Among the Trees (Peregrine x Nivansrywyllian)

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  1. The jungle was never quiet, there was too much life within it for that to happen, but the tide of sound rose and fell in relation to the world around it. Marzia had made camp on a large branch that was only twenty feet above the even larger branch below her, which also happened to be one of the few established trade routes through this part of the world. Down this far, even in the middle of the day, the forest was in a state of eternal twilight, but she had chosen to enjoy the dimness, as it provided good cover to hide from approaching caravans she could loot. She had settled into a little crevice, knees tucked up against her chest, but when the sound of the jungle changed she was sitting up again in an instant. She held perfectly still, trying to pick out the subtle sound that had upset everything but the simple bugs crawling along the giant tree.

    The sound of the Nomk descending on her from above was barely enough warning for her to dodge aside, causing the lithe creature, a blend of something between monkey and cat and also one of the most effective predators in this height of the jungle, to catch at the branch and scramble back up to meet her. Marzia snarled, her hands curling into claws, and the creature screamed back at her. Despite being easily her height the creature was still young, and judging by the ribs poking out of its side it was obviously starving. A human would make a tasty morsel to keep it from starvation, but Marzia was not going down without a fight.

    She was not a tactical fighter. She had no need to be, and had never known a way of fighting other than brute force and savagery. The two angry, feral predators stared at each other for a moment, before flying at each other with corresponding shrieks of fury. They collided in midair, and Marizia was quickly enveloped in its hairy arms, but she bit down, ripping through the skin and grabbing onto a hunk of muscle. When the money shrieked in surprise and let her go she pushed off its chest, causing a strip of flesh to rip away from it. She spat out the hairy lump, wincing as she accidentally swallowed a few hairs. It did little damage to the creature, only caused it to grow more angry. It clubbed her with a fist, sending her hurtling off the branch, but she rolled out on the branch the next level down. The monkey jumped down after her, falling with significantly more grace. It snapped at her with sharp fangs, catching her calf and ripping out a chunk,

    As the pain raced up her leg, Marzia’s vision went red. She threw herself at the monkey, uncaring as its sharp fangs caught her hand and bit nearly half of it off. She clawed at the wound on its chest, clinging like a particularly stubborn leech, even as her three remaining fingers dug in through the muscle. When she found a rib, she grabbed it with both hands, even as the monkey continued to bang her angrily, and shred open her back with sharp claws. Finally, with a harsh snap, it broke out of its holding. Marzia clung stubbornly to the broken rib, bleeding profusely, before using the sharp instrument to stab the monkey’s heart through the gap she had just created to make her weapon. It let out a surprised hoot before slumping to the ground, the last few shuddering heartbeasts releasing a sticky cascade of dark blood.

    Staggering, Marzia moved towards the creature, slowly returning to her senses. She knew she was wounded. She knew she needed to eat. With shaking hands she dug into the monkey’s chest, quickly finding the heart and ripping it out of the chest. She shuddered, slumping against it’s cooling side, before beginning to eat the heart. She was completely oblivious of the multiple pairs of eyes staring at her as the skin on her body slowly began to repair itself, and the tiny stubs of new fingers began to grow from the mangled mess that was the side of her right hand.
  2. Jack and his team paused when the sounds of vicious combat met their ears, and each of them readied weapons. The fighting was taking place in the branches of a nearby tree, by the sound of it, which landed the team squarely in the danger zone. Luckily, the noises being made -though feral- sounded mammalian, and nothing at all like a bear. The low light of the forest floor, interspersed by luminescent shrubbery that cast haunting shadows over the uneven earth, did nothing to aid in the identification of the combatants in the tree above.

    The tree was a small one, relatively speaking. It's first branches began some two stories off the ground, and it didn't reach to join the greater canopy overhead. Instead, the branches -sporting their blue-green, and faintly glowing leaves- peaked at four stories tall.

    Jack approached the bole of the tree, a squat little old-world gun cradled in one hand, and half-supported by a sling slanting over his narrow chest. He gave the gun wholly over to the sling, as he approached the bole, curiosity getting the better of him. His team surrounded the trunk of the tree, each with firearms at the ready.

    "Jack," Said one of his men, a squat, broad man with a long, flat tail, a bald pate, and a shotgun.

    "Shh," Said the lean man, kicking off his boots casually. He laid a clawed hand on the trunk, finding purchase easily on the soft outer bark of the tree. His equally clawed toes repeated the process, and with barely a glance to the rest of his team, the man began to ascend the tree's trunk. By the time he'd reached the first of the branches, the fight had ended, and by the noises coming form above, the victor was enjoying the spoils. That of course made this particular venture dangerous. The animals under the Canopy jealously guarded their hard-won food, and for good reason.

    But Jack had never been one to deny his curiosity. One of the voices from the fight had sounded almost human. When Jack clambered into eyeshot of the remains of the fight, his brows rose in surprise. One of them WAS human. At least, as human as most folks got any more.

    Jack himself wasn't hard to spot of course. He had a mop of black hair, short cropped and messy. His face had long, angular lines, and his skin was pale, as with most people beneath the Canopy. By the luminous lines that mimicked the patterns of certain berry-bushes crisscrossing his exposed skin, he'd either grown up in one of the floor-slums, or his parents had encouraged the mutation. His hands were markedly different from his face, darkly scaled and glittering. They glistened in the low, ambient light. Heavy tipped claws ended each finger, and thick knuckles bespoke of a long history of brawling. Likewise, his bare feet took on the same reptilian gleam.

    His clothing told the story of his purpose as a merchant's guard. It was dark, to blend in with the floor. There were pockets aplenty, and clips for old-world guns. The handle of a big knife -almost a short-sword- poked out from the small of his back.

    Jack slowly gained purchase on a low branch, beneath the victor, and spread his hands out in an appeasing gesture, away from himself. "Easy now," He said, one corner of his mouth pulling up in a slanted grin. His eyes lit up with anticipation, and he locked his dark eyes on the injured figure above him. "We heard the commotion, and came to check it out."
  3. Marzia's feast was interrupted quite suddenly by a noise behind her. She whirled, blood dripping from her chin and hands in thick, dark rivulets, and she hissed furiously, trying to drive the other creature back. She knew if she had to fight again she would be able to survive, even after taking all the damage from the monkey, but she truly did want to get a chance to heal first. Every scratch and scrape stung, and movement hurt. However, as the creature came out of the shadows far enough to be easily distinguishable, she realized it wasn't anything here to challenge her. It was a person. That meant the noises it had made were words.

    How long had it been since she had spoken to someone? It was hard to pin, for every day down here was like the next, and they all blurred together in the end. Sometimes, when she looted the caravans, the people would scream obscenities at her as she ran off with some of their goods, but that hardly counted. She had spoken to herself at the beginning of her time in the jungle, had even sung on occasion, but that habit had slowly fallen into disuse as she learned that many creatures in the wilds were attracted to loud noises.

    No matter. People had no interest in dead monkey. Marzia returned to her feast. The heart was almost gone at this point, but her hand was still nowhere near healed, even if the scratches on her back had mostly closed up. She tore at the skin to get deeper into the abdomen and find the liver. It would be almost as good as the heart.

    She was going to need to make new clothes again. Maybe the monkey hide would do. She could use its own brain to temper it. Somehow that seemed appropriate.
  4. "Jack," Came the same voice from below, an insistent half-whisper. "Jack! What are you doing?"

    The man ignored the insistent calls as he watched the feral woman eat. "You've been living out here," He said. "All on your lonesome." His clawed feet dug into the branch beneath him, and he dropped into an easy crouch, doing the same with his hands before allowing his legs to slip forward. He sat on the branch with the comfort of someone who had long practice in the trees.

    The woman didn't seem interested speaking with him, but he was just as happy to observe her without the conversation. That didn't stop him from talking however.

    "You must be incredibly talented. Evolution will only take you so far. The rest is guts. Skill. Luck."

    He paused eyeing the beast upon which she was feasting. Raw meat was always a gamble, although he supposed if she'd been eating it long enough, she'd have developed the appropriate antibodies to cope with the rapidly evolving diseases that came along with the raw meat. "My name is Jack," He said, pulling from one of his pockets a wax-paper wrapped hunk of cheese. Unwrapping it, he took a bite.

    "Do you speak? Can you understand me?" He asked, after he'd swallowed.
  5. The creature... person... didn't seem at all interested in returning to a state of silence, and letting Marzia enjoy her feast in private. She considered snarling and snapping at the thing.... man.... but he didn't seem all that interested in taking her food. That, she noted, was even more true than she had guessed, as he pulled something out of a pocket somewhere that had the undeniable smell of food. Food like it was found on the caravans, rather than the food she could find on her own. He seemed far more interested in her than he did his own food, and to Marzia that was a foolish mistake. She was not interesting, but food could get taken in a heartbeat. For a brief moment sh considered taking it from him, just to remind him of this fact, but the morsel was hardly worth the effort she would have to go through to get it away from him. She was not his teacher. That was the jungle's job.

    But he maintained his stubborn interest in her, and finally Marzia got frustrated enough to try and chase him away. She turned towards him, lunging aggressively and quickly, although she had no intention of actually hitting him. It was like the mock charges of some of the creatures, designed to let an antagonist who had no desire to fight know that they were starting to get irritating. "Go away, Annoying," she threw in, for good measure. "Let me eat in peace." She brandished a half-healed hand at him threateningly, before turning back to her food.
  6. Jack watched the feral woman lunge at him, his mouth twitching into a grin, although he readied himself to move if she looked as if she might actually make for combat. He took another bite of the cheese, before glancing down at his parcel. He leaned towards the woman, cheese extended in one claw-tipped hand. An offering.

    "You're hurt," He pointed out. "And... You're healing. Rapidly." He said, his eyes fixing on the wounded hand. "There are stories going around the trade caravans. Stories of an invincible beast-girl who plagues caravans."

    "Jack!" Came the voice from below once again. "We're going to be late if you keep dallying! And don't you dare make me come up after you! You know how I hate trees!"

    With a roll of his eyes, Jack continued to speak lowly. "You could come with us. Heal. Eat. Speak with people. Get some cooked food for your trouble. If you've got anything for trade, we could leave you with some spices when we go."
  7. Come with them? That certainly wasn't the reaction she was used to. Most people yelled at her, cursed her, called her spawn of evil, and tried to drive her as far away from themselves as possible. They certainly never offered to share an all too limited supply of food with her. She paused in her eating, the warm liver steaming faintly in her hand and its kidneys dangling from her whole fingers, to contemplate the offer proposed to her. Her head tilted to the side as she stared at him. He didn't seem all that dangerous, certainly nowhere near as fierce as some of the creatures in this jungle she'd had to fight off to protect food and limb, so if he meant her any harm she could presumably fight him off, steal his food, and then recover in a nearby tree. It was the voices below that worried her. She was certain that she could fight him off, but if he had friends, and they got involved, her chances of survival plummeted significantly.

    She was about to refuse, turn back to her monkey and to the existence she knew, but something caused her to hesitate. She wasn't exactly certain what it was, she certainly had no plesant memories of civilization, but that was not to say she had plesant memories of the jungle either. The closest she had ever gotten was adequate memories, and for a moment that didn't seem sufficient anymore. "Fine." she said, dropping the liver and kidneys onto the branch to be scavenged by whatever creature would be lured in by the smell of raw meat. "Give me." Her finger was pointing to the lump of cheese in his hands.
  8. Jack grinned, his face alight with eagerness. He offered the cheese to the woman once again, extending his arm as far as he was able to without upsetting his sense of balance. "In return, you can tell us about your travels. Stories for food." He said, with a grin.

    When the girl took the cheese, he began to scramble back down the tree. "My name's Jack," He said, just as if his man hadn't been bothering him about returning to the ground level the whole time. Once he was about a story from the ground, he pushed away from the bole to return to the earth below. "Come down from the tree, and I'll introduce you to my team." He said, dropping to his rump at the base of the tree. He began to stuff his clawed feet back into the boots he'd doffed to scale the tree.

    The bald man with the shotgun rolled his eyes. Beside him was a lean man, also bald. Entirely hairless, as a matter of fact. He had an older style bolt-action rifle in his arms, with a wooden stock, and a scope.

    To his team, Jack spoke. "We're going to have company for a stretch. Let's treat her as a guest. Make her feel welcome as we go."
  9. Marzia popped the entire block of cheese into her moth the moment it was handed to her, but she chewed surprisingly delicately, making sure that not a single crumb of the slightly crumbly thing spilled out from between her lips.

    "Jack!" came a sweet, indignant, feminine voice from behind the two muscled bothers. She pushed her way out from behind them and they moved easily enough, either unwilling to face her fingers or her verbal wrath. "How dare you bring a half-clothed girl down in front of these two?" It was a rather ironic statement, as true as it was. Marzia's clothes had been shredded by the monkey, and while her rough pants were mostly intact, her shirt was only hanging on by a couple strands. However, the woman standing before them was even less clothed, although her's was significantly more purposeful. She wore some sort of elastic material that clung tightly to both the front and back of her body, but left her sides completely exposed, allowing the gliding webbing between arms and legs to move freely. A tight material, hooked over her thumb and elbow, protected the top parts of her arm, while one attached to the heel protected the inside of her legs. The material was elastic enough to allow her full range of motion, without ever parting company from her body.

    "Come here, dear. Let's go find you an intact shirt." She held out a hand, and Marzia, still carefully chewing her cheese, moved forward carefully, taking a moment to study the two, almost reptilian men. They were certainly more physically impressive than Jack, and seemed to move together with the ease of long familiarity. If it came to it, they would be formidable opponents.

    "I'm sure Kinn will have something that will fit you. You and he look to be about the same size. Kinnon! Come say 'hi'."
  10. Jack looked up from the task of re-fastening his boots, as Fina pushed between the two brothers. He flashed her a boyish grin that had all the markings of someone who was trying to convince you that their hand was not in fact, in the cookie jar.

    "Cronen and Wren are perfect gentlemen. I'm sure they'll turn their eyes 'til she's appropriately clothed." Jack's tone said that it was closer to a command than a suggestion, although not one made in poor humor.

    Cronen -the shorter brother, with the tail- rolled his eyes at their glider. "C'mon, Wren. Let's see to the pack animals while our guest gets all gussied up."

    The two turned, and made for the direction Kinnon was approaching from. They gave him a casual wave each, as they passed.

    With boots back on, Jack moved to join the brothers. "We've still got some road time ahead of us, so once she's changed, we'll travel a while longer 'til we make camp for the night. Then we'll set a small fire, and get some hot food in her."
  11. Marzia allowed herself to be fussed into a set of new clothes by Fina and the green-skinned Kinn, even though she did nearly bite Kinn's fingers off when they got too close to the missing bite from her calf that had yet to fully reheal. He moved his fingers out of the way calmly, and immediately went back to probing around the room. From his attitude it was clear that he had spent time around wild animals, both of the tamed and untamed variety, and he was treating Marzia the same way he would treat any wounded animal. Marzia didn't really care. People were predictable around animals, and his calm, slow movements did a lot to keep her comfortable.

    Fina, on the other hand, would have done well to take a leaf out of Kinn's book. She chattered away as though they were already the best of friends, even though she flinched whenever Marzia moved too quickly. She reminded Marzia a bit of a squirrel, quick to trust but quick to flee, and always full of too much energy. But it was clear that she was more wary of Marzia than Marzia was of her, and that allowed the wild girl to stay still even as her actions continued to grate against her isolated nerves. However, when Fina came back with a hair brush, that was one step too much. At the first tug of the brush Marzia whirled, throwing herself at the winged girl. Fina squeaked as she suddenly found herself underneath the entirety of Marzia's mass, which was quite a bit considering that they were almost the same height.

    She nearly screamed, nearly started wiggling like a snake in an attempt to get out from underneath, but Kinn put one hand over her mouth, and the other on her shoulder. As soon as Fina stopped struggling Marzia also stopped moving, and Kinnon lightly lifted her away, leaving Fina to get up without a helping hand.

    "Well!" the irate girl said, brushing the dirt off her clothes. "That was rude." She turned away, before bellowing in a surprisingly loud voice, "Jack! Time to go."
  12. Jack, for his part, had made his way back to the caravan along with the rest of them, passing through the low-lit underbrush. He'd returned his hands to his boxy little submachine gun, and remained on the alert for any approaching predators. When he reached the caravan -more a line of travel mounts than anything actually close to a wagon-train- he moved to his own mount.

    It was a horse, after a fashion. It was lean, and long of limb. It's head was somewhat narrower than that of a horse, and instead of hooves, it's feet ended in claw-tipped talons. He gave the creature a scratch on the head, as Kinnon and Fina took to caring for the wild girl.

    The sound of a tussle drew Jack's attention once again, and he found himself grinning when it was obvious that nobody was getting killed. "As I recall Fina," He mused. "I had much the same reaction when you offered to curl my hair." He was exaggerating of course, for the sake of humor. "While we should show our guest any comfort she might desire, we should remember that she isn't used to civil company. Most folks out here see a wildling, and they try to kill it, or drive it off."

    He turned his attention to their guest. "I'm sorry Fina startled you. She was well intentioned, if somewhat presumptuous." He paused, glancing to Kinnon, and then back to the wildling. "Do you have a name that you'd like to be called while you're in our company?"
  13. Fina harrumphed at Jack, but she didn't seem to be holding a grudge against Marzia. In fact, she gave the wounded wildling a cheeky smile, twirling the coarse hair brush in her hands like a baton. "Don't worry! We will attend to that rat's nest of yours, even if we have to cut it all off. I refuse to have someone traveling with us who can't run her fingers through her hair." Fina latched herself onto Kinn's arm, tugging away the quiet, green-skinned man so that they could help Cronen and Wren get the caravan rolling again.

    Marzia, in turn, held no grudge against Fina. The girl hadn't tried to continue her assault of Marzia, and that was enough. She still didn't trust these people, didn't trust their kindness in trusting a blood-covered stranger they had picked up from the middle of the woods, so she eyed Jack suspiciously as he drew closer. However, she could come up with no reason that giving him her name would bring her harm. "Marzia," she replied curtly, touching her hair self-consciously.

    Interested in directing the conversation back away from her, and more than a bit uncomfortable under Jack's gaze, Marzia spoke again, her words still a little broken from not having spoken to anyone else in years. "Where you go, and what you do?"
  14. Jack glanced towards the caravan that was drawing near to the pair of them. Wren was in front, leading his mount. The Horned Strider was a sleek, equine beast with horns curling back from it's brow, and downwards to jut up in front of it's nose. It's body shone, reflecting some of the ambient glow from the nearby floor-shrubbery, suggesting that the thing's skin was hairless.

    It was lower to the ground than horses of old, and had four sets of claws for gripping the great trees. It's sleek, spade-shaped head snaked at the front of a thick, if slightly serpentine neck, and it's narrow, whiplike tail lashed in it's wake as it approached.

    Jack afforded the animal a grin, before his eyes flicked back to his guest. "The team and I are mercenaries." He explained. "We take on jobs that allow us to explore, and reclaim pieces of the old world. We bring it back from the forest, raiders, and beasts of the wild. Or we will, when there are enough of us to make reclaiming the old world a habit. We're northbound from here. Some traders found a small town that looked well-stocked while charting a new trade rout between... I suppose names aren't important to you. But it looked well stocked, and we were promised a portion of the loot equal to what we can fit on our animals."

    "We're making good time, so we can make the trek afoot if you'd like. Otherwise you can double up on one of our mounts. We could make it to the town by midday tomorrow."
  15. Marzia eyed the beasts that were a part of the small group with some trepidation. There were allies in the woods, birds that would always lead to fresh meat, bugs that would show which plants were safe to eat and which weren't, but it was a good rule of thumb that anything larger than oneself would not make a good ally. Marzia knew that it was common for caravans to have something pulling their wagon or bearing some kind of burden, but the beasts were always twitchy traitors, quick to run away at the first sign of trouble. She skittered back from the creature quickly, a faint rumble emerging from deep in her throat to let the beast know that she was not an easy target, whatever its intention.

    "You can ride," here she spat out some unintelligible word, a local dialect that few knew, but was clearly insulting the beasts. "I'll run." She stretched carefully, testing the pull of her muscles and the state of her healing. It would take a couple days before her hand returned to full functionality, maybe less if she got good food, but the various cuts from her fight with the monkey were certainly repaired well enough for her to travel again.
  16. "As you wish," Said Jack, trying to suppress a grin. "We're not in any rush, so we'll keep an easy pace 'til we break to make camp. Willow, come." He patted his thigh, and the horned mount drew close. He pulled himself smoothly into the saddle, and glanced down to Marzia once again. Upon closer inspection, the mount's flesh resembled chitin more than scale, fur, or skin. Hard, dark, and shining with reflective light.

    "There are stories, you know." He said, as he urged his mount forward with a squeeze of his knees. "About you. Some call you a specter, haunting the region's trade caravans. A spirit exacting your revenge on trade caravans to level some unknown debt. It's something of a miracle that you've been able to survive out here on your own. Are you on your own, miss Marzia? Do you have any family to speak of?
  17. Each member of Jack's group had mounted up on their own creatures, and each one mirrored the nature of their rider. Kinn had settled towards the back of the group, lounging comfortably against a creature that was some mix of ram, elk, and goat. Its giant horns curled around multiple times, and Kinn had strung various accessories through the spiral. The two lizard brothers ode on low, catlike mounts with sharp teeth, long claws, and three horns sticking up from the back of their heads and necks. Fina's mount was by far the cutest of the bunch, with the body style of a velociraptor, but furred like a cat and with the large, round ears of a mouse. IT nuzzled her affectionately, and she rubbed its tawny fur before jumping up onto its back and sitting down cross legged. In between Kinn and Wren, and then Wren and Fina, two stocky creatures, cross between cow and rhinoceros, carried the team's miscellaneous baggage.

    Marzia found her place up near the front, towards Jack. The path was wide enough at the moment that she could travel side by side without having to worry about accidentally brushing up against the strider. The team moved out in unison, settling into a relatively quick but easily maintainable pace. Marzia would easily be able to maintain it for the rest of the evening, although she would rest deeply that evening with the combined exertion of the run and having to heal from the fight with the monkey.

    "None," Marzia replied shortly, clearly not all that interested in talking. It was in part to conserve her breath, but was mostly because she simply wasn't used to the chatter of humanity.
  18. Jack rode well, and for the most part, he let his Strider pick the path, only adjusting the path with a nudge or a squeeze. He didn't hold on to the reins connected to the bit in his mount's mouth, but rather cradled his boxy little gun in his arms as he rode, his eyes turned to the forest in search of approaching threats. One of the reasons his band had elected to ride with mounts, was that it made a poor target for most of the beasts of the forests. Even a pack of bolewolves would be given pause by a caravan where each member had a mount.

    That wasn't to say there weren't creatures that would attack the caravan, only that the likelihood was dramatically reduced. "Are you nomadic then? Or do you live in a home? I won't ask where it is of course." He suspected that the feral woman didn't trust him as far as she could throw Willow.
  19. "No home," Marzia replied with a huff. "Bad idea."

    Fina, seeing that Jack was engaging the wildling in conversation, had slowly been edging her fuzzy mount closer and closer to the two. Normally she could behave herself, but Marzia invoked a curiosity in her that she hadn't felt since the first time she had met Jack. Such curiosity made it very, very hard for her to hold her tongue, even when she knew it was a good idea.

    "But how did you survive?" Fina cut in, her eyes wide like a child at a storytelling session.

    Marzia huffed again. "Ate. Slept. Moved. Fought."
  20. Jack regarded the wild girl with a contemplative half-smile as Sarafina picked up the line of questioning. There would be time enough to ply her with questions over a meal, when she might be feeling more personable. His eyes swept up to regard the towering trees around them, and he let his mind drift into the easy sway of his Strider. There was a certain connection between them that he'd never bothered to think too deeply on, but the ease with which the creature moved suggested that there wasn't anything immediately endangering the caravan. With luck, the rest of the day's travel would be uneventful.


    And so it was, much to the disappointment of the brothers, who began arguing good-naturedly over one another's tall tales. By the time Jack began to slow them, Wren was animatedly describing a great mutant half-squid, half-crocodile that he'd killed with nothing but a leather cord, and a pocket-knife.

    "Let's make camp. Cronen, you're on water-duty. Find a spring or a stream nearby if you can. Wren, you're in charge of the fire. make it small. Fina, I'd like you to square away the pack animals. Kinnon, you take a look around to make sure there aren't any nasty surprises on ground level. Willow and I will check the tree." Jack nodded toward the largest bole nearby, larger than the average old-word house, and tall enough that making it to the top would be unreasonable without some very particular preparations.

    "Marzia," He said, regarding the caravan's guest. "You may help as you'd please, or not. You're our guest."
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