Into the Woods

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This is a city located on the coast of western Idalos and stands as a pillar of light against the dark cliff faces surrounding it. Ne'haer is considered a port city for ships as well as the last stop for most seafarers adventuring to locate the Iulure Isles. For this, it is nicknamed "Death's Door". In contrast to its nickname, this city focuses mostly on religious values and rituals for the protection of the immortals watching over their city. Ne'haer is also a city booming with trade and nobility, as well as jobs and plenty of opportunities to advance in skills and crafts.

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Quio
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Into the Woods

Sun Apr 30, 2017 10:10 pm

96th of Ashan, 717
early morning

The suns had not yet come out and Quio gathered with a small group of men and women who were to make an expedition into the Willow Woods.

Some of them seemed nervous, like they were newcomers unaccustomed to the land, and he couldn't help but smile. He had grown up in those woods.

The sounds of animals screeching and the howling of the wind had put him to sleep on many nights as a young boy. His mother, who had been as Yludih as himself, had had a large wolf form which he had run alongside of through the trees and plants, climbing rocks and investigating nature. His mother had never wanted him to come to the city, she preferred to keep him in the wild where it was 'safe'-- sort of a backwards attitude, considering that most were afraid to venture too far or too long into the Woods.

He was sort of looking forward to going out there again, actually. Being in the city made his skin crawl. After having reacquainted with Ne'haer trial-last, he had become to feel, more and more, that someone was watching him. He had the distinct feeling that something bad was going to happen in the city. The mark of Celarion that hovered around his left arm seemed almost to itch with the feeling.

He knew that was just paranoia and bad memories, and that the mark itself was not used as a harbinger of danger, and yet. And yet.

He was eager to get out of town, at least for a trial or three.

Yesterday evening he had come across a young man by the name of Efran Cantrill on the way to the library, and had ended up going with him to a bar for a drink at the man's insistence. He was a talkative sort of fellow, excited when he'd heard that Quio was joining in on the expedition, and had through the evening convinced himself --despite an obvious fear of the Woods-- that he would accompany the false-Human on his mission. It was only after a half-break had passed that Quio put two and two together and realized that Efran Cantrill was the person who had posted the notice on the board for odd jobs.

"The forest!" Efran said, and seemed almost drunk by his second ale, which was sort of hilarious despite Quio's earlier sour mood. The Yludih had his head propped up on his palm and was watching the eager young man with bewildered affection. Efran did a facepalm. "I should have thought of that," he muttered.

"It is where plants are," Quio said to him agreeably, but at the man's expression the Yludih admitted, "It wasn't my idea. A woman at the Lochgrass gardens, Ealine, told me about it."

"Ealine!" Efran said on a sigh, and just like that Quio knew that the young man was desperately in love with the woman he had met earlier.

"She's some woman," Quio said innocently, and Efran went into a tirade about how perfect everything about Ealine truly was.

"And her love of plants!" the enthusiastic young man ended up saying, as if loving plants was an extremely attractive quality in a person, and Quio had not been able to help it. He'd burst into laughter.

Afterwards he'd walked Efran home, just to make sure the guy got there okay, and had gone back to his ship and became gloomy again, feeling guilty that he'd allowed himself to enjoy another person's company when Hart was cold and dead.

---

Now Efran popped up from seemingly nowhere. One moment Quio was alone --well, alone save for Yanaqi, who was in the form of a great wild dog-- and the next Efran was there, standing behind him and a little to the side. Quio nearly leapt out of his skin. He felt his heartstone stutter.

"Efran," he said, trying to seem calm despite his racing heart. The young man gave him a bright smile, then winced as the first light of the suns came over the horizon and poked him in the eye.

"Headache?" Quio asked.

"Hangover," Efran said, and Quio shook his head. How could a person get drunk on only a few ales?

"Aren't you a healer of some sort?"

"Yes," Efran said, "But I didn't have time to make anything for it. I barely woke up in time!" For now that Efran was there, the rest of the party, most of whom had introduced themselves as members of the Seventh Hand, started to move out.

Quio, who drank constantly but never had a hangover, merely shrugged his shoulders. Most of the people were riding horses, but one or two had brought along drawn wagons or carts to help transport items back and forth from the Woods to the city. Quio and Efran hustled into a brief jog once the miniature caravan got moving and sat themselves on the end of one of the carriages, facing back towards the city.

Once more, Quio had the unnerving feeling that he was being watched, and he crossed his arms as if cold despite the rising suns. He told himself it was nothing, it was just Yanaqi, who loped beside the wagon on all fours, snapping occasionally at the horses' legs or at Quio's dangling feet to amuse herself. Still, he glanced around as if he might see someone staring out of the trees.

"You okay?" Efran asked, rubbing at his temples, and Quio just nodded his head. But perhaps the other sensed his unease because once they lost sight of the city Efran began to rubberneck at every little sound.

Eventually Quio had to get the lad chattering again about any- and everything so that Efran in his nervousness wouldn't accidentally give himself whiplash.
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Into the Woods

Thu May 04, 2017 11:01 pm

When Ismene had seen the notice posted about a group going into the Willow Woods, she had immediately decided to join. If nothing else for the adventure, but she also hoped she might be able to find some interesting herbs or spices she could bring back to experiment with. Clutching the big canvas bag she hoped to fill with plants, she made her way down to the city gates early in the morning. She was pleasantly surprised to see a group of people already milling about outside the gate when she arrived. Although she would never admit it to herself, she was slightly nervous at the thought of going into the deep woods. She had grown up outside the city, but amongst fields, not forests. Of course, the tranquillity of the farmland had bored her, and she was excited to explore somewhere with a little more mystery. Still, she would be glad of the company on her first trip into the woods.

As was her habit, she glanced around, assessing each of her new companions. She had learned never to dismiss anyone at first sight - it was often the quietest people who had the most interesting things to say - but she could also tell pretty quickly that several of the simple tradesfolk who had gathered would be unlikely to provide much in the way of gossip. Her eye was drawn to a tall man with pale red hair sitting on a cart. There was something different about him, although she couldn't put her finger on what it was. He was accompanied by another man who seemed to wince in the still weak morning sunlight, sheltering his eyes with a hand. Ismene grinned. She knew that feeling alright. She decided she would seek out their company at some point. For now, she kept watching the red-haired man. He looked somehow at home out here in the woods in a way that made her feel simultaneously impressed and envious, but something else about him drew her attention as well. She studied him carefully for a while, before realizing that there was something making him nervous. His anxiety seemed to be catching, because his companion was also looking fidgety.

As they went deeper into the woods, Ismene starting feeling the tension as well. The path narrowed between trunks that got thicker and closer together the further they went. The forest was strangely silent. She would have expected birdsong, but there was a muffled hush over the forest. The members of the little party one by one fell quiet as well, infected by the sense of nervous expectancy.

Suddenly, there was a quiet but unmistakable crack, like a branch breaking, off to the left of the path. Instantly on the alert, Ismene decided that if there was any danger her best bet would be to hide, as she had no weapons, so she crept into the shadow of a large tree and peered round carefully, not letting too much profile show behind the trunk. Those carrying weapons had started to draw them when a deer trotted calmly across the path a little way ahead of them. That must have been it. She breathed a sigh of relief and rejoined the path, noticing a few others had chosen the same defence tactic as her. Feeling slightly silly, she approached the red-headed man and his companion on the cart and said jokily, to defuse the tension and calm her own jangling nerves, 'Well that was an anticlimax, wasn't it! Honestly, you'd think I was a babe fresh from the nursery, jumping at shadows like that. The thing is, I'm not much used to the forest. You look as if this isn't your first time out here, though?' she said, addressing herself to the man with the pale red hair. 'Do you know the forest well?' As she spoke a small thought came into her head that it was rather unusual for a deer to break a branch like that. They were normally incredibly light-footed and silent. But she dismissed it; this was obviously a clumsy deer. There was no point getting paranoid. She waited to hear what the man would say.
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Quio
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Into the Woods

Mon May 08, 2017 1:22 am

It wasn't long before the whole parade seemed to be nervous, Efran going quiet like a stalked rabbit, and Quio wondered how much the Woods had changed since he had been here last. Yes the forest could be creepy at night, when odd laughter and noises came from the dark, but in the daytime, under the light of the suns, there had usually been little to worry about. He supposed there were always wolves and bears.

Even the forest itself seemed to go hush with expectation, and that finally got him to look around once more. Scanning the treeline. He didn't see anything but people were reacting poorly. Some had drawn their weapons and the caravan had come to a halt. Others were wandering towards the trees. Efran was nearly shaking in his boots and Quio glanced over at Yanaqi. His sister, in wild dog form, had her ears cocked and her nose pointing towards the trees. She was looking intently but for all that he tried he couldn't see whatever it was she sensed.

Then the snap of a twig. The whole party seemed to jump. Quio's hand went to his belt, but then he remembered: he didn't have his weapons on him. His sister had stolen them from him and she hadn't brought them with because she was a dog.

Great.

Now tense despite himself he stood from the cart... just as a deer came bounding out of the woods. Efran shrieked and a couple of the others, full of nervous energy, laughed. Quio put a hand on the man's shoulder as if to say calm down. "Sorry," Efran said. "It's only my second time in the Woods."

A young lady approached them then, one who had gone to either hide or invesitgate behind one of the nearby trees, and the Yludih frowned at her question. "Not exactly," he said cautiously in Rakahi, not knowing if she would understand. She had a faint Biqaj accent but had spoken in the Common tongue. "I used to live here as a boy. It's only recently that I've come back but..." He looked around the forest again. With a lurch the caravan got back into motion and he caught up to sit on the cart once more. He shrugged. "But I used to live out in these woods, yes. They could be the same or very different than how I remember them." A pause. "What about you?" Very cautiously now. He tried to judge her age. He thought she was younger than him. "Are you from Ne'haer?"

As they spoke time passed and it seemed the others had regained their sense of calm, at least for now. Once or twice Quio glimpsed something moving in the forest but whatever was out there --probably more deer-- didn't come close to the procession of noisy, creaky carts.

Soon enough they were deep in the woods. The carts had pulled off the beaten path a while back and now came to an impassable area of trees and brush and everyone got out to stretch their legs and divide into groups. Efran stuck close to Quio's side as did Yanaqi, who didn't really count anyways. Quio was pretty much ignoring her. The other young woman seemed to stick with them too.

"Agenda?" Quio asked, and Efran dug out a piece of paper from his pocket.

"We're mostly looking for plants. Aloe vera, arrowroot, plantain, marigolds, witch hazel. Honey if we can find it. And I'd like to collect some spring water if we find the river."

"And you?" Quio asked the young woman, because she seemed to have brought along a bag of her own. Quio himself only had gloves and tools and a sack that had been loaned to him by the Order of Adunih. He wasn't in it for personal gain, other than to see the forest again.
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Into the Woods

Wed May 10, 2017 7:59 pm

To Ismene's frustration, the young man replied to her questions in Rakahi.
She could understand a few words here and there, but the majority of what he said passed her by. She was pretty sure his answer to her question about whether he knew the forest well had been in the negative, and then she heard the word for 'woods' and what she thought was 'the same' and 'different', which didn't make any sense. Was he speaking in riddles? She was relieved to find that she could understand his final question though: asking someone where they were from was one of the first things she had learned in Rakahi. 'No,' she replied, falteringly. 'I from Treth. Come to Ne'haer soon... no, recently.' She was embarrassed by her lack of ability. Why hadn't she paid more attention when Biqaj had come through the village? 'Speak Common?' she asked hopefully.

She carried on walking by the side of the cart, enjoying the chance to stretch her legs despite the tension that had still not quite left the party. Although she had found rural Treth boring and longed to get away to the city as soon as she could, now she had been in Ne'haer for a while she found herself missing the fresh air of the countryside. It was nice to just be able to walk for a while. They carried on in alert silence, deeper into the woods. As she walked she was aware of a large dog trotting along beside the carts as well, but did not pay it much attention except when it got in her way. Dogs were not exactly rare where she came from and she wasn't the sort of person who is naturally drawn to animals. They weren't nearly as interesting as people.

Soon they had reached a thicket where it was clear they would have to leave the carts. The man she had spoken to was talking to his friend, who was reading from a piece of paper. Although Ismene couldn't understand a word, the intonation made it sound like he was reading out a list. The red-haired man turned to her and said something she did understand: 'And you?' But as she hadn't understood the first part of the conversation it wasn't much use knowing what he said. She hesitated, but noticed his friend glance at her bag while they waited for her to reply, and figured out they probably wanted to know what she was here for. 'Plants,' she said in Rakahi. 'Cook, bread, nice plants,' rubbing her stomach now, trying to indicate that she was looking for flavoursome herbs and spices. It was hopeless. She switched to Common, hoping they understood. 'I'm a baker and I'm always looking for new flavours to add to my food.
I like experimenting. And as I've only just come to Ne'haer I thought there might be something interesting out in these woods that I hadn't come across before. I'd be grateful if you could let me know if you see a plant you know that I might not be familiar with.'

She scanned the area, looking for any plants she recognised. She didn't want to drift too far away from the group just yet, and it looked as if there was plenty around here. She spotted some mint and a large patch of wild garlic, and collected a healthy looking specimen of each, digging down through the moist, dark brown earth to make sure she got their roots, and then wrapping the little bundles of soil and root in ferns before stowing them in her bag. It wasn't an ideal way to transport plants but she hoped it would be alright just for a few hours. The fresh, tangy scent of the garlic gave her a sudden pang of unexpected nostalgia for chopping herbs with her mother in the morning sunshine. She shook her head to rid herself of the memory, annoyed with her own sentimentality. A little further away she could see some large flat sorrel leaves, and beyond them some sprigs of dandelion, and in the distance beyond that glimpsed a bush with shiny red berries that she had never seen before. She wandered over, collecting more plants here and there as she went, and plucked a berry from the bush. She squashed it between her fingers, releasing a small ooze of dark red liquid and several little seeds. She smelled her stained fingers and caught an earthy, slightly bitter smell. Tentatively, she put out her tongue and tasted some of the crushed pulp. It wasn't very strong, so she put a bit more in and chewed. There was that same hint of bitterness, but otherwise it didn't seem anything special. She picked a few handfuls anyway in case they would make a good jam or sauce.

By now her bag was getting pretty heavy, so she turned round to head back to the rest of the group. When she did so she realised she must have walked further than she had realised, engrossed in her search, or perhaps the group had gone the other direction while she had her back turned. She started walking in the direction she had come from, dismissing her rising sense of anxiety with the memory of how silly she had felt when the deer had scared her like a little girl. She wouldn't make a fool of herself again. But had she really walked this far from the carts? She was normally quite good at navigating. She must have headed in the wrong direction. There was something menacing about this forest, something not quite stable. She stopped and listened, waiting for her ears to attune to the dense silence to see if she could hear any signs of the rest of the group. They couldn't be far away.
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Into the Woods

Wed May 10, 2017 11:04 pm

The young woman didn't speak Rakahi all that well and Quio was almost relieved when she eventually switched back to Common. He himself could understand Common just as well as anyone else, it was speaking it that was a little more difficult. Still, he would try.

"I understand Common," he told her. "Speak not so good as Rakahi. But I can speak it, yes."

"Oh, sorry," Efran said then, having switched to Common for her as well. "Didn't realize, I thought you were from Ne'haer. Most everyone speaks Rakahi around here." He repeated the list of what they were going to find, and then chattered back to Quio in case the Yludih had not understood what she'd said about her cooking. But Quio waved a hand; like he'd said, he understood Common well enough.

"Stay close," he told her and Efran as the other small groups started to wander away in different directions, each seeking whatever materials they needed.

"There's some flowers over there, there might be marigolds," Efran pointed out, and he and Quio and Yanaqi went that way, though Quio kept an eye on where the young woman was. She looked to have found some sort of herb or plant that she was busy trying to uproot. She wasn't too far away.

They followed the speckling of flowers through the underbrush to a small clearing with tall grass, though the grass itself only stood knee-high at this point in the arc. Marigolds were bright red and yellowish flowers, but the ones in the little secluded meadow were all either daisies or some purple type that Quio didn't quite know-- maybe bluebells for their shape. He motioned to them but Efran shook his head. "Good for pigmentation not for medical use," he explained, and Quio nodded.

He crouched down, inspecting the plants closer to the ground, combing through the grass. Soon enough he found something of interest. "This?" he asked, and Efran glanced over from his own investigations.

"Yes, collect what you can of that," the young man said. Then, seemingly distracted, he looked around. Quio bent with trowel in hand and began to dig down past the plant's shallow roots. He figured it was better to take the whole thing than pick all its leaves.

"Hey, you know where that girl went?" Efran asked suddenly, and the Yludih looked up, frowning. Yanaqi too was gone, vanished somewhere into the trees, and he stood, tucking the uprooted plant into the sack the Order had given him for transport.

"What was her name?" he muttered and Efran shrugged.

"She didn't say."

"Neither did we." The younger man shrugged again. Quio sighed. "Let's find her."

"Girl!" Efran hollered, hands cupped to his mouth to shout, but Quio quickly shushed him. "Wait," he said.

"What?"

"Do you hear that?"

From the distance there came a snarling.

---

No more than 250 feet away but lost completely from sight, Ismene would hear something, a sound coming from the woods. At first just a soft noise, so quiet as to almost be a whisper: the sound of leaves and grass being disturbed. Something was out there.

Then, from behind her-- the sudden sense that she wasn't alone. And there, stepping from the brush--

A girl?

She was maybe Ismene's age, maybe a bit older, with long hair of a red so dark as to be black and a tan face full of freckles. She held up her hand, smiling as if embarrassed, and said rather sheepishly, "Hey there. I was with another of the groups and I got turned around. Do you know where the carts are?" But there was something about her...

Perhaps it was her clothes. She wore a wreath of skins upon her shoulders and what appeared to be handmade leather and woven cloth in the form of baggy pants and a bralette. Strange scars marched all the way up and down her bare arms. Her hair was somewhat wild, curling and frizzy, with a stick behind one ear like a pencil, and her hands, especially her nails, were dirty. She didn't have any weapons, rather a long walking stick. Her smile seemed genuine.

There was another rustling and from the girl's right came the large tan-furred dog that Ismene would have seen earlier with Quio. The animal froze upon sight of the newcomer and then, nostrils flared and teeth exposed, she let out a long, rumbling snarl. Her hackles raised and she pawed the dirt. Head lowered. She slunk closer and the new girl, seemingly frightened, stepped back, her walking stick clutched in her hands.

"I-Is it a wolf?" she said, though Yanaqi was obviously no wolf. Her dog form was more accustomed to the desert than the woods.

With another snarl the dog crept ever closer.

---

Following the sounds and the sense of tension, Quio and Efran ran. They came barreling through the nearby treeline just in time to see Yanaqi leap forward, jaws open and ready to snap. The newcomer screamed and backed up, tripping over a root, and the dog was upon her. Quio reached them at the same moment and grabbed Yanaqi by the scruff of the neck before she could latch her teeth onto the girl's body, one arm under her belly, tearing and lifting her from the girl. The dog snapped at him, nearly catching his face, and he let her go, putting himself between the newcomer and his sister.

"Kiki," he warned, what he called Yanaqi when she was a dog. "Get back." Yanaqi rushed him and he kicked a foot out at her, catching her in the leg. She bristled but retreated back, unwilling to attack him. But still watching the new girl with hateful eyes and snarling teeth.

"What happened?" Efran asked, looking around bewildered. He edged away from Yanaqi and Quio, towards Ismene. He looked at her. "Who is this? Are you okay?"
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Into the Woods

Mon May 15, 2017 5:04 pm

She stood and listened for a while, but couldn't hear anything that could have been the rest of the group. She could feel an unfamiliar panic rising in her chest, and to calm herself she closed her eyes and starting thinking about the dish she would cook with what she had found so far. The sorrel and garlic leaves would make a delicious soup, and some roughly chopped garlic would be delicious in a dandelion green salad. She would try preserving some of the berries in sugar and... a sound behind her jolted her out of her reverie. It was so quiet she couldn't be sure she had really heard it, no more than a rustling of leaves. Alert again, she listened, feeling the silence of the forest weighing on her ears and making her head spin slowly. She was suddenly worried that the berries she had tasted earlier might be poisonous - it might explain how she had managed to get lost, which was normally so out of character. But she couldn't feel any nausea or pain, just a sense of dizziness that could easily be brought on by nerves and the silence.

Then the noise came again, clearer and louder this time. Something was definitely there. Her skin prickled and she turned round instinctively, just in time to see a girl emerging from the dense forest. She said she was with one of the other groups in the expedition and that she had got lost, like Ismene, but try as she might Ismene could not remember having seen her face in the crowd of people milling around at the gate earlier that day. The normally observant Ismene was puzzled, and more so because the girl did not look as if she was merely visiting the forest on a day trip. She looked rather as if she lived here permanently. She had dirty fingernails and was wearing skins like some wild woman of the woods.

But Ismene didn't have much time to wonder about the girl. Before she had even finished saying 'No, sorry but I'm lost too. I thought the carts were around here somewhere, but...' there was another sound of rustling from behind her, and something stalked out from between the trees. She stiffened for a second before recognising the dog that seemed to belong to the man she had been talking to earlier... what was his name? She realised she had never asked. No matter, if the dog was here, the group couldn't be far away. But her relief was short-lived, because the dog was clearly not in a good mood. It was snarling and pawing the dirt, and eyeing the stranger with a peculiar, almost human look of hatred. The girl seemed terrified, and rightly so because the dog lunged at her, making as if to rip its teeth into her body. Ismene immediately stepped towards the pair, but before she could formulate a plan on how to help the girl, the two men from earlier appeared out of nowhere. They were just in time to stop the dog mauling the girl, who had tripped over a root as she shrank away.

Ismene stood back and waited for everything to settle, still feeling slightly dizzy and detached from what was going on. She could hear the silence of the trees hovering behind the small voices of the people. She shook her head, trying to bring her mind back into focus. The shock of getting lost and then the sudden appearance of the girl and the dog had set her pulse racing, and her vision seemed a bit blurry. Forcing herself to concentrate, she watched the man with the red hair telling the dog - Kiki, apparently - to get back, but the dog merely charged at him in defiance. The man kicked at Kiki, who hung back reluctantly, still glaring at the unknown girl. There was something very odd about the animal. The man had spoken to it like a person, and it... had it understood? She had never seen a dog with such an expressive face before. Get a grip, she told herself. She couldn't understand what was wrong with her today, first getting lost, then this dizziness, and now imagining a dog could talk.

The hungover man was talking to her, and she dragged her mind back to the present to listen to him. He seemed as confused as Ismene and the girl. 'I have no idea,' Ismene replied to his question. 'I've never seen her before. She says she's with the other group. I'm fine I think, I'm glad you've found me though. I don't know how I managed to get so lost.' She smiled sheepishly, inwardly angry at herself. For the second time that day she had managed to make a fool of herself in front of the red-haired man and his friend - first hiding from a deer, and now contriving to get lost. 'Sorry,' she said to the red-haired man. 'And thank you for rescuing us. I'm Ismene by the way. What's your name?' She wanted to ask him about the dog, whether it could understood him, and more importantly why it seemed to hate the new girl, but hesitated. She didn't want to seem rude.

She turned her attention to the girl, who was still on the floor where she had fallen, apparently unwilling to get up when there was a risk the dog might attack her again. Ismene walked over to her and reached out a hand to help her up, hoping the red-haired man would be able to keep Kiki under control. 'Are you OK?' she asked as the stranger dusted herself off. Now she had more time to consider the girl, her sudden appearance and her wild-looking clothes seemed even more bizarre than at first sight. 'Which group were you with?' she asked, deliberately not letting the girl know she doubted her story. 'That dog really seems to have it in for you... it's almost as if it knows you,' she added casually. She glanced from the dog to the red-haired man and the stranger and back again, trying to detect a hint of some connection between them but distracted by the pulsing of the blood in her ears.
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Into the Woods

Wed May 17, 2017 5:17 am

It was all too strange and the young woman, who introduced herself now as Ismene, was certainly picking up on that fact. Despite his anger at his sister, Quio couldn't help but be wary of the way Ismene looked at Yanaqi now, as if sensing that the dog was something other, something more... but no. How could she know?

He didn't know how, but they would have to be careful. He didn't want to think what Yanaqi would do to her if she suspected anything.

The newcomer was helped up to her feet and Quio stalked forward and deliberately put himself between the dog and the girl, giving his sister another warning glance. Yanaqi huffed out an angry breath, but held back for now. Feet planted as if she would charge. But she didn't move. Yet. It was a little nervewracking, considering that even in her dog form Yanaqi weighed just about the same that Quio himself did.

He turned towards the others.

"My name is Eckhart," he said, a name he had plucked randomly from the air trial-last. He didn't feel comfortable giving his real name, the name he had used when he had lived here as a boy. It hadn't worked out well for him last time.

"And you are?" Asking the newcomer, even as Ismene asked her own questions. Something was definitely off about the girl. Her clothes for one, how dirty she was... and Ismene was right. Yanaqi seemed to know her. Quio looked between them with a frown.

But the newcomer's answers, at least, came smoothly. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said. There was a bit of a tremble left in her voice from the dog's attack, and she stood rather close to the others as if trying to shield herself from Yanaqi's baleful gaze. "I'm Ville. I was with the group from Treth?"

At their confused expressions she explained. "Our caravan arrived late. We were supposed to meet up with you? But when we finally got to the meet site most of the Ne'haer caravan had already gone off to the woods. I was put with a couple men I don't know from your group. Members of the Hand, I think."

She shrugged. "But they went into this cave by the river and I've been to these woods before and I know that's not a good idea." She shook her head. "So I stayed out to wait but they didn't come. I thought I'd go back and find the carts but somehow..." She looked around, running a hand over her wild hair. "I dunno. I couldn't find them. Then I found you." At this she smiled so brightly she practically beamed.

She turned to Quio with light in her eyes. "Thank you so much, by the way!" she said, and grabbed his hand and pumped it enthusiastically in a handshake. "If it wasn't for you, that wolf..."

"She is a dog."

"I thought she looked strange. What breed is she?"

"She is from Nashaki," Quio said. It was the first thing that came to mind. Nashaki was the desert, right? "But she's not a... He didn't have the word for domestic in Common so he said it in Rakahi instead. "Domestic dog so I would keep back."

"I could tell!" The girl laughed, but the sound was nervous. She looked to Ismene and Efran. "I don't know the dog-- Kiki, was her name?"

"Yes," Quio said, cautiously.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything like her before in my life." She seemed to be telling the truth. "Maybe I look like someone who she once knew?"

"Maybe," Quio said. "She doesn't like people."

"I could help you guys if you want?" Ville said then. She spoke quickly, and Quio thought it must be jitters leftover from the stress of the attack. Ismene didn't look too well either, though she seemed to be holding together good enough.

"How about we find that cave you mentioned instead?" Efran asked out of the blue. Ville looked uncertain.

"It was that way?" she asked, pointing. Quio shook his head.

"It can't be. That's where the carts are. The river should be north."

"Oh!" she said. "Well I'll be able to find the cave if you take me to the carts. I can retrace our steps."

"Okay," Quio agreed, perplexed. He traded a glance with Efran, then with Ismene. Questioning. Then shrugged. "There should be plants by the river that we can get, yes?"

Efran nodded. "Arrowroot grows in wet soil."

"So let's go?" Quio asked. The newcomer fell into step close beside him, and once more he glanced around. Knowing something was up with her but not yet knowing what.

"Unless the three of us," indicating himself, Efran, and Ismene, "should talk about something first," he muttered in Rakahi to Efran, and the young man's mouth tightened. He looked worried. He hesitated a moment then nodded his head.

"Ismene?" he called, while Quio told Ville to, "Wait here." Then he and the others walked a short distance away.

"What do you think of her?" the Yludih asked, once he felt they were out of earshot. Ville was watching them with an unhappy expression, though she didn't seem able to hear. He felt like a hypocrite but he said the words anyway. "Do you think she is an i-imposter?" The last word was hard for him to form in Common.
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Into the Woods

Thu May 18, 2017 10:33 pm

Ismene listened as the man introduced himself as Eckhart and then the stranger explained who she was. She still felt slightly dizzy, but her mind seemed to be clearing slightly. It must have been the nerves, the thought. Or the berry - lucky I only licked a tiny bit with the tip of my tongue. When the stranger said she was with the caravan from Treth, alarm bells started ringing in Ismene's mind. She was from Treth, and she'd never seen the stranger before. Nobody in Treth dressed like that, either. Then again, she hadn't actually said she was from Treth, just that she was with the Treth caravan. It wasn't impossible that she had just attached herself to it. And try as she might, Ismene couldn't detect any obvious hint that the girl was lying. Her smile seemed genuine, and she wasn't giving off any telltale signs of nervousness like fiddling with her clothes; her voice was clear and even and she held eye contact with Ismene and Eckhart as she spoke. If she was a liar, she was an accomplished one. Maybe she was telling the truth. Although that still didn't explain how she had managed to get so dirty. Ismene had spent the last break or so digging around in the dirt for plants, and she wasn't half as grubby as this girl. And what was she doing on a trip to the woods without a bag to carry anything she found, anyway? Her suspicions deepened as the girl pointed in completely the wrong direction for the cave she had supposedly come from, and asked Eckhart if she could come with them to the carts. Something was definitely wrong, but Ismene was at a loss for what it might be. Eckhart and his friend looked as if they shared her anxiety, and Eckhart pulled the two of them into a huddle a little distance away from Ville, who didn't seem too pleased about their whispered discussion.

As Ismene listened to Eckhart's question, she had a strange feeling. It was as if she wanted - no, needed - to tell him everything she was thinking.

'Well, I know she's not from Treth, if that helps, because I'm from Treth and I would recognise her if she was, I have no doubt about that. But what reason could she have for pretending to be someone she's not? If she is an impostor, though, then where is the real Ville?'

She felt a pang of anxiety mixed with an undeniable rush of exhilaration at the thought of a mystery to solve, quickly followed by panic as, unbidden by her mind, her mouth just carried on talking. It was as if the barriers she normally put up between her brain and her mouth had melted or been washed away. Her chest felt tight, as if her body was deliberately, irresistibly pushing the words upwards and outwards.

'And what's the deal with your dog, anyway? It stared at that girl like it knew her before it attacked, I saw the look in its eyes clearly. And then you spoke to it like it could understand you. I don't believe Ville is who she says she is, but I don't believe you're telling the whole truth either, or that you don't know more than you're letting on. I'm sorry, I don't know why I just said that...'

She held a hand to her mouth in horror and shame. She hadn't even known she had thought that until she had said it. She also knew that if Eckhart really did have no idea who the girl was, then she had just been incredibly rude. And if for some reason he was lying, then she had just made a basic error by letting him know she was suspicious. Anyway she trusted Eckhart more than the stranger, if only because she had been with him all day and knew he was definitely from the city, and he had seemed pretty normal earlier. So she needed to try and mitigate the damage.

'I'm sorry, forget I just said that. I've been feeling a bit strange recently, so please ignore it, I'm just being paranoid and imagining things. I have an idea,' she said, hoping Eckhart would buy her explanation - which was probably true, anyway, she was feeling strange and paranoid. 'Let's tell her we'll go back to the carts. As we walk, ask her about the people in her caravan. If she describes people that I recognise from home, then she might be telling the truth. But if not, then we'll know she's lying.' Ismene looked hopefully at Eckhart, praying he wasn't going to storm off and leave her in the woods with the strange girl.
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Into the Woods

Sun May 21, 2017 2:18 am

Ismene was definitely suspicious of not only Ville but also it seemed of Quio himself. He thought again of the weapons he didn't have with him, which Yanaqi had hidden somewhere back in Ne'haer. They would be of little use to him now. The mark of Qylios that hovered around his forearm seemed to brighten and dim to the pulsing of his heartstone. Uncomfortable, he shifted his feet and tried to find words to say.

Quick as she had accused him she backed off from her statement, and Efran and Quio exchanged looks, the former with his brow knit and eyes slightly squinted, as if all of this was too much on top of a lingering headache. The latter was only able to shrug his shoulders. What could he do?

He glanced over at Yanaqi and found that her eyes were trained not on Ville, but now on Ismene herself. Her keen canine hearing must have picked up all that they had said, which meant...

Which meant that he would have to be extra careful not to let his sister attack either of the other women in their little group.

To Ismene he said, carefully, "Kiki is a dog. A smart dog, and yes I speak to her as if she was a person." Efran was watching him and so he said, just as carefully, "She is all that is left of my family." At the words Yanaqi trotted over and sat herself pointedly at Quio's side. Looking up at Ismene with eyes sharp and clear, like but unlike any animal's. He dropped a hand to her head. Resting it there, a false sign of solidarity. Yanaqi opened her mouth to show her teeth. Perhaps it looked like a smile, but to him she almost seemed to gloat.

"Do you have any ideas about Ville?" Quio asked then, trying to change the topic of conversation. He turned towards Efran. The young man was still looking nervous about all that had happened, and he only shrugged.

"I say we go with Ismene's suggestion. If this Ville doesn't know anyone from Treth, but claims to have come from there..." He let his words trail off, the implication speaking for itself. "I just don't know why she would lie."

"Why does anyone lie?" Quio asked. He turned to look at Ville, who was still watching the rest of the group with a guarded gaze, perhaps trying to pick up on their conversation. "To protect themselves."

"To take advantage of others, more like," Efran said, rather coolly for him, and Quio could only concede the point.

"Either way, let's go."

---

The walk towards the carts was tense and quiet, punctuated only by the sound of their feet swishing through the grass and the questions they drilled Ville with. For her part, she tried to answer, but it was obvious she knew what they were up to. Quio kept glancing towards Ismene, looking for confirmation as to whether the answers Ville gave were satisfactory or not.

The girl, as if trying to fill the tenseness between them all, chattered on and on. "I used to live in Ne'haer," she explained. Still smiling despite their distrust; it didn't seem to bother her. She seemed to have calmed considerably since the attack. "Big city girl. Always liked the woods though. I used to go hunting with my father. I liked the peace of the forest and the land. But it was only recently after father died that I moved to Treth. I've been around that area for a season or two now. In fact, you," she said, waving at Ismene, "Look sort of familiar. But then again a lot of people in these parts look familiar." She shrugged.

"Let's see, names," she said. "I sometimes do work on one of the livestock farms, with the sheep. Mister Kodall hired me to try my hand at sheparding. Not gonna lie," she said impressively, "I'm pretty good. He calls me a 'wolf among sheep' and pays me in housing and food." She laughed. "I say I try my best." Like that she nattered on as they walked.

Eventually they made it to the place where the caravan had been parked and Yanaqi abruptly broke into a sprint, dashing ahead and out of sight into the trees. Quio walked after her and found...

...nothing. He paused, holding out a hand, and held completely still. Efran stopped beside him though Ville kept walking for a couple steps.

"Where did it go?" Quio asked. The clearing was empty, though it was obvious the carts had once been here from the marks on the ground. Efran started to answer, "Maybe we're not in the right spot--" but Quio quickly cut him off. "Do you hear that?" the Yludih asked. They all listened.

Nothing. No sound of voices. No nothing. Even the trees seemed to hold still.

It was like before when the forest had gone silent.

"Uh oh," Efran said, the understatement of the arc, and then Yanaqi came bounding out of the forest with a snarl and leapt as if to attack, going once more straight for Ville--

But suddenly the girl was no longer there. Yanaqi passed through open space and landed smartly on her feet. She whirled around and growled at the empty air where Ville had just been, but there was no time to figure out what was going on. From the woods came a crackling and there, between the trees, Quio glimpsed something. Dark shapes stalking low to the ground. Beside him Efran let out a high-pitched squeak of fear, pointing.

"Wolves," Quio said, and at the word Yanaqi took off running. "Follow her!" he said, sensing her intent to lead them from danger, and then he grabbed Ismene by the hand and made sure that she and Efran were running as fast as they could. Through the trees. Following the path of the large sandy-haired dog.

Behind them there was only quiet, no howling, no snarling, but quiet meant nothing right now. Wolves weren't like dogs, they didn't make noise when they chased. They used the silence to their advantage. Compared to the sound of the forest Quio's own breathing felt unbearably loud, and upon instinct he held his breath as he ran.

"The river!" he finally gasped when they pushed through a thicket of bushes and found the ground beginning to grow soft and damp. That must be where Yanaqi was leading them. Distantly he could hear the sound of running water. "Follow the river," he said, "Find the cave Ville was talking about. Let's go, keep moving!" Because Efran had started to pant and gasp from running. But they couldn't slow down.

If Quio looked to the left or right he saw snatches of dark fur keeping pace with them, like shadows that slid between the trees and hid themselves in the grass. He thought he even saw a flash of a bright eye watching them, gleaming in the sunlight. If he could see their eyes, they were way too close.

"Faster," he said, and pushed them all to really run.
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Into the Woods

Wed May 24, 2017 4:22 pm

Her outburst had made Eckhart extremely awkward, but luckily he did was not openly angry. A strange, faint light glowed near his arm for a moment, and then faded back into invisibility in the bright sunshine of the clearing. She couldn't blame him and his friend for exchanging quick glances. She would have dismissed as a useless fool anyone who had just behaved as she had. For now, though, the men's thoughts seemed to align with hers: Ville was the immediate problem, and any problems they had with each other would have to wait. She accepted his explanation about his close relationship with the dog, although that stare, canine and not canine at the same time; that almost exaggeratedly doglike grin...

After a quick discussion the men accepted her suggestion, and they started walking. Ville's story was vague; she mentioned that she had only been in Treth for a couple of seasons, but even still that was a long time for a newcomer in the village to go unnoticed. Her suspicions were allayed slightly when the grubby girl mentioned Mister Kodall - he was the local shepherd, after all - but hardened again when she claimed the old man had called her 'wolf among sheep'. Kodall was notorious for being a grumpy old codger who never gave anyone the time of day if he could help it. The idea that he would have taken on some young girl with no experience, and then started dishing out wry nicknames... she wasn't buying it. Anyway, what sort of shepherd would use 'wolf' as a term of approval?

She was on the verge of blurting out that she didn't believe a word she was saying, but luckily for her the dog suddenly burst into a sprint through the trees, prompting them all to run after her, only to be greeted by the sight of the muddy, wheel-rutted and footprinted ground where the carts had clearly been. Her senses prickled. The silence she had felt before was back, more ominous this time. From then on everything happened very quickly. The dog charged the girl; the girl disappeared; and before she had time to think she was being dragged through the trees by Eckhart, his friend panting beside them, following the pale flashes of the dog's fur through the underbrush. Wolves. The word sent shivers down her spine. Nobody who had lived in a village could be immune to the primordial terror it conjured up; it was the crawling menace, claws in the darkness and teeth in the night. And if they were hunting in the daytime, that meant they were starving and desperate. She needed no encouragement to run as fast as she could.

Following Eckhart's suggestion they raced along the river, just ahead of the dark shapes that blurred through the forest by their side. They had the river on one side of them, and there were wolves flanking their other side, easily keeping pace with the clumsy humans, so poorly adapted to moving fast through the forest. If the wolves wanted to kill them, now would be the perfect time. She braced herself for the lunge that would surely be coming any moment soon. It didn't come. Something was wrong - even beyond the obvious problem of being chased by a wolf pack. Something was off. They weren't being hunted; they were being herded. 'Eckhart! she tried to call, her voice catching in her gasping throat. He was so absorbed in his own exertion he didn't seem to hear her. 'Wait! The wolves... cave... trap...' She could barely get the words out, not daring to stop to catch her breath in case she was wrong, but desperate to catch his attention.
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