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Erendiox 29th of July, 2011 13:09

Prologue - Ellana
Unknown Day, Unknown Month, Realm Year 768 - Midday

Ellana runs her soiled fingers through strands of stiff, matted hair and sighs. It's been nearly two weeks since the incident at the redoubt and wandering through the woods has done little to clear her head. Questions, fears, doubts. They all circle in her mind over and over, like a drain that never empties. This has been the longest span of time away from the people she loves, and on what seems to be worst of terms.

Mira follows close behind as she trudges through some more brush. Being away from home was foreign to her, but between the kindness of the few Marukans they had run into and Ellana's keen eyes for wild berries and fruits, the pair has managed to last on their own this long. Maybe they had to make one or two sneaky stops at someone's summer crop, but hey, who's going to miss a few carrots and cabbages?

The young girl takes a few more steps and presses through one last patch of wilderness with both hands, certain that lunch might be on the other end of it. Beams of sunlight seep through the green growths and shapes of the foliage as she digs in with her child-sized fingers. As she pulls the greenery aside, an orange glow explodes open to instead reveal a clearing. As her eyes adjust, she can see that it continues into a vast pasture of rolling hills. The breadth and presence of the life here is something she notices immediately. There is something very special about this place.

Half a dozen horses are gathered in the near distance, just over the next small hill. A simple wooden fence holds them in a wide open area. Each horse is accompanied by a rider, who, at the moment, seem to be taking turns jumping low hurdles. A seventh Marukan, older, seems to be overseeing the whole event.

As Ellana watches, one of the riders goes for a jump and loses his left stirrup, slipping off the side of the creature in midair. The other riders break into sound laughter, as the teenager tumbles and makes his way back to his feet. The now riderless horse turns, and a sudden glint in its eye tells Ellana that she's been seen. The horse breaks into a gallop, leaps, and clears the surrounding gate, making an excited break for where Ellana now stands. Everyone shouts for the horse, the seventh Marukan most of all, but the creature pays them no mind, more interested instead in this strange new guest. The horse slows to a trot, then a walk as it approaches the pair. Mira hops forward and intercepts as the horse lowers its head down. They remain about a foot apart, examining each other closely.

TagalongDT 30th of July, 2011 17:50

As Mira leaped from her arms Ellana gave a short, surprised squeak. They had horses at the redoubt, but nothing like the animal trotting toward her. There was something different about the horse, it seemed smarter, stronger...and it was staring directly at Mira. Ellana edged around the animals, creeping closer to Mira. For a moment she stood between her pet and the horse, unsure if she should pet the horse or pick up the cat. Finally, Mira sat back on her haunches and mewed. Apparently it was safe.

With Mira's okay Ellana inched closer to the horse and tentatively stroked its muzzle. The horse shook its head but accepted the stranger's touch. Mira meowed and rubbed up against Ellana's legs. Of course the cat deserved attention for pacifying the great beast. Chuckling, Ellana picked up her cat and placed Mira in the customary position across her shoulders. The horse was still saddled, and seemed to trust Ellana. The girl picked up the reigns and briefly debated about stealing the animal, using it to ride back to redoubt, back to Selen. The looks of the seven men watching her made her think otherwise. Carrots and cabbages were one thing (especially given her situation) but she couldn't live with the theft of such a valuable animal on her conciseness.

Instead she patted then animal one last time, then gently lead the horse back to the group of men. As she walked she wondered what to say to them. All the Maruken she'd met before had been so kind, they were probably the same, but this whole place seemed different. It was larger for starters. The men continued to stare as she approached the fence. Blushing intensely she thrust the reigns at the leader, "I um...brought your horse back?" she added dumbly.

red_dr4g0n94 31st of July, 2011 11:00

All the riders, including the dismounted teen, only stare at the girl who had suddenly appeared out of the forest. Some look shocked, one of the women looks like she's about to break out laughing, but the leader has a look of confused worry on his face. Still he takes the reigns from the girl and hands them over to the teenager, who takes it looking relieved. "Here," says the older man, his voice like gravel tumbling down a hill. "Make sure you don't lose her this time, Lady won't be happy if you lose one of her horses."

As the boy mounts up on his horse the leader turns back towards Ellana. "My thanks for bringing her back instead of riding off with her. Now, who are ya?"

TagalongDT 31st of July, 2011 13:33

"Oh, you're welcome. I'm um...Ellana," she said. Holding up the cat she continued, And this is Mira." The man was gruff, but seemed earnest enough, perhaps he could help, "We've been lost in the wilderness for weeks now after we-" a yowl from Mira cut off the girl, and she glanced at her cat, before nodded in agreement, "after we separated from our caravan?"

Ellana was never a good liar and she moved quickly to the next subject, hoping the rancher didn't notice the lie, "Could you tell us where we are? And what day it? And-" a low rumble in her stomach cut her off. Mira snickered and Ellana felt even the horses could hear her hunger, "Er...and could we have some food? For Mira, you see. She hasn't eaten in two days. We'd be willing to work for it, I mean I'd be willing to work for it. Mira can't really work, unless there's mice to catch. Then she could work for her mice, er food." Ellana grinned weakly and tried to fight back the nervous laughter; a fight she quickly lost.

red_dr4g0n94 3rd of August, 2011 14:37

"Hm," the man grunted at Ellana's longer-than-necessary explanation. "Well getting lost from a caravan happens I suppose." His tone of voice left little doubt to all who heard it that he believed little, if anything, than he'd just been told. "Still, if yer willing to work I guess we could use you. Blossom," he said turning towards the snickering woman who tried her best to compose herself at his look.

"Take her over to the boss and see if we've got a use for her. We're gonna stay here and see if maybe Kernel here can ride a horse sometime this week." At the verbal ribbing the teenager flushed with embarrassment, something causing the woman, Blossom, to laugh. "Fine, but only cause this was getting boring." She marched her horse to the side and reached down with a hand. "C'mon girl, let's start moving. Day's too young to be wasting here."

TagalongDT 5th of August, 2011 18:59

Looking up at the offered hand, Ellana notices how clean and well kept both the horse and rider are compared to her. She tries to dust off her mud stained and torn clothing before sighing and shouldering Mira. As she takes Blossom's hand she says, " you. I'm sorry we're such a mess." Sensing the horses movement about to start Mira jumps from Ellana's shoulder to her lap, nestling between the teenager's legs and Blossom's back.

Before Blossom has a chance to urge her horse forward, Ellana turns to look back at Kernel, "Oh um...Kernel was it? I might but wrong, but it looks like you're squeezing your knees too hard. It might be confusing the horse. You should try relaxing a bit."

red_dr4g0n94 9th of August, 2011 15:38

Kernal's face went red at Ellana's words, obviously sick of all the ribbing he's been taking. "Oh yeah well what the hell do you know about horses anyways," he shouted at the girl. At that the leader started chuckling, earning a glare from Kernal as well. "More than you," the man said, his face merry, "cause I was just about to say the same thing boy!"

At that the entire group burst out laughing, including Blossom as she guided her mount, with Ellana on it, away. Several minutes later she turned her head to look back to look at the girl. "So, uh, what are you actually doing here? Cause you're definitely not from a caravan."

TagalongDT 10th of August, 2011 08:28

At Kernal's harsh words Ellana turned red, mimicking her unintentional tormentee. Thankfully Blossom urged the horse forward before the situation escalated. As they moved toward...wherever, Ellana had to marvel at the ranch around her. There was something unusual about this place, something better, but she just couldn't put her finger on it. Even Mira seemed more a peace, the cat snoozing lightly in her lap despite the bouncing of the horse. She almost didn't catch Blossom's question, "So, uh, what are you actually doing here? Cause you're definitely not from a caravan."

The red returned to Ellana's face and she mentally stumbled thinking of a proper answer. She thought the lie was reasonable, but Selen had always warned her she was an awful liar. Selen had also taught her how to avoid telling the truth without lying. "Oh, you knew. I'm sorry, I didn't's just...we are lost, and we're not dangerous. How did you know? I guess everyone knows..."

red_dr4g0n94 15th of August, 2011 13:46

Blossom gives Ellana an incredulous look, or at least the best one she can looking over her shoulder. "You're kidding right? For starters you aren't dressed to be part of a caravan, your clothes aren't suited to hard travel. Then the forests around her aren't exactly thick so you should have run into some other range town if you've been lost for weeks. And finally you're just a bad liar. The way you said almost everything basically screamed that you were lying."

She shrugged and turned back to facing forwards. "It's not really any of my business we're your from, I just was curious. I mean you seem harmless enough, but appearances can be deceiving and all that." Ellana could feel the frown on the woman's face as she continued, "You've got until we get to the boss to change yer story to whatever you want, but he's gonna wanna know why you're here."

TagalongDT 22nd of August, 2011 09:13

Ellana sat in muddled silence, gently stroking Mira. What was she doing out here? A building peeked over the horizon. Whatever it was, she better decide fast.

Erendiox 6th of September, 2011 14:23

Ellana notices now that the building she sees in the distance is simply the largest of several. As the horse trots onward, an entire town comes into view, resting on the top of a wide, rolling hill. A sturdy stone wall rings the outside, with long houses built in a circular fashion toward the inside. Blossom continues through the front gates, motioning a casual hello to the two guards at the front. They each steal a glance at Ellana, slightly curious of the newcomer that did not leave with Blossom in the first place.

After several smaller layers of housing and various shops, the two finally reach the center of town. A dozen horses graze in a wide open field, surrounded by several two-story stables. Everything is built, as it seems, in such a fashion as to protect these animals from any harm.

It's here that you encounter a tall, older man, with a shaved head and thin goatee. He stands broad and muscled, simple, worn clothes on his back. Unlike most of the other townsfolk, this man's skin is very dark. His hands are callous and scarred, though he seems to have a warm enough disposition when he meets eyes with the pair.

"Blossom. Who is this you have brought?" The man's voice is deep and granular, and he gives Ellana a once over.

"Irenicus." She nods her head and speaks clearly. "Her name is Ellana. We found her out in the fields. She returned one of our horses to us, and has offered to work in exchange for food and lodging."

Irenicus makes a failed attempt at concealing his amused expression and lets his smile through. "Next time Blossom, I want one three times as big." He looks Ellana in the eyes. "But I guess you'll have to do… I can imagine you'd have a hard time with the more demanding work, given your size…" He ponders for a moment. "Sakura needs help with the fields. Why don't you take her there."

Blossom nods. Irenicus pauses to exchange a word with another man who has approached him, who then also nods and leaves quickly. He turns back. "Ellana. If you've spent any time in Marukan, you know that merit goes a long way. If I hear from Sakura you've done a good job, we can get you a hot meal and a place to sleep."

TagalongDT 7th of September, 2011 07:47

Ellana held her breath during the entire conversation between Blossom and Irenicus, waiting for the inevitable "Why are you here?" question. When it never came she breathed a sigh of relief and smiled weakly. "Oh? The fields? Of...of course. I won't let you down." Irenicus's smile calmed her slightly, this town was a safe place. Maybe she'd finally find a moments peace so she could think. "Sakura was it? I'm sure I can help her out. Er..what...what do you need me to do? Or should I just ask Sakura?"

Erendiox 8th of September, 2011 00:53

"She'll explain everything." Said Blossom, and with that she led the horse back the way it came. Once out the city, she takes a different path that leads further north of the town. Soon Ellana is surrounded by crop fields - tomato, carrots, strawberries, and many others. Approaching a large stretch of cucumber, she can see half a dozen figures getting their hands dirty. One stands up as the two approach. Once Ellana looks past the layers of dirt on her cheeks and forehead, she seems to be in her mid-thirties. She's short and slender in an almost frail sort of way, but her eyes are like burning coals and her voice follows suit.

"Dammit Blossom! You're steppin' on the radishes again!"

Blossom exclaims, embarrassed, and steps her horse a few inches to the right. "Sorry Ma'am."

The woman points the brim of her big straw hat higher to the sky to get a better look at Ellana. "Brought me another helping hand?" She's looking straight at Ellana now. Her voice has a fearsome cut to it, but she seems to mean well. "Honey, you look perfect. Short and already dirtied up. Get on down here and I'll show you how it's done."

Ellana spends the next 10 hours picking cucumbers, which, unbeknownst to many people, is likely the most difficult crop to harvest by hand. By sundown, her hands are sore to the bone and pricked red all over. She can hardly contain her relief when she returns to town and is offered a bath and a change of clothes.

Unknown Day, Unknown Month, Realm Year 768 - Night

Ellana sits indoors at a square table. A steaming bowl of stew sits in front of her, still too hot to be eaten comfortably - the aroma teases her. She shares this meal with an old woman who sits beside her. Hwen, as she is named, has taken care of her from the moment she left the fields. In her time with the woman, she's told her stories about the town, both about the troubled times before the Viliriths arrived, and of the good times they are having now. She smiles down at the young girl, picks up her spoon and begins blowing on a hot spoonful of stew.

"So Ellana. I know nothing about yourself. Where are you from?"

TagalongDT 8th of September, 2011 17:36

All through Hwen's stories Ellana listened, enraptured. History was always a favorite of her subjects and The Golden Plains had enough history to fill the First Age. At least it seemed that way coming from Hwen's mouth. For some reason this woman reminded Ellana of her grandmother, and how she would sit for hours listening to the older woman's stories. Even as she bathed and changed into fresh clothing, Ellana listened intently, occasionally shushing Mira when the poor cat would mew in boredom. Now, dressed every bit the Maruken field hand (Golden Plains, field hand Hwen would have corrected), stirring her stew, Hwen's question caught Ellana off guard. She quickly spooned a mouth of stew into her mouth, nearly scorching her tongue off, to buy some time.

The stew, while savory, and seasoned with hunger, was still hot; hot enough that Ellana nearly spit the spoonful back into her bowl. Hunger and manners forced her to swallow the mouthful, though she quickly grabbed the nearby tumbler of water to cool her mouth. Mira, seeing her owner begin eating, took her cue and lapped at the stew. A quick yowl later and Mira learned the same lesson as her friend about hot stew. Ellana giggled, and picked up her cat, setting Mira in her lap. "Mira! Wait for me to tell you it's okay. You know how sensitive your tongue is." Finally settled, Ellana began blowing on the stew, alternately feeding herself and her cat. She looked up to see Hwen smirking, patiently waiting an answer to her question.

Looking into Hwen's eyes, Ellana decided she couldn't lie to the older woman, she should avoid certain topics though. "I'm sorry, it's just Mira...and. um. North, I'm from the north. Lookshy, actually. I moved down here with my best friend a few seasons ago. But a few weeks ago she just pushed me out of our house and told me it wasn't safe for me anymore. And..and..." Ellana found she couldn't go any further, and instead stared at her stew, petting Mira softly.

Erendiox 13th of September, 2011 03:24

Hwen looks at Ellana concernedly. She looks as if she might try to pry further, then smiles gently instead. "It's alright child. You don't need to tell me any more if you don't want to."

The old woman turns her attention back to the meal, and it's then that Ellana notices something she didn't see before. It has faded considerably, but there is an inscription at the center of the table. In the language of the Old Realm, it reads:

"One shall not take a meal in darkness. In the eye of the sun lies the breadth of creation."

The inscription is written in a circular fashion, in such a way that the candle old Hwen has placed on the table sits snugly surrounded by it. It's the first Old Realm Ellana has read in the weeks since leaving the Redoubt.

TagalongDT 13th of September, 2011 08:10

"-sun lies the breadth of creation," Ellana whispers the phrase to herself, the translation coming easy and fluid for her. As she whispers her natural curiosity overcomes her fear and sadness. She looks up at Hwen, eyes full of wonderment, "What does that mean?" Ellana asks, pointing to the etching on the table, "and how did it get there? And why is it written in Old Realm?" Mira, taking advantage of her master's distraction, helps herself to the bowl of stew.

Erendiox 15th of September, 2011 11:19

Hwen looks up into Ellana's eyes and puts down her spoon. The young girl is frightened for a moment when she see's the sharp look in the older woman's gaze.

"How is it that you can read the language of the Old Realm?" She asks it slowly, intently. Her brow is furrowed.

TagalongDT 15th of September, 2011 19:24

Hwen's intensity surprises Ellana and she shrinks back in her chair, grasping Mira close, in case they should need to run. Sensing her master's distress, Mira licks Ellana's cheek, ensuring the girl that everything will be okay. "I'm...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, I mean, I can not if everyone would prefer I didn't. I'm sorry. It's friend taught me after she discovered how much I I can leave if that's better..." Ellana stumbles through her words, hoping enough made sense to Hwen that should could at least finish dinner.

Erendiox 16th of September, 2011 07:39

Hwen immediately smiles and laughs to herself a little, shaking her head. "You really are harmless, aren't you?"

She picks her spoon back up and begins working again at her stew. "You'd best learn some backbone next - especially if you're going to be tossing Old Realm around. All the most fearsome of creatures, from the Fae, to spirits, to manifestations of the elements, speak the old tongue. For most people, the language carries those memories of fear with it."

TagalongDT 16th of September, 2011 11:09

Ellana takes Hwen's words and mulls them over in her mind. She'd forgotten the warnings from the Thaumaturgy Society in Lookshy, and it wouldn't do to alienate The Golden Plains. "I'll...I'll be careful," she says, "But still? What do the etchings on the table mean? They don't seem harmful, or terrible. And why are they written in Old Realm? It's very unusual, outside of certain texts."

Erendiox 19th of September, 2011 23:13

"This table is very old. The inscription is from an age long ago, based on all but forgotten beliefs."

Hwen smiles. "Lets just say that if the Scarlet Dynasty got their hands on it, they'd chop it to pieces. In fact, it's not the only thing in this house they'd have a problem with."

TagalongDT 20th of September, 2011 06:30

Ellana slurped her stew down and frowned. Hwen's mention of the Scarlet Dynasty bothered her. There was little love between Lookshy and The Realm, but they still had to acknowledge each other's strengths and methods. Why would a table, even one with Old Realm on it, bother the mighty Realm?

The now full Mira began purring gently on her lap, and as the stew settled Ellana how tired she was, the past two weeks of wandering the wilderness suddenly settling on her shoulders. She stifled back a yawn, "Such trouble over a table. Why..." her question turning into a full fledged yawn.

Erendiox 20th of September, 2011 23:11

The old, craggy smile returns again to Hwen's face. "You've had a long day child. There's a bed made for you upstairs. Go. Get some rest..."

Unknown Day, Unknown Month, Realm Year 768 - Midnight

Ellana is curled up with Mira, both dozing through the cool, summer night. Moonlight pours in through the open window, casting strange shapes across the blankets and the walls. The wind blows through and chimes clatter lightly outside.

As tired as the small girl is, she finds herself suddenly wide awake. Mira is still nestled at her side. There's something that she can barely hear. It's coming from the hallway and sounds out of place.

TagalongDT 21st of September, 2011 14:21

Ellana blinked, confusion setting in, where was she? This wasn't her room. She hugged Mira close, awakening the cat with an annoyed meow before Ellana shushed her quiet. The day's events settled in her mind and she stilled herself to see if she could hear the sound again. "Mira," she whispered, "did you hear that?" Mira stared vaguely annoyed at Ellana before shrugging. An image of Hwen's smile floated to the front of her mind and Ellana made her decision, "Come on, we have to check it out," she said.

Cracking open the door Ellana looked around, trying to identify the source of the strange noise. When nothing presented itself she ventured further down the unfamiliar hallways, Mira circling her feet in protection.

Erendiox 22nd of September, 2011 08:23

Ellana steps into the darkness. The candles have all been put out. Even Hwen's bedroom door lies closed, nothing but silence and darkness emanating from its edges. As she steps further down the sound becomes slightly clearer. It sounds breathy, like wisps of a woman's voice carried along the wind and it is audible in slow, exaggerated little pieces.

"He… … …hello? … Up… I'm up… … … here."

It sounds to be coming from above. Looking to the ceiling, a small hatch-like door leads to the attic. The door is quite out of your reach, and there are no stairs or ladder to be found.

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