Arathea knelt before the tent as the two Dragon-Blooded attended each other, the meek little Air Aspect securing straps across the Earth's back and attempting to keep herself from looking sad. Arathea herself tried to keep herself calm.
"Lord Ochen, this is ill-advised. We have yet to hear from Venerer Still Breath."
"Venerer Still Breath is not one to miss a check in, much less three. We must assume his loss." Tepet Ochen said with a grunt as the strap was tightened across his chest. "The Hunt continues."
"However, your resources are nearly exhausted, Lord. Venerer Still Breath's brotherhood is a severe blow, and to send away more than half of your own-"
"Ailesh's body is to go back to the Isle for his funeral, as his family would have wished. Cyrille is in no shape to fight, and will be going with his body to mourn as is proper. Haruya is going to make sure Cyrille actually goes, as well as to protect them along the way.
"Sir, your own injuries are substantial."
"And bearable. Mirau is a skilled healer, it's due to Cyrille's zeal that she is not capable of fighting alongside us. Mirau and I will suffice until reinforcements arrive."
"We have already spoken with the Satrap of Greyfalls, Lord, there are no reinforcements to be had." Of course, there would've been had Arathea herself been able to go, but no...
"I've contacted a cousin. He will be joining us, until then, Mirau and I will suffice."
"Sir, I insist that I be permitted to sta-"
The Earth aspect rose powerfully, striding over to Arathea with a smoothness that hid well the fact that his leg had been completely severed but a few short weeks ago. Arathea had to give the little Ledaal girl credit, when she wasn't simpering from lack of spine she had some worth. Ochen stood before Arathea and prompted her to rise.
"You're mortal, miss. We travel light and fast, the three of us should be able to make up for lost time. I can't afford for your life to be in jeopardy nor to lose any more of the advantage we've already been shorted. Go back to the isle, see to your loved ones. The Hunt continues." His new, white jade plated prosthetic arm rested on Arathea's shoulder.
Arathea hid a scowl, keeping her eyes low. "As you wish, honored Shikari."
Ochen nodded. "Dismissed." Arathea turned on her heel and left, storming back to her tent.
This is unforgivable, she fumed in her thoughts. Where the HELL are those monks?
The two monks stood impassively in the ankle-deep snow of the pine forest, silent as Still Breath attempted to divine their location through the wind.
"We were not informed about there being a second, brother." Tidal Rose had been known for her skill, if not her patience.
"I know that." Still Breath said flatly, not opening his eyes. "If we had not retreated, we would have all been killed. At this point, we must return and send word for reinforcements from the Isle."
"Which would be an excellent plan, if we could navigate this wasteland without Willow Root or Virol, Dragons rest them."
"There is no other option, sister." Still Breath responded. "The Hunt-"
"The Hunt Continues, yes, I understand that. The Hunt always continues, I've been with you for twenty years and we have never dealt with such a failure of intelligence and reinforcements. That one anathema-"
"Sister, calm yourself. Loss is part of life, you know this well."
"We've been wandering for days, brother! I'm not calm! For the first time in decades I'm not calm!" Tidal Rose took a breath, trying to center herself with the realization. "What is this place?"
"Lost and cannot find your way?" came a new voice, haughty and musical.
Tidal Rose and Still Breath immediately went back-to-back, feeling the air for the intruder's presence.
He strode forth into the new clearing with the clean scent of pine and freshfallen snow, the proud antlers adorning his brow standing triumphant above a cascade of amber-hued hair. Malachite and amber ornaments adorned his armor and person, a blade sheathed at his side. His impossibly beautiful features showed a quiet smile. "We mourn the lost tales, here. You intrude at such a time, bearing weapons into my domain, O Dragon-touched strangers."
Still Breath remained calm despite the additional complication. He signed to Tidal Rose. Flee and inform.
"The Hunt does not end, Raksha." Still Breath intoned.
"No, wait!" Tidal Rose called out as Still Breath's Chakram flew at the Fair Folk noble, the elegant creature drawing a brilliant amber-bladed daiklaive in a flourish of snow and pine needles, the whirling chakram deflected with a flash and sent spiraling back to Still Breath's hand.
"Your challenge is accepted, o stranger." The Raksha said with a smile, and advanced.
"Gah!" Slashing Crane started as he awoke, throwing warm fur blankets off of himself and glancing around fitfully to get his bearings. He quickly grabbed the furs back around himself, reminded what part of the world he was in and the acute fact that he was naked. "This is either very bad or very worse..." The scholar murmured to himself.
He scanned the room for Loreheart, ending in a sigh of relief as he spotted the daiklaive sitting a few yards away from the bed he sat on, resting against the barkhide wall. "Hello?" Crane experimentally asked the surroundings, watching the one doorway.
"Oh, good, you're awake." Cold Robin said with a smile in Skytongue as she walked into the small hut, dusting snow off her armored hands and starting to strip out of her armor. "Move over, I'm freezing."
Crane's eyes bugged out slightly a moment before looking away from the pale red-haired woman. "Um, ma'am, look, I uh...I don't know who you are or how I got here...or really anything about what's going on, but, um..." He felt the furs shift, cold flesh trying to snuggle up against him.
"WHOA, naked!" Crane practically leapt out of the bed, Loreheart flying to his grasp as he pointed it at the bed, the deathknight turning to him with a coy smile.
"That you are." Her smile turned to a snicker as she wrapped the blankets closer around herself, savoring the warmth and clearly unimpressed by the Daiklaive. Crane frowned, grabbing a rabbit hide from a small stretch-frame with his free hand and using it to cover himself. "You're sure you don't want to warm up a little more? You've been asleep since I brought you here two days ago."
"Just...ah...okay, right..." Crane took a breath, filtering his thoughts back into order. "Names!" he exclaimed, trying to fall back into a somewhat normal speaking voice. "I'm Slashing Crane, who are you?"
The woman sighed, her expression turning bittersweet. "I suppose you wouldn't remember." She sat up in the bed, not seeming to care as the furs fell to her waist. "I am the Cold Robin of Forsaken Groves, but Robin works." She smiled. "Robin, Crane, a lot of birds here. Birds tend to come home to roost...You going to point that thing at me all day, or are you going to stay warm?"
The implications in her eyes as she looked Crane over made the Archaeologist glad he had the rabbit hide for the moment. "No. Maybe. Um." He focused his thoughts, looking at the woman. "Robin, right?"
"Yeah." She said with a slight nod, the circular brand on her forehead finally noticed by the scholar.
"You're a Deathknight." Crane said flatly, eyes widening.
"Crane, please, I want to talk."
"You think anybody in Nexus hasn't heard about Thorns? No, I think I want my pants and to leave. Right now. Hopefully in that order."
Cold Robin sighed, seeming disappointed as the coy, teasing act faded. "You never could think with your dick, could you." she grumbled. "Yes, I'm a deathknight. Yes, I saved you from the monks, two of them got away but I doubt they're going to find us after this much time. No, I'm not expecting to be repaid, much as I wouldn't mind some action..." she glared at him slightly. "...and yes, I'm only trying to get you to hear me out for a bit."
"Pants first. Then talking." Crane insisted, inching towards the door.
"They're right behind you, in the basket. I washed and dried them out earlier, I was trying to keep them warm while I worked. Can you put the sword away, Crane, please?"
"You keep talking like you know me." Crane said, glancing back and idly wondering whether he should retain his shame or just drop the rabbit hide to go for the clothes.
"Crane, I can understand you not wanting to remember what happened back then. I mean, for me, everybody was dead and buried, but you...watching your mom-"
"Lady, you have five seconds to explain how you know these things about me." Crane's voice shifted to decidedly not amused.
"Crane, it's..." she sighed. "Remember when Old Saffron saved us?"
Crane's eyes widened. "You said your name was Cold Robin. You're R-"
"Don't say it, please." Cold Robin interrupted. "That was before a lot of things happened." Her smile turned slightly sad. "I'm glad you're all right."
Memories came back to Crane in a rush, the rabbit hide dropping. "This is..." he laughed, letting Loreheart's point drop to the ground. "This is crazy. I mean...gods, it's been decades." He remembered her, the shy, scared girl bundled up in her furs, listening to their old teacher's lessons just a little less than him. "How did you-"
"Thought you wanted your pants?" She smirked.
Crane glanced down, noticing his state. He gave a slightly embarrassed smile. "Um. Y-yeah, uh, let me just get those..." He whipped around, grabbing the bundle of clothes from the basket and hurriedly yanking on his trousers.
"So..." Crane asked, pulling his shirt on as Cold Robin slid back into the pile of fur blankets. "Have you been out here since then?"
"Not really." She said matter-of-factly. "I'm hoping you'd help me on something though. My boss...he's interested in speaking with you. The good kind of speaking with. I think."
"Your boss?" Crane glanced back at her, apprehensive. "As in the kind of guy that made a gigantic corpse smash a city?"
"I don't work for him, ugh." Robin shifted and stretched, enjoying the feel of the furs on her skin. "My boss just wants to talk to you. You took out a big problem in the southeast, and he's been curious ever since."
"Look, the reunion's been great, I do really appreciate you saving my ass back there..." Crane turned, facing her and trying not to wish he was back in the bed. "But your boss - all those people - they bother me."
"He said to mention a name, see if it might help. You know someone named Sikharam?"
Crane's eyes narrowed. "Not per se."
"Well, my boss does, at least a few things. He said he'd gladly talk it over, but he's got one other thing to offer you if you're up for talking."
"Really." Crane said flatly.
"Yup." Cold Robin arched her back, sitting up again. "Me. And a way to get rid of some old baggage of ours." Her coy smile implied multiple things.
"Wait a minute." Crane said, pulling his mind out of his pants and thinking to her words earlier. "You said something about birds coming home. Where are we?"
"Crane, I couldn't deal with this alone, I needed your help, and it's not like you have any less reason."
"Where are we?" Crane demanded.
Cold Robin hugged her knees to her chest. "Two miles from here, under the snow, there's what used to be a village. What used to be home."
"You brought us here!?" Crane asked, his voice hushed with dread. Anywhere but this, the scholar thought to himself. Anywhere but him.
Still Breath's arm shattered into amber shards as the Raksha noble's blade rammed through the limb and into the monk's chest. The Air aspect gave a muted cry of agony as his body crystallized, the blade withdrawing in a smooth motion and flicking clean of the Venerer's blood, leaving an amber statue that slowly bled, its veins all that remained visible of the once-mighty Immaculate.
"Your skill was found wanting, o stranger." the Raksha said sadly, turning to the injured form of Tidal Rose, who strained to get away as her legs bled, hobgoblins nonchalantly dumping her on the ground before the noble.
"Your champion has failed you, sweet maiden of the cloth." The noble strode proudly before her, the snow supporting his footfalls without breaking. "Now that you are liberated of his blasphemous oppression, you must accompany me - for that is the price of your intrusion to my domain."
"Never." Tidal Rose spat.
"You have transgressed, and must repay." The Raksha smiled. "Know that Atma of the Lodge of Malachite is a gracious host. You must tell me of your hunt, I have missed many tales while here in mourning..."
"It will be good to have guests again."