Aria deflated a bit at his harsh tone. [b “Sorry.”] She apologized again quietly. He was right, but there wasn’t much the Skyborn could do about it. She needed to get that blood off her; it was disgusting. Not to mention how revealing that dress had been. Everything she’d done was necessary, at least to her.
There was silence again, but the regular kind. Not that unsettling forest silence they had to endure before. It lasted until Staz announced they would be stopping for the night. The blonde was surprised. She thought he had mentioned trying to get back to Aethim within a day. Had they really saved that much time cutting through the woods? She wasn’t sure, but Aria wasn’t going to turn down a chance to rest. She was exhausted. Looking in the distance, she saw the bridge the Fireborn mentioned. It wouldn’t take long to get over the river, and then perhaps they might feel wholly safe again.
Though he mentioned the bridge, the pair went a little farther. Sleeping just off the beaten path wasn’t a good idea. A little ways longer and they stumbled upon a small grouping of trees. These were nothing like the ones in the forest they fled from. Instead they were welcoming and widely spaced enough that you could see the sky easily through their branches. As soon as Staz seemed satisfied, they dismounted and began setting up camp. For Aria that usually meant setting up a small tent meant for one, but since tonight was neither cold nor windy she forewent it. Instead she stuck to just the bedroll in her saddlebag. It was packed compactly as to not take up too much space there.
Her least favorite part of setting up was lighting a fire, just because she was terrible at it, but with Staz around that probably wasn’t going to be an issue. Then again, with how tired she was, a fire might not be necessary. She opted to let the Fireborn decide.
Curling up with her downy bed, the woman called out to her travel companion. [b “Goodnight, Staz. Sleep well.”]
Head hitting the comfortable material, Aria thought she would immediately fall asleep, but paranoia that they hadn’t run quite far enough battled her fatigue. In the end the exhaustion won out. Probably had to do with the fact that she wasn’t alone. As much as she hated to admit it, she was having a hard time getting used to sleeping all by herself in the middle of nowhere.
Her sleep was restful, right up until the point that it wasn’t. The sudden onset of a nightmare plagued her mind. But it wasn’t long before she jolted awake. Sitting up, she looked around desperately trying to find the Fireborn. She didn’t calm down until she saw him fast asleep. Sighing, she pushed away the terrible dream that he’d run off while she was sleeping. There wasn’t a logical reason for him to do that. Not after as far as they’d come. Lying back down she stared at the stars until she could fall back to sleep.
[center [pic https://image.ibb.co/cXHyqy/staz01.png]]
[font "Minion Pro" [size12 Staz didn't pay any mind to Aria and instead began to untie the horses from eachother. Immediately, Bela danced away from Clef in what could only be described as irritation. Bela understood the desires of Staz better than Clef did for sure, so having that weight of resistance tied to her the whole time the horses were escaping was probably a headache for the brown mare. Only once Bela had settled her frustrations did Staz go for his saddlebags. When he tried to force her to be still it often ended badly for him. Bela huffed and rolled her eyes towards him as he did - she was obviously unhappy with him as well. "Shut up." he muttered, defiantly digging a hand into the bag looking for a clean shirt to wear. He wasn't about to let a horse keep him from accessing his own belongings. Bela's tail whipped around the left side of her and smacked Staz in the back of the head, which caused a puff of smoke to shoot out of his nostrils. He wasn't going to yell at the horse in front of Aria - it wasn't normal for a man to talk to his horse as much as he normally would with Bela.
Instead he yanked out a handful of clothing at random and smacked the horses rear, sending Bela off in a jolting movement. She trotted around a few paces beside him, whinnying and tossing her head as she did so. Out of the belongings he managed to grab, he found only one white shirt and the deep red fabric he had taken from the home he met Aria in front of. Looking at it more closely now - it appeared to be some type of vest. Scratching his head, he pulled it behind him and slipped it over his shoulders, struggling with the metal buttons that already seemed more expensive than anything he'd bothered to wear before. He waited with his back to Aria. [i What the hell is taking her so long?] They were still within seeing distance of that forest and it was unnerving him. He rolled from his heels to his toes, arms crossing and dropping at his sides every so often. [i Well.. with all that blood she probably wants to clean herself properly.] Blood. The very thought of it reminded him of the silent death he gave the woman guarding Aria's tent. Images of the womans suffering passed through his head as he stood there, head titled downward. The way she grabbed at her throat, the way her eyes set on him - stricken with fear. Aria's dress.
That dress.. Was she still changing? Staz cleared his throat, his head inching to the side mechanically - a painfully slow effort of looking behind him.
[center [pic https://image.ibb.co/hxrCX8/hobit.png]]
[b “Sorry for the wait,”] Staz nearly jumped out of the expensive fireborn vest, immediately putting his hands on Bela's neck as she trotted back up to him - a last ditch effort to make it look like he was occupied - and began stroking her. By the looks of it, the mare had forgiven him. He pretended not to hear her until she was at his side, cooing at her own horse. [b “And thanks for herding Clef over.”] He glanced at her, and opened his mouth to speak: "You took forever-" but the words came out with a cloud of smoke that he had to end by coughing out. Adding that embarrassment to the last, Staz grew immediately irritated. "That Blood Lord could have rushed us by now, you took so long. Let's get the hell out of here already." Mounting Bela alongside Aria, Staz immediately set the horse off, following along the riverbed. He was quiet for some time, keeping Bela a steady pace ahead of Clef so he wouldn't need to interact with Aria until he had calmed down. After a while, Staz pinched his nose and sighed, peering back at the girl. "I can see the bridge already, we'll set up camp once we get across and get a few hours sleep before sunrise." He knew she had to be just as exhausted as he was. However the idea of sleeping on the same side of the river as that forest didn't seem very wise.
Of all the times Staz had passed through that forest.. he never noticed a group that large. One or two oceanborn at best, but never that many. [i It must have been for the blood moon..] he peered back at the fading forest, lips pursed. [i What happens now that we've ruined their ritual?]
They burst free from the canopy and Aria could basically feel a shadow fading from over her heart. She felt light and energized and like she could keep running even though she had just been so exhausted her legs were barely carrying her. The Skyborn ran with Staz until they couldn’t any more, which just so happened to be at the river. She fell to her knees, tired again.
“That was amazing, Skyborn.”
She looked up from the huffing and puffing she was doing to catch her breath to see the Fireborn smiling brilliantly at her. It was dazzling. [b “Oh, thanks!”] Smiling in return, she couldn’t take her eyes from his brightened features. [b “I mean, I’m exhausted now, but it got us out of there so it’s worth it.”] There would be plenty of time to recuperate now that they would be on horseback again.
Seemingly out of nowhere he went back to be a sourpuss, going out of his way not to look at her. As he walked away he mentioned something about getting dressed and she finally realized why he was not so keen on looking at her. Not that he’d been too stoked about it in the first place. Feeling her face heat up, she looked down to the clothes in her hands, making sure she didn’t drop anything. Didn’t look like it.
[b “I’m going to change as well.”] Her words were louder than normal and more finely enunciated. She wanted to be sure he heard her and didn’t look over by accident.
First thing first, she needed to get all this blood off of her. Hustling down to the riverbed, Aria debated between jumping in and just washing up. She opted for the later. Sure it was a warm summer night, but the water was still freezing cold in the presence of the brisk night breeze.
Reaching down, the Skyborn ripped a long strip of fabric from the dress. She drenched it in water and began scrubbing her skin. The process was time consuming, so much so she gave up and entered the water part way. Kneeling there, it was easier to splash the affected areas, especially since she couldn’t see her face. Eventually she was able to rid herself of the visible traces of the blood markings, though she still felt vaguely dirty. Aria needed a proper bath, but now wasn’t the time.
Dripping wet, she tried to shake the excess water from her body before changing into her regular clothes. As hard as she tried they still ended up damp with the rest of her, but at least she was properly covered up. She would just have to deal with the cold.
Running back up the bank she shouted over to Staz. [b “Sorry for the wait,”] she hoped he wasn’t too irritated with how long she’d taken. [b “And thanks for herding Clef over.”] The blonde motioned to her horse as they fully regrouped. She was relieved that he’d made it out of the woods as well.
Clef whinnied at her, probably not happy at having been separated before. [b “Shhh, it’s okay.”] Patting the large animal, the girl cooed at him, until he calmed some. [b “Alright, let’s get out of here.”] She glanced back at the woods. It didn’t look like anyone was following, but she wouldn’t be happy until it was completely out of view.
[center [pic https://image.ibb.co/cXHyqy/staz01.png]]
[font "Minion Pro" [size12 Staz wouldn't scan the area, not while they were trampling through the woods like this. It would be impossible for him to concentrate on the subtle ripples in the air that would be left by those chasing them. All he could concentrate on was the change in the air - the smell of fresh water from the approaching river. They were so [i so] close. Staz wouldn't ease up his grip on Aria for anything, a tight hold on her wrist that would most certainly leave a bruise.
Staz knew now what the enemy wanted, and he would be sure they wouldn't get her.
It was a fleeting thought. The sudden grip on his insides, the twisting of his own blood forcing him to a stop that he couldn't warn Aria of. His jaw was sewn shut so he could not speak, so tightly that his lips began to numb - the skin around them turning a pale white. The only thing thing that reminded him he was alive - not some puppet for a bloodborn to manipulate - was the pressure against his back as he landed face first in the grass with a groan. He couldn't say a thing, only growl and grumble through lips pressed shut. [i Run] he wanted to yell, push her into the forest where he couldn't get a bloody grip on her. The damp grass was cold on his bare chest, soaking into him and making him shiver internally. Right now, Staz was completely and utterly useless.
As he was ripped up from the ground by the invisible strings, Staz found himself heating up more than he could control. The hopelessness he felt being dragged around like a doll caused his skin to grow hotter and hotter to the point where steam rolled off his shoulders. If he didn't have two elements wedged into his body these visable signs of fury wouldn't seep off him like a teapot left unattended. He growled more behind his pinned lips, breathing heavily out of his nose as he looked between Aria and the madman. There was only one reason for this guy to be focusing so hard on keeping Staz's mouth closed.
He realized Staz was Fireborn.
The Fireborn were infamous for breathing fire. It was the one thing they could always use to get out of a pinch. Even when their hands and legs were tied, Fireborn could use their breath to start fires around them. Staz manipulated his own heated breaths with his natural skyborn power to set fires without loudly blazing flames out of his throat - that was how he had started the fire in the first place. Knowing enough about Fireborn, the Blood Lord had rendered Staz completely useless. Smoke raised out of his nose as he exhaled, glaring daggers at the man as if trying to set him on fire with his mind.
Each step the man took drove pins into Staz's spine. The grip a bloodborn had on you was twisting and agonizing - Staz's fingers tensed and turned, his wrists jerking upwards as he reeled in pain. He glanced at Aria, his head spinning with different scenarios and solutions he could provide in this situation. Squeezing his eyes shut he tried to calm his head and think.
Then, he heard Aria gasp. Next he knew, a sudden gust slammed into the mans back and knocked him to the ground. "What the f-" he realized now, his numb lips were tingling with the same sensation his forearms felt. He let go of them! Staz hit the ground on his knees, lightning crackling in his hands - [i shit, wrong element.] he shook the limb until the electricity was gone. However instead of conjuring any fire, Staz watched as the Blood Lord was whipped around in the air by Aria's expert maneuvers, each motion of her hands so elegant and masterful. All Staz could do was watch, dumbfounded.
Once he clued back in, it seemed Aria was ready to start moving again. Staz picked himself up in a scramble and chased after the Skyborn girl - This time both of them moving at a rejuvenated speed, their limbs thankful to be operating on their own. It didn't take them long after that to clear the forest completely, but they didn't stop running. Maybe it was fear or common sense, but Staz knew for himself at the very least that he wanted as far away from that forest as possible. So they ran further, longer, until the moon in the sky was fading from its full, blood red glow.
Only once they reached the river did they stop, Staz placing his hands on his knees to catch his breath. "Ho-ly.. shit." He muttered, his hair dangling over as he stared at the ground. When Staz looked up at her, he gave her what must have been the first smile he'd cracked since they met. No, even longer than that.
"That was amazing, Skyborn." Even as a skillful Skyborn himself, Staz couldn't deny what she had done was nothing short of incredible. The expression only lasted moments though, he eyed her up and down, his smile fading before he found himself avoiding eye contact with Aria once again. He was back to his glare as he looked down the river, watching two horses in the distance drinking from the water, bumping against each other every so often. Staz whistled two long notes, and Bela started pulling Clef back towards them in a stumbling gallop. "Finally I can get some clothes on." he muttered to himself, walking forward to meet the horses with his arms crossed, shoulders raised to block off anymore gusts of the cold night air.
Once she was alone, everything was quiet. The lack of sound was odd to her, in an uncomfortable sort of way. There were so many cultists and this settlement didn’t seem too large. They were probably preparing for whatever was going to happen, but she forced herself not to think about that. Instead she tried to come up with a way out of this predicament. Though with her hands bound, she was limited to what she could do. It might be enough to fend off the woman outside, but she was sure if anyone came to her aid they would be able to overpower Aria. So, she stayed seated in the tent, clutching her clothes, as she thought though her other options.
After some time, several ideas came to mind but the more she knew they would all end with her inevitable capture. The longer she waited, the more desperate the Skyborn became. Something needed to be done, even if it wasn’t perfect. But just as she was hitting dire straights she heard the sound of someone approaching outside. Her heart pounded in her chest. Had she run out of time?
Watching the entrance of the large tent, she expected to see the man in the horned mask enter, but it was Staz instead. And was she ever happy to see him. Aria had no idea how he broke free and she didn’t care. She was ecstatic, enough so that she was able to ignore the fact that he was only half dressed. The blonde hoped he might do the same for her in this stupid dress.
He came in all in a rush, grabbed the bindings on her wrists and burned them away. The fire was harsh. It burst out of his hand, wildly consuming the scratchy cord around her wrists. The flames sputtered at her arms, singeing the short hairs on her arm and lightly burning everywhere they touched. She flinched, but managed to bottle up the discomfort. The less noise they made the better off they would be. There was no time to nurse her burning wrists before he grabbed ahold and tugged her to her feet. The Skyborn nearly dropped her regular clothes as she came to her feet. Not wanting to be stuck in this sacrificial outfit until she got home, she trapped the ensemble between her side and arm, clinging to it for deal life.
Outside of the tent, the scent of smoke tinged the air. That probably had something to do with how Staz had escaped. She wasn’t complaining. This whole settlement could burn to the ground; they were pure evil. Not entirely used to running, Aria did her best to keep up with the Fireborn on the tramped path. Even though she felt like she was running out of breath, she wasn’t stopping for anything. Death was practically nipping at their heals, they could run for a little while. But in order to make it a little easier on them, she turned the tide of the wind. Having it at their back gave them a little extra push, enough to carry them a little faster. Aria chose to do this intermittently as it took a lot of concentration to keep it light enough to not blow them from their feet.
After running for a solid ten minutes, it felt as though they were nearing the edge of the woods. She could feel the air begin to feel less tense. It wasn’t exactly a quantifiable thing, but it was different. Perhaps there really was something weird about this forest, something other than crazed Oceanborn. Whatever it was, Aria hoped to never come back to this place again to figure it out.
Just as the end seemed to be in sight, Staz stopped. Not expecting him to come to a screeching halt, Aria ran straight into him, toppling over and taking the Fireborn with her. Lying atop of him, she was dazed and confused. Why had he stopped? When realization set in, she looked back behind them. There was the Blood Lord. Even with that horrifying mask on, she could tell he was enraged. Stricken with terror from the look in his bloodthirsty blue eyes, it was like he was holding her down as well.
[b “Unfortunately, I cannot allow you to go any farther.”] He came in closer, each step seeming timed and methodical. In this time he took advantage of Aria’s shock, locking her in paralysis as well. [b “Ah, you look absolutely lovely in that, just ravishing, my dear.”]
The strange duel toned nature of his voice combined with his creepy choice of words made the woman’s skin crawl. He stopped within a few yards of the pair. Without a gesture, he wrenched them up and awkwardly to their feet, much rougher than he’d previously been. A definitive sign of his anger.
Growing more desperate than ever as he pulled them along after him back over the trail, it was time to switch to her absolute last resort, combat. Aria took in a deep breath, holding it a moment before forcing it out in a burst. Turning into a speeding jet as it left her mouth, the air seemed to bend around it. The stream hit the Blood Lord mid-step and square in the back, knocking him prone. For that moment, she could feel his hold on them loosen as expected. Her arms were going numb from the lack of circulation, but she managed to force them up. Bringing left hand toward herself and pushing the right away, as though she was spinning a ball in her hands, a massive cyclone burst into life. The tornado raged with gale force winds, ripping up nearly everything in its path. To keep her and Staz safe she neutralized the airflow around them. The act was draining, but if it were this hard for her, a Skyborn, it would be damn near impossible for the Oceanborn to counter. Even if he was super powerful, this would hopefully distract him long enough to get them out of the woods.
[center [pic https://image.ibb.co/cXHyqy/staz01.png]]
[size12 [b Thirty minutes later.]]
[font "Minion Pro" [size12 Fire crackled and snapped all around Staz while he meditated, burning and swaying while streams of flame glided down the stable and errupted in a high blaze. Simultaniously, his hair danced around his face as he scanned the entirety of the camp. It wasn't a big camp at all, a few tents with beds, fire pits and what have you lined around a large black platform with strange markings carved into it. Benches around the platform and broken pillars scattered around the area. They were preparing for something which Staz could only assume would have to do with Aria and the blood moon. He had no time to waste - this plan had gone over in his head many times. All he could hope now was that it would work.
[b "Wha' the hells all that smoke done up there?!"]
The fireborns eyes shot open and he roared out in pain, screaming as loud and painfully as he could manage while the flames climbed up his torso, burning away his cloak and undershirt. After a while, he went silent and the stable doors swung open. Flame roared everywhere to the point where they couldn't so much as step into the place. The horses whinnied and screamed in their own sense but the flames were too high to tell if they were on fire or not. Staz layed still in the fire until he felt the cultist rush off to warn the others. [b "Tha damn horse hut burnin'! Tha boy dead! Tha prisoner boy dead!"] he yelled as he ran back down the hill to warn the others.
Of course, Staz was fire proof. He shifted the flames as he rushed to the edge of the stable, clearing a way to kick down the wall nearest to where Bela was stationed - which was a much easier task now that it had been soaked in flame. He lead the anxious horses out from the broken wall with much effort; Nearly losing Clef in the process. He barely tied the horses together before they bolted off in a scramble. The two horses bumped into eachother a few times before Bela took the lead. As he'd said before Bela knew the way. That path the two horses were stomping away at would lead them the rest of the way out of the forest. Staz could sense the air here was much thinner here compared to the depths of the forest, this settlement had to be near the edge of the forest, most likely by the very river they needed to cross to get to Aria's village. It was the Aussa River and it went through this forest, out the other side, then back west towards Gollymore.
They were almost there.
[size12 [b Nearly an hour later.]]
Nearly half of the cultists were sent out to collect as much water as they could from the river cutting into the forest to put out the fire. Typically it was against bloodborn culture to attempt manipulating water because it was such a pure liquid - but judging by the situation at hand it seemed necessary to bend the rules. With them gone, it would be easier to grab Aria and escape.
At this point, everyone was too on edge about the fire and the blood moon to be dwelling in any tents. Which made it all the easier to tell where Aria was. Her figure seemed to adjust and readjust every so often in discomfort. Only one of those hicks stood outside the tent in dedication to their task of keeping her from escaping. Staz stayed close to the side of the tent, peeking over to the front he did something he didn't really enjoy doing.. Staz killed her. With the simplest grip of his hand towards the bloodborn woman, Staz pulled the air from her lungs and watched as she helplessly grasped at ther throat. As she dropped to her knees. Watching while her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed in a heap. He really didn't like killing. Staz rushed passed the corpse and pulled back the enterance of the tent, his expression quickly turning horrified at the sight of Aria. They dressed her like a doll and painted terrors of blood all over her exposed skin. Staz wet his lips, swallowing hard he found himself unable to look at her directly. "We're leaving." He said, his bare stomach flexing as if to keep his stomach from turning anymore than it had been. He burned away his shirt and cloak in an attempt to make it truly look like he was on fire in the stable - it wasn't easy to make him cold anyway.
Hearing yelling in the distance, Staz didn't hesitate to grab the binds on her wrist and burn them away. It was a rushed, pulling motion that very well could have burned her in the process. He didn't have time to work around her small hands. They had to run before anyone noticed she was gone. Grabbing her freed wrist, Staz ran towards the horse made path in the woods. Pulling Aria along behind him.
The sinking feeling that Aria was getting only became worse when she saw the man’s bony mask. He was menacing, and the fact that he seemed to be the ringleader only added to that. The others moved around him like mere pawns. By the time he declared that she and Staz were to be separated, her fear was at its peak, not even the idea that he had some sort of plan for her couldn't make this situation any worse.
Despite all the incredibly concerning things this so called blood lord mentioned, the off-putting two-toned quality of his voice was by far the most unsettling thing. Almost as though he was possessed by the very night terrors he claimed to worship.
Unable to bear the sight of him any more, the Skyborn looked down to the littered ground. The fallen leaves and pine needles hid it perfectly. Her eyes stayed there, even as the cultist woman was taking her away. Her threat was needless. Aria knew there was no point in running, not as long as that creepy guy was still in sight. She could practically feel his eyes burrowing into her back.
There was no peace until they made it to the tent. Like the other buildings and fixtures she’d passed, it was in a clearing. The trees had been removed from this particular area to make way for the Oceanborn settlement. Because of this the moon was clearly visible above them. Its pale glow illuminated the world below, making everything shine, but the blonde wouldn’t look up at it directly. She didn’t want to know how little time she had left.
Inside the canvas walled building, there was very little to see and Saehara didn’t seem too interested in following her in. Instead she opted to stand at the entrance, making it clear she would stop Aria by any means necessary if she tried to pass.
The Oceanborn woman’s vigil was short-lived. No sooner than Aria heard footfall outside of the tent, did the other woman step out. Watching the open flap of canvas, she half expected to see the blood lord again, but it wasn’t him. It was another man, also wearing a mask, but it paled in comparison to the one their leader wore.
[b “I’m ‘ere to get you ready, it’s best ya cooperate, little Skyborn.”] He sounded tired as he spoke, but she couldn’t be sure that wasn’t just how his voice naturally sounded or not. [b “Put this on.”] Pulling a white fabric garment from atop his shoulder, he held it out to the woman.
[b “Excuse me?”] She blinked at him as though he had two heads. Aria wasn’t about to change in front of a stranger.
[b “It’s that or I can puddit on ya? Yer pick.’] That option sounded worse by far.
With a look of defeat, she walked over to the man and took what appeared to be a dress from his hand. [b “You better not look!”] She tried to sound threatening, but her voice shook the entire time.
Moving to the far end of the room, she turned her back and tried to ignore the fact that there was some lunatic stranger in the room as she stripped down to change. The pristine white garment was indeed a dress. It seemed to fit her perfectly, tight to every curve, but long and flowing at the same time. The hem came down to mid-calf and the sleeves partway down her forearms, the only part that wasn’t kept fairly modest was the chest. There it was way too revealing for her. Embarrassed, she didn’t want to turn around.
[b “Get over ‘ere already.”]
Putting on a pout, Aria listened to him, but she definitely wasn’t happy about it. In fact she was tempted to bring this place down, but she knew it wouldn’t work. Well, she might be able to cause a decent amount of destruction, but it would only be a matter of time before they held her down by the blood again. And it would probably anger them a fair deal. Something she didn’t need to do right this second.
Meeting the Oceanborn in the front half of the tent, she sighed. What more did he want? The answer would soon be apparent as he pulled out a container of sorts. Watching as he unscrewed the lid, it was full of a thick red liquid. He dipped his fingers in it and she began to pray it wasn’t what she thought it was. However these prayers were never to be answered. The man began smearing blood onto her exposed skin. It started at the chest where he drew out a circle lined with foreign sigils. The entire time Aria was as uncomfortable as can be. Not only did she not want to be painted in blood, she didn’t want him touching her. Anywhere! When he was finished the exposed canvas that was her bosom, he moved to her face. The marking continued in a methodic manner, and the pungent smell of iron filled her nose as he went. It felt like she was going to gag, but Aria held back.
Taking a step back when he was through, the man seemed to admire his handiwork. [b “Now ya just gotta wait fer the blood Lord to come ‘n get ya. Shouldn’t be too long now.”] He flashed a grotesque smile before exiting the room.
[center [pic https://image.ibb.co/cXHyqy/staz01.png]]
[font "Minion Pro" [size12 Oceanborn cultists were by far the most terrifying elementalists to exist. Worse than fire or any other harsh power - The cultists would cut themselves open and use their own blood and the blood of other creatures to control and abuse at their will. Not only that, but they could sway the blood in your living body and force you to move in ways you wish you hadn't.
Staz immediately felt it drag his arm away from Aria's stomach as they gathered around the house. Looking proud, as if they had outwitted them. It pissed Staz off. Once Aria was pulled from Clef they began tugging at his arm and his leg, to which he muttered about him being able to get down on his own. However they remained persistant which caused Staz to immediately thrust his foot up into the womans face, her head knocking back comically she stumbled into the others. That would be the only expression of movement he felt for a while. Immediately the sickening grip of his insides ensued - Squeezing and tugging at him in a way that made him groan and bare his teeth while he recoiled unnaturally. They didn't bother with proper human movements, in fact they treated Staz just about as well as they would a goat. He hit the ground on his side with a yelp, electricity dancing across his fingertips and up his arms in expression to his frustration. [b "What will we do with this one, Blood Lord?"] [i Blood Lord?] The man that seemed to be taking such a fascination in Aria finally looked up, his cloak hood slipping off his head. His face.. it didn't quite appear human. [b "Put him with the rest of the stock.. I have plans for this one."] Rather than a fleshy mask for a face, the man had what looked like an animals skull protruding out from the upper half of his face - his eyes a stunningly vibrant blue that just seemed to peer out through the sockets of the skull. He glanced back to Aria, his lips curling into an unsettling smile.
They tied Staz up and dragged him through the grass and dirt, all the while Staz contorted his body in any way possible to keep his eyes on Aria for as long as he possibly could - His gaze wide and explosive.
The two of them splitting up certainly wasn't part of his plan.
This [i Blood Lord] wasn't part of his plan.
But, now it had to be.
The wheels were turning once again, as Staz was dragged into what looked like an abandoned stable. They left him tied and alone in one of the wooden cubicles. [b "Be a good lil' Skyboy now -"]
[b "Ya lil' girlfriend?"]
"What's he doing with her."
[b "Blood moons nearly on us ya know - Our Lord loves ta give a pretty offerin'"]
The cultist trotted out from the stable, and Staz immediately glared at the ground. He needed to think, there was a way out of this. This was the safest bet. There was always a way out. There had to be. He glanced at the makeshift lock on the swinging door, the small square window just behind him near the roof of the stable. A little fire to burn the ropes and air to get him up to that window and he was home free. He could easily escape and none of those hick cultists would know it had happened. His skin began to warm up, steam rising from his wrists -
Then he stopped. His clenched fists went limp in the binds on his lap. He couldn't abandon her, not after asking that she trust him. Closing his eyes he attempted to reach out to that light in the back of his mind; Grasping for a peace of mind that would collect his thoughts and flood his veins with elemental energy.
Right now, this was all he could do.
[center [pic https://image.ibb.co/hiJppd/silver.png]]
[b "What a beautiful damsel."] The mans voice nearly sounded human, but there was something looming in the back of his throat, a deep and demonic sound that echoed his words in perfect harmony. [b "Do you know of the blood moon? It's said to bring horrible monsters from the depths of hell - a perfect time to offer the Dark One our gifts, wouldn't you agree?"] He leaned in closer, his eyes challenged the moon in the sky with their glowing vibrance. [b "We have little time I'm afraid... I must prepare for your ceremony..."] There was a chilling silence as he examined her, the blood grip still tight on her veins. [b "Saehara, please see the prize to her waiting room."] The control of blood was a strong and exact power. Only one in every ten Oceanborn can use it. For this man to have Aria in such a tight bind with only a glance - no gesture or concentration? It was clear that he was incredibly powerful.
A woman stumbled up behind Aria, binding her hands tightly behind her. [b "Don't make me use no blood touch on ya now."] She began leading Aria to an empty tent - all the while the edge of the moon began to trickle with red.
Just as she finished telling him what was going on, Aria felt the Fireborn’s grip tighten around her midsection. It brought them closer together once again. There was a bewildering sense of solace in it, a fleeting comfort as he explained something had happened to his horse. From there it was only more bad news. There was little chance of them making it out if they strayed from the course. She had a feeling she knew where Staz was going with this, but she hoped he might surprise her.
That was not the case. “ Aria,” His voice saying her name was like a spell, it drew her in. However the next bit made her stomach drop. “Can you trust me?” Nothing she wanted to hear followed after that either.
“We need to let them capture us. We keep on the path and let them take us. Trust me.”
The Skyborn woman turned back to actually look at the man. Her lips parted, as she was about to ask if he was out of his mind, but she stopped herself. Shutting her mouth, Aria stared into his eyes. He was serious. Shortly after that she became overly conscious that their faces were only inches apart. Quickly, she turned back forward. Gaze fell down to her trembling hands; she let out a shaky breath.
In some ways, his logic made sense. Thinking back to that smoldering mystery creature he’d dealt with, the idea of going up against normal human people didn’t seem too bad. But there was no telling just what they wanted. And that is what scared her the most, but her gut wanted to believe in him. Even if she really didn’t have any real basis for it.
[b “Fine.”] The single word was whispered under her breath.
Clef pressed on at the same steady speed he kept the entire time. His breathe coming out in consistent intervals. He was a good horse, one that didn’t spook for anything so she hoped nothing happened to him even if she and Staz ended up dead.
From there, Aria completely forwent using her sensing. It was more important to conserve energy. Not to mention she had a general idea of where they would cross paths if everyone stayed on course.
Having second thoughts about the plan, the woman murmured in a hushed tone. [b “I sure hope you are right about this.”]
It was barely another hundred yards before the cloaked figures came into view. The navy blue of the fabric didn’t do much to stand out against the muted colors of the forest. Clef tried his best to continue forward, right until one of the figures cut off his path. The large animal came to a screeching halt then began nervously stomping his feet while vocalizing his irritation at the Oceanborn.
Aria on the other hand kept silent, even as the circle tightened around them. The closer they got, the fewer people continued, as though it was some sort of sinister preconceived dance. And even though they moved sluggishly, it seemed like no time at all before the final four were right up on them.
Only a short while ago, it had been too cold for Aria’s liking, but now she was practically sweating. Though, it was more out of terror than temperature. Still she managed to keep decently composed. That was until the hooded man reached out and grabbed her. His large hand was ice on her wrist. He easily ripped her from her seat. On the other side of Clef someone else was pulling at Staz, though she was too distracted with her own predicament to see if it was working out for them.
Another chilling hand came up to touch her face. Fingertips trailing heavily over her temple and cheek, they stopped at her chin. He grabbed her jaw just hard enough to steer her face towards his. Now standing flat on the ground, Aria could barely make out the shadowed face beneath. His Brilliant blue eyes seemed to shine even in the dark. It was unsettling. Instinctually, she went to push him away, but before her hands could touch his chest, her arms stopped cold. Slowly, and without her control, her appendages pressed firmly to her sides. Trying to forcibly move them, her veins pressed uncomfortably on everything else as they stayed in place. It was no use.
[font "Minion Pro" [size12 [i Focus on the light in the back of your mind, you're skyborn so you should see the minds cloud] He wasn't sure what he saw anymore, when he focused on that light there was fire, lightning, sometimes it was just a glowing figure. He tried not to dwell too much on what the light was - and just focus on seeing it. [i Let your mind be at ease, just see that cloud and the sound of your own breathing. This is a place where you have complete control] He could faintly hear Aria's words - they came and went like sweet gusts of wind. "Alright." he mumbled in response, he was more focused on his own breathing - deep and slow, as he put as much effort into meditating as one could pushed into the back saddle of a horse. In and out, each inhale pushing his chest on her back, each exhale blowing her hair back from his nose.
[center [pic https://image.ibb.co/nB710J/chrome_2018_06_13_12_47_46.png]]
It was no use, you never realize how touch starved you are until you're in full contact with another person the way Staz was right now. He pushed aside some of her hair with his chin to rest on her shoulder so he could try peering blindly into the night; A failed attempt at trying to examine ahead of them. He could feel his element flowing back into him, but he wasn't going to waste it doing something as taxing as his wide ranged scouting trick - Aria would have to be their eyes for now. Lowering his arm over the left side of Clef, Staz emitted a handful of flame to examine the ground under the horses feet. Each hoof print left by Bela was off from the next, some too close and some too far apart - like she was scrambling nervously. Staz narrowed his gaze, peering up in surprise when the bird squacked obsessively.
Aria's voice made him sick to his stomach, so quiet and terrified. He wet his lips and tightened his arm around her waist. "They have Bela." he replied in her ear, this time sitting up from his slouch with a bit of effort so his weight wasn't pushing on her. "They've been leading us to their camp using her tracks. Any searching you've seen them doing was probably to be sure that we were on this path." That's why her tracks were so unnatural - she was scared.
Staz was a good few inches taller than Aria, he didn't notice until they had gotten this close and he was glancing at the top of her head. He was beginning to feel a strange protectiveness over the girl - which was very unlike Staz. [i How hard did I hit my bloody head back there?]
He was quiet for some time, his skin heating and cooling in an odd fashion as he grew more frustrated trying to figure out a plan. "If we leave the trail now.." he muttered thoughtfully - "Something worse will find us.. we're safer with the cultists on either side of us.. safer, safer.." he glanced into the night and at the birds overhead. "Aria, can you trust me?" he spoke clearly, but as soft as ever. Leaning back next to her face he continued to speak: "Right now the Oceanborn are keeping either side of us cleared of any creatures, if we stray from this path they made we will get lost and we will die you understand that don't you." It wasn't a question, she was trembling for the same reason he was chewing at the inside of his cheek.
They were going to get caught by the Oceanborn.
"We need to let them capture us. We keep on the path and let them take us. Trust me."
Mildly surprised when Staz began to stumble toward her, she wondered if she’d said too much. Coupled with the mumbling, Aria was sure she pissed him off. She recalled the people of Gollymore mentioning that he’d been a loose cannon. Debating on whether or not she should cut her losses and bolt, she lost that chance when he grabbed ahold of her leg, tearing it from its foothold.
“Obviously we keep moving. Stay quiet and follow Belas path."
That seemed like a relatively normal thing for him to say, but she still didn’t get why he was over here with her. What did he want? The question was quickly answered as he pulled himself atop of Clef. She blinked in confusion. Her body was pushed against the horn of the saddle. And while it was uncomfortable, she attempted to wiggle in a little closer so she didn’t have to be so flush against the Fireborn.
As soon as they were as content as they were going to be, Aria patted Clef’s neck to get him going. The Fireborn was right, Bela took right off, but she was going slower now that she was without rider. Perhaps she was concerned for Staz and didn’t want to get too far away, it balanced nicely with her want to be out of these haunting woods. This pace was more manageable.
Now knowing just where she needed to focus, the Skyborn only used her sensing ability intermittently. She needed to conserve energy and those strangers were definitely their biggest concern at the moment. Therefore they had her attention. And while they were terrifying, it was nice to have something to keep tabs on. It took away from everything else foreboding about this place.
Aria was still on edge, so when Staz reached out and touched her, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Her heart pounded violently, its beating filled her ears like a drum. What in the hell was he doing? She took in a deep breath, trying to calm herself back down.
When he commented that she should bear with it, his actions made more sense and she nodded. It wasn’t like she could push him away. He would fall off of Clef and wind up in worse condition. And he wasn’t much use to them beaten and exhausted. She would let him rest up.
Even before his words came, Aria felt the dark haired man's heated breath on the back of her neck. It sent a shiver down her spine and she was suddenly aware that she was more than just physically uncomfortable with what was happening. The Skyborn wasn’t used to having anyone hold her like this. Sure she hugged her dad, but it had been months since she’d even done that. Her face flushed and she was glad it was dark. It didn’t help that he chose right now to be kind of sweet. She hadn’t expected any sort of apology, especially after he warned her previously that she would be left behind.
[b “It’s Ok, I mean, not really, but it worked out this time… I think.”] The last clause was for the future. There was still a chance that they wouldn’t make it out alive. [b “I’ll fully forgive you when we get out of here.”] Her words were more optimistic than she felt, but with the mood being what it was Aria didn’t feel the need to be a huge downer.
There was silence after that, though she could still feel his breath, light and warm, through her hair. He sounded tired from the tone he used before. Aria wondered if she needed to worry about him falling asleep. With how close they were, she was sure she could catch him if he started to slip. But she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Judging off of how the distant cult members were moving, they still didn’t know where the travelers were. It felt like they were combing the trees in a sweeping movement. If they kept on that course, they would miss the pair altogether. Her lips curled up in relief, and some of the stress she’d been holding in her back and shoulders melted away. Relaxing, she sat back a little. Without her back ramrod straight, it pressed against Staz’s chest. But since he was already holding onto her, she thought it was probably all right. Plus it was cold here without the sun. His warmth was welcome, though she would keep that to herself.
The peace didn’t last long. Perched upon one of the braches ahead was one of the beady-eyed ravens. Aria didn’t see it till it was too late. The little monstrosity was cawing away before she had a chance to shred it with wind. Immediately she checked on the figures’ status. They’d already changed trajectory. One grouping turned to give direct chase while the other looked as though they were going to try and cut them off down the line. She leaned forward once again, the stiffness returning to her posture.
Aria spoke softly, voice trembling. [b “They’re onto us. At this rate we will run right into them. We need to change course.”] There was no way for her to know whether or not he would be able to sway Bela into doing that, but it was worth keeping the Fireborn updated.
[left [pic https://image.ibb.co/nw0exd/staz02.png]]
[font "Minion Pro" [size12 [center [i What happened?] He looked around while Aria argued at him with a sense of disconnection. The foul stench in the air and the corpse laying a few paces away from them.. Was that him? Despite the girl trying to talk some sense into his words, he just seemed to look around like he was missing something. As if he wasn't completely there. But that glare, it never left his face. Consider it a resting bitch face, Staz always had his brows pinned down in a way that suggested he was ready to be displeased with anything and anyone; Perhaps because so much of what he had seen in his life had been so displeasing.
He couldn't feel the air around him even when he tried to reach out. The last he could see was that group crouching over in the opposite side of the path. If they were cultists, there was no doubt them splitting off was an action to peruse them. Luckily they wouldn't be able to feel for them unless they were in water. He couldn't see them, but Aria could. She would be the only thing standing between them and an Oceanborn ambush. Stumbling towards the girls horse, Staz muttered something about Aria's leg and yanked it from the stirrup nearest to him. "Obviously we keep moving. Stay quiet and follow Belas path."
His voice didn't carry the same authoritative tone it had up until then. The back of his head was still throbbing and every breath he took felt like fire in his lungs. He was weary, as if something had used up all the elemental energy he had inside him. Glancing at the dead monster, he realized that may have genuinely been the case. Bela was speeding her way out of the forest, she knew the way out and without the map all they could do was follow her.
Staz stuck his leg into the stirrup he pulled Aria's foot from and hoisted himself up behind her, sliding into the curved back of the saddle in a way that pushed at Aria's rear. It was too close for his liking, but walking would only let the cultists catch up. "Bela sped out of here already, she knows where to go." he pointed at the trampled path of tall grass and dirt that the horse left deeper into the woods. Her tracks were obvious enough for them to follow at a good pace. But it would also be easy for anyone else to follow if they stumbled into this area. "We can't go back to the path, I'm not even sure we'd easily find it again. This is the only way to go."
Clef began after Bela's path and each thumping movement pushed his body closer against Aria's back. He began holding the back of the saddle, but his dizzy head and strained arms had him swaying to each side in a way that could make him fall. He really didn't want to, but this next action was something he needed to do: Staz reached his right hand under Aria's arm, hesitating only once he placed it on her side and slid his arm around her waist - his hand pressing against her stomach. It was a slow, uncertain movement until he grunted and pulled his left arm around her as well. "Bear with it." he wanted to demand it, but it came out in more of a hoarse whisper. With his head sideways, this close to her hair he could smell a surprisingly fresh scent. How did she smell this good when she's been traveling for so long? After his travels, Staz only ever smelled of cedar and dirt. The thick coating of nature soaked into him from years of being within it. Steam rose faintly off his face and he furrowed his brows.
"This was a bad idea." he admitted, speaking quietly at the back of her neck so nothing else would hear them. "Bela is fast and well directed. We never take pause passing through these woods no matter how many beasts are stalking us. I didn't take protecting you into consideration. I'm -- I usually travel alone. It was a stupid misjudgment..." closing his eyes he tried to recover a bit of his energy.
Completely caught up in her head Aria’s breathing quickened with Clef’s. What in the hell was that thing behind them? It was not sized or shaped to be anything she imagined would naturally occur in the world. There had to be something more going on and that terrified her deeply.
Her head snapped up when she heard her name. Staz was already so far ahead. When did that happen? Hands shaking, she leaned forward prompting for Clef to try and catch up.
“Get off the path!”
What? That was lunacy, but with how things were going, they needed something a little crazy to get them safely out of here. Judging by eye where Staz had left he path, Aria pulled hard on Clef’s reins on order to lead him from the narrow pathway. From there it was impossible to say which way he’d gone for certain. She tried to follow the occasional snapped twig and sign of hoof prints, but they were far and few between in this densely wooded mess.
Behind her, the phantom figure ran right passed where they’d left the trail. It didn’t last long though as turned shortly after, barreling through the foliage without slowing at all. Aria silently prayed that it wouldn’t turn back toward her. If she could get by without entering combat, she wouldn’t complain about anything ever again. Which was most definitely a lie, by in the moment if felt as though she might be able to do it.
Being alone, and knowing that the monster was no longer on her tail, the Skyborn slowed her stead. The nervous horse was hesitant to oblige, but eventually took to her command. His steady hoof beats became more careful. Meanwhile she altered her search for movement. Instead of a long strip behind them, it morphed into a circle of smaller radius. This way she would know if something came from any direction and she’d stand a better chance of finding Staz. That was if he hadn’t abandoned her.
Extra attentive to everything that was happening around her, it felt as though her ears twitched with each and every unexpected noise. The distance sound of the ravens and the near silent skittering of squirrels, each was suspect under her ear. In this situation her eyes didn’t offer much aid. They were unreliable. The shadows that bounced around easily twisted harmless images into monsters. And so she tried to keep her light eyes forward and let her ears and wind sensing do the majority of the work.
Like paper beating against the air, birds wings rang out again. This time closer than before. Before she knew it, a flash of red mingled with brown came at her. Aria shrieked, swiftly covering her mouth knowing the dangers of making too much noise. It had been a robin, and nothing more. Jittering atop of Clef, she tried to find where the small creature had come from, but no place in particular stuck out at her. She didn’t know where it went after narrowly missing her either.
In the distance, a flicker of light burst into life. The burning red of fire, it had to be Staz. She patted the horses side then turned him straight toward the glow. If he was stoking his powers there was a chance he’d need help. Rushing, but only at a pace that she considered safe, Aria prayed again that they would be all right.
As they drew closer, the light became brighter, but it wasn’t only the distance that made it so. The flames spread wildly and in front of them the silhouette of their manipulator. A sign that the Fireborn was still kicking even if there was trouble afoot. Just as she came into frame, the fire simmered down, but the smell of singed fur tinged the air. It was unpleasant, but not as unpleasant as the sight of the crisp creature falling to ash on the forest floor. She flinched.
Focus falling back to the man who was in the middle of a coughing fit, she wondered if that was normal for a Fireborn to be wheezing like that after using their powers? Who was she to say? And so just as she was about to ask if he was OK he beat her to the draw.
“That horse is too slow.”
Her lips fell into scowl. [b “He can’t help it.”] And what was he glaring at her about? It wasn’t like there was anything she could do about Clef being a carthorse. The real problem was that he had brought them into this godforsaken forest. [b “We need to get out of here, I’m sorry, but trying to cut through the woods was a stupid idea.”] Her complaint was quiet, albeit filled with bite. Even though they had been reunited, she was still scared.
Waiting for him to return to his ride, Aria threw out a large blast of energy to get a scope for what was out there before they went back to the formation they had before being separated. Far out, she noticed the figures that, unbeknownst to her, Staz had sensed earlier.
Head turning in their direction, she continued to keep her voice low. [b “There are people out there.”] The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. There wasn’t a single good thing that that group could be up to in these woods. She desperately wanted to ignore them, but instead she closed her eyes and focused more readily on that area. [b “Twelve… no thirteen. They’ve got a child with them. The group is splitting in two.”] There would have been any number of reasons for that, but the one that came most readily to her was that they were going to try and surround her and Staz.
Panicking slightly, Aria took in deep breaths releasing them steadily in a timed manner. Pale blue eyes fluttered back open she looked to Staz. [b “What should we do?”] Of course the answer was get out, but her brain was too flustered to think up a coherent plan to accomplish that.
[left [pic https://image.ibb.co/nw0exd/staz02.png]]
[font "Minion Pro" [size12 [center [b “Ummm, something’s started on the path…”]]
Staz was about to ask for details - size and all that - until she spoke up again. Her expression as urgent as the words she rushed. Immediately the click of his tongue sent Bela into a full sprint as he leaned into her mane. The branches were scraping and whipping at him from every angle now as he didn't have the luxury to rip them away now, but Aria would be getting the worse of it. Any branches that hit him he was pulling back with his and Belas mass which caused them to whip more viciously at the girl behind him. What kind of creature was it? Bigger than a dog was all he could go off of and he didn't want to risk focusing behind him even for a second - unless they wanted to accidentally trample into something worse. No, for now he needed to keep his attention ahead of him, further now that they were moving much faster. Despite Bela doing all the leg work, Staz had beads of sweat trickling down his forehead. The action of focusing on the air so far ahead of him would be the same as trying to weave wind that wasn't close around you - it took a toll on him very quickly.
The gust of wind from behind him nearly shook him from his mare. He peered above Aria, the few birds that hadn't been destroyed by the wind were flying away lopsided and confused. [i Aki ravens..] he took pause, then whipped his head back forward. His expression only turned more sharp and urgent. As far as he could reach - figures in a group of ten.. maybe more. Walking off the path in the right side of the woods. He could feel the ripples as hey stopped now, and crouched down. Staz gulped. The space between Bela and Clef was already wide but it was only getting further as Staz's hands began heating up. "Aria!" he shouted, trying his best to pull harder on the reins. Bela loved to run and she would only get faster, it was hard to keep her steady let alone get her to slow down. Once he was sure he had her attention on him, he waved his arm wildly towards the thinning forest on the left of him. "Get off the path!" He bellowed, veering Bela into the tree's in an instant.
If the path was hard to get through - the unmarked points of the forest was much worse. There was room enough for the horse to continue rushing through - she was weaving expertly passed dips in the ground and leaping over fallen trees. However the branches reaching out were thicker, wider, and some sharper than what was dealt with on the path. Staz ducked his head under one especially sturdy branch - standing up in his stirrups to try and spot Aria. This was no good - he couldn't see her and if Bela kept up this pace he would lose the girl to the forest comple-
The heaviest thud slammed into his chest, knocking him off the speeding horse and onto his back in the tall grass. He wheezed, unable to catch his breath as his eyes - blurred and starry - darted around looking for the culprit. There was nothing but a wide branch extended across where he layed. His head was throbbing and he couldn't do anything except force the air to circulate through his lungs with deep and heavy breaths. His eye's rolled, not an annoyed reaction this time but from him attempting to stay concious. [i If she caught up now.. that horse might trample me..] he knew he had to get up - to find Aria, but he could feel his conciousness trickling away into the back of his head. His heated hands set fire to the grass, the smoke trickling into the air as a last ditch effort to make his presence known.
[i Just a quick nap..]
[i Creatures that hunt on the path wont chase in the wood..]
[i Just a moment.. until the ache is gone..]
[i Those figures.. those were cultists weren't they..]
[i they will skin her.. you too..]
[i they will see the smoke you [b dumb fuck]]
His eyes shot open and he pulled himself up into a crouch almost mechanically. Now the grass all around his body was set ablaze. Looking around at the flames, he licked his index fingers and held his hands up, the palms facing the ground. As his hands lowered so did the flame until there was nothing left but smoke rolling off the grass and himself. He pulled himself up with the help of the branch that had knocked him over, peering over it with two [b blazing crimson eyes]. He looked around slowly, as if taking in the area for the first time, then wet his lips. A beast, taller than himself, stomped slowly towards him. It almost could have been a moose, if they had extra eyes on their legs and multiple tails on their rears. The horns stayed true however, much unlike a moose, this creatures horns were stained with dry blood. It's eyes were a blue so piercing and sharp it was almost unsettling. It was clearly showing no caution or protection - it simply wanted to kill him. Staz smiled, a foregin curving of his lips that didn't suit his face. In fact this smile was nothing like a smirk or worn to prove that one isn't afraid. This smile was genuinely happy. "It's been so long since I set a monsters flesh ablaze!" he nearly laughed the words out, flames shooting up his arms as smoke rolled off out of every opening his face had.
The fight was disturbingly quick, fire entering through the monster's orifices and exploding out of it like a horror film. One the creature was dead - he heard the hooves of a horse thumping towards him urgently. He wiped the blood of his hands as best as he could and wrapped his arm around the branch blocking the path that knocked him earlier. That eery smile didn't leave his face until he closed his eyes and lowered his head. Hissing immediately ensued from Staz's mouth from the pain, and he coughed up smoke as if he had accidentally swallowed it. "Ar-" he barely managed to speak until he better cleared his throat. Looking up at the approaching horse through blurred multi-colored eyes - they focused and revealed Aria. He breathed out in relief, then glared up at the girl as he pushed off the branch to stand on his own.
"That horse is too slow."
Staz, that was easy enough to remember. Sure, it wasn’t a name she’d ever heard before, but that might have been what made it stand out to her. In a good way, that was.
Being familiar with the saying, Aria smiled warmly. [b “Yes, it does.”] The proverb was disappearing just like the Fireborn, so she was surprised to hear Staz say it. Then again, maybe she shouldn’t have been since he was the other half of the equation.
In regards to her question, it took a bit for him to answer. The Skyborn wondered if perhaps she was asking too much… But he eventually opened up about it. She nodded as she listened to the story. There were some pretty tricky bards out there, and Aria had heard more than a few stories about them pulling a fast ones on foolish travelers.
[b “Well, it seems like a pretty handy skill to have.”] Especially if he wasn’t keen on letting everyone know he was one of the last Fireborn left, if not the very last.
His horse kept a quick pace, but Clef was able to stay in tow with a little prompting. The animal really was made for stamina as opposed to speed, but he managed with minimal complaint. She wasn’t too worried, well until they turned off the main road. Sure this would be faster, but at what cost? This place looked dangerous. A sentiment that was confirmed when he commanded her to keep a look out. She was especially put out when he mentioned he had no qualms leaving her behind… perhaps she shouldn’t have told him where Aethim was so readily…
[b “Sure, I can do that.”] Her words came out slowly. Aria didn’t appreciate his demands, but it wasn’t like it would be particularly helpful for her to decline. It was her hide on the line here. At least he didn’t want to fight; she wasn’t sure how helpful she would be if it came to that.
The light just barely shined through the crowded foliage overhead. It made it difficult to make out much more than Staz and the thick trees and bushes flocking the not so often traveled dirt path. She was half sure they were going to die in here. But true to her word Aria kept a feel out behind them. When it came down to it, air was a liquid. As something moved in it, it left a wake. The woman, like many like her, was perfectly attuned to these waves. What she wasn’t used too was the density of the air here, but in this case that would play to their advantage.
They returned to silence, but now it was different, unnatural. It wasn’t just the lack of conversation but the distinct absence of other creature’s sounds as well. Even Clef who was fairly vocal kept to himself. Getting a better look at him, his ears were pointed stiffly forward. He was on the lookout as well.
With time Aria grew accustom to the dimness, but there still wasn’t a lot to see. A decaying tree here and there, moss lined boulders that hadn’t moved in eons, but nothing that meant them any harm. However, after they had been going for some time, they sharp caw of some sort of bird echoed through the forest. It wasn’t long after that she felt something shift behind them. Whatever it was, it was big and likely to be a problem if it chose to give pursuit. And wouldn’t you know, that was just their luck as the hulking creature started toward the road on all fours.
[b “Ummm, something’s started on the path…”] Aria was just about to mention that it didn’t seem to be in that big of a hurry, but before she could relay that information she jolted. The animal in question burst into a full sprint. [b “It’s moving fast!”] The four syllables jumbled together as they flew from her mouth.
Not waiting for Staz’s prompting, as she remembered his instructions to run, the bright-eyed woman gave her horse a kick. It was enough for the antsy animal to burst into a full gallop.
Speeding down the narrow path, the thicket lashed out. Thin branches whipping at her arms and face, leaving nicks and welts behind. It occurred to her that Staz might have been taking care of that up in the lead without her noticing, well before they were rushed. The genuinely kind act made he think he might not be as bad as she first pegged him, but there wasn’t time to thank him now.
Lost beneath the sound of beating hooves, the flapping of wings sounded at either side of the two-person caravan. It wasn’t until the birds began letting raspy caws, that Aria noticed they were being flanked by a small flock of large black birds. They did little more than keep pace with the travelers and continue their calling. Were they the ones who woke the creature behind them?
Frightened this might be the case; Aria threw her hands out to the sides. The push from her palms formed monstrous gales, much bigger than she intended. The wind tore through the foliage, enough to down several trees. As they came thundering to the ground, the echoing of splintering wood filled the forest. Needless to say, it was enough to drive the dark birds out of sight. She couldn’t say how long that would last, that was if the fowl managed to survive the gust.
Biting her lip, the Skyborn knew just how excessive that display was. It was embarrassing, but she was only able to dwell on it for a moment. [b “It’s closing the gap. I don’t think it will be long before this thing is on top of us!”]
All posts are either in parody or to be taken as literature. This is a roleplay site. Sexual content is forbidden.