Vala whistled a jaunty tune as she passed from tree to tree, taking time to stretch a note whenever she made an especially long jump. The trees were getting smaller and they came closer and closer to the ground as they neared the forestâ€™s edge. Soon they would have to start moving on the ground rather than through the treesâ€™ branches.
Fenris followed only a treeâ€™s breadth behind, gazing at the forest floor in wonder as though she had never seen it before. She was at ease with moving at the brisk pace Vala set, which was surprising to the raven-haired warrior, as the clanswoman looked too delicate to keep up. Like everything in the far east of Creation, the warrior mused, appearances can be very deceiving.
For two days Vala had led them steadily westward, to the closest edge of the forest that she knew of, stopping only to rest, gather food and find a place for Fenris to wash off the worst of the soot. From the outside, the woods were known as the Titan Woods, a place of mystery and danger that no one entered save for a few intrepid peddlers and Lunaâ€™s Chosen. She glanced back at the orphaned clanswoman, and saw her deep blue eyes lingering on a pair of woodpeckers then moving on to a relatively normal sized spruce tree in the distance which had caught her attention.
What am I going to do with her? She thought. The girl was like a caged songbird who suddenly found herself without a cage, knowing nothing of the outside world and the dangers it holds. Argh! I canâ€™t be babysitting her. I have things to do. The younger woman noticed her watching and gave her a questioning look to which Vala flashed a quick smile and looked away. She is a pretty one though, she mused. The soot and grime had done a poor job at hiding the Solarâ€™s beauty. Long golden hair like honey that swayed from shoulder to shoulder with each stride, eyes deeper than the waters of the Inner Sea, and a body that would make any Dynast socialite jealous or hard. Or both. The fact that the womanâ€™s clothes were little more than rags at this point was a cause for concern however. She wished that she had a spare change of clothes, but now they will have to lay low until they find something properly stitched for her to wear besides the cloak.
â€œVala,â€ Fenris said hesitantly, her voice shook the warrior from her thoughts.
â€œHmm?â€ Vala answered and tilted her head back so that she could see the other woman from the corner of her eye.
â€œYou are familiar with the soul-I mean the Faerie yes?â€ she asked and the taller woman heard the indecision in her voice.
Vala stopped and waited for Fenris to catch up to her. When the younger woman landed on the branch she was on, she gave her a puzzled look. â€œI know enough to be able to killâ€™em for a hobby if thatâ€™s what youâ€™re asking,â€ she told her. â€œWhy do you ask?â€
Fenris did not look at her when she said, â€œI think he did something to me.â€ Vala got a sense of concern in the treeskimmerâ€™s voice and in the way she stood with one arm folded over her stomach, her left hand holding onto her right arm just above the elbow. It made the warrior woman want to reach out and comfort her.
Valaâ€™s alarm pushed those feelings away however, and her frown of concern was evident on her face. Had the Fae fed on her before she arrived? Was it a mutation? Did it do other more mundane but no less loathsome things to her? The dark and familiar thoughts filled the dusky skinned woman with a weight in her chest that she was not used to and had not felt in years. â€œWhat happened?â€ she said, nearly blurting out the words in a rushed jumble, â€œWhat did he do to you?â€
â€œHeâ€¦â€ Fenris started, unsure as to how to put the events into words, â€œAfter our first encounter, I felt this warmth within me. I was able to call upon this strange golden light and do things I never dreamed would be possible. It was like nothing I have ever felt before. I-I do not know how to explain it except that it feltâ€¦good. It felt right.â€ The younger woman looked Vala straight in the eye then with grave seriousness. â€œDid heâ€¦make me into one of him? A Faerie?â€
Vala stared blankly at Fenris for a long moment. Then both her eyebrows rose in a look of incredulity. Then she broke down in roaring laughter.
Fenris crossed her arms defensively as Vala fell back on her ass in laughter intermingled with uncontrollable giggles. The flapping of wings could be heard above them as forest birds took flight at the sudden noise. The young clanswoman glared at Vala with confused indignation. â€œI do not see what is so funny,â€ she said with a huff and annoyed frown.
â€œSorry,â€ a stifled laugh, â€œsorry, Iâ€™m done,â€ another snicker, â€œokay, now Iâ€™m done, really I amâ€ Vala said as she wiped the tears from her eyes. She looked up at the annoyed blond by arching her back and bracing her weight with her hands. â€œItâ€™s just that Iâ€™ve never heard somebody mistaking Exaltation for something like that or anything else for that matter.â€
â€œExaltation?â€ Fenris asked with a thoughtful frown, which Vala thought was very pretty.
Then it was Valaâ€™s turn to be confused. â€œYou really donâ€™t know do you?â€ she said, asking nobody in particular and scratched the side of her neck. â€œDoesnâ€™t the Unconquered Sun pop up and say something along the lines of â€˜I bestow upon you my power, now go kickass in my nameâ€™ or some such?â€
â€œNoâ€¦I saw a woman butâ€¦â€ Fenris told her, which made her raise a brow. The Sun never appears as a woman. It just does not happen. The younger woman looked distant for a moment, looking into her hands as though they held the answer she was searching for. A breath later golden light bathed the forest boughs they were perched on, the young Twilightâ€™s castemark glowing with warm radiance on her forehead.
Vala smiled, the heat felt good, especially having spent the good portion of a week in the dark shroud of the Titan Woods. â€œNever met a Solar before,â€ she said kindly.
â€œA Solar,â€ Fenris said, as if testing the sound of the word.
â€œYep. Chosen of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. God of Righteousness and the guy in charge in Yu-Shan,â€ Vala explained, gesturing idly with one hand. She scooted over and hung her legs off the side of the branch when Fenris moved to sit beside her. Her movements were graceful, Vala noted. â€œYou ever heard of him?â€ Vala asked casually, â€œI figure youâ€™ve been pretty out of touch in there,â€ she added and jerked a thumb towards they way they came from.
â€œWe know his name,â€ Fenris replied, â€œthough most have never seen him in the sky. Traveling up to the Green was taboo for my peopleâ€¦with good reason. My clan paid for my indiscretion.â€ The clanswoman grew silent and Vala mentally sighed. She had not meant to bring that up. She drummed her fingers on the tree bark but could not find any words to lift the gloom.
So the warrior woman did the next best thing. She concentrated for a moment and felt the essence flow, cool and soothing, from within her being. Then silvery light mingled with the gold from Fenrisâ€™ castemark, which caught the younger womanâ€™s attention. Her lips parted into a surprised â€˜oâ€™ that matched the solid silvery disk that appeared on Valaâ€™s brow which glowed with the light of Luna. The Lunar could not help but smile rather embarrassedly before that wide-eyed stare.
â€œYours is different,â€ Fenris noted after a while, and Vala nodded in agreement.
â€œIâ€™m a Lunar, a Chosen of Luna and all that fun stuff,â€ she explained cheerily.
The blond smiled faintly and reached out for Valaâ€™s castemark, as if to touch it but stopped short, â€œMay I?â€
â€œCourse,â€ Vala said with a shrug. The young Solarâ€™s touch was hesitant and felt like the brush of a feather, so she leaned into Fenrisâ€™ slender fingers, which made the girl jump and pull back. The dusky-skinned woman patted the Twilightâ€™s head and tousled her head a bit, much to her obvious discomfort as she emitted a yelp of surprise. â€œCome on, I donâ€™t bite,â€ Vala urged with a teasing grin, which Fenris did not seem to understand, but at least she did not shirk away any further. Vala shrugged again and stood. â€œWe should get a moving. Iâ€™d like to be out of here by nightfall,â€ she said told the younger woman. â€œWeâ€™ll talk as we go,â€ she suggested and started off without waiting for an answer.
She glanced back after she hopped past two branches and was glad to find Fenris close behind. At least she kept up, though the Twilight did not ask anymore questions as they made their way westward. It made Vala click her tongue. That Fenris was a stiff one. Not that it was very unusual considering what she knew about the clans that settled in the Titan Woods. Chances were good that the girl probably would have been married off to avert one brewing feud or another and consigned to live a life of servitude. And from the looks of it, she probably would have quietly gone along with it, because it was what was expected of her.
The warrior sighed aloud. That was something that always chafed against her upbringing and it bothered her to see it in someone like Fenris. The Solars were God-Kings. They were the heavenly mandated rulers of all Creation and literal demi-gods of unbelievable power. From all the stories she had been told of the Solar, this little slip of a woman was nothing she would had expected. Maybe it would be best if she brought her to someone who knew more, would be able to help her understand her newfound place in the world. She sighed again and looked to the canopy and the heavens beyond. Some hunt you pulled me into, she thought wryly.
Luna was in all her glory that night. The tides of the Wyld were once again at its zenith and so was the strength and attention of the silvery Incarnae as a large panther stalked the forest floor. Far from the steamy jungles of the southeastern threshold, the sleek and muscular predator moved with determined purpose, her vibrant green eyes wary and ever watchful. The astrologers of her people had mentioned a disturbance in the fates of the many tribes and towns that dotted the Eastern forests like flowers in a summer meadow.
A glimmer of light from above caught the big catâ€™s eye and she craned her neck up to peer past the patchy forest canopy and saw a great gray hawk soaring towards her. Its wings were lined with glowing silver feathers and its sharp eyes were the color of the sea. The raptor had its tail towards the moon, which from the pantherâ€™s direction made it look as though the bird of prey had come from the face of Luna itself. It did not slow as it pierced the treetops and dove towards the ground, only slowing at the last possible moment to end its descent and dart undaunted into the deep woods and away from the bemused panther.
As the hawk weaved through the thick forest with a grace and skill no normal creature could achieve, it turned its head back towards her and for a brief moment the eyes of the two hunters met. Then just as suddenly the hawk was gone, disappearing behind a jumble of tall oaks. At once the panther bounded towards the direction the hawk had gone, purpose strengthening the mighty catâ€™s frame.
The ground was now well within sight. Vala could see the light underbrush growing below and the trees have become small enough to signal that they have passed the boundaries of the Titan Woods and into the lightly forested realm of the Hundred Kingdoms. She landed on a branch no wider than her foot, much like many of the examples she has seen for the last hour of travel and motioned for Fenris to stop. The Twilight settled in beside her and Vala heard her heavy breathing. Maybe she had gone too fast, she thought as a moment of guilt crossed her mind.
â€œWeâ€™ll stay on the ground from here on out since weâ€™re far enough away from the place where your clans settled. Itâ€™s safe enough,â€ Vala explained and gestured towards the relatively flat dirt and vegetation below.
â€œIs it safe to do so?â€ Fenris asked eying the distant ground skeptically.
â€œOf course. Trust me.â€ She smiled for the younger woman when she saw her nod, then leapt off the bough.
Twigs and leaves whipped past Valaâ€™s face as the ground grew closer, the wind howling in her ears. She felt her heart shift upwards as she fell and lazily stretched her arms out. That caused her body to somersault backwards and for a moment, she caught sight of Fenris. The look on her face was priceless. Vala let out a chuckle as she flipped and enjoyed the freefall for a split second before she finished her maneuver. When her feet touched the dirt and she dropped into a squat, her hands lightly brushing the ground in front of her. She fell backwards onto the dirt with a delighted whoop and saw Fenris looking down from her perch.
â€œCome on down. Just donâ€™t try to copy what I did all right?â€ she called up and saw the woman nod stiffly. A lifetime of avoiding the ground and roots levels of the Titan Woods was not easily overcame, but after seeing Vala sprawled comfortably on the forest floor it did not take long before Fenris began her climb down.
Vala was there to greet her with broad grin when she reached the forest floor. â€œThat wasnâ€™t so bad was it?â€ she asked with a cheerily grin.
Fenris brushed some loose leaves from the cloak around her shoulders and peered at the ground around them as though expecting something to pop out of the ground to eat them. Of course nothing appeared and she relaxed visibly. She then took several steps towards the prone Lunar, who was now lying on her side with a chin rested on her knuckles.
â€œNothingâ€™s gonna pop out and bite you, Fenris.â€
â€œI know,â€ she said with an embarrassed smile, â€œI trust you.â€
Vala was taken aback by younger womanâ€™s plain honesty. She prided herself for being able to pick out deception and was shocked by the womanâ€™s sincerity. They had not known each other for long, nowhere near long enough for Vala to trust anyone. Sheâ€™s too trusting, she thought, once again seeing the escaped songbird. Nonetheless, the Twilightâ€™s words affected her. The genuine pleasure of the knowing that she was trusted by pretty much a stranger surprised the warrior as well, for she normally would not have given a damn what anyone thought. She found that she had no words in response so she just smiled and nodded in acceptance.
The smile was still on her face when she rose from the dirt. She then dusted herself off and scratched her neck thoughtfully. â€œWeâ€™re in the Hundred Kingdoms now,â€ she told the Twilight in a tone that demanded attention. â€œSo before we go on our way, there are a few things we need to get straight. First of which is to never let someone else find out that youâ€™re a Solar, or that Iâ€™m a Lunar.â€
Fenris gave her a look of confuse, â€œWhy? Are we not the chosen of heavenâ€™s rulers?â€
â€œMmm, we are, but that leads into point number two. The world in general tends to see us as demons and evil things of that nature.â€
â€œButâ€¦why would they think that? Is the Unconquered Sun not the God of Righteousness? Why would people reviled us and mistake us for demons?â€
Vala tapped her chin with a calloused finger, â€œThere is a religious group out there called the Immaculate Order. Most of the Dragon-Blooded out there follow it,â€ she caught Fenrisâ€™ questioning look, â€œTheyâ€™re exalts like us, butâ€¦not as powerful, but there are a lot of them and they have the general public on their side. Itâ€™s because of them that everyone fears us as monsters and itâ€™s them that go around killing people like you and me when they catch wind of it. Thatâ€™s why you canâ€™t let random people finding out what you are.â€
The Twilightâ€™s face had gone pale and had a hand over her mouth by the time Vala finished her explanation. The warrior patted the Solarâ€™s shoulder gently and brushed a long lock of golden hair off as she did so. It slid smoothly over the shoulder and disappeared behind her back. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of history there,â€ the warrior admitted, â€œAnd Iâ€™m not much good in telling it. But I know of someone who is.â€
â€œIs that where we are going?â€
â€œEventually,â€ Vala said, an easy grin once again curling her lips, â€œfirst weâ€™ll have to find you some cloths with fewer holes in them.â€ Her grin grew wider at the sight of the younger womanâ€™s face turning beet red. Fenris hugged the cloak closer to her body, a frown crossing her face, which Vala thought was rather cute.
â€œMy modesty has been damaged enough without your quips,â€ she replied crossly.
The warrior laughed, threw her arm around the Fenrisâ€™ slender shoulders and started walking, ignoring the clanswomanâ€™s protestations. â€œWe have a long way to go still,â€ she said in a more serious tone, which made the Twilight cease her struggles somewhat. At least she was paying attention. â€œJust try to make the most of it neh? Thereâ€™s a lot of great things out there in Creation, and just as many things that you wish youâ€™ll never have to see.â€