Again they were free to leave. Just like the Council. Taog thought it strange, but at least they were able to go again. Old? Did humans lose their magic as they grew older? Taog looked at Juniper. Fey tended to only become more powerful as they ages and attuned in to their respective elements. He'd seen it in Old Elroch. It was why Tao respected the Elder Guardian the way he did. But then surely there would still be more people who thought leading unknowing Chosen to certain doom was wrong? He relaxed his stance a little, but remained wary of the group. Barut seemed to not intend for them to get hurt, but Taog felt looked down on by these others. As if they knew nothing at all and were helpless.
For that reason alone, Tao thought it was best to leave again.
They felt like Mothra, in a way. So condescending and judging.
Taog gave Juniper a nod, but then followed Barut into a dimply lit room. Ren, his name was. The one survivor. Taog felt the air shift and from the shadows came a being that had once been Elven. Unlike Juniper, Taog was curious. Barut's words were almost drowned out in the intensity with which this Elven male looked at him.
Tao raised his hands and carefully pushed his hood back. Juniper's whisper and tug were lost. Taog didn't move an inch. In fact, he was inclined to move closer, if it wasn't for Ren having already done so. Spindly fingers touched his face, angled his chin to face him and Tao looked into the man's eyes.
A dagger, that's what Barut had said.
He suddenly felt overwhelmingly sleepy then. Again that vision. He was on the altar and this man, whose expression was bland and serious, raised a dagger. Taog could feel the weight of chains bearing his wrists and ankles down. Ragged breaths could be heard. Tao felt his heart beat and the force of it made him wobble as the force of the vision hit him while awake. That hadn't ever happened before. Usually he simply dreamt while asleep. He hadn't told anyone, but this Elven male, Ren, he was pulling at that part of him somehow.
A dark man. He could see his back now. It was a different perspective. From this distance, the gleaming of the dagger was already stained with red. Taog knew it was true then, what Barut said. The road on which they walked would lead to death.
Words were being spoken. The cool flat of the blade brushed by his bare chest, leaving a sensitive long trail of red in it's wake. Past the figure, he could see the other Chosen on the altar. From the stab-wound in their chest, both blood and energy leaked, gathering in markings shimmering above, up into the intricate coloured windows in the ceiling. Like a ritual. Like a sacrificial ritual. They screamed as their life-force was brutally taken and he tried to wrench free from his bonds.
"And now for the other," he heard, the words spoken in an unfamiliar, gravely voice. A voice that was completely flat, without a single drop of emotion.
And then he was back in the cave, staring at Ren. Taog teetered back and broke their connecting, shaking his head as if to clear the cobwebs from his thoughts.
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 38d 12h 39m 50s
Juniper glanced to Taog when he took her hand, rooting her in place because she figured she looked like she wanted to run and she really did just want to run from this. Taog’s questions were fair but she didn’t want to stay here and listen to the lies. Taog moved in front of her, Juniper could sense he was worried about the danger. They couldn’t fight such a large amount of people and she was stunned when soft laughter came from numerous of the group, amused by the duo.
“Enough, we are not going to attack you. You can stay here for a night, leave in the morning if you want to. None of us will stop you, we cannot force you. We have warned you.” Barut explained calmly as he looked between the two.
“Our magic is not potent enough, we are old.” Barut said and glanced over his shoulder and down the cave system.
“Come, I will introduce you to Ren.” Barut said, cringing at the thought of it honestly because introducing them to the only survivor of the Great One was not going to be pleasant.
“You may see for yourself.” Barut said as he waved the others off and headed a short distance down to a hollowed out room that was dimly lit. He sighed out stepped inside,
“Ren, we have visitors.” He called and from the shadows a being shuddered forwards. Juniper stared and she could tell the man was once beautiful but he seemed gaunt, devoid of everything. His skin was grey, his eyes dull and black with thick rings. Juniper took a step backwards, intimidated by how he looked.
“He doesn’t speak. I’m not sure he can. We found him on a roadside, he was babbling at first about daggers and darkness then he fell silent.” Barut murmured and Juniper didn’t like any of this.
“These are the latest two Chosen, Ren.” That seemed to get the creatures attention as he looked directly at the two Half Fey. Juniper felt a chill run up her spine and she looked to Taog,
“Please let’s just go.” She whispered, tugging his hand. This wasn’t real and it was a test, perhaps. The council were testing them to see if their loyalty lay with the Great One, they couldn’t fail this test. Juniper also didn’t want to be murdered in her sleep by these people with their strange, broken creature. Ren looked the two over with soulless eyes and reached a hand up, tilting Taog’s chin to face him, inspecting him closely and Juniper froze.
“H-hey! Stop that!” She said, not brave enough to smack his hand away from Tao but apparently bold enough to cry out in protest.
Seers? What were seers? Visions? Oh, then- hmm. Taog found it curious, to say the least. Did that mean his dreams were visions? Was he half-seer? It sounded right. A young Elven male had escaped from the sacrifice Barut talked about. That meant they could too, right? But if that male escaped alone, then the other Chosen. The other one had to have died. Taog listened to Barut's tale, which grew more grim with each question answered and raised a multitude of new question to be left in the story's wake.
"He is still alive? This Elven Chosen?" Tao started. Maybe in order to believe what had happened, they ought to see. Juniper seemed uncomfortable with it all, but Taog wanted to know more. Escape from the council? But if they were so powerful, then why? If one Elven male was enough to stand up against the Great One, who had gifted the Council with life eternal, then why did they not fight? Rebellion, Mothra called it, but it seemed like self-chosen exile to Taog.
Juniper's patience had run out.
"Wait," Tao said, reaching for Juniper's hand.
Wither to ashes and dust, huh? Tao snorted at that. Those were his speciality.
"Why don't you fight?" he said, genuinely curious. If these were all meant to be Chosen or in fear of being Chosen, then they had to be powerful. Together, surely they could have done something, but they hadn't. Taog wasn't sure what to make of that. Did they fear the Council? Time didn't effect the Council. Nor did it the Great One. Some of these people were a lot older than them. How long had the Choosing been going on for?
Taog hadn't heard of that word before, but knew it wasn't a good word. The way Barut spoke, told volumes of his pity.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Tao said dismissively.
Would Barut flip and try to kill them now because of it. Taog stood, shielding Juniper behind him, just in case he needed to quickly use his powers. It was convenient that there was a fire there and Tao wasn't afraid to use it, if he needed to. If need be, he would create a distraction so that Juniper could summon her power and give them an escape.
"If we don't go, two others will simply be Chosen, is that why you are here, so close to the road?" Taog said. "Until you have an army of Chosen to fight this battle for you?" It made sense, if he put it like that. Taog couldn't even fault their methods.
"Why don't you tell more people?" Convincing them one by one wasn't going to end well, was it? Flee into the mountains, huh? To Taog, they sounded cowardly.
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 39d 10h 30m 40s
Barut stayed silent for a while, evidently the male was more curious than the female and he let him get his questions out. He didn’t expect the two to believe him at face value but he also didn’t want to watch them go to their death. He gestured to the fire and thought of where to start.
“You are safe here.” Barut said quietly, as if to stop any worries. Juniper eyed the fire and reluctantly took a seat beside it when Barut did. She didn’t want to hear any of this, she wanted to make a camp and sleep and go further on their journey tomorrow. That was the plan, that was what was expected by them. Barut eyed them both over.
“Some of the seers among us had visions. We were not all Chosen but we all knew the truth. A young Elven man escaped, an elemental with great power. I’m not sure how he escaped and he can’t tell us now, he can barely speak. Something was wrong and there were marks on his flesh, a wound in his chest made by a magical item I have never seen before.” Barut explained as he watched the two youngsters.
“Some of us were Chosen, others fled here to avoid ever being Chosen. He drains you, bleeds you dry. It’s a ritual from what we have discovered. We made this place because it’s easy to escape into the mountains if the Council ever finds us.” Barut explained and Juniper shook her head.
“Mothra told us about your little rebellion, she told us you would murder us.” Juniper pointed out and Barut spat on the ground when she said Mothra’s name.
“Mothra and those other Council bastards have been evading death. They made a deal with the Great One. The great battle he won, was against the strongest Fey and Elven and Seers, every creature and he won it with bargaining. If they sacrificed two of their own to be drained, they get life everlasting and powers.” Barut muttered bitterly and looked between the two.
“You two have been to the castle, time doesn’t effect the Council but effects that castle and their abode.” Barut pointed out and Juniper just stared.
“I don’t think we should stay here, we should go.” Juniper didn’t get a sense they were lying and that was worse. Barut chuckled softly,
“Little miss, I understand your thinking. I swallowed those lies for years but if you leave here then you are going to die. You will wither away to ashes and dust, he will pull your heart from your chest as you are tied up and screaming. I have no reason to lie to you.” He remarked and felt a pang of guilt for the young half feys.
“You are hybrids, are you not?”
They shared a look. A lit cave. Taog had lived in a cave, but unlike this one, his had only barely been a hole in the ground fit for one. He'd felt safer that way, because nothing could sneak up from behind and it offered shelter plenty from the lashing winds and rains that fell in the cold season. Tao climbed off as well, and observed the man. He was stronger in closed confines, surely they knew? Caves especially made for grateful targets to smoke out or scorch. Taog watched Juniper, but she seemed subdued. He watched from underneath his cloak and followed into he caverns.
Each removed their hoods. Taog remained reluctant, knowing his eyes and horns would give away his half-breed nature. Maybe they would mistake him for a young Fey. It had happened before, with a traveller, but he'd actually been younger then.
Even so, it didn't seem these people were after their belongings or lives.
No, instead they started with accusations and lies. Assumptions based on their willingness to travel, Taog figured. They weren't too far off. Juniper had been happy to travel.
They didn't say anything new, until the man started about a dark wizard.
"How does he do it?" Tao asked. His dream came to mind, now that the strange herbs had lost their grip on him.
Barut, as he'd introduced himself, looked taken aback.
"How does the dark wizard leech your power?" Each story he'd been told so far was a new door opening up to a hoard of questions. Taog felt there were never enough answers. Each just believed what they felt was right. Rumours and superstitions blurred the truth and maybe it was somewhere in the middle. A wizard. That coincided with what the council said; after all, to win and conquer mighty foes, the Great One would have to be powerful. A haven? Like the Vale? A place he could be hidden away? Taog made a look of distaste. Sure. No one would want to provide a haven for a cursed one.
Juniper didn't seem convinced either, but for different reasons altogether. Apparently Juniper had a preference for one story over the other. Taog figured it had to do with her wings and the promises that had been made to her by Drit and the other Guardians.
"Why do you make a haven for Chosen?" Tao started. What was the point? No one cared for a half-breed like him. What reason did these people have? Compassion? The same reason he hadn't been outright killed when he was a child? And then there was something else there too. Barut had suggested they were powerful. Taog had never considered that part yet. But then Old Elroch had always told him not to overuse his powers. There was no point to doing it and he would end up hurting more than he would gain by using them. Most of the time, this was true. Only once had he been able to use his powers for good. When thunder had struck a great tree and it'd caught flame, Taog had prevented the fire from eating more of the woods than was desirable by consuming the flames.
"Were you all Chosen?"
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 39d 14h 13m 45s
Juniper was in edge as she watched Taog, he played it smart and she would have absolutely just turned tail and found another way or tried to rush through the crowd. She swallowed back the rising fear, she had never really been afraid before, not like this. Juniper couldn't leave Taog behind and she figured he was right, a different story. These were humans, at least the man before them looked human and she fell in step with Taog down the winding path. It was nerve wrecking to say the least and they walked until nightfall, Juniper feeling like she had done something wrong and she hadn't. She chewed her lip and they soon happened upon a lit cave system. Unusual and she glanced to Taog, he had lived in a cave right?
"Hop off." The man said and held Juniper's reins as she slipped from the horse. She looked around and could see others milling around,
"Inside, we can't talk out here." Did it make that much of a difference? Juniper nodded quietly and just did as commanded, figures of authority were daunting to her thanks to her upbringing of being compliant. Once they were inside the cave, the figures removed their hoods. They were mixed, some human and some other races. They looked well-fed, bright enough and she wondered if she was about to be sacrificed, a sinking feeling that something was going to happen.
Juniper eyed each person and stuck close to Taog, her only familiarity.
"I suppose you both think you're rather fortunate to be Chosen? We've watched others go before you, we swallowed their toxic and their lies. You are going to death, in the worst possible way. The Great One is a sham, a darkened wizard who leeches power, bleeds you dry until you wither to nothing. Why do you think they only want the most powerful?" The man drawled,
"This is a haven, here we cannot be chosen. My name is Barut." He said, plainly and Juniper squinted at him, disbelieving every word.
"Mothra told us about you." She muttered, distastefully.
Taog drew up next to Juniper, eyes sharp from under his hood. They weren't supposed to run into anyone and apparently they were suspicious enough to be recognized as Chosen Ones by these lot. At first Taog was keen to just use his powers to create a diversion and burst through their little party, but then the men spoke words that resonated with what he'd instinctively felt was true; this path wasn't right. It lead to certain death. All the same, going with people they didn't know on a whim was plain stupid. Tao had let go one hand from the reins, freeing it up to channel his magic and guide the flames if need be. Just a singe of a cloak ought to do it for most of these, right? They were on horses and especially Juniper's seemed like it could be quick if it wanted to be.
"No," Taog rejected the man's rushing. "Show your face first," he said.
Feeling the air grow hot and dense with the pressure of magic, the man hesitated, then relented. A human face, brown curled hair haloing his face. Open eyes.
"Did you see enough?" the man asked and gestured to a well hidden path into the woods. Juniper's power there would be greater than on the road, Taog suspected. If they really wanted to, they could root some of the cloaked figures and escape. As half-Fey, they could move quickly through forest, quicker than most.
"You walk in front," Taog negotiated. A sour look crept across the man's face, but he gave a nod and several of the hooded figures started down the path. Taog met eyes with the man. He raised his eyebrows expectantly. They would follow freely, but be coralled nowhere. They were not naive children to be trapped at will. Unlike yesterday, Taog could not feel these cloaked figures, meaning they had little to a normal amount of magic to them or hid it well. He believed, perhaps boldly so, that he could face off with most of them in combat. No one was impervious to flames and it was a rare magic power to have.
That, and most humans had little to no magic at all.
The man relented and waved them down the path, waiting for Juniper and Tao to catch up. Taog looked at Juniper.
"We might get others stories," he said. It would be interesting to find out why these lot wanted to tell them these things so urgently. Urgently enough to engage in a confrontation with what they had to know were latently talented individuals, to have been Chosen. Taog moved first, following the man. He wanted answers and these people seemed to provide them freely.
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 40d 11h 10m 15s
"Who would want to come back from such a place?" She asked him, wondering if he was silly enough to think anyone would ever want to return from paradise. She shrugged off the man she had seen. She was spooked by the traveller that had stayed to observed and then darted off at the first opportunity, wary. She caught Taog's eye and gave a small and silent nod as they carried on. It was daylight, afternoon if she had to guess and she knew Mothra's warning had been clear. Bandits and the unsavoury lot but the horses seemed calm. Juniper was quiet, working over everything that was going through her head as she kept her wits about her. A second bridge drew up, this time there were figures in front of it and Juniper glanced back to Taog.
"I don't think we are supposed to run into anything." No one had mentioned villages or vendors or anything, even so these figures stood cloaked and staring. They didn't have any weapons drawn, nothing prepared by the look of it and Juni drew her horse to a halt some metres back from the cluster that blocked their path.
"Chosen Ones, I presume?" A man stepped forwards, the very same who had darted off the path all those hours ago. Juniper wasn't sure what to say or do in this situation.
"Come with us, we have much to show you. The road you follow will lead to your death, and not a quick one at that." He said and gestured on a side path through the forest. There were too many to fight and Juniper looked to Taog.
"Remember what Mothra said?" She prompted his memory and swallowed thickly. She couldn't fight the cluster of people and she didn't even know what they were. They waited, their breath held and Juniper couldn't make out any of the others features beneath their hoods. The man with the bright eyes just stood there, waiting.
"Come along, we haven't got all day." He hurried them and Juniper was rooted to the spot, conflicted about what to do. If the Council found out they had gone off of the track like this, they were sure to be disappointed and maybe even punish the duo if they so found it deserving. Juniper gripped her horses reins tightly, knuckles white with the effort. The horses were oddly calm, relaxed.
Of course Juniper would believe the stories she'd been told, so did he. They had nothing to check the stories truths by. No one in the Vale had ever decided the stories were lies. And why would they? Taog believed what he had been told too and many of the things Old Elroch taught him worked.
Taog snorted when Juniper said she'd tell him the stories, but didn't stop her. Her chatter was a nice distraction from the boring canter they were going at down the main road. They seemed to have set them on this path because it was safe. Nothing untoward would happen here without them seeing it coming for miles. Tao liked to believe that their magical powers would be enough to protect them from thieves or whatever ill Mothra had spoken about. Not that they needed to tempt fate in that way either though.
So the Great One vanquished many foes, had he?
"What foes were they?" Taog asked, looking over at Juniper with genuine curiosity. Had there been wars? Great battles? They were given the Vale, then? That much made sense. If, after a great battle had been fought and finished, the victorious races would be able to settle in peace once more. Did the Vale make them comfortable? The Vale certainly hadn't seemed comfortable with him. Taog bit his tongue and continued listening to Juniper's words.
He narrowed his eyes at Juniper.
"I thought no one returned from the Choosing?" he said. Elroch had told him that much, at least. If they had a choice to return, why wouldn't they? Maybe it was because the Vale was for half-breeds and once the Great One 'recreated' them to be a perfect image, they would be able to rejoin their original families.
But never visit again? Taog liked to believe he would return and tell Elroch about the adventures he'd had and just sit with the old Fey.
Juniper's voice died down when they were met by a traveller. Unlike the others, this one did not extend a friendly greeting. Rather, the second he got a good look, the traveller ducked off the road and scurried into the thicker bushes. Taog furrowed his brow at that and held his horse. His eyes met Juniper's. Had she seen that?
They should be wary.
If this was a trap, they needed to be ready. Their horses however seemed to be fine still. Whatever desired ill, they hadn't come near enough to unsettle the otherwise docile beasts. When Juniper's silence stretched, Taog made his horse follow behind hers again.
He looked back one more time, but then dismissed it. The main road was safe, right? If anything happened, other travellers would take note. And they weren't exactly powerless themselves. Taog felt nervous at the thought of having to use his powers to defend himself. Unlike Juniper, he had no 'safe' options to restrain someone. Burns were all he could offer.
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 40d 14h 3m 39s
Mounting the horse was easier as she mulled over Taog’s words. He’d never been told in detail, well that made sense. He hadn’t sat around a fire and been told illustrated stories about how wonderful everything was when it came to the Great One. Juniper took up her reins and followed his lead back to the main road. They weren’t just stories, they were fact because everyone so believed in them.
“I don’t think they’re just stories. There must be something to them.” Of course the stories were different for the differing age groups. More fantastical and friendly for the young ones, more serious and yet the same amount of whimsy for the older ones. They had to have something to believe in, that there was something more than the Vale on offer. Juniper sighed out a little, Taog’s bitterness was understood but she couldn’t relate to him.
“I could tell you stories, if you like?” She offered as she caught up to him, riding side by side as she watched the road.
“Drit told me all of them. The Great One vanquished many foes and that’s why we live in separate areas, they were gifted to us. The elves reside in the mountains, the dwarves in their cave system and the Fey have the forests. We were given the Vale because it makes us all comfortable, so many mixtures of hybrids.” Juniper prattled on, almost word for word and skipping the details.
“And we could come back to the Vale if we really wanted but no one ever wants to come back, it’s so beautiful and he does so much for us all.” She wasn’t aware of the many loopholes in the stories. People could have visited, they could have come back and why didn’t the Great One ever visit himself? Juniper knew she’d asked the questions before and Drit had always expertly come up with some sort of answer.
“There’s no sickness, there‘s just peace.” She said to Taog and paused her chatting as they passed by a stream that trickled along and crossed an old stone bridge. She figured maybe she was coming off too strong, too excitable and quietened down as she instead stroked the black horses neck. They seemed to be working a lot better with each other and Juniper was grateful, especially after almost being thrown off yesterday. A weary traveller passed by, causing Juniper to self consciously make sure her cloak covered everything. A man passed by, he had bright eyes, luminous almost as he stopped to watch the two pass by. He was looking for something and when Juniper turned, she saw the man scurrying off of the main road and into the thicker of bushes. She cocked her head slightly but said nothing more, though Mothra’s warning echoed in her head.
"I don't need colours though, do I?" Taog pointed out. All the hybrids 'needed' something else to look one way or the other. It couldn't just be gifted. Old El had always said that there was nothing inherently wrong with the way they were born or came up to appear. What mattered was how you behaved and utilized your strengths. If he did that, Old Elroch told him, he'd be gifted a long and rewarding life. Taog believed that over some magic trick. It sounded like something Drit would say out of compassion. Same as they cursed him out of spite.
That said, Tao wasn't sure whether his dream had been just that; a dream. Or a nightmare, in this case. Taog was about to protest that when they waited to act until they arrived, it would already be too late. Juniper changed her opinion by saying she wanted to wait out any more dreams. Since he'd decided that for himself already, Taog just nodded and looked away. He sighed and climbed on top of the horse.
"No," Taog said plainly and raised his hood.
Old Elroch hadn't told him anything about the Great One, but he had told him about the Choosing. Every now and then, two were to be chosen to go on a long journey to serve the greater good. When he'd asked for more, Old El said there were more interesting tales to tell and Tao had been easy to distract with every new gem Elroch tossed his way, like a starved beast chasing scraps.
"Never in detail," Tao ventured, a little less terse.
'They're only stories," he said, a little bitter. No one other than Elroch had ever wanted to tell him and Taog decided a long time ago, he'd make up his own stories then. And they'd be just as wondrous and exciting as anything anyone else could've told him. But that was a long time ago. Maybe Old Elroch's way had been better than Drit's. Less compassionate, but more earnest. Then again, maybe Drit thought Juniper couldn't handle it. She was so close to looking like a Fey, her pain must've been greater than someone whose defects were plain as day because of how close she was to being accepted as Fey.
Taog decided they'd talked enough for now and guided his horse back to the main road. After the rains, the scent of the wood was fresh and the sun nice and warm on his back. It made yesterday seem like a bad memory. He didn't blame Juniper for being so reluctant to believe a misshapen dream had meaning to it, when he himself wasn't sure about it either. Tao huffed. He'd never been uncertain about anything and to do so now was just lying to himself. Just a few more days, Taog decided. If in a few more days the ill feelings lingered, he would follow his instincts instead.
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 40d 18h 29m 9s
Juniper watched Taog and her own horse king weed nearby. A dream? Like a vision? She knew some back at the Vale suffered from visions, but nothing as clear as what Taog described. She listened to his words, it was a nightmare, probably nothing more than that. Sacrifice was something unheard of, cults perhaps in the human communities but other than that Juniper had never heard of it. She eyed the Male over and pondered then, on why he would be given a concoction to stop said dreams.
“I think Mothra meant that he’ll make us look proper. Drit always told me that the Great One would give our colours to us, he’d change my wings and I would look like a proper Fey.” Taog was right though, they were neither, they were a mixture of two things and not just a dulled version of one.
“It sounds like you had a nightmare, Tao.” She said to him, plainly almost dismissively because the thought of believing his vision, his dream was too much for her to take on.
“We will know what he has in store once we get there.” She said. Maybe his vision was of the rebellious forces Mothra had spoken about. She started to attach her horse and glanced over to him. He was really worried about all of this, wasn’t he? She rubbed her neck thoughtfully. Dismissing him wouldn’t held their relationship and she didn’t want to anger him, he could probably turn her to complete ashes with a click of his fingers.
“Look, if you have anymore dreams, then tell me and we can see if we can piece together what’s going on?” She offered you and leaned on her horse. They had a long journey ahead of them and if Tao’s dreams were true, and something terrible awaited them then where would they even go? The Council would force them to exile, they’d be on the run their entire lives and they would be a disappointment to their kind.
Juniper paused and watched Tao for a while, what a life he must have had to be shut out for so long and only be revered when he was Chosen. He had been cast out and she supposed acceptance was a hard thing to swallow after so long. Whether she liked it or not, he was her travelling companion and the only being she felt she could trust because they were in this together, whatever way it worked out.
“Didn’t Old El tell you stories of the Great One?” She asked him, surely he must have told him something but she guessed no one ever expected him to be Chosen so why would he need to know such things? Juniper had been groomed her entire life for this, Drit had made sure of it.
A cup was offered up and Taog took it, sniffing the contents. Berries? He still hadn't moved from his seated position, legs crossed at the ankles as he came to terms with the new morning. Yesterday seemed hazy and distant, but it was obvious they would have to travel. Taog drank the concoction Juniper made and found it sweet, not unlike the wines they'd been offered, but less tangy. His horse wouldn't really leave him alone either, nipping at the fur on his cloak. Tao nudged the beast to move out of the way and watched Juniper eat. She felt better, which was good.
"Yeah, the numbness is gone," Taog said, rubbing the back of his head. He'd be more wary of herbal drinks from now on, he surmised. No matter who it was offering them up.
"I had no dreams, like they said," he started, brows furrowed with concern over that fact. "I think they didn't want me to dream of something in the castle," Taog said. Who was he to question the council however? And that man. It was a clue to his other half. Now he knew what he ought to have looked like, had he been full-breed. Not like a Fey, that much was for sure. He looked more like that other part. Taog scratched at his head near his horns and sighed out before finishing the cup of drink.
"Thank you," he said and returned the cup.
"I had a dream, before we came," Taog started, unsure whether Juniper would want to hear. She likely wouldn't want to, but Tao followed through anyway. "I died, by a dagger. There was this man who killed me, like a sacrifice," he explained. The building had looked similar in fashion to the castle they'd been in, but it wasn't quite the same structure. His dreams was flimsy at best, when put to words like this. He wouldn't have convinced himself that something was miss just like this either.
"I don't like how Mothra said we will be recreated," Taog voiced, eyes cast down at his gloved hands. Juniper had been afraid to touch his fingers. It still stung.
Maybe as they travelled closer to the Great One, he'd have more dreams, now that the herbal remedy was finished working. Taog took a deep breath and rose from where he had been sat, stretching out before folding away his blanket. He coaxed his horse closer and started to strap the saddle back to the compliant beast.
"I mean... what will we be recreated as? We are neither one or the other," Taog said. It just wasn't possible. He wondered if the council used magic to make it seem as if they were perfection embodied. A glamour and nothing more. That just wasn't good enough. If it was like that, Taog would rather remain as he was now. He was used to living on his own anyway and it wasn't a bad life at all. Despite being rejected by any community, he got to experience the world and the peace it offered.
Tao rested his hands against the horse when he was done. Unlike so many others, it wasn't afraid or wary of his touch.
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 40d 22h 11m 54s
This time, Juniper stayed awake for a short amount of time, grateful of the fire as she settled down close by it and hung her damp cloak on a tree branch where it would dry. She managed to sort her bedroll, finding the perfect distance between the fire and the col. She wanted to stay awake, she wanted to think upon everything that had happened but the heat from the fire was soothing and the gentle pitter patter of rainfall on the road was relaxing. She closed her eyes and figured Taog was right, the horses would tell them if something was wrong nearby.
"Thanks." She said when the fire was helped. Juniper stifled a yawn and glanced over to Taog, he didn't seem bothered by all that happened but he had seemed tired and exhaustion had claimed him early. Juniper wasn't for behind, drained by her use of magic and the long days of travelling. There was more to come and some small part of her was dreading the journey.
Juniper woke in the morning to soft birdsong and she squinted at the leafy green sunlight that shimmered through the branches. She sat up slowly, Taog was still asleep and she figured she could find some berries and such out here. She had the horse for company as she walked a short distance away, finding a familiar bush, these grew in the berries. Blackberries. She plucked some and carried them in her shirt which she had managed to make a bag from if she cradled it just right. She came back to see Taog awake and set the berries down by the fire. She found a cup, mashing together some blueberries and fresh water from her water skin, a few herbs Drit had stuffed in her supplies thrown in for good measure. She set it by the fire to heat together before taking a drink, it was a simple remedy, to help keep them energetic for the day ahead.
Juniper offered the cup,
"It's sweet, it'll help with travelling. Drit taught me how to make it." She said to Taog with a wan smile, still brooding on yesterday and the events that had come to light. She had fed the fire so at least it was still warm and she reached up to test her cloak, it was warmed up and dry. She chewed on some berries and rations, bread wrapped in leaves and looked to Taog,
"I feel better this morning, rested." She murmured. It was peculiar in a way but she chalked it up to the wine and the day of travelling. The Great One wouldn't bring harm to them like that, test or not. She knew the stories inside and out, she had swallowed every syllable down like honey and Drit wouldn't lie to her, he was like a father to her.
"Do you feel rested?" She asked him, he had insisted for the most part he was okay yesterday but she figured whatever had happened had really dragged them both down.
Thankfully, they stopped. Taog let himself slide off the horse and held onto the beast of burden for a second to find his feet, then lazily set about freeing the animal from the saddle, much as the night before. With Juniper's magic, they had a decent shelter from the rain, like a cave of trees almost and Tao put down the saddle and bags. At least they wouldn't sleep hungry. Juniper's eyes were on him as he moved, but even that seemed to just slide into the numbness. Taog was grateful to just be able to sit down and rest for a moment. He'd gotten out the blanket and sat on it with his arms across his knees, head hung resting on his forearms. Murderers, yes, maybe. But they'd have a hard time finding them like this. Taog made a lazy wave at the horses, "just listen to them," he suggested. They were keen to strangers and threats.
Whatever Boridian had done, these beasts didn't simply wander away from them at the first sign of trouble. Perhaps the Elder Fey had bonded them somehow.
Juniper's attempt at a fire was laughable. Taog snorted and decided to help out at last, when her apology came. It'd be nice to have a dry cloak come morning, that much was for sure, so he simply breathed some embers and guided them with his fingers into the kindling and wood Juniper had set up to be their fire. With grace, the flames danced and hissed through the moist evening air and took root consuming the somewhat dried wood Juniper had gathered. Taog yawned afterwards for good measure and let himself fall back onto his blanket. His head felt increasingly more funny as the herbs worked their way into his system and Tao fell asleep almost instantly.
Despite the rain, the cold and what they'd just experienced, Taog's dreams were blank. He experienced it barely, because all Tao knew was that one second he'd been asleep and the next he was slowly being woken up again. This time by his horse, nuzzling at his hair and plucking at him. Drowsy still, though the light indicated that it might be after dawn, Taog tried to push the playful horse out of his face.
He felt as if he could sleep more, especially now that the rains had stopped. Sun filtered through the forest and the fresh scent was comforting. Taog just rested there for a while, allowing himself to put yesterday's experiences in order. They felt a little more distant after his blacked-out sleep. When he felt a bit more awake, Tao sluggishly sat up, surveying their little camp. He'd slept long and deep. It wasn't like him, whose sleep was usually a lot more flighty. At least they hadn't lied about that. The brew had stifled his dreams. Taog wondered what dreams he might have otherwise that would be bad. Maybe the castle's weird disappearance and nature might have been revealed. Was it a secret?
/ THERE IS NO EXPLANATION OR REASON / Urizen
/ 41d 10h 10m 58s
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