penelope pulled a bundle of herbs from her bag. She went to the desk, uncovered a singed plate, and lit the bundle on fire. Blowing it out, she sat the smoldering herbs on it, then brought the plate to the nightstand.
The scent of rosemary, cinnamon, and minty sage filled the room. The smoke coiled and spun in a gentle breeze from the open windows on either side of Nico’s bed.
She scowled as Nikita mentioned the child’s insomnia. “I’m only hearing about this now, why?” She gave Nikita a parental glare.
Nikita blinked at her. “He said he’d mentioned it to you already.”
She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Hasn’t said a thing.” She dug back into her satchel. “It’s quite likely his body is just forcing him to catch up on his sleep. Everything seems normal enough for him.”
“Besides not waking up, you mean?” Nikita growled.
Penelope sighed, then stood. Her gaze flicked to her daughter, who had begun to fidget nervously, glancing frequently toward the front door. “Celest.”
The girl stopped fidgeting, and focused on Penelope. “Yes?”
“Can you handle the shop today?”
Her face lit up with excitement. “Yes! I can do that!”
“Good. If anything comes up, I’ll be here.”
“What are you talking about?” Nikita asked as Celest rushed out of the house, spurred on by more than just her eagerness to show her independence.
The woman placed a gentle hand on Nikita’s shoulder. “I’ll stay here with him today, love. Keep an eye on him, so you can do what you need to do. There's else you can do for him right now. If anything changes that I can’t handle, I’ll fetch Ashdown.” The name came out laced with bitterness.
Nikita looked to her slumbering brother, and tried to swallow down the lump in her throat. “But don’t you have—”
“The only appointment I need to worry about today is Mrs. Woodsworth, and she won’t be by until after sunset. Celest can handle the rest until then.”
Nikita took a deep, steadying breath, then nodded reluctantly.
Penelope’s expression softened, and she pulled Nikita into a tight, motherly hug. Nikita returned the gesture, burying her face in the familiar scents of the woman who had become like a mother to her and Nico.
“He’ll be fine, love.” Penelope squeezed her a bit tighter. “Go, check your traps. Feed the chickens. Whatever you need to do. And”—she released Nikita to pull a compressed, earth-toned pellet from a hidden pocket in her skirts—“give this to Oscar for me.”
Nikita took the pellet. About half the width of her palm, a few stray bits of grass poked out of it. “What is it?”
“A special sugar cube mixture.” Penelope smiled, then went to a rocking chair in the corner, its seat stacked with spare blankets.
Nikita left, habitually closing the door half-way. She hesitated outside on the back porch. She gripped the rails hard, taking deep breaths. Her teeth clenched in her fight against her tears.
Just sleeping, she told herself. He’s just sleeping!
She took another deep breath, squared her shoulders, then made her way to the caravan-shed. She’d taken care of the animals already before the sun had fully risen, but Penelope was right; while she didn’t have any paying work today, she did need to check her traps. She had a few simple ones set up about the woods. It had been a couple days since she’d last checked to see if they’d caught anything.
Over the years, she’d managed to shove her fear of the forest and the elves it concealed to a nagging echo in the back of her mind. All the same, all but two of her traps were just barely far enough from town for smaller animals to abandon some of their caution.
A part of her had always longed to venture further, had missed the roaming freedom when she'd lived in the caravan, never knowing what kind of magnificent view she would wake up to next. She wished that Nico could've had the same. But the chains of the town's "common sense" tethered her closer to home.
She strapped both a dagger and a machete to the belt of her pants, then grabbed a sled from where it leaned against one of the walls.
She dragged it toward a path her boots had worn down between the trees. She stopped at the stables to give the tablet to their horse, Oscar. They greeted each other as old friends, the horse the last living creature from a past perhaps best forgotten.
She patted the side of his neck, then headed into the woods. Though it was a bit warmer between the trees than out in the open, she shivered as she entered the shadows.
She took up another song, this one in a language she didn’t know. Her mother had always worn a secret smile when she’d sung it, though, and claimed it came from across the oceans. Now, its sorrowful drone would hopefully alert any potential hunters in the area that she was not wild game romping about.
With the sled dragging noisily behind her, she made her way to the first of her traps.
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While his mother tried to instill in him early to bed early to rise, Illion almost always stayed up late and slept in. He couldn’t help it if melatonin didn’t cooperate. The night before he was up especially late, to catch a sight of a comet. His mother shook her head and simply went to bed without him. So the next morning despite trying to wake him several times, he was out cold til the sun was high in the sky.

Eventually he gave in, groaning as he rolled over and pushed the covers off his head (he had to cover his head when the sun came up, but he’d only been awake for a second to do so). Finally he managed to drag himself out of the bedroom. By then breakfast was long over and he was out of luck. So he took off to pick berries.

He knew well what was edible and what was poisonous, some he learned the hard way, and he knew where they were. Just passed the boundary he was told to stay behind. Normally he only passed by a few steps, but every now and then he would convince himself to go a step farther. Each time he grew a little braver.

Today was one such day.

It was a cooler day, one threatening rain. Illion didn’t care, curiosity got the better of him all the time. He would have made off to do mischief with Ausa, but he was occupied with other things. So Illion had no one to keep him out of trouble, well more trouble than he’d be with Ausa.

As Illion reached the edge of the village something inside of him egged him on. Would it really hurt anyone if he went just a little farther? He didn’t think any humans were that close, and truth be told he wasn’t that scared of them anyway.

Illion was happy to take the walk from home to the edge, and once he reached it he took a deep breath and one small step forward. Of course nothing happened, but he had his eyes shut, and when he opened them still nothing happened. He chuckled at himself for expecting anything.
He should be allowed to go wherever he wanted if no one found out, he was almost 100 which he’d been told was a mile marker. Not that that happened often, there was no other elf as young as him, in fact the other elves were hundreds, even thousands of years old.

The farther he went the more the trees seemed to change, he couldn’t point out why though, it was as if he were in a completely different world. The sun seemed brighter, the birds sang different tunes, and the air even smelled strange. His curiosity was more than enough to push aside the fear of the unknown.

His footsteps grew softer and slower, but he did not stop.

From the distance he heard a voice caught between the soft breeze and the trees. He couldn’t distinguish the words, in fact he wasn’t even sure he was hearing it right, maybe it was all in his imagination. So he grabbed onto a low hanging branch of the tree nearest to him and climbed up, lest the nearing voice come from some kind of enemy.

After a few minutes he could hear the voice much clearer, enough to tell it wasn’t in his head. And then a minute later he could pick out words, words that he recognized. It was in his own language, he knew that song he’d only heard it a hundred times as a child. It told the tail of a princess kidnapped by a giant and her lover that tried to save her. It wasn’t his favourite song, he always found it too melancholy.

At first he thought it had to be another elf who else would speak elven? But that brought up so many questions. Who would come this far from home? Were they looking for him? But the harder he listened the less familiar it became. Yes it was in a language he understood but they had a distinct accent that he wasn’t familiar with.

He, being the curious individual that he was climbed lower and once the figure was in sight he jumped down, despite it all expecting to see another elf. Instead he faced a human. She looked to be close to his age, but he had no idea how long humans lived or how fast they reached adulthood. While nothing about her screamed “run away” he found himself frozen, not with fear but with surprise. She didn’t look as nasty as he had been told they were, not that he really knew what to expect, he’d never seen a human before, but this was definitely a human, if not something worse.

His mind searched for any words but his tongue was bound by something invisible.

Finally he was able to open his mouth and stuttered saying “Alflijar jöne lijas?”He asked, which basically meant “you speak the elf language?” it was a pretty basic sentence but one he wasn’t sure she’d know, oh he hoped she would though.
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It wasn’t until she was nearly at the first of the furthest two traps that Nikita realized she’d forgotten to bring fresh bait. She’d been too preoccupied with Nico’s newest turn to think about it. She’d just have to make do. Maybe make a second trip out here after she’d checked them, if they needed it.
Then, of course, the small scar below her left jaw joint started to itch. Her song paused long enough for her to scowl at the sky through the leafy canopy. That itch, she swore, always meant rain.
Alas, clouds had indeed begun to drift over the sky, dimming the sunlight in random patches, confirming her suspicions.
Keeping a vigilant eye on her surroundings, she resumed her song and quickened her pace. Here, the woods grew denser. Undergrowth started to catch in the sled’s runners, slowing her down. Reaching a gnarled tree with a tattered red cloth tied around a lower branch, she left the sled near it, then continued.
She slowed, quieting, as she picked out the subtle signs she’d left for herself to avoid falling into her own pitfall. She paused and sighed grumpily. The net hidden beneath forest debris laid undisturbed. Yet, something had managed to take the old, dried meat she’d left out as bait.
Deciding to leave checking the net’s tension for the return trip, she carefully veered around the first trap and started the march to the second-furthest from her home.
But she didn’t get far.
She’d just picked up her song again, when something large fell out of a tree in front of her. She gasped, stumbling back. Her heart quickened as adrenaline rushed through her alongside her surprise.
The thing—the man—hadn’t fallen, she realized, but jumped. His simple clothing blended in perfectly with the surrounding forest, explaining why she hadn’t spotted him sooner. For a relieved breath, she thought it must be another hunter. She scowled, then opened her mouth to scold him, but she found his purple eyes, and the words died in her throat.
Purple eyes. His hair was tied back, but still clearly white. Just like all the stories said.
He wasn’t a hunter. He was an elf.
Cold sank through her, draining the blood from her face. For a moment that felt an eternity, as this creature stared at her, she could only stare back, fear-locked in place. The many warnings of the villagers flooded her mind, riding the tail of the image of her father’s broken body:
“Never stray far from the path! The elves live there!”
“Evil things, them. Curse ya soon as look atchya!”
While at first glance she’d thought he must have been slouching, the first thing that registered through the warning bells clanging in her head was that he was a lot shorter than she’d expect. The stores all said they were lithe, towering creatures, but this one was a couple inches shorter than her.
A child? But, besides the childlike surprise and curiosity there, his face, though fairly feminine for a male, didn’t look like a child’s. Then, the elf spoke, shattering the moment.
She startled further away and reached to draw the machete at her belt, but stopped, hand on the hilt. The tales rarely spoke of what to do to better your chances of leaving an elf encounter intact. They all assumed that you were immediately done for, and all agreed that their magic was quicker than a blade.
She pried her fingers reluctantly open, then moved both hands beside her, trying to look harmless. She needed to be smart about this. Nico needed her, and she couldn’t live with herself if she brought another curse home with her. If she made it home at all.
The thought hardened her expression with indignance at the past wrongs elves had done her.
Though she hadn’t understood the elf, his words had at least sounded like a question. Hoping to the heavens that curses didn’t sound like questions, she took another slow half step away, her gaze on his.
“I mean you no harm, elf,” she tried stiffly, unsure if he’d understand her. “I’m just…” she hesitated. Elves were said to be fiercely protective of the animals around their dwelling. But it was also said they could taste lies on the wind. “Out foraging for food,” she finished, hoping a half-truth would be less detectable if that story held any salt. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
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Illion knew he ought to be scared, that he should take off and lose her in the process, tell someone he saw her, curse her even. But he wanted to do none of those. She didn’t look anything like he’d pictured a human. He was sure they must have claws and fangs, although he didn’t know where that expectation came from.

He gave her a curious head tilt. He knew what she was saying but it felt strange. He spoke the common human language fine, but didn’t always get to use it, he mostly spoke elven with the other elves. It was what he was most comfortable with, but it didn’t seem like that was going to do the trick here.

He bought the half-truth. He liked to go berry picking all the time, especially when he was little. He would come home with dirty knees and the stain of berry juice on his fingers. His mother would scold him for ruining his dinner and getting all dirty, but she never stayed mad long enough to drive the point in. She was sometimes criticized for indulging him too much; reminded that he’d only be around for a hundred years. That was barely a blink of an eye to the rest of the elves.

“You didn’t disturb me.” He said as he hopped forward.

He began circling her looking for anything different. But aside from hair and eye colour, and the shorter ears, she wasn’t all that different.

“How come your ears are so short? Do you have fangs? Do you have a tail?” He hadn’t ever heard about humans having tails but who really knew?

Although he’d been scared at first curiosity won over. Looking at and hearing Nikita speak he found it hard to believe humans were that bad.

Illion knew he was different, special even. His mother let slip to him that while the rest of the elves were capable of cursing humans, he had other capabilities. He begged and pleased with her for days to explain herself, and as she usually did with him, she gave in.
She taught him hone in on the power to curse, he could give a human an extra limb, or make the blind, or even make them so violently ill that it cost them their life. It scared him to know he could do that, but he was reassured he didn’t have to, it was better if he just stayed in the village away from all possibility of human interaction.

She went on to tell him that if he so desired he could do the opposite. He could grant small wishes, heal small wounds, find missing objects...Of course non of this was possible without practice, something he definitely didn’t have, and it only worked on humans. Elves could be neither cursed nor blessed by his magic.

Illion was oblivious to this story in it’s entirety.

Once hundreds of thousands of years ago the elves ruled a large kingdom right besides the human kingdom. The two were mostly peaceful save for some small quarrels. However eventually the quarrels soon became fights and the fights became wars. The elves were nearly wiped out. What was left of the retreated to the woods, far from human reach. The gods reached out to them and struck a deal.

The elves would be granted magic to keep them safe from humans, and eternal life, so long as they provided a sacrifice. Every thousand years a special elf would be born, sacrifice this elf on their hundredth birthday and the rest of them would continue to live.

That is what the elves believe anyway. Illion was told what they had to dish up in return was their ability of flight. They had once had wings to lift them skyward, or so they told him. Illion never questioned it.
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Relief washed through Nikita when it looked like the elf had believed her. But the relief was short-lived. Though his response sounded innocent enough, her breath caught when he countered her backward step.
She tensed, distantly wondering if this was what a rabbit felt like when it faced a fox.
She cast a discrete glance toward her hidden pitfall. If things went south, perhaps she could back him into it, and escape while he tried to untangle himself from the net. At least that way, if she was cursed, she'd have at least gotten a blow of her own in.
When she tried to take another step away, he began to circle her. Her fingers twitched toward her weapon, itching to draw it. When he rounded behind her, she was torn for just an instant between keeping him in sight and not showing him her fear.
Fear won out.
She turned her head to follow his motions as he circled her. Sizing her up. Perhaps trying to decide on the best means of punishment for her transgression of simply existing in the same forest today.
Though she doubted it usefulness, she slowly allowed her fingers to wrap around the hilt of her machete.
“How come your ears are so short?”
For a moment, only confused static existed inside her head as she tried to process the question. Not giving her time to think over the first one, he shot off two others of equal caliber.
“Do I what?” She turned to fully face the elf. The genuine curiosity she saw in his eyes threw her for as much of a loop as his line of questioning did. She squinted at him, hunting for any signs he meant ill will, but, now that she was actively looking for it, nothing about him was remotely what she’d expect from a predator hunting its prey.
He’d first addressed her in what she could only guess was his native language. And now this. Her eyes widened as realization dawned on her.
He was either acting, or he was oblivious about what she was. He hadn’t corrected her on calling him an elf, so she had to be right on that front. But, needless to say, this wasn’t how she’d expected meeting one to go.
Unless, of course, his ignorance really did mark him as a child. Which ignited a horrifying thought: where there was a child, a parent wasn't usually too far off, ready to attack anything that got too close to its young.
“No,” she answered with slow caution. If nothing else, not answering struck her as a bad idea. “I don’t have a tail. Or fangs. I don’t know why my ears aren’t longer.” She subconsciously reached up to the tips of her rounded ears, and glanced at his pointed ones. “It’s just how it is. Do you know why your ears are so long?” She cringed, realizing the challenge in that rebuttal too late for her mouth to stop.
“Why are you out here?” she ventured, eyeing him, her curiosity as wary as his was open. “Are... there more of you out here?” She couldn't keep the terror at that thought from her voice. She glanced nervously to the surrounding trees, though nothing else stirred, then quickly returned her attention to the elf.
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Illion paused his circling to puzzle over his own ears. His hands reached up and brushed his ears without his brain telling him to do so. He’d never really thought about it, even though his were clearly longer than a human’s there were some elves whose were much longer, it varied from individual to individual.
This girl was a human, he’d obviously never met a human before, but this was definitely one. He was either very lucky or very unlucky. He’d been told all his life how horrible humans were, but this one didn’t look vile and evil, maybe not all humans were, or maybe she wasn’t human at all, that was still a possibility. Human or not this was exciting.
He had always kept a childlike wonder, he was criticized for being immature though it never bothered him. Even though his upcoming hundredth birthday was meant to mark him as an official adult, he just never seemed to grow up along with it.
“For fun.” He relied with a little bounce. He hadn’t expected to run into anyone and he really only stuck around for curiosity sake.
“Of course not!” He jumped to reply too quickly and once he’d answered instant regret hit him. Perhaps it would have been better if she felt out numbered, but too late now.
“I mean...uh...” He began. He wasn’t particularly good at reading others, but this human was clearly nervous. “...There are others out there, but not with me. I’m alone, and no one is with me. But there could be, maybe someone is looking for me.” He rambled trying to make up for his lacking conversation skills.
He couldn’t decide whether he wanted her to know how many elves there were. Of course he didn’t just randomly exist on his own, but did she really need to know?
There actually weren’t that many elves, a couple hundred perhaps. They’d yet to die so they felt no need to reproduce, with the exception of Illion of course. Illion lived ignorant of what he really was. He’d been deaf to the whispers about him and blind to his differences from other elves. He was for an example weaker. He may be full of energy but he was far more susceptible to injury and illness.
Once he spotted her machete he gasped and stepped back. Maybe she wasn’t as friendly as he initially thought. But she hadn’t attacked him yet.
“There aren’t more of you here are there?” He asked, now just thinking of it. He really needed to take more precaution, but he was naive and trusting, even at the worst of times. If there were more humans he’d be screwed. He couldn’t go back to the village and lead anyone there, and he couldn’t fight off more than one at a time. As much as he disliked it he may have to curse her and any who were nearby.
He was conflicted, he didn’t want to hurt her or anyone else, but if the choice presented itself he would have to choose his people.
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A small speck of relief lightened Nikita at the elf’s quick response. She almost laughed as she watched the realization of the implication of his hasty answer dawn on him. Her lips betrayed her, quirking upward as he tried to backtrack, only managing to dig the hole further.
Until…
Others could be looking for him. Alone for now, but for how long, she didn’t know. Nor, it seemed, did he. Her subtle smile folded down instantly.
Her hand subconsciously tightened at her weapon. At last, the elf’s gaze flicked to it. The speed with which surprise and fear replaced his childlike joviality startled her into taking a step back of her own, ready to draw the weapon, her heart pounding in her throat.
But still, the elf didn’t immediately attack, didn’t start muttering some sort of curse.
Do they need to vocalize a curse? The thought sent a shudder down her spine. She started to draw the weapon when he spoke again, but hesitated when she realized he was still speaking English. And he was only returning her question, displaying the same amount of fear as she’d fought to keep hidden.
Nikita eyed him, watching his emotions play with free innocence across his face. Slowly, she took a deep, steadying breath, and shook her head.
“I came out here alone,” she said grudgingly. “But hunters sometimes come out this way, and I have family in the village,” she added, hoping to instill the same sense of, ‘kill me, and others might come and avenge me,’ in him as his words had in her.
Not that any of the hunters would bother to help her if they passed by. Most of them would be happy to be rid of her. Nor would anyone but Nico really care if she didn’t come home. Only him and Penelope, and, for all the healer’s bravery, she wouldn’t risk her own skin to avenge Nikita.
But the elf didn’t need to know that.
She pried her hand away from her machete. She slowly moved her hands to the side, palms facing him, showing she held no other weapons. The tattered work gloves she’d donned to chop wood still covered them, practically forgotten in the rush of the morning’s events.
“I meant it when I said I mean you no harm. As long as you don’t mean me any harm. Deal?” With a silent prayer that his countenance wasn’t just a well-honed act, she met his gaze and cautiously reached out a hand toward him for a handshake to seal the statement.
Not that she thought that would really mean anything to an elf, but it felt like the right thing to do. Or, at least, it was something to do, even if it wasn’t the right thing.
There were at least a dozen different ways this could go wrong.
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