Kia took in the new world around her with a sense of awe. She buried her feet in the sand and felt the fine cool grains in her hands. The air here smelled of salt and so many other things she hardly knew how to describe them. One thing she did know was that it was hot and sticky here and she was forced to shed her thick furs, even the layer under that. Now all she wore was loose cloth over her more sensitive parts, with a large gap between the two. She felt incredibly naked but with it, a strange sense of freedom. Though she was still hesitant, this curious place of green and colors caught her attention more often then not, and she did not dwell on the events that had brought her there.
Instead she made her way further into the trees, stopping and watching plants, animals and any thing else of interest that caught her eye. The world was so alive here and it was amazing. The creatures of Sunlight regarded her almost as curiously as she regarded them but neither tries to reach out to the other. It was only when the sun began to dip, casting the jungle floor into darkness did Kia realize how unprepared she was for the night.
Small winged creatures that buzzed and whined began to nip at her and she was forced to snack them off herself. She was thirsty and hungry and tired but had no shelter and no fire to keep her warm. She was beginning to think the Goddess had left her here as punishment for her crimes and then the sky opened up and a downpour was unleashed and she knew, it was definetly a punishment.
She managed to find a tree with a thick canopy of giant leaves and it was there she huddled in the dark while thunder boomed. She stuck her tongue out and collected the rain, taking deep guzzles, at least she had that going for her. She was completely soaked and her hair was plastered to her face, but at least the small nipping monsters had stopped biting her. It was a restless night.
She awoke with a start in the morning, sitting upright as she surveyed the trees. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Everything was quiet. Not even the drone of the small winged things were sounding. The sun was out, that was good but the air felt heavy and she quickly figured out why. Something bolted at her from the thick brush, a creature that had been in plain sight, she had not seen. She barely had time to react as it pounced her, diving out of the way but Kia screamed as it was able to claw her back, just below her left shoulder.
She stumbled up and into a run but slipped in the mud from the rain and the creature fell upon her. It was on her in seconds, tearing and biting into her arms as she shielded her face. It growled at her with hungry eyes and a blood coated face.
That was her blood.
Her desperation turned to anger and her screams turned into a great yell of frustration. There was a sickening crack as the animal was impaled by an icicle from the ground. Then another and another, lifting it into the air. As its blood ran down the blue ice and onto her face, the creature whined one last time before going silent.
Kia yelled again, feeling her anger boiling over but it did not last this time. Anger gave way to pain and she clawed herself from out under the creature. Every cut in her arms stinging like a thousand knife cuts. She was losing a lot of blood in the process and something wet obscured her left eye. She knew it was blood but whose?
After crawling away from it she felt her arms give out and she collapsed face down into the mud. Her vision began to go blurry, head swimming, screaming in pain. Darkness began to take her. The last thing she remembered was the promised life, a new chance, being cut woefully short. Then again, maybe she… deserved… this...
Something stirred beyond the reaches of her vision. Exhaustion, pain, darkness. So many barriers made it hard to move and think. A jabbing force pushed into her side firmly, stirring her senses out of its deathly haze for just a moment. Voices mumbled in another realm, unreachable and difficult to understand.
"....escaped unpainted? More.."
"...not dead.. ...Oruna might…"
The voices faded into the darkness, her pain radiating out to drown every other sensation again. She drifted out on an ocean of haze and darkness once more, succumbing to unconsciousness.
The cloying humidity burrowed itself down into her throat through nose and mouth alike. Intense warmth hung in the air, pushing against her skin. Bright and unpleasant light broke in through the meager protection her eyelids afforded, shining bright from above. Through brief, distressed glimpses of her surroundings she saw trees, huts and a small wind shelter pushed up around her.
The chief sensation however, was pain. Her entire body hurt. Her arms felt they had been set aflame, her back burned with relentless pressure. Reality came crashing back all at once, and with it just a small amount of will and energy. Then just as swiftly, energy poured out of her like a broken vase, and Kia felt the darkness clamber back in around her.
Another call back from the darkness came with the sensation of wet cloth laid against her forehead. Much of the pain was a distant memory, and almost entirely replaced by the heat of her surroundings. A foul taste grew in her mouth, a strange herbal mixture clinging to the space between tooth and lip. The sound of dripping water preceded a sensation of cold touch, as someone dabbed something wet and soft against her body.
It felt like a strange dream at first as she came too. Questions began to pop into her mind and a feeling of fear welled up inside. Where was she? Who was touching her? Kia opened her eyes slowly, not wanting to let her fear control her. Her eyes had a hard time focusing at first but when they did, she was taken aback by what she saw above her.
A woman with skin dark as wood and black hair loomed above her, with white and yellow patterns drawn all over her face and shoulders in strange and unnerving patterns. A bone sharpened on both sides had been pushed through her skin above her right brow, and then meticulously painted with red stripes. She wrung a small rag free of water, before dipping it in a bowl beside her. Above her was a rudimentary shelter of leaves, tanned hides and wood. Kia felt a hand on her chest, no real force applied but enough to keep her from jolting away.
"Welcome back to the land of living, pale one." She rattled off with quick speed. "You are lucky the Great Hunter is lazy this week, allowing you to walk back from his home."
She opened her mouth but no words sprang forth. The woman was unlike anything she had ever seen before and somehow, she could understand her. The drip of the water stole her attention for a second and she realized just how thirsty she was. It felt as if her mouth was bone dry. “W-Water…” she managed to say in a hoarse voice.
The woman clicked her tongue as though she had just realized at Kia's request, then quickly pushed up and vanished from her side. It gave Kia a brief opportunity to look around, and see the walls of a few clay huts, as well as at least a half dozen people milling about in the distance, each as strange as the woman she had met first. Man or woman didn't matter - they barely wore clothes, and seemed to be covered in extensive patterns in different colors, although a few had simply painted their entire torso with a single color. Yellow and white stood out as the most popular.
Before Kia had any real chance to process her sights in her weakened state, the woman reappeared with a dark cup, and brusquely moved it to Kia's lips. The first sip tasted like water. The second tasted like old socks.
"Fireweed and Jozu Beetle water," the woman explained. "It will ward away the Great Hunter."
She almost gagged, but drank it down regardless, swishing her tongue around her teeth. She eyed the woman inquisitive now. She kept saying Great Hunter, had that been what attacked her? Her memory of that time returned like a cold blow and she remembered its final moments, the look in its eye as it died. In a shaky voice, not so hoarse this time, Kia asked, “W-Who are you?”
The woman eyed Kia in turn, before inspecting the now empty cup. She set it aside and picked the rag back up. "My name is Oruna. I am Ta'zesh, but today I was asked to bring you back from the Great Hunter's lair. Our lifegiver left us for the great city, so I am doing the work of unpainted." She sighed quietly, putting a half-cold rag on Kia's shoulder.
She did not shiver at the cold, for Kia was complexed. None of those words made any sense, whatsoever. Strangely enough, she did not feel panicked at all. More or less, intrigued, curious even. “I know n-nothing of what you speak. W-Where am I?” she questioned.
This seemed to provoke great resignation in the woman - Oruna - who sighed and glanced away at first. Cleaning away at Kia's shoulder without turning her over, she glanced back to her. "You are in Zeshutaru, an ancestral village under the rule of Etana, and tributary of the great Zuanwa. My friends assumed you had escaped from there; I am sorry to say you only traveled a day away before the jungle took interest."
“S-Seshura? Z-Zoonwa?” She mumbled the strange names. She then shook her head. “S-She sent me here… The goddess…”
"The goddess?" queried the woman with a quizzical look. "Do you mean Uraka, Daughter of the Water? Is she your owner?"
“O-Owner?” Kia paled. “N-No. What was her name? R-R-Rhiona! She’s the Goddess."
"Ree-ona?" She returned and furrowed her brow. "That's not any name I've ever heard. Very unorthodox." Oruna professed and wrung out the rag again. "This goddess of yours will pay for you?"
“Pay for me… What do you mean?” Kia asked, suddenly alarmed.
"Well," Oruna began, and Kia felt her hand stroke over what had once been a wound. "None of your few scars are a mark, so you're not a slave. You claim someone brought you here, so you have a ruler. You're either unpainted, or from beyond the trees, and either way you are valuable to us."
Kia furrowed her brow and winced back at Oruna’s touch. “She’s not my ruler, she’s a Goddess! I came from a land far, far away. One of cold and i- I’m valuable?” It was a word she was not entirely familiar with. “What do you mean?”
Oruna chuckled quietly, but retracted her hand all the same. "A pretty face is worth many goods. If you have any skills, even better. Just from your coral-like skin, I'd wager we'd get a barrel of blue, at least. If you do not belong anywhere as you say then you belong to us."
This time, she did panic. “N-n-no! I’m not something you can sell! You don’t own me!” she said with defiance. She then began to squirm, trying to get away from Oruna. She had to leave! The pain that had been so woefully absent now made itself remembered as she stirred too much, and too fast. She winced and let out a huff.
Oruna's hands came down on her body with surprising strength, though seemed to make an effort not to hurt her too much. Her own struggling on the ground was enough to hurt. "Calm down, Coral. I didn't steal you back from the Great Hunter's lair to slit your throat now. Do not make the chieftess brand you for being unruly."
“My name, is Kia!” She groaned again, the pain of her cuts throbbing. With a great amount of reluctance, she did calm down however. If only because the pain was too great to bear. She looked back at Oruna and pouted, “Please, I thank you for saving me, but I don’t want to be sold and enslaved. I-I can be valuable to you. I swear it!” She pleaded.
Oruna paused for a moment, peering down at Kia. Apparently convinced of her calmness, she lifted her hands to let Kia suffer at her own peril. "It's not really up to me, the chieftess will want to do whatever she decides." She lamented. "Unless you mean to pledge to me specifically, I suppose, but I don't really have enough to take care of an unpainted."
“You keep saying that, but what do you mean?” She inquired. “Is it that colors you have on your skin? Who’s the chieftess? Does she live in the Zoonwa?”
Oruna rubbed a finger under her nose, peering at Kia as though she was offended. "There are many positions in our society. I am Ta'zesh, a hunter of the soil. The only ones for you to know are marked and unpainted. One is, well, a slave. The other is to be, hm, how to explain?" She mused and tapped at her lip. "Ah, yes. Owned. As for chieftess Etana, she lives over there in the biggest home." She continued idly, gesturing to a place in the village. "She's not going to like you, I think."
"Oh I see, in a way." Kia sighed. "Why won't she like me?"
Oruna shrugged again, settling back to sit more comfortably. "A simple feeling I have. You have pale skin, hair like gold and eyes like the ocean. With this unique look and your talk of a goddess she will think you are a Za'watem looking to usurp her, or a troublemaker because you ask so many questions. I too suspected you were Za'watem first, but the divine protect their messengers. And you are, you know, not so strong." Oruna concluded with a smile, and reached forward to give Kia's exposed stomach a firm pat.
“Not… Strong?” Kia looked to the floor and seemed to deflate a little. Maybe she wasn’t strong at all. Maybe… She knew one way to show her strength, but would it be the right thing to do? She looked at Oruna again and asked, “When I was found, did they find the body of the Great Hunter as well?”
Kia's question appeared to cause great amusement for the painted woman, who burst into a full laugh. "You cannot kill the Great Hunter. To be caught by him is to walk to your grave." She leant back on her hands, watching Kia with a puzzled smile. "The women who brought you in said nothing to me. Did you see him, Ke-... Kee-ah?"
Kia’s face grew red and she looked away. “But I… I killed… The creature that attacked me… That’s not the Great Hunter?”
"..Ah. No, I think not. You cannot see the Hunter, but his claws are in every heart when they take their last breath." Oruna lectured with a certain amount of warmth contrary to her previous behavior. There was an appraising glint in her gaze. "You are the one who killed the spotted cat? I assumed they had saved you in all ways."
“I’m not as weak as you think…” Kia said with defiance in her voice as she looked at Oruna again. Though, sometimes she did wish she was weak, maybe that way, Rorik would still be alive. Other times, she just couldn’t control herself. “The Goddess who sent me here, knew I could take care of myself, or at least that’s what she thought. But, I guess I disappointed again.”
"Maybe. If your goddess is not here, what difference does it make? The Daughter of the Water is the closest you shall come to the gods here." Oruna pondered with a following shrug. "Besides, if it is as you say, you have done more than most Ta'zesh can manage, on your own. We lose many foolish huntresses to the hungry jungle."
Kia's expression turned dark and distant all at once as her thoughts became muddied by her past. “I'm dangerous. I-I shouldn't even be here. I've killed so many, I need to be alone. If I get angry I lose myself." She seemed to be talking to herself now.
"For my sake you are free to leave. But Zeshutaru village took you in, stole you back to life, used valuable herbs. I think maybe the chieftess will say you belong here. Or at least until sold." Oruna countered matter-of-factly, presumably not that interested in Kia's dark warning. "If you can be useful, maybe you can find a generous owner and avoid being marked."
Kia locked eyes with Oruna. Fine. She would show them just how useful she could be. There was a cracking sound, and from the ground erupted a blue spike of ice whose point stopped a hands length away from the huntress' face. Oruna's eyes went wide, and the cocky huntress winced backwards in surprise, almost falling over her own weight and risking piercing herself on the spike out of sheer confusion.
Kia then brought up a hand and formed a ball of ice in it. She held it out to Oruna. All she needed was a simple affirmation.
“I can be useful.”
After Rhiona dumped her off, Kia enjoyed the jungle for a bit before realizing that jungle bugs and humidity aren’t fun, nor does she know how to like, survive. It begins to rain and a miserable Kia finds shelter under a tree. It was a restless night and Kia is then attacked in the morning by a leopard who fucks her up pretty good before she kills it. She passes out and then wakes up later under the care of an amazonian named Oruna. The two chat and discuss many things, key takeaway is that Kia is going to probably be sold as a slave, and after much questioning, Kia shows off her powers and tells Oruna she can be useful.
Bet you thought there was some perverted stuff in here.
Start = 13
End = 18
Start = 13
End = 18