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She did feel shame then. Her cheeks went red and she could not look at either the bark of the Tree or Darin's body, as both seemed to be The Tree. She would not have it said of her that she was faithless, and that anyone had even a half of a cause to call her that made her burn. That wasn't her. She would do better. Darin's body--The Tree--came over and took her face in her hands. It was an extremely intimate gesture in Azurei, but then again, this was an extremely intimate moment between her and the spirit of all Astra. It was difficult for her to hear all these wonderful adjectives pointed at her; most people didn't say those kinds of things about her. Even Ajoran, though she knew he thought those things, didn't verbalize them too much because he knew it made her feel uncomfortable. He showed it instead.

"I...think so. Don't worry, Sol. I will keep your Darin safe. To whatever end." She paused and took a few breaths before somewhat timidly asking, "Sol? Can I ask something of you? You have no obligation to your humble servant, Sol, but please, I ask a boon. I don't know if you can, but if possible...can you make sure Ajoran is okay? Can you tell him we will meet again someday? I miss him so much it hurts..."

That was true. She'd never admit it to anyone else but the Tree, but she ached to see him again. And if she couldn't, she wanted to know he was alright. If for some reason she never made it back home, if she died in the line of duty, perhaps, she hoped he would move on in time. Probably not. But she hoped all the same. She just wanted him to have a good life, a full life. Preferably with her, but baring that, she hoped he would be happy. Her vision while speaking with Ravi gave her some hope though. Hope that she hadn't seen in months.
"Jacob..." she breathed. It had been ages ago, but she still remembered his name. "All this time it..." The thought was dizzying, and she even put her free hand to her forehead. She'd always known about the influence of the tree. But the whole idea of it was so abstract, so huge, that she never really came to terms with it in a real and tangible way. She never really had the chance to. She did now. It came at her like a wave, strong and powerful but not crushing, not bad. Just...immense. What else had been influenced by the tree?

She was trying hard just to breathe. There was so much to take in, and so many emotions to sort through... "I've always been wrong," she explained. "Too unwieldy. Too dirty, too rough, too outspoken, too quick to anger, too poor. And every time I'd get a leg up, every time something good would happen it would get...ruined by something else. I wanted to leave Atahkara, and so I became an eija. I was a law keeper and that was honorable. But I was too good at it. So I became Eija-Alihn. And I killed people. Not all of them were bad people. Not all of them were guilty. And so I found a way to fix that too. In return I got branded a traitor, my ojih is stained with the blood I have spilled and I have lost the home I love. I had to leave the man I love, I had to protect him. If they thought he was involved they might have killed him too, they would have ruined him! I couldn't let them do that. Not to him. I got this vision to come find Darin and they let me live for it, but I spent the last four months in exile, never knowing if I would find her or ever see home or--" She clamped her mouth shut. She knew who had damaged her. Her life had always been a struggle but those things did not damage her. Khaltira did.

An anger rose within her, a kind of fist-clenching, teeth-grinding rage that only comes with long rooted bitterness. "She took me in! She treated me well, fed me, housed me, she was part of the reason I met Ajoran. She earned my trust, my unwavering, unfailing trust and she betrayed all of it. She betrayed me. And when I begged her to see reason she struck me and sent me away like a dog. She ruined everything I ever worked for, everything I held dear. I want to see her grave. I want to spit on it. Khaltira damaged me in a way I can never forgive."

She took a few breaths to calm herself, though she wasn't exactly calm. She was emotional, though she was trying to let go of some of the anger and frustration she felt. It wasn't directed at the Tree anyway. "With all respect, Great Tree, my Sol, You've got it wrong. I didn't WANT to leave Darin. The only thing I ever wanted was for this to go well. But I had so much shame. I thought that no one who is good and pure could forgive and love a creature as wretched as me. I offered to leave because I Thought she would cast me out anyway, and I thought to at least go with dignity. But I never wanted to go. If I thought she might keep me I never would have even considered betraying the vow I made to protect her. I simply could not see any other option. My judgement was poor, I know that now. I regret that night. More than I regret the death of Khaltira, Innyise, and Takhun. More than anything in the world, Sol, I do not wish to disappoint you."
"Damn right," was Rohaan's first reply to the woman's remark about him being a shifter. They should stay sharp. He was dangerous, after all, to anyone who was dangerous to him. His tone came from pride, not from challenge though. If he thought there would be much of a fight, he might have taken knife and cut his finger to show his blood--a long standing Vokurian battle ritual meant to remind their enemies of just what they were up against. But that gun kept getting lower. He didn't think it would escalate to a fight, not yet.

He became more aware of the two men standing with the woman, and his eyes were fixed on the shorter one with the shaded glasses. Rohaan would kill for glasses like those that would hide his eyes and allow him to move about port towns with ease. Instead of sneaking around he could actually sit comfortably in taverns, mill through squares, and buy clothes that actually fitted him instead of guessing and snatching ones that looked close. If things went sour, he would find that man first and steal his glasses. He wanted Hana to see them--she seemed like she would know where to find something like them or could maybe make some.

He gave his attention to the speaker, the captain of this...ship? A dragon ship. He wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but he wasn't convinced he liked it. But he was heartened to know that they also disliked slavers. "Bar..i..zian, " he said with some difficulty, as the word was somewhat new to him, "slavers burned my home. They killed my family. They will be ash if they cross my path. I will leave nothing for the sharks that prowl the sea, nothing for the gulls to pick and steal." He stood up straight, proud. "I am Rheoaan Rohaan Rio Ja'aisen of the pirate ship Borealis. We serve none. You can call me Rio. My captain is Berlin. Come in peace and he will speak with you. I will tell him you're coming."

Rohaan took a few steps back and, being already at the rear of the dragon, stepped straight off its back and fearlessly plummeted down into open air before shifting to a cyradan again and zipping off with full speed (which was considerable) towards his ship. Rohaan returned, gliding gently towards the ship before pulling up to a halt and shifting back to his boy form, his feet hitting the deck with a hard thunk. Berlin was on him in an instant.

"Boy! What did you do?"
"Talked. They wanna talk too, so they're coming. I don't think they wanna fight, but get ready anyway."
"Tell me about them. And the dragon."
"I think..." The boy screwed up his face in thought. "I think it's...well, it kinda looks dead. It's a dragon ship, Swift Justice. The captain is Kaga-met ir Sabdul," he said very slowly. "There were people walking all over it like it was a ship, but it's a dragon? Biggest I ever seen. They could have shot me, but they didn't. They do not like slavers. And a lady had like...tentacles?" He shifted to a copy of her, though the form felt wrong and 'unclean' somehow, so he reverted quickly. He shivered. "I don't know if I like them or not. But they didn't shoot me and they want the slavers dead I think. The dragon had...arms on it..."

"It...what?" Berlin couldn't really process all of this at once. He looked back with his telescope at the now much closer dragon, and he could now see what Rohaan was talking about. It did look kind of...necrotic, in a way. And there were people riding it. But he noticed the human arms like whiskers on the thing and his heart skipped. "Wheel!" He shouted, his tone commanding. "Come tell me what I'm looking at. You know something of...this sort of thing, don't you? Damn it, someone wake Uban!" He looked back to Rohaan. "Anything else?"
"Berlin, one of them had..had.." he made circles with his fingers and put them over his eyes.
"But like, dark ones. So you can't see his eyes." Rohaan didn't have to explain the implications of that for Berlin to catch on. The man nodded. He'd look into it if he got the opportunity.
"What's with the hat?"
Rohaan beamed. "I stole it!"
Berlin couldn't help a smile. "Good lad." But that smile faded as he looked towards the approaching dragon. He had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Ridahne was usually quick to react in general, so she nearly interrupted the Tree when she said, "My first--what?" What was it talking about? She thought briefly that it had to have meant her murder of the Sol and the other two people she killed, though that hadn't really felt like an assignment, not like finding Darin had. But the Tree continued. And Ridahne wasn't really sure she heard it correctly.

That? That hadn't been an assignment. It just sort of...happened. She was a girl, and her mother was in the last stages of her illness and hadn't been able to work for some time. Hadian was old enough to work the boats, so he and their father would be busy earning a living at sea. Ridahne never had the aptitude for it like Hadian did, so during the hot hours of the afternoon she would stay near shore and dive for clams, oysters, and large, colorful shellfish called abalone, which the Azurei both ate and used the shells for ornamentation. They were hard to get since they lived down on the ocean floor and it took a skilled diver to harvest them, so they sold for a good price. In that way she provided money for her family, but they also needed meat (and it was nice not to eat fish all the time) and hides for leather. Even bones could be used, so in late evenings Ridahne would come back from diving, store her catch in a water filled bucket, and take her hunting cat and her neighbor's horse (who often loaned out the animal to the community) out into the Dust Sea to hunt.

Hunting was hard out there. There wasn't much life, not like the forests of the North, but the cats always knew where to look, and a skilled handler could learn from their instinct and expertise to hunt. It had been a zero-yield day and Ridahne knew to head back well before her water supply got low, but on the way she spotted a dark figure in the red sand. A man, a human merchant by the looks of him, and he'd been out there for a long time. Days. He had foolishly removed his shirt and his goods had been abandoned long ago. He was blistered, burned from the sun, weak from insufficient food, and severely dehydrated. Ridahne knew what to do. Every Azurei child knew how to treat heat-related illnesses and injuries on a basic level at least. She made a thick mud of the fine, dusty sand and covered his skin with it, gave the delirious man some water, and (after a lot of struggle) got him on her horse and brought him back to Atakhara. When the man recovered days later, he asked if she would help guide him back home since she knew how to handle and navigate the shifting landscapes of the Dust Sea. He paid her.

"That? I...I didn't. I didn't feel anything about it. It just...I happened to be there in the right place at the right time. And I got good at it, I made some money. That's all it was, it just sort of..." she shrugged, though she kept her hand on the tree's smooth bark. "Happened? I don't know. That was...your doing?"


Hadian was easy to identify. He was tall, even taller than the people standing around him. He had the narrow, slim face that Ridahne had and the same honey eyes. Though he was slim in build, he had the body of a worker and generally gave off a strong-back vibe. His hands were calloused from rough ropes, his skin was lightly crusted with dried salt in some places, and he bore a few scars, though not like Ridahne's, which were clearly from combat. Where Ridahne exuded loud intensity, Hadian carried himself more softly, quietly, though not less intensely. He was more relaxed than his sister, but his eyes were thoughtful, keen. Unlike his sister, his tattoos were more simple. They had some similar ones near the jawline, but his patterns deviated from hers in their simplicity. Ridahne's showed she had a long, complicated story to tell. Hadian's were much more straightforward. His hair was tied in a short ponytail and he wore a slightly different cut version of the uri, the knee length, sarong-like garment Ridahne wore. His was weathered, sunbleached, and obviously worked in, and instead of a silk sash around his waist like Ridahne had, he had a strip of faded green linen. It had a regular steel pin, not a silver one with a sigil like Ridahne's.

The elf was hunched over a fire with an iron pot over it. Darin spoke, and though Hadian could not clearly perceive the words, he felt some tickle of sensation, some twitch of another sense that made him look up from his cookpot. He looked north and sighed. A woman came up behind him and gently traced her fingernails across his bare shoulders. She sat beside him. "What is it?" she asked. She spoke Azurian, but the Tree, and thus Darin, knew all languages while she was one with it.
"Did you ever meet my sister?" He asked in return.
"I did, remember? She scared me half to death with that sword of hers!" She laughed. A silence fell between them as they silently acknowledged what that sword accomplished. "Do you think she's alright out there? Wherever she is? What did you say she was doing again?"
"I didn't, love. She made me swear to secrecy. But you'll find out someday." He kissed the woman on the forehead. "She's alright. The world beyond the mountains would have to be horrifying indeed to get the best of her. I just hope I see her again. I always felt responsible for her after Da died. But that's silly, no one can really keep her in check, no one but Ajoran." He laughed. "I don't know how he does it, but I bless him for it. He is good for her." And silently, just to himself, Hadian wondered if Ridahne had found the Seed-Bearer she'd gone off to find, and how that was going. He hoped it was going well; she deserved a bit of good fortune for once.
The whispering voices came as softly as a gentle breeze, building in volume until she could feel it. Not with her ears but it rang in her skull anyway like a trumpet and like the gentle sigh of wind in the trees. They called her name, heralding her arrival and welcoming her in like she'd been away from home and had now returned. And as her hand was placed on the tree, she no longer felt Darin's presence, it was just her and the eternal vastness of The Tree. It enveloped her. Cool like the rush of the ocean on a hot day and warm like the comfortable embrace of a lover. And it consumed her. Consumed her and yet made her a part of it, made it her. And together she could feel Astra, far beyond the scope of anything she could ever imagine possible on her own. She couldn't help a small gasp of surprise.

She knew that voice. It was the voice that spoke to her in her vision, distinct and yet so vague as to not be gendered or accented. It was neither young nor old, yet she could sense the enduring presence it had, like it came to be when time did. This voice was responsible for sending her on the wild goose chase that led her to Darin. It was responsible for saving her life.

"I'm here!" She found herself blurting. She spoke her native Azurian for the entire exchange but language meant nothing to The Tree. It knew her words all the same. "You are...proud of me?" Her voice was steady, but there was a constant stream of tears on her tattooed face. Some part of her reflexively wanted to apologize for what she'd done, to say she was ashamed and sorry. Truth was, she wasn't. Not really. She had said before she would do it again and she really would. It would pain her, but she would.

It asked her how she felt about her assignment. She gave a little nervous laugh as she tried to think, and suddenly a flood of emotions hit her all at once. The urgency with which Ajoran sought her eyes as she was led away by two of his colleagues. The grave expression on Amaiera-Sol's face when she sentenced Ridahne to death. The cool touch of the red stones of her jail cell. The hitch of her breath as she tattooed the treason mark on her face. The hot, undaunted fire of conviction as she boldly explained why she had killed her own Sol. The determined, cold certainty as she explained her vision and why she needed to not only live, but be allowed to leave. The joy she felt at seeing Hadian again, one last time and the relief on his face at seeing his sister alive. The press of Ajoran's lips on hers before she rode away...

"Honestly...? Urgency at first, like if I didn't go right then I would fail. And I was excited, relieved that I had another chance. Confused. Angry that I was given so little to go by. Defeated. Lost. I thought it was some cruel joke meant to rid Azurei of my shame. And now I...I am honored, my Sol, spirit of highest honor." She did not know how else to address the Tree. It was not a 'majesty' or a 'lord', nor was it even a 'sir' or 'madam'. Sol was the only word she knew that could even come close. I am glad to be here and I would be nowhere else, I assure you. I have wondered why you chose me but I think I am finally beginning to understand. I will not fail." She said this with all of the fire and passion she had, with every fiber of her being. She would die first before she let Darin fail in her task.
Ridahne laughed again. "What? Dogs are good animals. They're smart, fierce, keen eyed..." She shrugged, though she did shoot a glance in the direction she'd heard Ravi as if to say 'I know you're here' and absently plucked a piece of grass that lingered under her hand. She was surprised when Darin sprang up and told her to follow and that there was something she should see. Her stomach twisted a little. She wasn't sure exactly why, it wasn't like she suspected anything bad, but part of her had a suspicion that it was going to be something...important. Maybe she was just nervous, or excited, or something.

Ridahne got up and followed Darin, surefooted in the darkness even without shoes. She never once stumbled or yelped about stepping on a stone, as her feet had thick callouses from a hundred years of running around barefoot. As they walked Darin described crop rotation. Ridahne had kind of heard something about it but she never knew why they did it and guessed it was only a ritual or a lack of space to plant different things at once. She did wonder what she meant by rotating trees. Was her seed different than the tree?

The Tree.

Ridahne pulled up short suddenly. It was the first glimpse she had of it in real life and it was much to take in. It did not look quite like it did in her vision and for that she was grateful, but it wasn't what she expected. And she could feel it. She didn't know how, but she could. Darin urged her forward with encouraging words and held out a hand.

"It...what?" Were her hands shaking? Oh, Great Tree, they were. There was a look on her face that might have been confused for horror at first glance, but it was just shock. "Tunairuk...?" She didn't mean to slip into her own language but it happened on occasion when she was caught off guard. Tears reflected the moonlight then as they came down her face. She had a look like she'd had the air punched out of her, then explained in a voice as timid as the breeze, "No one has ever words, that they are..." she swallowed. "Proud of me. Not, you know, not that I can remember. Darin...I found out today that the woman who's life I saved found out the real story of what happened and the reason she still lives. She knows. And they tell everyone the real story About what I did. They defend me. I don't know if you know what that means to me's a lot. And this too?" She gave a very genuine tear-choked laugh. "It's like...I'm whole again for the first time since..."

She said nothing more, just wiped her face and took Darin's hand. She was ready.
Unlike a real opponent, Ridahne did not exploit her student's fall by charging in while she was down. If she was much more advanced, she would have, but she had decided long ago that the way to teach Darin was not brutality. Her first move was to hold out a hand for Darin to take, but the girl didn't seem inclined to get up, so she dropped it and squatted down beside her.

"Not bad, human," Ridahne teased with a smile. "You've got to work on keeping your feet, but I'll make a defender out of you yet." Ridahne did not say fighter, for she knew Darin was not and never would be. It had nothing to do with skill but everything to do with personality. Ridahne was the type to jump headlong into a fight whereas Darin wasn't generally inclined to unless she felt like she had to. Ridahne got the impression the human girl would rather fight for someone who could not fight for themselves rather than fight for its own sake. That was admirable.

The elf smiled somewhat reflectively and said, "You remind me of Hadian. I think you will like him when you meet him someday. He is like me, but yet unlike me in many ways. I am fire and he is water. He is a man of the sea, which is as close to farm work as we get in Azurei. Anyway. I think you'll like him." She didn't say 'better than you like me' but she did think it, and without any bitterness either. She knew they were different people. She understood. But she really did think Darin and Hadian would get along.

Ridahne sat down and wordlessly took Darin's injured arm, undoing the leather brace to inspect the wound. Satisfied that it had done its job, she put it back on. "Keep that on for a while, it will keep it protected. Might be good to have for Taja, too, until you make yourself some real falconry leathers."

Darin talked about the legend of Ravi and Ridahne had to laugh. Not at the story itself, but at how different hers was. The heart of it was similar, but it reflected her culture for sure. "I heard a different story. Ravi was a good man who loved a woman, a good woman, but one day she died in some tragedy, and he could never bear losing her. And so one night he saw her ghost and thought she was real in his desperation to have her back. So he followed her into the Dust Sea and got lost. It is a very very bad place to get lost. He became dehydrated, he had blisters on his skin from the sun, and he was very hungry. And in his final moments he begged that no one would ever get lost in the Dust Sea or anywhere ever again. So he begged his ancestors to save others from this fate somehow. So as he died, his soul went to the night sky and he became a star, but his body stayed behind and became a pillar of rock. I have seen Ravi's Pillar myself, I have used it to navigate many times. It is known for being a shelter for those crossing the Dust Sea because there is a tiny, tiny spring beneath the rock that comes up and out so that if you know where to look, you can get water even in the desert. I wonder what the Siren's legend is concerning Ravi..."

Ridahne laid on her back, one knee propped up and studied the stars too. "We're being watched..." she said with a dry sigh. "Should I bark at him like a good dog until he goes away?" Ridahne actually snorted with laughter at her own joke.
Ridahne nodded slowly, understanding. She was much the opposite, she had a lot of wandering blood growing up. She'd been groomed for fishing, as that was her family's occupation that was passed down for generations. Hadian fished, and he liked it. "Good honest work," he called it. But Ridahne always wanted more. She wanted to know what was beyond the sea, to know about the other parts of Astra and of forests and lush gardens. She wanted to be more. And oh, she got it alright. And then some... But still, she knew the feeling. Up until recent events, Ridahne was quite content with the way her life was. She traveled often, had some level of status and freedom and enough money to live comfortably, and she had Ajoran and her brother. Leaving that had been hard and honestly, it still was. And she knew with deep pain what it felt like to know that the home she loved would never be home again, not in the same way. It was different for Ridahne, but she understood all the same. "For whatever it's worth...I'm sorry." It was spoken not as a servant to a master, or anything else so formal. It was spoken casually, truthfully.

Ridahne smiled and stood. "No, Darin. I'm not here to kick your butt. I am here to teach you. You will get bruised in the process, but that is not my aim. At least...not yet..." she gave a wicked smile that was still light with jest as she opened up one of the bundles she brought. It contained two sticks, one more straight and the other obviously curved, almost like a sickle. It also contained a leather vambrace, which she picked up first.

"Here, give me your injured arm, this will protect it. I don't want to injure it further. We will not even touch blades today. The Azurei way is very slow, and you must master each phase before moving on to the next. However, you are not an elf and you do not have fifty years to study the blade, so I will make adjustments as I see fit, but I will keep the heart of the training methods. Now, stand like this..." Ridahne dropped into a wide, loose stance with her knees slightly bent and feet a little bit apart. "You must be comfortable and able to move, and not easily knocked out of balance. While we train, practice moving your feet. Now, the first thing you will learn is body language. In order to know what your opponent will do in time to block it or use it against them, you have to know how to read their body. The easiest way to start learning this is simply to block my hands." Ridahne held her right hand out flat. "A blade is simply an extension of your arm, so you will begin by using your arms. I will try and hit you with my hands, and you must use yours to block them. For today, I will not move faster than you can handle--again, my aim is not to beat you, it is to teach you. Later, I will push you harder. After we're finished, we will practice a little with sticks to get you used to having something in your hands to swing around. Ready?"

Ridahne closed in and with her "bladed" right hand, she made a simple swing at Darin's upper arm at a slower speed that gave Darin plenty of time to react. The elf did this a few times, striking from different directions at different points, and eventually she upped her speed just a little, though it was still manageable. If Darin ever faltered or missed, and Ridahne's aim struck true, she would hit with just enough force to make the point, though not enough to hurt. If struck in the same place multiple times, it would eventually bruise, but one or two strikes wouldn't quite be enough for that. She'd spoken true when she said she was not out to beat Darin bloody. Ridahne's control was evident. Along the way, she would give pointers or encourage Darin when she was on the right track. Despite the elf's usually prickly demeanor, she was not a harsh teacher, not yet. There would come a time for harshness, but not until Darin grew in her skills to the point where it would actually teach her something and push her skills further rather than just give her welts.

Ridahne's teacher had not been so merciful. She hadn't been cruel exactly, but she was relentless. Her teacher had worked her in the hot sun, or late on moonless nights to stumble in the darkness. Her teacher had thought directed pain would be the best punishment, incentive, and instructor. Ridahne frequently came back bruised all over, occasionally shallowly cut (when they did progress to swords), always exhausted, and often less hydrated than she should have been. Yet her teacher would be the first to give her cool water when they were finished, the first to treat her cuts, and would aggressively defend Ridahne's sleep time so her student could be rested for the next day. She hadn't been unkind, but those first few years were hard and Ridahne did not want to subject Darin to that kind of treatment.
Rohaan couldn't figure out where these people were from, but he wasn't fully convinced they were human. One had...tentacles. Maybe he'd ask Pieter about it, he seemed to know about things with tentacles. At any rate, they knew what he was. Though it would have seemed obvious, he didn't think about the fact that shifting in front of them would mark him as a shifter. He was too focused on what he wanted to pay attention to that. It put him a bit on edge, as people were never kind to shifters, but he did note the aim of the gun lower...a little. He shivered--he did not have the hide of a dragon in this form, nor did he have one of those quilted jackets the riders had. Which vaguely reminded him that he had no winter gear that fit him anymore--last year's was too small. That was a later problem.

He didn't want to let the ship go, but he could hear the beating of the drums increase even over the rushing wind. He could see that they were gaining speed fast. They'd lose them. His bright eyes flicked from the woman in front of him to the ship below and he wanted desperately to shoot down there and burn them all. He would make the ocean red with their blood. They would all suffer. But...he was alone. His crew was still too far out, and they had a lot of guns. If he got shot again, Hana might be able to fix him up again...if he didn't just die first.

It looked for a while like the blonde man would jump into the air in pursuit once more; he was tensed and poised to move, but he seemed undecided. Finally he made up his mind, though it seemed to pain him. Later. They would die later.

"Will you speak to my Captain? He would like to learn of you." Rohaan tried to keep his responses simple and short, as he was decent at imitating the way adults spoke and even more decent with Carisian, but he was not perfect and he knew it. He wasn't ready to reveal his true age just yet. Not alone. "I can take you, and can return you when you are finished. But know that ship down there is as good as burned. If not right now, then later, I will see it to ash. Will you come?"

Rohaan didn't exactly want to have her on his back--he didn't know her and wasn't sure he liked her. But more strongly he needed Berlin to handle this. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, engaging them in the first place, but he had no idea how to handle it now that he did. Berlin would.
Ridahne watched silently as Darin rebuked Ravi, and it took everything in her to stop from applauding her companion. When they'd first met, Ridahne had wrongly pegged Darin as a little mousy, but by now she knew she had just as much fire in her as Ridahne did, it just came out in a different way. Ridahne approved. She'd seen a trend among human women, where they were quiet and docile creatures. Some probably were in truth, but some Ridahne guessed were taught to behave that way. Some human males liked their women quiet. She never understood that, but she was all the more thankful that Darin was not one of those types. She did what she wanted, did what she felt she had to do, what was right.

Darin stormed off and Ridahne watched her go. She would follow eventually, but she would give the human some space, too. Because Ridahne was a pragmatic person, she put the contents of Darin's plate onto a cloth napkin and wrapped it up in a neat bundle for later. She'd want it when they were done training. Ridahne finished her own food quickly, and when she did, she stood, bowed to her hosts, and said to Ravi, "You were right. We are more alike than I guessed." And taking Darin's food with her, she left to go find her.

There was a whole flock of animals clustered around Darin. Animals that never would rightly be together like rabbits and foxes and yet they were there together for that moment. Ridahne approached and greeted Talbot with a few strokes of his silky neck, then sat near Darin with remarkable resemblance to the barn cat that lingered near by. She had two bundles in her arms, one was clearly a table napkin and the other was larger and the contents were elongated. She set both aside.

"For what it's worth, Darin, I thought you did well back there." Ridahne offered one of her rare, genuine smiles. "You had every right. And.." this was more personal territory but she thought she'd risk it. "If you ask me, I think you'll see your mother again. And she will be proud of you." She did not add that she knew what it was like to miss home--Darin knew that already.
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