Lady_Fate

R The Mighty Will Fall

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The Beast left giant footprints in the soft soil of the riverbank. Though his great wings were tucked tightly in at his sides, he could still feel the spindly needles of the evergreens brushing against them. The water churned around the dragon’s scaly forelegs as he waded in and dipped his head to drink from the river. His sides heaved as he breathed between gulps, drinking in the coolness of the freshwater. 

 

Achaean appreciated mornings like this; Quiet, peaceful, and serene. He could still feel the warmth of the blood that had filled his mouth when he'd ended the hunt - primal and instinctual, with every fiber of his being reveling victory over the stag that he had chosen. The creature had stood no chance. Not when Aean had the advantage of such a mighty form.

 

With his belly full from the kill and fresh water from the river, Aean took solace in the knowledge that there were miles of wilderness between himself and the relentless troubles of the so-called civilized world. Such a world used to concern him, used to weigh heavily on his thoughts. But those times were long since past. With careful concealment, Aean had removed himself from the world's awareness, detaching his ancient life from their petty squabbles and greedy ambitions. Despite all their shortcomings, it was not something he had been eager to do. Aean hadn't sought solitude out of preference, but rather, out of necessity. It was either isolation or his end.

 

Something disturbed his bitter contentment and drew his attention. He lifted his horned head to peer suspiciously at the trees that lined the banks of the river. Perhaps he had grown too comfortable in his lonely mountain spine; Perhaps he had grown careless. After all, hadn't he decided long ago that taking to the skies in all his might and majesty would be too obvious? And what had he just done; used such frivolous advantages to his favor to stalk and pin a stag. Well the stag was his. It was taken, consumed, and now fed the fuel of his life - but what would such an easy and extravagant hunt now cost him? 

 

Molten gold eyes surveyed the shadows critically, sure that something was out of place. The water was still rolling in droplets off the scales of his maw as he stalked forward. A flock of sparrows burst from the canopy of a tree further in the forest, spurred into flight by something there that had startled them. Aean was sure now, this wasn’t a beast of the forest, it wasnt something that belonged there. Something foreign had wandered into his territory. Something that brought with it danger and death.

 

He had been hoisted by his own petard, and caught in the open in a shape that could condemn him. His kind was dying if not already dead, and if a mortal had seen him now, they would come in throngs to hunt him. He cursed himself inwardly, damning his foolish notion to hunt in the traditional fashion. He was deft enough with a bow when wearing his mortal skin - he could have avoided this impending threat had he just been humble. He didn't know now if he had been spotted, but a great beast wading in the river was a hard thing to overlook. At least if he remained as a beast, he was less vulnerable than as a man. More conspicuous, perhaps, but less vulnerable.

 

With a low breath that rumbled in the core of him, the scaled dragon drew himself up to his full height and unfurled his wings. He made for an impressive display: the great lizard, taking his stand in the middle of the running water. His eyes glowed with the ancient magic of his kind under the twisted horns that framed his head, the spines that ran long his frame prickled, and his nostrils flared in warning. 

 

He did not speak, he was not intending on exchanging words with this trespasser. He was going to end them if he could, save himself from whatever potential threat there might have been to his future existence. These were his woods, his mountains, his domain. Aean had made it that way. And he intended to keep it.

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Sophira stepped off the massive ship, her clothing was too much for this warmer temperature, but coming from a land that was snow for nine months out of the year and never got above a mild cool in the summer, this is what she had. Her white hair was hidden in her cloak, a cloak that was lined with white speckled fur, and made out of some kind of suede, dyed blue. Her dress was a similar design of this blue suede, but was covered with metal plating that had been hammered to fit her womanly shape. From Sophira's home she had been a noble's daughter, she came with plenty of money to stay in luxury, and had told her family that she seeked 'a fresh start' as back home she was known for her magic, regarded with a sense of fear and foreboding, and it was something that made it difficult to get close to people, it put her in a certain light that made her feel alien. While, she hadn't lied, she did want to escape the judging eyes of her village, more than anything she wanted to seek the truth behind the whispers of 'dragons.' The majestic creatures were practically a myth, they hadn't been seen since she was a little girl and she was eager to see one herself, however doubtful she was that they were actually still around.

 

She wondered into the village, her first priority was a place to stay for the night and new clothes. She was skilled enough with magic that she was able to keep a breeze moving up her skirt keeping her cool, but she'd much rather just have lighter clothing. Knowing the village she had ported at was not exactly prosperous, she didn't have high expectations on finding a seamstress and walking away with new clothes tonight, but maybe she could make do with some pre-made articles. Sophira was a very hard and harsh person, but she was not, by any stretch, a snob. 

 

First was her trip to the inn, she paid for her room and dropped off what little belongings she brought with her, then headed out to find clothing. At the local clother most of what was around was bolts of fabric, she couldn't help but finger the various materials, they weren't as nice as most of her clothes back home, but she still appreciated them nonetheless. An elderly woman approached her and Sophira pulled her hood down to show her sparkly crystal blue eyes. "Hello." 

 

"Good 'ay, milady. Anythin' I can help ya wit?" 

 

Sophira smiled at the lady's broken English, pleased by the immediate kindness, and the complete lack of alarm in her eyes. "I'm afraid I'm a little over dressed for the weather here, do you have anything I could purchase and take with me immediately?" The elderly woman nodded and lead her to a rack on the far wall of several completed pieces. Most of it was around the same size, they were overly large, with drawstrings to pull them tight to fit a multitude of sizes. This was not Sophira's preferred method of 'fitting' but she was limited on time, she wanted to be traveling out of this village by morn. She touched the various pieces, pulling them out and considering them. She'd buy one of the drawstring dresses, but perhaps the lady could be convinced to whip out a piece for her with enough coin. "I will purchase one of these, but perhaps you'd be willing to do a rush order for me?" Sophira pulled free the only one in a blue tone, which had probably caused her great trouble to get that tone, it was pale, and so it probably started as a natural cream tone. 

 

"'Dat depends on how rush, and what yer lookin' fer." 

 

"I'd like a dress to fit more personally than drawstrings. I'll accept it in white, or blue. I need it by tomorrow morning and I can pay..." She pulled out her pouch of coins withdrew three gold pieces and held them in her palm, "Handsomely." 

 

The elderly woman's eyes sparkled with greed, and a smile spread across her aged teeth, the few that remained that is, "I'll have yer dress ready by sunrise." She snatched the three pieces from Sophira, thanked her, and quickly rushed her to her work space to take quick measurements, in minutes she was pushing Sophira out the door saying she had to get started immediately. The door was shut and locked behind her, Sophira shrugged and went back to the inn with her purchase. 

 

The inn was an old wooden place, the places back home were mostly stone, it was rare to see wooden buildings, and so she couldn't help but graze her fingers along the walls, careful not to give herself splinters. In the tavern on the first floor she was treated like she was some sort of princess, the males ogled her and her pricey clothes, offering to buy her drinks, and flirting with words they could barely manage. She rejected politely and continued to her room, though she did order dinner to be brought to her room, she found the eyes of the many males unnerving, Sophira wasn't the most social of creatures and would rather return to her room to continue reading on dragons. Safe in her room she changed into the new dress, it still hung to her ankles, but the sleeves were short and acted like petals over her shoulders, the material much lighter, the drawstring at her waist kept it tight to her body but there was still waves of fabric left loosely over her bust. Her valuables she hid in a drawer and places an icy spell over it, using the water from the basin to freeze it shut, though she kept it subtle so the ice remained inside the drawer, should someone try to open it, it would simply seem as if it were jammed. Once her food had arrived, she informed the serf that she would require not further aid this evening and shut the door in his face. Another spell to seal the door and windows with ice as well, paranoid? A little, she had never been so far from home and the way the men at the tavern had eyed her made her deftly aware of how poor this town was and how expensive she appeared in her fur cloak, and richly dyed dress.

 

At the small table in the room she ate her dinner, with a book wide open beside her plate, reading by candle light as the moon grew higher and higher into the sky. It wasn't long before she realized she had been reading for hours and forced herself to stop and go to bed. She would need all her strength to traverse this new terrain to find the dragons. Laid out on her bed, she sighed, a smile spread across her soft, pink lips, eager and still feeling giddy with energy about the possibilities to come.

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Rinkron woke up with a start, it was another night mare keeping him from enjoying a good night's rest. As he woke up, he gazed at the the twinkling stars in the night sky, as he was on the run again from the dreaded humans. But alas, it was time to move again, anyway. So, he quickly dawned his usual cloak of red cloth and white fur that draped him is such a fashion that made him look like a scholar. Then, he grabbed his old wooden staff, which had served him for many years in the forbidden art of magic.

 

After grabbing the other necessities like food and drink, he walked off in a northern direct, hoping to get to another town soon, where he would meet an old friend of his. Before he made it a few feet from his former camp site, he heard a slight rustling of leaves and he froze, looking in every direction. The rustling grew louder and louder until it was as if the being making the noise was right next to him.

 

And then, all of a sudden, a tall and black figure rose out of the bushes and attacked Rinkron right there! He was hardly prepared for this and the assailant quickly got the upper hand and wrapped his cold and bony fingers around Rinkron's neck. Rink, however, was not one to give up and reached for the dagger that was hidden his bag that happened to be next to him and stabbed the figure right in the gut.

 

The attacker let out a loud yell and fell to the ground right next to Rinkron and laid there motionless for a while. Rink, assuming he was dead, got up and checked the body for anything that could give him a clue as to who this man was.

 

The man's face was a ghastly shade of white and he had uninteresting facial features, other than a scar on his neck that looked like an arrow. Rink didn't think much of it and seached his body for any valuables and he was on his way after that; assuming that the man was just a common bandit.

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There was a moment of stillness, when Aean drew in a slow, even breath, eyeing the tree line with solid resolve. There was no sound save for the babble of the water at his feet - and even that seemed to hush itself under the tension. The pause lingered just long enough for duobt to tap Aean on the shoulder, and make him wonder if he was succumbing to paranoia. But then a gasp was let, and Aean felt his body shiver with the reality that he had been discovered. 

 

There was no denying it. Trees don’t gasp; or rodents, or hawks. Only one creature would make a sound like that upon seeing a sight like him. The sudden intake of breath was accompanied by another sound, a strum and then a whooshing whistle - Aean felt a sting as an arrow pierced the membrane of one of his wings. Another twang, and whistle, this time from a slightly different location, and Aean felt the stick bounce off the solid scales of his hide. These fools had no idea what they were doing.

 

His gaze swept the trees again, and in an instant he found the first bewildered face. Aean’s fierce eyes fixed on the young hunter with such intensity, the boy let out a cry. A companion called to him, Aean noted the location - not too far off, but somewhat sheltered by the thicker growth of trees. Then another voice, again, hidden in the foliage.

 

‘Gods, how many are there?’ He Thought, as he realized he would have a time trying to snatch at them all buried in the density of the wood. 

 

As if in answer, there was a chorus of bow strings loosed, and Aean caught the brief glimpse of 4 arrows flying towards him. He gathered his wings back in, not tightly, but similar to a falcon in a dive and sunk his body low, the water of the river sent a wave away from him as he disturbed it, but the maneuver didn’t save him from the volley. The price he paid for delay was a small one, the sharp head of one of the arrows found the softer flesh beneath one of his eyes. It tore the skin and ricocheted off into the water. Aean realized how fortunate he was the shot hadn't taken his eye with it, but he also understood that he needed to end this encounter. Quickly.

 

Aean’s “defensive†couch hadn’t been intended to dodge the oncoming attack, but to prime himself for an attack of his own. His muscles all coiled, and his legs solidly beneath them, Aean drew in a breath and felt the heat growing in his core. He sprang like a jungle cat, pouncing on it’s kill, taking a ribbon of water with him as he leapt. He had halved the distance between himself and the trees where the hunting party hid, and closed another half of that with two smooth bounds. All the while the heat was growing. When Aean knew he was in range, he opened his jaw and released a spear of flames into the greenery. 

 

With two attempts, he had blackened the trunks and charred the brambles. There was nothing left alive within the reach of his breath. Aean studied his work. There were a few little dancing flames performing for him, but there was no danger of igniting the whole forrest. That was good. After all, Aean hoped to salvage everything he could from this encounter, and this was still his home. Besides, setting the whole forrest ablaze would no doubt draw attention, the smoke alone would—

 

Aean froze. Slowly his gaze climbed skyward. How could he have been so careless? There wasn’t much now; a few trailing whips of swirling smoke from the pockets of flames that were left from his turn. But surely the preliminary blast had sent up a black plume to inform every village within sight of the mountain that something unnatural had happened here.

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It took Rink just over an hour to reach the town of Yeswer. It was a small, secluded little village that was full of mage sympathizers. As he walked past the town sign an into the town itself, people immediately stopped what they were doing and stared at him in a mixture of awe and fear. Yes, Rink was well know in this village, and people knew of his exploits.

 

'The inn's right over there, sir," said a young farm boy, who instantly knew what Rink had come for. "Thank you," said Rink as he ruffled the boy's hair playfully.

He then walked up to the broken-down inn by the name of The Greedy Dragon. It was a small inn, and at about two stories high, it was safe to say that it was just a small house.

 

Rink tapped on the door and a little slot was opened to reveal two beady little eyes. "Oh my! Well, lookie here! It's Rink coming back to see us!" said a female voice, and then the slot was closed and the door opened to reveal a rosy-cheeked, plumb and short old lady.

 

"It's good to see you, Libby," said Rink in a calm voice.

 

"Aww, it's good to see ye to, Rinky-dinky," she said playfully.

 

He let himself in and soon enough, he was in his bed, fast asleep.

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Morning came with the bright sunlight through her window, branching out over her sealed eyes demanding her to wake. With a groan and a sigh Sophira rolled over, fluttering her eyes rapidly trying to adjust to the new light. It was already mid-day! She rose even though she was still struggling with focusing and stumbled unceremoniously across the rented room to the armoire where she'd stored her new dress. Flipping it over her head and tying the drawstring tight, it flowed loosely around her lithe figure, then came on her black booties. For now she'd leave her armor and her nicer clothing in the room, she'd go eat and see about her new clothing and then decide on a plan from there.

 

Her pouch was tied to a belt around her waist and she went out the door, waving another ice spell to seal it close as she went. Entering the tavern portion of the inn she couldn't help but overhear the many conversations, the excited voices and the more fearful ones, all of them regaling the same tale: smoke had been spotted in the woods, a dragon they believed, hunters were going out to seek answers. Sophira's heart fluttered. She made her order for breakfast and sat down with a few of the men who had been so crudely flirting with her the night prior. They eyed her strangely, well aware she'd blown them off last night.

 

"So, what's this I hear about a dragon?" She cooed in her sweetest voice and as expected the brutes melted, the suspicion immediately flowing away as her song bird voice caressed their ears. 

 

"To the East, over Forlorn Forest smoke was spotted. A dragon hasn't been spotted in over twenty years. You musta been just a wee thing at the time!" The one to her right chortled as he spoke of her age, his dark eyes caressing her neck and lower.

 

A servant brought out her eggs and fruit and she tipped him in silver, the brutes noted this and she saw the curiosity creep back into their eyes, this would not due. "Oh, sounds scary!" She made a pout and a slight frown, drawing their attention back to her feminine face which generally didn't appear so delicate but with the right expressions she made herself appear so. Sophira was a master at manipulation. She turned to her breakfast and began eating in a most languid way that was most definitely as a means of flirtation.

 

"Why do they believe it's a dragon and not just a simply forest fire?" She whispered between bites of fruit, fluttered her eyes playing the innocent ignorant.

 

"T'was the wrong kind of smoke to be a simple fire, it showed signs of dragon's fire. Hunters are gathering in the town and will be heading out soon to put the beast to rest, you've nothing to fear mi'lady." Oh, well this wasn't surprising, but it also meant she'd be on a time limit. Time to wrap things up and head out. 

 

She finished her meal quickly and stood up, "Thank you for the morning company, gentlemen, perhaps I'll see you around." Her voice having changed to a much harder tone now that the information had been given. She took her stone cup of water and headed back for the stairs to her room. 

 

She knew they were watching her leave, but when she heard the chairs move and one of their footfalls following a distance behind her she was a bit flustered. It wasn't surprising, she knew she'd lead them on, but she'd hoped they'd let it go, most people did, but she was playing with bigger men then she usually did, the average male would usually puff like a peacock under her attention, but the moment she turned her tail and left he'd deflate like a popped bubble. When his steps continued to follow her up the stairs she sighed, glanced around and subtly flicked several drops of water from her cup to the stairs which she then swiftly turned to ice. When the brute stepped on it he inevitably slipped and fell tumbling back down the stairs in a loud, crashing heap; another wave of her hand and the ice returned to water. She was up the last few stairs and around the bend before he even got a chance to look up. 

 

Sophira was in her room and throwing her belongings into her bag, adjusting her armor over her new clothes, which was mostly just a bustier in plate to cover her bust and stomach, done in shells that slipped into themselves so she could still shift and move easily while wearing it, the similarity to dragon scales did not go unnoticed to her. The armor made the extra cloth from the dress bunch up, she did hope the clother was done. She made her way out the back entrance and walked briskly to the clother, mildly worried that the brutes from the tavern would notice her. They had looked like mercenaries, probably they were staying there like she was, looking for work, they could cause trouble if she ran into them multiple times, especially after she'd made her interest in the dragon known. 

 

The lady at the clother smiled brightly to Sophira, having most likely been the seamstress' highest paying customer in months if not years. "Good'morn!" The old woman called and ushered Sophira inside, a quick glance back eased Sophira's worry, no brutish mercenaries in sight. She had no reason to believe they would continue to follow her but she still worried. 

 

The old woman captured her attention again as she pulled out Sophira's commissioned piece. Sophira's bright blue eyes seemed light up and glow at the vision of her new dress. It was sleeveless and the material... was that silk? She didn't think the old woman even had silk available to her hear, and the blue! Goodness this woman had gone above and beyond her expectations! Sophira's was practically tearing off her current clothes, right in front of the seamstress to! She had no modesty, but even if she did it would make little difference in this scenario as the desire to have that luscious silk against her skin and to see how the beautiful dress would appear on was overwhelming. The skirt was much shorter than anything she owned, but she also lived in a place where it was always cold, here where it was warm it didn't matter. Her legs felt naked but she rather liked the view of her own pale delicate thighs exposed. The dress hugged every curve and to her utter delight the cross of fabric at the bust lined up perfectly with the sweetheart of her armor. Her eyes cinched in confusion and then moved to the old woman, "Did you intend this?" The seamstress merely nodded, her face glowing with her smile, pleased that her client was so happy with her work. 

 

Sophira, her excitement now ebbed to a throbbing explosive force, managed with shaking hands to tie her armor back on and fasten her belt and purse to her hips. Feeling like she needed to offer the woman more but didn't want to throw money at her she had another idea, "I have one more favor to ask," She barely managed to look the woman in the eye as her hands were busy running over the smooth fabric. 

 

"And what's dat?" The seamstress was still smiling.

 

"I'm going to be traveling for quite awhile and I won't have need of my heavier clothes until I return to port to head home. Could I possibly pay you to hold on to them until I return?" Sophira smiled almost bashfully, stunned at her own ecstatic behavior and only now beginning to blush as she realized how she had behaved before the elderly woman. 

 

"Oh, ye need no' pay me, hun! I'll hold on to yer belongings until ye return. Any idea how long yu'll be?" She asked as she took the offered clothing from Sophira, moving across her work space to store them in a trunk. 

 

"I'm not sure, will that be a problem? It could be a couple weeks, or it could be several months." 

 

"Not a problem at all. Be well on yer travels!" The old woman was walking her to the door but suddenly stopped, "Oh wait!" She left back into her work space and returned with Sophira's cloak, "Grows cold sum nights, best keep dis." The seamstress waved it out in a billow of fabric around Sophira's shoulders, clasping it to the dress at grommets by the shoulders Sophira hadn't even noticed! It positioned the cloak so it remained off her shoulders and thus didn't bring about the warmth, instead it flowed elegantly behind her. 

 

"Thank you, so much." Sophira was still stunned at the immaculate work the woman had done all for three gold pieces! Sophira walked away still smiling, knowing she probably would never return for the clothes and hoped the old woman could make good use of the rabbit fur and precious dyed suede. 

 

She made one last stop to the food vendor, packing her bag with lasting fruits and jerky for her travels. The merchants were happy to give her directions to the Forlorn Forest, but advised her to stay to the roads and if she could to travel with a caravan. She had no intentions of going with a caravan, and she knew staying on the roads meant a greater odds of running into bandits who would do far more than just steal from her. The wilds of nature that couldn't rat her out for using magic seemed like a better idea in her opinion. Still, she followed the roads for sometime before veering off into the forest. 

 

The forests were lush and thick and for a normal human probably particularly difficult to traverse, but for a nature mage the elements worked in her favor, the very earth wanted to make room for her to become a part of it. Simple forces of magic pushed the wind in her favor, bending back branches and leaves to keep them from hindering her path. The animals seemed to sense her connection to the earth and avoided her for the most part. 

 

An hour or so in and she was certain she was close, she could smell the smoke, how long ago had this happened? Had any hunters stumbled upon it yet? Was the dragon still about? She drew closer but fear started to eat at her, would it attack her on sight? What would a hunter do if she ran into them? 

 

Drawing closer she spotted the exact location, the ground was lightly singed, but those were definitely human remains and oh god the smell! She drew her cloak around to cover her nose as she tip-toed closer. Glancing around she spotted no one, she didn't hear anything either, so she assumed she was alone. Moving up to the corpse she nudged it with the toe of her boot and it practically fell apart. "Ew..." She said flatly, her foot lingering in the air a moment after the fact out of sheer shock. "I need to clean this up somehow or the hunters will surely find this...." Not that it was telling her which direction to go, but at the very least she knew the dragon had been in this general vicinity, if she cleared it up there was a possibility - however slim - that the hunters would decide it was a lost cause and go home. 

 

The bodies practically crumbled so it was just a matter of hiding the ashes and any remaining bones. Using a broken off branch, she gathered what little water was left in it to freeze it and help harden it, making it sturdier for her to dig at the ground with. At the base of the nearby trees, where it was less likely to be noticed she dug shallow holes and brushed the ashes within. Seeing no other option she crushed and stamped out the few singed spots on the ground, leaving open dirt patches, any cooked leaves she gathered, crumpled and buried as well. The few remaining bones she picked up and stored in her bag to discard later, better not to leave such obvious clues lingering, the rustled dirt was bad enough. Finally, she raised her delicate, pale hands high above her head and began pushing and pulling on the wind, stirring up the air and shifting the odor, casting it down wind toward the ocean to be picked up by the seas and carried away. She was determined to find the dragon before the hunters. So much could be gained through a pact with a dragon. Her magic was part of her very soul and if the legends were true that meant dragons could exponentially effect her magic. Assuming it didn't cook her first. 

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Aean had not been eager to dwell on his mistake, but neither was he quite looking forward to paying for it. With a huff that mixed itself with the low rumble he usually reserved as warning, Aean twisted back towards the running water and stalked, frustrated, to the glittering stream. It wasn’t nearly deep enough to submerge his whole self - not in his present form. However, he knew that should he shift, the hole left by the first arrow would still haunt him like a phantom limb. An untouchable ache ghosting behind him on human-like flesh. No evidence of the wound, but the sting of it would echo until his beast form revealed it again. He wanted to feel the cool freshness of the water clean the pinprick left to him. So, mustering all the dignity he could afford for himself, Aean lolled onto his side in the river- rolling like a dog in the grass to let his damaged wing submerge itself in the cold mountain stream.

 

He was as brief as he could allow himself to be. After indulging the child-like playfulness that had been induced by the action, Aean rolled back onto his feet, lifted his massive scaly form out of the water, and shook- again much like a dog. This time, as he waded out of the middle of the water, he changed.

 

The transformation was quite unexpected and astonishing. There was no sound of grinding or cracking, no shedding of scales, or slime and puss; but a ripple of bone beneath flesh that seemed to fold in on itself, the unnatural way the scales slipped backward to be swallowed by fleshy skin, the diminishing bulk of the beast that consumed itself - it was like watching a great creature swallowed up python. Except that when the transformation was complete, there was no evidence of a dragon; No clue that a great beast had been present only moments before; no bulging belly, no protruding silhouette. Just a man.

 

Aean lifted a human hand to his face, gingerly touching the torn skin beneath his eye. It wasn’t life threatening, certainly, but it was painful. He stooped to scoop a handful of water from the shallows and splash the offended area. again relishing in the hollow sting of cleaning it. The water ran down his face, and spilled onto his naked form, pinkened by his own blood. He splashed his chest once or twice, finding that a sufficient enough bath, and paced towards the untouched trees opposite to were he had been too hasty with his might. He was still a ways off from where he’d left his picked together clothing, but Aean didn’t mind a walk. Even naked. Who was left for him to be modest around? the charred corpses of the fools he had dispatched? And without a backward glance, Aean left the scene of his folly. With any luck, the legends of the Forlorn Forest and his mountain spine would keep any glory seekers too scared to investigate. But somehow Aean doubted it. It was probably time to reevaluate his habits… and move a little ways up the mountain. Tomorrow…

 

~*~

 

Aean had found his den just as he had left it. With the camouflage of a camp: complete with an unused circle of stone and wood for a hunter’s fire, a bedroll that had not been slept in for several nights, and a rather neglected longsword and bow - the quiver of arrows depleted and dirty. Aean had worn his dragonskin far too often as of late, and had no use for such things.

 

Beside the bedroll was a pile of furs, metal, and leather that Aean plucked up a piece at a time. He fit each one onto himself in it’s proper order and fashion, but none of it seemed to belong to the same design. There was a leather jerkin, lined with a thin undercoat of mail, and collared with a wolf pelt that had been added after its original make. The fur hung down his back like a mane and acted as a hood in worse weather. He pulled on a light pair of chausses, made of fine metal that moved like cloth - much more elegant a design than the chain mail lined leather on his torso. One hand was fitted with a leather vambrace, while the other was fully protected with a plated gauntlet, Sharpened and shaped to resemble his talloned fore-claw when he was not disguised as a mortal. His feet were clad in polished sabatons, worked and re-worked again - likely by his own hand - until they were a perfect fit. And to finish his unusual attire, around his hips he wrapped a long leather belt, fitted with a sheath, pouches, and loops to hold whatever odds and ends he didn’t want to burden his hands with.

 

It was not a fashionable outfit by aesthetic standards- but it was impressive. If anyone had ever had the chance of admiring his chosen collection of armor for his frail form, they would be awed. It was suited exactly to his preferred style of conflict - if he must engage as a weak human in either hunt or battle. It was flexible, yet sturdy. He could move easily and still rely on it to protect him if his reflexes failed. Over the years as he traded one piece for another or added a flourish to it’s design, he had grown fond of it. It was the one thing he liked about his human form. One thing he was proud of.

 

Aean cast a sideways glance at his forgotten weapons. The bow he had made himself after finding such a weapon necessary if he was forced to remain human - but the sword was stolen; like much of his metal. It, he only practiced with, but never actually used.

 

He sat on the boulder the quiver was propped against and took the bow in his hands. Running his fingers along the length of it, and plucking the string, he resolved that it was in need of repair. Replacing the string should do it - and he still had some linen strips left. Determined to rekindle his old protective habits of disguise, Aean set to work repairing his bow. He was going to need it if his dragon self was to remain tucked away safely out of sight...

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With the crime scene cleaned up to the best of her abilities Sophira dusted off her dirtied knees. She took a few steps but stopped, glancing back the way she came to the village she'd come from. It had taken her almost a half hour to clean it up to her standards, hunters would be well on their way into the woods. So, what would the dragon do to avoid detection? Logically, it should move further away, but if it could take human form the best hiding place would actually be among humans, even among the hunters if it could, however it was only a rumor that dragons could take on a human form. Sophira wasn't sure if she believed it, magic was a delicate thing, it could be used to effect things that already existed, but to take a dragon that was taller than a building and make it fit inside of one seemed illogical. So it would move further away from the villages, there was one on three sides of her current location, according to the map, but heading off in the one empty direction there was no major body of water for a great distance. It could be injured, if that were the case it would want to stick by the water to continually feed and drink in order to recover. 

 

She decided since there had been remains for at least four hunters the dragon was most likely injured and probably had gone toward water. So she headed off towards the river marked on the map. It wouldn't hurt to travel beside the water anyway, she would need it for her own survival depending on how long this took. 

 

The terrain grew rough as she traveled, more rocks and stubborn roots that refused to stay in the ground had her hiking more than walking. She had wondered about the significance of the shape of the skirt, and now she understood, the curve toward the front made it so the skirt always covered her bottom, but gave plenty of room for her to lift her legs up high, the flap in the front easily covered her groin for such movements, keeping her modesty intact. Her dress was so freeing and so very sexy, even alone she couldn't help the sway her body moved in as she climbed up and over rocks and fallen logs. The forest grew denser and denser until she was stumbling about, tripping over branches she couldn't even see because the shrubbery reached high on her thighs. A brief thought of a snake sliding around her ankles made her shiver and hurry on to get through the thicket. All of a sudden she stumbled out of the forest and onto the bank of the river, stumbling her way down to the waters edge, her thighs and calves covered in small scratches, quickly forming into welts. Quickly she splashed the cool water onto her thighs to relieve the burning. 

 

Satisfied she stood up straight and sighed relief. Glancing around her eyes narrowed in on another person, a male who had been staring at her as she'd wet her legs. Did her face feel hot? Her mind quickly worked through the levels of embarrassment at being caught unaware. She quickly noted his armor and weapon, a hunter? Hunters would ask questions, hunters could be a problem. Should she kill him? What if she failed? He probably wouldn't kill her, more likely he'd do more nefarious things to her and when he was done he'd turn her into their king and have her killed for magic. Perhaps, she should hold off on that for now. Decided, she would see how things played out and only in an extreme case would she reveal her magic. 

 

How to act? What excuse did she have for being out here in the forest where a dragon had recently been spotted? She was good at playing the ditz; "Hello, good sir!" Sophira waved delightedly, a bright smile on her face to hide all her calculating thoughts. "What brings you out on this beautiful day?"

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Aean's attention had been so completely engrossed in the work of his hands over the repair of his bow, that he had let his usually observant self fall short. Short enough, at least, that he hadn't noticed when a female of the human kind broke out of the dense foliage near the shallow creek nearby. It wasn't until the sound of the water splashing around her ankles reached him, that Aean tore his attention away from his hands.

He froze at the sight of her. His first instinct was to bristle; to defend himself from whatever her purpose was here - but how? the disassembled weapon in his hands was of little use at the moment, and Aean was caught in this insufferable, vulnerable, human body. He blinked. That was it. He was, by all appearances, human. She could not know what he really was.

Reassured that there was a strong possibility that this woman was not here looking for a frail human hunter, he let himself observe her. She hadn't noticed him yet. She was busy stooping low to scoop up handfuls of water and douse the red marks left by the forest on her exposed flesh. Aean noticed that- the obvious contrast of her gender with the men he had destroyed earlier. They had been covered head to toe in clothing and leather armor to protect their soft bodies; though little good it had done them. Then it occurred to him that Aean had not observed a female of human kind for a very long time - isolated as he was these long ages in the mountains. Any mortal he did see was always male; always aggressive; and always a fool. He wondered to himself if females were any different.

It was then that she noticed him, sitting on his rock, stick and twisted linen in his fingers, staring at her. Almost instantly she adopted a friendly demeanor, casting him a smile and gesturing a wave.

"Hello, good sir!" she called, and Aean blinked. "What brings you out on this beautiful day?"

Doubtfully, Aean cast a searching glance behind him - half expecting to see someone else in his unused camp with them. 'She is far too trusting of strangers,' He noted to himself as he looked back in her direction. As eager as she seemed to be to make friends, Aean was suspicious, so he returned her smile with a scowl and a shallow sigh. "You lost?" he called, making no move to set down his work or rise to greet her.

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When Rink woke back up from his sleep, he was greeted with a tray of hot tea and bread on the small counter next to him. Greedily eating the bread and drinking the tea, Rink started to think about his next move. Then,Libby walked happily into his room and said, "Well, look who's awake!"

Rink then got up and quickly put on his magic robes and grabbed his staff.

 

"Wait, you're leaving us again?" Libby said, her smile quickly turning into a frown.

 

"I have to go, many mages are in trouble and they need me to save them."

 

"Why do you still care about those who didn't bring you into this world?"

 

Rink just ignored her and walked through the door behind her, thinking extensively about what she said. Was he really fighting for the wrong people?

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His eyes were hard and they never left her face, even at Sophira's attempts at drawing his attention to her figure. His tone was just as harsh and Sophira was rather caught off guard and stopped in her tracks. For a moment she was left baffled on what to do next, everyone fell for her stupid ditzy charade, everyone. Quick on her feet to stumbled into a response; "Oh, humm, no I'm not lost, was just out gathering some fresh herbs." With a dragon about? Unlikely. Well, for an intelligent person it was unlikely, but for a ditzy who knew no better? Sophira plastered the plastic smile back on her lips and gave him her best flirty look, eyes lashes a flutter. "I heard the village hunters mention a dragon, are you hunting the creature as well?" Why else would he be out here? "Personally, I think it's a little silly. I'm sure it was just a forest fire, or maybe some adventures let their camp fire get out of hand. Dragons haven't been seen in forever!" Really it had only been about twenty years, but most people didn't believe Sophira was old enough to know the last time they were around anyway. 

 

Eager to bend the situation to her better interest she moved closer, giving him a long line of her bare legs, even marred with the quickly healing welts she still had long, creamy legs to be envied, her hip out to the side accentuating her luscious curves and heavy bosom. "You have such interesting armor. I've never seen most of it, so exotic!" It occurred to Sophira as she noted this, looking over his curious armor, that it was a hodgepodge of pieces, many of them ancient in design, things she'd only read about and seen pictures of. She could tell the origins of each piece, but her ditzy charade wouldn't know them; she just hoped her eager interest didn't portray in her eyes. Where would a hunter have obtained such interesting armor? An adventurer who traveled over seas perhaps? But what were the odds? Could he be another mage seeking the dragon as well? The possibility suddenly sprung up a wall in Sophira's mind, regardless of who or what this man was she needed to get him out of the way and away from her dragon.

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Aean's brow furrowed further as he devoted an unexpected amount of interest in her attempts to flatter and flirt. He wasn't used to thins kind of interaction, and found himself - against his better judgment - inclined to prolong whatever game she was playing. If only to study her more, he reasoned. Involuntarily, his eyes wandered lower on her frame- but only for a moment. He could feel the danger of something outside his comfortable control seizing hold of him - a sort of unfamiliar territory of impulses, and dangerous conversations with living things who possessed enough intelligence to reason.

Whatever unwelcome manipulation had begun to creep over his usual solid resolve was quickly killed when the girl threw the word "dragon" into the mix. As though doused with a wave of icy water, Aean hardened visibly, remembering his defenses. His interest in her representation of her female form was forgotten - and already Aean felt he had revealed too much in his outward reflex at the mention of his own race.

His unease was calmed slightly when her string of words turned idly to the collection of armor he had chosen to don himself with. Aean glanced down at his own form, partly to remind himself of the haphazard pieces, and partially to buy himself time to think up a solid yet subtle way to extract more information from her.

"Dragon, did you say?" he decided on feigning ignorance, dismissing without acknowledgment her uninteresting compliment of his fashion choices. Her mention of dragons, however, was of interest - it revealed that his escapades with the fools by the riverside had not gone unnoticed.

Aean felt his attention being drawn to her exposed flesh once again, and quickly forced his eyes upward. What was so distracting about human skin? He'd had opportunities to see it before, study it, observe it - but never had he found it so interesting as he seemed to now. It was frustrating. Perhaps these long decades of self-induced solitude were to blame- perhaps a new fascination with mortal anatomy had bourn itself out of his distaste for the species.

Or maybe this woman was not what she appeared to be.

If his eyes had not communicated any of the suspicion he harbored for her yet, they did now. "All Dragons are dead." he said sternly, watching her for a reaction that might reveal more of that they knew about his existence up here. "That's why they haven't seen one, lass." he added passively, dropping his eyes and resuming his repair of his bow. He didn't trust himself to rest his gaze on her - it might wander places he knew it shouldn't.

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Sophira was an observing calculating individual, even if she played the part of the ditz immaculately, so when his eyes gave the slightest sheen, the littlest motion she caught it. Dragon had been the key word she'd noted and the words that followed sounded a lie to her ears. He was apparently trying to get her to go away, and he had no knowledge of them hunting the dragon so he wasn't from a village, so he was either a random adventurer, which there wasn't much to adventure in these woods or the more likely he was another mage searching for the dragon as well. Sophira couldn't fathom a world where a man would pass up her advances as it had simply never been done before so finding the dragon before her had to be extremely important to him. Did she dare attack him? What if he was more skilled in magic than her? She fidgeted with the idea a moment but ultimately pushed it away, still too afraid on that slim chance that he wasn't a mage.

 

His voice was deep and though his words were short and direct she couldn't help the little chill that ran up her spine as he called her 'lass' something about that delicately feminine term made her want to smile and bite her lip in a way that did not fit her innocent ditsy charade. She resisted and continued her part, giving him a frown at his harsh response, acting more like being called 'lass' had been demeaning. "I agree they are dead. I'm just sayin' what the towns all in uproar about! But if you're not out hunting the dragon, why would you be out here? Not many caves or treasures to be found in these parts!" She giggled as she said it, acting as if his negative attitude hadn't even occurred. Veiling her questions in flirtatious giggles and coos, even though her target had already shown himself as a tight-lipped, hard ass, she couldn't resist pressing more. 

 

With his head bowed to his bow, her own eyes fell hooded, watching his precise motions while working on the weapon, she grazed her eyes across his form, taking time to fully explore each unique piece of armor, silently naming each's origin in her head. She was almost desperate to run her fingers across the cool metal of them, to see personally how they would hug his lean figure. Her eyes snapped back to his face as she realized the lazy smile that was straining at her lips threatening to break her act. Even though she'd regained herself her mind continued to wonder, curious on if he was a true warrior, his body lean and hard from battle and training, or if his stomach was soft and his limbs limp.

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His hands worked deftly over the bow, knowing their craft despite months of neglect. Aean passed a sideways glance upwards at the close of the woman's remark. catching her curious gaze at his own attire. Suddenly he felt self-conscious about the mismatched nature of his chosen armor. Each piece served a specific purpose, and the opinion of others had never even crossed his mind before. But with her attentive eyes probing each segment in its own turn, Aean suddenly wondered what sorts of thoughts an observer might have about it.

His own consciousness answered him back defiantly 'why, does it matter?'

Glancing her way again, Aean distracted himself from his self-induced concern with vanity, and answered her in the only way he was accustomed to: gruffly. "Who said I was seeking anything?"

He had made a point, until now, of keeping his eyes on his hands- but found them sliding up to probe her face without his own permission. In an attempt to mask the involuntary gaze as his own, he went on to offer her a believable reason for his presence in such a remote and desolate place, "I like my privacy."

His tone had been flat and even, as though she should have known without him having to say it; a stern hint that he was not in the mood for playful banter. And yet, despite his abrasive attitude towards her, he couldn't help a tinge of interest and regard for her seemingly infallible optimism. Aean knew he was not the model of genteel grace and decorum - why should he be? The human world was not one he belonged to, nor did he have a desire to. It was she who had intruded upon his happy isolation, he hadn't invited her company.

Then an unnerving thought occurred to him: Had she said the whole town was in a uproar?

He paused for a moment, eying her speculatively, "Are there others out here, like you... gathering herbs?" he allowed a smallest of curls to appear in the corner of his mouth; letting on that he didn't buy her feeble farce for her presence in these woods.

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Clever enough to see through her ruse? She was oddly elated at this. Normally it was just irritating when people saw through her, that she would have to work a little harder at faking it, but with this stranger she couldn’t help the slight smile that brushed her petal lips. Sophira tilted her head down as if bashfully ashamed at being caught in her lie, but she had no intentions of admitting to her lie, let him think what he wants. She kept her ditsy attitude, smiling and cheery, but a seductive undertone was added as she lowered her voice to a more natural tone for her as she spoke; “I imagine there are others gathering… herbs, but there are mostly hunters and bandits in these woods.â€

 

She still hadn’t decided on what to do with him, leaving him to his own devices could be hazardous if he was in fact another mage seeking the dragon. She was confident now that he wasn’t from a nearby village, he was clueless to the dragon and did not dress as one of the poor soldiers from town. “So you’re a woodsman then? Do you live close by? A wood cabin perhaps?†Her eyes fluttered prettily. A sudden visual coming to mind of this burly man living alone in a cabin, standing outside a sheen of sweat on his brown as he chopped his own wood. Sophira titled her head down swiftly to hide the blush that crept over her cheeks, her white hair falling over her eyes to shroud her face, but the thought of his muscles flexing and working made her keep her head bowed. Still she couldn’t keep her eyes from the motion of his arms working across the weapon.

 

In an instant she took a deep breath, a flex of her hand made a gust of cold wind brush across her naked legs and face drawing her attention back to the present, silently reprimanding herself; she was not some prissy little bimbo who lost her goal because of a handsome strange. He was a jerk anyway. Perhaps she should go before she lost her inhibitions, whether he was a mage or not, if he was she would certainly encounter him again. She was confident enough in her own capabilities that she wouldn’t fall behind another mage in this hunt.

 

“Well, I must continue gathering herbs; I need to be home before the sunsets. Have a good day, sire.†She offered him a sweeping curtsey before turning to leave, following the river away from the villages as had been her original intent in the first place. 

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“I imagine there are others gathering… herbs, but there are mostly hunters and bandits in these woods.â€

Aean allowed her a genuine grin - he could hear the truth in her tone; they understood each other. But it was fun to pretend anyway.

"So you're a woodsmen, then?"

He glanced up.

"Do you live close by?"

He peered sideways at the untouched stone circle that marked his fake camp.

"a wood cabin, perhaps?"

He returned his eyes to her, the curl of the grin he had granted her remained but its warmth faded. Clever she was, but not so clever as to suspect the truth. He watched the pale curtain of hair fall over her face to conceal whatever expression she was hiding there - and it was this moment that he realized exactly how exotic she was. The native townsfolk Aean had encountered were dark featured and hard. This woman was fair and gentle, all smooth skin and easy curves, pale and light.

Aean glanced back down at his hands as he prepared the string he was repairing for the final touch, and drew in a breath intending to ask her where she had come from, since she obviously wasn't from these parts; intended to ask, but never got the chance to. The smallest of gestures sent a shiver up Aean's spine. It wasn't necessarily the gesture she had performed, but the effect it had on the world around her. Any other human would not have noticed the stirring of magic as small as this, but Aean was not human. Thee very roots of magic were woven into the core of his being, flowing through his veins, starving for the lack of wonder left in the world. When this woman had invoked even the slightest wisp of her influence on nature, Aean felt it in such close proximity.

She'd said something more, but Aean hadn't heard it. He wasn't even sure when, but somehow he had moved to his feet, and his hand had taken hold of her arm to stop her leaving. He gazed at her in stunned silence for a brief moment, as the lingering glow of her power seeped through his fingers and into him; the bow lying forgotten in the dirt at his feet. He could feel her magic - could measure just how much potential she carried with her. His eyes burrowed into hers as though he suspected a trick; a mage was a rare thing - hunted like he, himself, was. What were the odds that one had stumbled this far into the mountains to find him. She couldn't be, could she?

Despite his disbelief, the evidence was too strong to contradict. The whisper of magic he had felt ripple from her was proof enough. His lips parted slightly to draw in a shallow breath and he murmured one syllable, "Mage."

It wasn't a question.

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"Mage."

 

She sucked in a deep breath as her heart dropped into her stomach. There was no way he knew, the little gust of magic she'd performed was nothing, it appeared like nothing more than a gentle breeze from the south, the way it had been blowing all day. She couldn't breath, she was suffocating, her face had gone pale as a ghost. She was too clever to be caught off guard like this! And yet his voice, the resolve! He knew! There was no doubt in that one syllable. 

 

Sophira struggled to swallow the knot of panic in her throat. Her mouth opened to speak but no words formed, she sealed her lips again and tried to focus, to draw herself out of her panic. It was too late though, he saw through her, even now he was calculating her response, seeing her falter, she had never been in a situation where she had to hide the fact that she was a mage on threat of death. She was so good at playing roles the idea of getting caught had been comical, but now that it was before her she was befuddled. 

 

There was no playing this off, her eyes narrowed with determination, the blue of her eyes turning dark like a wild storm. Sophira stomped the ground summoning a violent wave of ice cold wind that slipped beneath his hand on her arm and shoved, separating his hold on her and simultaneously throwing Sophira several feet back where she landed as if floating, the ground dusting around her feet from the force of the wind she'd pulled. Each of her hands hummed with magic she was ready to call if he persued her, "What are you to know that? A mage?" Her voice had gone deep and dark, gone with the flirty, ditsy charade, her lips drawn in a harsh line. She didn't know mages could sense magic, she couldn't, not like that anyway.

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The command she had on her powers was staggering - something Aean had not expected even though he'd had the opportunity to measure her well of power when he'd touched her. His feet had been planted when he stood, but her fluid motion to defend herself upon discovery had knocked him back. The life returned to the grin on his lips as the residual effects of her summoning washed over him. There was no doubt now. This was a mage. A real mage - with potential and control over her ability. Something Aean had long ago given up on.

"What are you to know that? A Mage?"

Aean lifted his hands, open palmed, in a gesture to imply surrender, "Of sorts," he answered.

Though this encounter implied hope for him, he still wasn't sure of her intentions. After all, there was no guarantee she hadn't bought her own safety with promises of slaying the last dragon. She was foreign, and powerful. A mage like her would have the best chance against a dragon, and Aean wouldn't put such dealings past the corruptible nature of humans.

He hadn't moved, still standing with his hands up and his eyes fixed suspiciously on her. He let his gaze look her over, looking for any hint that she was in league with those who wanted for his death. He hadn't revealed himself yet, he could see the uncertainty in her eyes. The best rouse he had was to play off what she had already guessed and what was partially true.

"I can sense magic - as you might have guessed - but I cannot perform it myself. I live in these mountains, away from the eyes and manipulation of the king. My only motive is to live in peace." He frowned, "Now as for you, if you are a hound sent to hunt your own kind..." he trailed off, watching her closely and measuring her reaction.

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She never broke eye contact with him, but was immensely grateful he didn't approach her and instead stood his ground. What kind of mage can't perform magic but can sense it? She'd never heard of such a thing, and frowned, disbelieving of his words. Trust was not something she could afford, but if she didn't believe him she'd have to kill him. She couldn't risk him informing the guards of her, she was a foreigner it wouldn't be difficult to pick her out, everyone in that town had seen her, there would be no place to run. But could she kill him? Just now, when he'd grabbed her he's moved like lightning, she'd never allowed someone to touch her and she certainly hadn't intended to allow him to do so, but she hadn't even blinked and he'd grabbed her arm. 

 

With measured words she answered, "I do not hunt my own, but I have no issue removing them if they get in my way." To mark her implied threat she swept her hand over the river beside them pulling up a wave of water that crystallized into several frozen spears hanging suspended in the air above each of her palms, pointed at Aean. In the next moment her hands clenched and the spears turned to water again drenching both her arms which then refroze like a second skin to be easily used again at her call. "Is that understood?" She lowered her head, shielding her piercing eyes beneath a halo of white hair.

 

Sophira was trying to be intimidating but the reality was that her heart beat was thrumming like a wild fire, she'd never actually fought anyone before! Her magic was shunned back home but not something she could be killed for, so beyond the occasional prank she'd never had to use it offensively.

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Aean gave her a sideways look, eyes narrowed suspiciously as he weighed her words in his mind. As before, the wash of power sent a shudder through him, but he was prepared for it this time. The full meaning sunk in as he gazed at the control she exercised over the element, and Aean couldn't help a thrill of admiration for her ability.

If she was bluffing she gave none away. There was still sizable risk involved in prolonging his contact with her, but there would be no denying the smoldering curiosity that had begun to simmer in the pit of him; a Mage - a powerful Mage - a powerful Mage with control. The odds that he would encounter another creature like this female again were little to none, even given his long life.

A moment had passed in their stand-off, and Aean chanced a glance in the general direction of the village she had likely come from. Making a decision to take a gamble, he let his hands drop lazily to his sides and delivered a charming smirk as though they had suddenly struck a deal he was proud of. If she made a move against him, he was ready to shift - feeling the appropriate gathering of himself in the pit of his torso; if not, he would play the meager-mortal card a little while longer.

"Fine. You've got the upper hand." he conceded, still eyeballing her to gauge her next move. He was fairly confidant he could shift before she could do him any considerable damage, but he'd prefer not to lose this connection to the old arts- especially one with such strong ties. "You said yourself there might be other..." he smirked, "herb gatherers. I'd prefer to avoid them, as I'm sure a Mage like you would." He stooped to wrap his fingers around the bow he had been repairing when she'd arrived - it's work almost complete - and coiled the extra length of linen string around his hand. Delivering the she-mage a pointed look, he gave a powerful tug and snapped the excess off, rendering his work on the bow complete. Perhaps a bit showy, but it got his point across - he was strong. "Perhaps we should clear out to continue this conversation further in the woods... where gatherers won't think to look."

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When he conceded to her and even made a point of relaxing her panic slowly ebbed into suspicion. She flinched when he snapped the extra linen, silently hoping he hadn't noticed. His words echoed over in her mind, her suspicion growing as it occurred to her she never suggested she was being hunted or followed so why would it matter if other people discovered them? It would be redundant to try to take her to a secluded place, perhaps he had an ambushed set up somewhere? Or maybe he just hoped she would put down her guard? Unless he was threatening her. Her fists clenched, if he was threatening her and others did come along for him to point out her magic she wouldn't stand a chance, she was skeptical as it was to take on him, let alone several males. 

 

Her teeth grit at her fruitless situation she'd gotten herself into. "Lead the way... stranger." She had no name for this person and wasn't even sure she wanted to know him at this point. She made a point of keeping him out of arms reach, though if he always moved like he had earlier that wasn't nearly enough space. The ice shifted up her arms, thinning out to cover the entire expanse of skin, little barbed teeth pointed outwards should he try to grab her again she'd at least have that small defense. 

 

"Where do you suggest we seek this privacy?" Her eyes narrowed to make sure he was aware she wasn't buying his play at surrender.

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Despite the casual act he put on for her, he felt relief when his suggestion to move on had met with no resistance. Even more so now that she had confirmed her compliance with words, he thought he'd push his luck and turn his back on her. He wasn't necessarily letting his guard down; but the truth of the matter was this: her distrust of him was the least of his worries. If her initial news had been true, Aean shouldn't leave his own migration for tomorrow as he had been planning. He'd imagined that his scuffle with the hunters had certainly drawn attention, but he didn't think the townsfolk would act so quickly. He'd assumed they would need a day to pluck up enough courage to rally together and come after him. Perhaps not, though. leaving sooner was better than later.

"Where do you suggest we seek this privacy?"

He tossed her a glance and noted the expression she wore, finding an odd sort of respect waiting to influence him. She was smart enough to be cautious - which might be why she had been able to make it this far. with half a sigh, he replied, "I know these mountains," delivering a vague sort of pointed implication.

Uselessly, he kicked dirt over the obviously unused campfire site, hoping to at least give the impression that he had relied on the heat the previous night. This time he didn't chance a look at the she-mage, unwilling to draw unnecessary attention to something he hoped she'd overlook. Shouldering a half-full quiver of roughly made arrows, and securing his repaired bow sideways across his chest, Aean scooped up the dull short sword that had been cast off in the dirt from before. He cursed his own carelessness. Anyone paying half-a-mind would observe how un-cared-for his weapons were.

"There's an overgrown ruin north of here that will give us shelter and a good vantage," her offered hoping to distract her. Having nothing else to retrieve he turned to watch her, his brow furrowed.

He gave her only a moment before he turned away again. He couldn't force her to follow - or rather he wouldn't. At least he didn't think he would. It was that burning curiosity about her that made him wonder if he'd actually allow her to slip away. Whatever the truth might be, He didn't get a chance to test himself. Something unsettled him about the environment around them, something that made the creatures fall silent and still.

"Wait," he said, hushed - his eyes honing in on the denser foliage where the she-mage had come staggering out of the woods. Someone was coming.

Aean shot a warning glance at her, hoping to command, silently, that she once again conceal her ability - and better yet, herself. He was unable to know if she'd spring into action like an unseasoned amateur and give them away. He flagged her to follow, and then slipped into the bushes north, aiming to traverse toward the ruin before they could be discovered.

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He was in luck, Sophira didn't know much about weapons, she carried only a small dagger at her hip and that was for survival purposes only so it never occurred to her that his weapons appeared strange. However, the fire did not go unnoticed, she eyed it for a moment, coming from a home of ice and cold meant fires were abundant, even without magic she knew how to light a fire with ease. She said nothing though, still on the assumption he had threatened her, she was focusing on his motions, on if he would suddenly turn and attack her, let him have his secrets for now. 

 

The silence in the forest drew her attention from him, to his line of sight of where she'd come. Back home there wasn't a whole lot of wild life, what was out didn't make a whole lot of noise, so the sound of the forest here had been loud and annoying, the silence suddenly queer. Reluctantly she channeled her ice back into water and into the river with little to no disruption to the slow moving body. She just hoped this wasn't a trap he was luring her into. Had there been a sign? Did he signal some nearby companions?

 

Her jaw clenched as she fought off fear and paranoia, well aware she had just disarmed herself and was hoping beyond reason that it was nothing but an animal or at least no one he was friends with. But just as she had just about convinced herself she was about to be raped and murdered he gestured for her to follow him into the forest and away from the noise. 

 

Sophira was accustomed to walking on snow, knew how to manipulate it so she didn't make a sound while walking regardless of how heavy her footfalls, she could even run in complete silence - on snow, but she wasn't as skilled with dealing with raw earth, though she tried. She still had to make a conscious effort to tip toe after him, and was at least able to muffle the rest of the sounds. She waved her hand ahead of her strange companion to open the forest for him and to help leave as little proof of their exit as possible. The forest seemed to 'close' behind them. A bead of sweat formed on her brow as she worked at trying to draw the forest closer, making it thicker. 'That'll have to do' she decided and continued on after him.

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Four steps. That was all Aean had taken when he heard the distant voice. It was a harsh scream of a whisper, intended to maintain silence, but anger seemed to have overridden it. There were no discernible words that Aean could pick out- not at first- but as soon as he heard it, he froze. He knew the situation was precarious enough with a Mage on his heels that suspected him of treachery, the last thing he needed was a band of dragon hunters teaming up with her to take him down. She, after all, posed the most serious threat.for now, however, her intentions were unclear. There was still a chance he could get answers from her.

"Oi! over 'ere!" a thickly accented, brute of a man called back to his comrades.

"Keep yer voice down!" Another answered, "Don' want te bring the beast down on us, do ya?"

Aean scowled. It was frustrating enough suspecting your misfortunes, it was infuriating to have them confirmed. He had sunk down low, making sure to take full advantage of the woven forest the she-Mage had provided for them.

"The camp's days old- the fire's gone cold."

Aean gave a sideways glance at the she-Mage.

"No- someone's been there recently- did you not see the damp soil!? The tracks?"

"Do ye think they've been eaten?"

"Don' be daft, Kale," the accented man chided, his words coinciding with a lazy thud that could only be a hand clapped heavily on a back, "there'd be more than a cold fire and wet earth if there's been a struggle."

"Know what I think?" A new voice made an appearance- shy and modest, "I heard, once, that dragons have magic of their own."

"What're you on about?"

"No, really!" The shyness melted out of the youth's voice, "what if that camp... Well... I heard they could make themselves like us!"

"You wha?"

"The boy's gone an' lost 'imself in legend"

"I have not! It's true! They can--"

Having felt the topic of conversation veering into subjects that Aean would prefer remain undiscussed, he had readied his bow and notched an arrow. He couldn't see the men who were discussing his secrets, but he knew their approximate location. Drawing back he aimed off to the right of where their conversation was coming from, and then released. With a hiss the arrow flew, and with a snap and a clatter he heard it do it's intended work and halt the conversation.

Silence fell as the men undoubtedly fixed their attention off on the distraction. Aean took the opportunity to ready another arrow, but step lightly in the original direction of his intent.

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Sofira bit the inside of her cheek as the voice raised her adrenaline and her heart pounded with fear. What was she to do? She couldn't fight them! They were best to continue on their way. But it seemed her companion had other thoughts as she watched on in stunned horror while he drew his bow and after several screaming seconds he released the tension, the arrow whistled angrily, the snap of the bow practically echoing in her ears. She was sure they would look this way, that they were peer through her forest cover and spot her, screaming 'Mage' and come at her with pitch forks! 

 

Sofira stumbled several steps back, the crack of a twig beneath her soft leather boots making the panic boil. She wanted to yell at her companion that it was time to leave, whatever these strangers had said went unheard. Yet, somewhere in the back of her mind she asked herself what she was so worried about, she had done nothing wrong, they surely wouldn't suspect her of magic, even if her companion did rat her out, they'd call him mad! Surely!...

 

But her thoughts didn't ease her panic and as Aean drew another arrow she had to rub her eyes, there were at least three of them! Then she actually peered through the forest to see them moving to investigate the first shot he'd made. Aean took a step towards her and away from the trio. He'd done it as a distraction! She breathed deeply, trying to regain her calm. It was alright, he wasn't crazy, at least this act hadn't been out of madness anyway. 

 

Aean took two more steps and Sofira had finally drawn on the courage to move as well, turning to head deeper into the forest and escape the strangers. Fate wouldn't be on her side today though as she twisted, moving to steps over a fallen log her toe caught in a jumble of vines, tripping her she fell face first into the river. The fall and the following splash was probably the least graceful thing that had occurred to her in years. Luckily she'd managed to catch herself on her hands and knees, but she was still mostly soaked down the front. Silently she prayed that her skirt - that was shorter than anything she'd ever worn - still covered her rump, she honestly wasn't sure, her entire body felt hot with embarrassment.

 

Of course the noise drew the attention of her trackers, and yet all she could think of was how much of a fool she must appear. She rose to her feet, shaking her arms and resisting against all instinct to pull the water from herself with her magic. Sofira turned to face the three that now stood just feet from them, their weapons draw. 

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