Spirits in the Stone (Peregrine x Supah Turtle)

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Zombie Turtle, Dec 14, 2014.

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  1. Sprigate City was the place to be. As long as one had the means, the whole city was a playground.

    Kieran Broderick flashed the doorman a smile fit for a god as he leaned against the back wall of the elevator. The pulley system jerked and tossed the box around as it came to a halt against the ground. The doorman nodded politely as he went about pulling open the gates, allowing Kieran to step out onto the red cobbled streets. The Broderick family’s sleek black automobile silently occupied the area immediately in front of the elevator, waiting for a driver to take it for a spin on the near empty streets of the city.

    The soft, amber glow of the street lamps were reflected off the inky black paint that covered the rear of the vehicle, giving it the appearance of being aflame. The doorman moved to the front of the vehicle to the key, waiting for Kieran to give him the go ahead to wind the car. Kieran, on the other hand, was far too distracted with the group of young women emerging from the house directly next to his to pay much heed to the main waiting on him.

    “Good evening, ladies.” Kieran bowed deeply and stepped directly into their path, his arms spread wide. “Where would you be heading on a fine night such as this?”

    His query was met by the gaggle giggling at him, each of the three girls turning an attractive shade of pink. The tallest of the three, a pretty brunette wearing a flattering off shoulder gown and diamond earrings, got her bearings before her friends. “We are simply out for a stroll. As you said, it is a fine night.”

    Kieran’s blue eyes sparkled at the vague answer as he swept himself out of their path. “Then by all means, please continue.” He smiled congenially as they nodded at him politely, continuing on their way. He watched with a sigh on his parted lips, only allowing the women to get a few feet away before clearing his throat to regain their attention. “That is unless you would care to accompany me this evening.”

    In perfect sync, all three of the girls turned back to him. The wide smiles that graced their pretty, soft faces all but proclaimed that he had done exactly as they expected. Kieran noted naught but their enthusiasm, and made a grand show of sweeping himself to the automobile and opening the door for them as a gentleman of his stature should.

    After ushering the girls in and closing their door he rounded the rear of the car, stopping only to flip a copper paltry at the man waiting by the key. “Three turns should do it, friend. Going straight to the nearest salon.”

    The man’s hand moved swiftly, snatching the coin out of the air with an ease that only came from years of having money thrown at one’s head. The coin vanished into a pocket and the steady sound of the gears being wound filled the street. Kieran didn’t hesitate as he pressed the car into a forward gear and slammed his foot into the petal, swerving into the near empty street to a chorus of excited squeals erupting from his passengers.

    Sprigate City was divided into quadrants. Factories and pubs polluted the northwestern portion of the city, and the slums snugly wrapped around, giving most citizens easy and quick access to their employment. The schools and salons separated the upper and lower classes, preventing much interaction between the working class and their betters.

    It was probably for the best that Kieran didn’t have far to drive before skidding to a stop in front of the salon. His showmanship would have likely got the better of him had they needed to get all the way across town.

    Without bothering to open the door, Kieran hopped out of the vehicle just as the last trolley of the night roared by above their heads. He smiled, reveling in the fact that he had never once been forced to endure the public transit, and for that matter it pleased him even further that the trollies were suspended, giving the lower classes absolutely no reason to come street level.

    The deafening din of the gears grinding across the cables though made it impossible to be heard, so with an ever-present flair of drama, he pulled the car door open for his guest and bowed at the waist to show that he was waiting expectantly for their company.

    The girls hustled past him, and Kieran straightened himself, the flashy smile still plastered across his face. He ran his eyes across the few other autos in attendance, wincing as he noted a few of his least favorite people. He brushed off the unfortunateness and moved to join his guests, making a mental note to ask their names after they were situated. A man in an old, dark suit stood next to the entrance elevator, and already had the box called and the grates open by the time they sauntered up. Kieran palmed a paltry into the man’s hand as he greeted him.

    The salon was as crowded as Kieran had ever seen it but that wasn’t saying much. The salons catered exclusively to the upper class, and there were so many of them spread out throughout Sprigate that they very rarely became overcrowded, unless an event had been scheduled and advertised. Most of the seats at the bar were taken, and none of the tables near the stage were available, as was the norm. The lights over the floor were a hazy amber, giving enough illumination to see major details, but still allow for a smooth, mellow atmosphere. A petite blonde in a red evening gown graced the stage along with her live accompaniment. Her sultry voice crooned a soothing, seductive melody along with the haunting piano.

    The girls stopped in the middle of the walkway, eliciting an eye roll from Kieran as he tried to remain polite as he herded them to an empty table in the center of the room. He pulled out a chair for each of them in turn before seating himself, though by this point he was regretting bringing them along. You invited them, Kieran, he thought to himself, as he tried his best to appear disinterested in the rest of the activities taking place around them. Never can say ‘no’ to a pretty face. His smile widened, and his cheeks were beginning to feel tired though the night was still young. “So, ladies, I can’t seem to recall your names…?”

    The question hung in the air as all three of the young women fixed him incredulous glares. The brunette, who seemed to have somehow developed the role of chieftain of her little tribe, broke the silence first. “Kieran, you know us, darling.” Her painted lips spread as she graced him with a coy grin. He raised an eyebrow now as his interest rose. She called him by name, but that wasn’t surprising in the least. He had it on good authority that ninety percent of the upper class were at least aware of who he was, but Kieran would be damned if he had ever seen these three, let alone interacted with them.

    “Oh? How do I know you then?” The other two girls now wore smiles matching the others, and it only served to egg on his inquisitiveness.

    “We grew up right next door, Kieran, doll.” It was a different girl that spoke this time. Her face was remarkably similar to the other two, and if it wasn’t for her hair and eyes he would have guessed them to be triplets. Her strawberry blonde hair was loose, laying over her shoulders in waves, and her twilight blue eyes seemed to sparkle with amusement as he struggled to fill in the blanks.

    The third girl giggled. Her black locks swept back away from her amber eyes. “It’s amazing how blind he is,” she wasn’t even looking at Kieran. Talking to the other two, like he was nothing more than a doll sitting in their bedroom.

    His brain stuttered, and the trains of thought he had began to form all crashed as Kieran worked it out. His jaw dropped as he openly gaped at the three of them. Knowing he finally managed to put the pieces together they simultaneously burst into laughter. “Ho-ly hell,” he mumbled shock temporarily taking his words. “Eliza, Jeannie, and Jo?” Of course he knew them. He had watched them grow from toddlers in diapers to the twiggy-legged adolescents that he thought they still were. Apparently, they had done some growing while he wasn’t paying attention.

    #1 Zombie Turtle, Dec 14, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2014
  2. A young girl had spent the morning cleaning and heating the low stone home that would be Keelin’s home for the next lunar cycle, while she remained with this clan before moving to the next. When the shaman walked in the girl was bent over the comfortable fur nest that would serve as her bed, straightening an intricately woven blanket. At the sound of Keelin’s footsteps the girl straightened. Her eyes briefly went wide, before she approached timidly, reaching out for Keelin’s hand. Their fingers met lightly in the traditional tribal greeting, before Keelin knelt down in front of the girl, getting their eyes on level.

    “Mairia, look how much you’ve grown!” Keelin said, voice warm.

    All of the nervousness seemed to shed off the young girl, and she threw herself into Keelin’s arms, hugging her tightly. “You remember me?”

    “Of course. I was there for your name day. You asked me what name you should pick, and we stayed up half the night until you finally settled on Mairia.”

    There was the sound of footsteps on the dirt stairs that led down into the single room that made up the home, and Mairia reluctantly detached herself from Keelin. She straightened her light leather tunic self-consciously, before stepping back a few steps.

    The large feet of Nolyn, chief of the cliff clan, preceded his large form into the home. He did not quite have to stand stooped to fit underneath the short ceiling, but the top of his bushy brown hair, only lightly brushed with grey even at his age, clung to the stone roof, giving the impression of a halo. Mairia smiled faintly, before making her way towards the stairs. Nolyn paused to rumple her hair, before letting the girl escape back to the open air and away from the two most influential people in her life.

    “It is good to see you, Nolyn,” Keelin said. Their fingertips brushed together gently, before Nolyn laughed and folded Keelin into a tight hug. He was a good head taller than her, and was able to rest the bottom of his chin on top of her own tawny locks. Moments later they separated, and went to go sit in Keelin’s nest.

    Nolyn’s voice was smooth and steady as he slowly related everything that had happened to the cliff clan since Keelin had last visited, a little under a year ago. He told of the children that had selected their name, the couple that had begun the final Journey to see if they were suited for marriage, the three women who had delivered child, one of whom had been carrying the last time Keelin had come, and the two more who were currently with child. He told her that the food supplies were full with the bounty of late summer. But a thought seemed to cross his mind, and his face fell slightly.

    Keelin rested a hand on his shoulder. A messenger had been sent to her sixteen days ago, delivering news of a young man, Cadel, who had been climbing the cliff with a group of friends and had a rock give out from him. He had hit his head on the way down, and although the physical damage was minimal and his youth allowed him to quickly recover, his mind had not been so fortunate. The tribe, his blood family, and the young woman he had just begun courting half a year ago had been distraught to learn, upon his waking, that he had forgotten everything. He no longer recognized anyone in his clan, and, more importantly, he had completely forgotten the ways of the tribe.

    “Cadel has not recovered his memories?” Keelin asked quietly.

    Nolyn shook his head. “We do what we can for him. We teach him like we would teach the children of our ways, but he resents it. He feels he is being demeaned, and he rebels against the truths we try and teach him.

    “It is difficult, Keelin.” He continued. “We teach the children our ways, and they are willing to trust us and follow until they learn for themselves that the way we live is right and true, but Cadel... He sees no reason to trust us, and seems to have no desire to see more than what he already believes he knows. He does what he wants, when he wants, simply because he wants. We were prepared to keep working with him, but now that you are here, would you be willing to guide him?”

    “Does it seem like he would be willing to speak with me?”

    “He listens, if somewhat unwillingly. But I do not think even he would reject you, were you to go to him kindly and in good heart.”

    “I shall do so, then. Cadel was a kind man with a good heart. Nothing can change that. While I am here for this moon, he can stay with me. Hopefully I will be able to help him understand once more.”
  3. Silence descended upon the quartet for a minute, but the look on Kieran’s face must have spoken volumes because the three girls all cracked wide, toothy smiles. Ruffling his own hair, he leaned back in his chair, taking a moment to fully assess the situation. A small puff of air escaped his lungs as he ruffled his hair and leaned back into the chair; his eye alight with possibility and his thoughts sorting through each one.

    A sustained high note erupted from the woman on stage as she finished her set with the flourish of a trained performer and a polite scattering of applause followed soon after. The women turned their attention to the stage to pay tribute to the talent and Kieran took the distraction to slip out of his chair.

    He wove through the salon, making a beeline for the bar against the far wall. The show of appreciation from the crowd had died by the time he waved the bartender over to him. The soft melody of a player piano began as the blonde excused herself, announcing that she would be back after a short break. Kieran leaned into the man behind the bar and muttered his order—two fingers of brandy— placing a tock on the bar to signal the bartender to keep them coming. The man nodded his understanding and slid a crystal tumbler into Kieran’s waiting hand.
    The smooth, amber liquid was drained and the tumbler replaced on the bar in a matter of seconds. The bartender quickly replaced the empty glass with a full one and Kieran turned his back to the bar, leaning against it with his elbows as his eye scanned the room for the table of women he’d removed himself from only a few moments before.

    His steely gaze settled on the table as he took a long sip of the liquor in his hand. The girls were too busy talking amongst themselves to care that he was gone from the table. Judging from the wild looks painted on their faces Kieran instinctively knew that they had chosen him to bring them out with a purpose. His curiosity was almost overpowering, but he forced himself to stay put and observe. Allowing them time to discuss whatever it was that they were plotting without his eavesdropping.

    Another glass of brandy was imbibed and the barkeep replaced it without a word before Kieran pushed himself off the bar and began to walk, all though his steps weren’t quite as sure has before and his thoughts were beginning to cloud. A few tables away he stopped to take another sip. The glass was only just touching his lips when Linus Bachmeier reached his table—and his girls.

    That pompous, arrogant ass was peddling his particular brand of flirt and slime all over the women and they seemed to be eating it up. A snarl warped Kieran’s face as he slammed the rest of his drink. He wasn’t the type of man who typically felt jealousy, but Kieran was territorial. The fact that Linus had already encroached on his territory by being in the salon grated on his nerves enough, but now that he was sleazing all over Kieran’s guests…

    A low growl escaped his lips as he slammed the glass onto the nearest table—the delicate crystal shattering upon impact. Kieran moved with a single-minded determination; he was going to escort Linus back to his auto.

    All gentleness fled him as he shoved and pushed his way back to the table. Linus was leaning over Eliza as Kieran approached. Without waiting for acknowledgement, his right hand found Linus’ shoulder and jerked him back. He was still yanking on the other man when his left fist came around and caught Linus squarely in the jaw. A collective gasp rippled through the salon as Kieran’s fist pulled back and stuck again. Blood sprayed from Linus’ face from the force of the punch. The crimson liquid flying through the air changed the scene drastically. The quiet shock dissipated, morphing into frantic cries and the hurried shuffle of feet trying to flee the scene.

    Linus righted himself, still coherent enough to know that the fight was far from over. Kieran’s third swing missed, the momentum sending him stumbling forward right into Linus’ waiting arms. Linus was tall, and well built. His shoulders were nearly twice as broad as Kieran’s. His bloodied face held a sadistic grin as his gorilla-esque arms wrapped around the narrower man, trapping him in place. Kieran struggled, trying his best to keep his feet underneath him. Something hard hit him in the ribs. And again, this time the strike was followed by the loud snap of a breaking rib. His breath was forced from his lungs at every strike. Escaping his lips in little puffs until there was simply nothing left for him to exhale.

    A slight reprieve in the assault gave Kieran the chance he needed. He twisted his body just enough to get his fingers between Linus and himself. He didn’t know much about pressure points, but he knew that it would hurt like hell if he dug his fingers between the bigger man’s ribs. Linus bellowed and threw Kieran away from him. The top of a table broke his fall but crashed to the floor moments after her landed on it.

    Groaning, Kieran stood up. His ribs were throbbing, and the pain was beginning to cause his vision to blur, but Linus didn’t look much better for wear. His nose was crooked and pouring blood down the front of his suit, both eyes were already blacked and beginning to swell and to top it all off, Kieran could tell he was exhausted. A sadistic grin curled the corners of his mouth as Kieran lifted a chair and launched himself at the man.

    Splinters of stained wood ripped from the chair as it made contact with Linus’s chest, and the force of the strike sent both men staggering back into more tables. Linus lost his footing and went down, taking the table and another chair with him in the process. Panting, Lucas stumbled forward, chair leg still in his hand when the lights in the salon went out, leaving them in total darkness.

    “Shit,” Kieran grumbled as he tossed the bolt of wood back to the floor and dropped to his knees amid all of the splinters and debris. He knew exactly what was happening. The law was called, and the law would do their job. The sudden lack of power was the only indication that the officers were about to enter a scene, and it was best if you didn’t fight. Kieran raised his hands above his head, and waited.
  4. Cadel had taken over a house on the outskirts of town, and the three young men who had been living there handed it over willingly enough when he barged in and refused to let them back in. They split up, and were easily fit into three other hunter’s houses that were also on the edges of the Cliff tribe. Since that point Cadel had not allowed anyone into the house, although Nolyn had told Keelin that the time one of the village children had come by, he had allowed the boy entry. Keelin had only nodded, but a small smile crossed her face. She knew Cadel was a good man, and could not resist the heartbroken face of a child. If he had, then she might have started to worry that the fall had damaged something other than his memory.

    Keelin and Nolyn left her home at the same time, her shorter frame preceding his large one as they emerged from the ground. It was almost impossible to tell the stony, rocky mound that was the roof of the home from the ground surrounding it, for the grass grew freely, and a small bunny perched upon it, chewing quietly on a scrap of clover. The rest of the village was the same way, but as Keeling emerged from her home a faint whistle, almost reminiscent of birdsong went up, and other people began to emerge from their homes. They greeted her with smiles, and touched her fingers gently. They had been polite enough to give her time to settle after her many day journey from the forest clan, and learn what had passed with them from Nolyn. But now they wanted a chance to talk with her, and Keelin was more than happy to oblige.

    She listened to their stories of the nine moons that had separated her last visit with a joyous attention, and easily traded story for story with everyone there, both of her own adventures and the happenings of the other clans. Despite the fact that each clan was many days apart, they were still all a single tribe, and news was shared freely, both of the good and the bad. When the good came, the other clan’s celebrated as well. When the bad came, the other clans did whatever they could to help. One of the running bands had been through recently, and a woman was happy to share that the moment Beli had traded off with one of the other runners who lived in this village and rested until it was her turn to reenter the rotation, he had run straight to Brit, picked her up, and twirled her halfway around the clan.

    “They’ll be going for the Journey soon, I’m sure,” old Olwen confided, smiling at Keelin with a knowing glint in her eyes. “although they intend to wait until after your ritual at the full moon. We’ll need to find a new runner while he’s away. What about you, Keelin? Don’t you think its about time you started looking for your own young man? I’m sure there’s no lack of offers.”

    Somewhere around halfway through her conversations with the villagers, Keelin noticed Cadel on the outskirts of the village, staring in through the low shrubbery and rocks at the happy group of gathered people in the center. Keelin didn’t know what had brought him out from his home, perhaps it was simply the commotion of so many people, but she had a guess as to what caused him to stay. The Cadel she remembered had been a social man, always wandering from home to home to share stories and time with the people of his village. If what Nolyn said about him not welcoming visitors was true, he had to be getting lonely by this point. Perhaps a part of him, a part that wasn’t directly connected with his memories, felt something familiar in this gathering. Perhaps he longed to join, but was fearful of what would happen.

    Keelin did not push him to join. He stood and watched until the last person had told their tale, and the children had long lost interest, and had raced away to play a game of stones. But once it was clear that the gathering was over he turned away, walking back to the outskirts and ducking down into his home. Keelin followed along a ways behind him, before joining him below ground.

    He looked up when she entered, an angry expression on his face. “Go away. I don’t want to talk to you.”

    “Hello,” was Keelin’s only reply. “It is good to see you.”

    “What? Another person who professes to know me? Well, I don’t remember you. And I don’t want to remember you.”

    “Of course you don’t remember me. We’ve never met. I call myself Keelin. What do you call yourself?”

    Cadel seemed thoroughly astonished by the unexpected turn this conversation had taken. “Uhhh... They call me Cadel.”

    “I know they call you Cadel. That isn’t what I asked. What do you call yourself?”

    Cadel stared at Keelin for a moment, somewhere between frustration and confusion. “I guess I call me Cadel, too.”

    “Do you not like the name?” Now that it seemed that Cadel was not so intent on throwing her out, Keelin moved a little further into the home. Cadel had plundered the three nests that had been built close to the walls, creating a single, heaping pile near the stack of warming stones in the center. Next to the stones was a single, sharp blade. Keelin stared at it for a moment, surprised. Nolyn had not told her that Cadel had taken the cooking knife for himself. She would have to talk to him about that soon.

    Keelin seated herself next to the messy pile of the new nest, her back to Cadel and expressing apparent disinterest in what he was doing. Eventually he slid down next to her, pulling his legs up to his chest. “It isn’t so much that I dislike the name,” he began hesitantly, most of the hostility having left his voice. “It is just... it feels like Cadel is someone else. Like I’m wearing someone else’s name, and it doesn’t belong to me, but everyone expects me to be that other Cadel.” He paused briefly, before stating emphatically, almost like he had repeated it to himself over and over again, “But what does it really matter? It is just a bunch of sounds.”

    “A bunch of sounds,” Keelin agreed, “but a bunch of sounds that we choose to equate to ourselves, and we use to give ourselves meaning to other people. I waited until I was seventeen to pick my name, rather than the name my mother gave me, and if I were to find that this name no longer expressed me, I would be allowed to change it. They continue to call you Cadel because you have given them no other name.”

    Cadel was silent for a moment, clearly thinking. However, he uncurled slightly, stretching his toes out towards one of the three massive warming stones. Keelin took this as a good sign. She did not interrupt the silence, allowing Cadel to think about what she had just said. When he turned to her, there was a look of anxiety on his brow.

    “How can I pick my own name if I don’t even know myself?”

    “Don’t know yourself?” Now it was Keelin’s turn to look surprised. “How can you not know yourself? You are you. You know nothing but yourself.”

    “No, that’s not what I meant. I mean... I don’t know how I act, I don’t know what I like, I don’t have anyone I consider friends or family. How can I be someone if I don’t know anything about being me?”

    “Being has nothing to do with doing. The rocks are, the trees are, the sky is, the water is, and they do nothing. You have to be before you can do, not the other way around. And the only way to know what you do is to do.” She reached out, quickly and lightly touching him on the shoulder. He stared at her, eyes wide, and waited. For a moment they did nothing, until she reached over and touched him on the shoulder again. The process repeated one more time before he finally reached out and touched her back.

    Keelin grinned. “There! Now you know one thing you do. Want to do another?”


    “Do you want to do another thing you do?”

    “You are mad.” Despite his words, there was the faintest hint of a smile in his voice.

    “Perhaps,” Keelin replied, her smile much more overt. “But that is just something I do.” She bent over and lightly grabbed the handle of the cooking knife. “May I return this?”

    “I suppose...” he replied, somewhat reluctantly.

    “There you go. That’s another thing you’ll do.”


    “Next time you get bored, come see me. We can work on picking you out a new name.”
  5. The tele rang and shook as he slammed the receiver back onto the base. The sudden fit of violence against the messenger—of sorts—wasn’t enough to calm Seamus’s anger. No. Not in the slightest.

    Seamus considered himself to be a good man. He was a fair employer, freely giving time for personal issues such as deaths or births, his employees never lacked for any necessities. As a father he had strived so hard to set a good example for his three children—especially after their mother had passed. Metal sickness was the diagnosis the healers had all given. Somehow the love of his heart had absorbed the metal that he worked with daily into her bloodstream. There still was no cure, and it had been an excruciating, slow death.

    Kieran, being the youngest and barely older than a babe, had taken her death the hardest and it seemed that no matter what Seamus did for him his behavior just kept getting worse and worse.

    Seamus spent the next hour making call after call on the tele until he was finally able to work a deal. With a frustrated grunt, Seamus locked up his office and headed down to street level. As frustrated as he was, Kieran was still his son, and he could not abide by him sitting in a jail cell.
    White walls. White cot. White toilet, with no possibility of privacy.
    Kieran growled as he paced his eight by eight cell. The officers had of course informed his father, even though he had insisted on paying the bond himself. The officers had informed him that with his assault charge coupled with destruction of property he would be lucky to even be granted a bail within the week.

    His father’s voice boomed through the halls, and Kieran had to actively stop himself from rolling his eyes. The rap of knuckles on the outer door brought the dozing officer to attention. Standing up, he straightened his all black uniform and sneered at Kieran through the bars before admitting more people into the observation room.

    His father carried himself with a confidence that came from a life of privilege and years of having people obey his every beck and call. Kieran looked the most like him out of all three of his children. Curly chestnut hair was carefully brushed into submission, and sharp gray eyes were perfectly complimented by his charcoal gray slacks and vest. His eyes swept the room, settling on the cell Kieran was currently residing in. Disappointment and anger sparked in his gaze, causing Kieran to groan and fall back into the bunk—a failed attempt to get himself out of his father’s sight.
    Kieran busied himself, trying to look as bored as humanly possible at the goings on just on the other side of his cage, but in all honesty, he clung to every word like white on rice.

    “I’ve spoken to the Mayor, and the Council, my son will be released into my custody tonight.”

    “I must apologize, sir, but I have my orders. The chief said that he was to stay put until we can get him in front of a Magister. No exceptions.”

    “I would not be wasting my time, if I had not already made the arrangements. If you insist on continuing to act against me, I must insist on the use of your tele.”

    A long pause followed his father’s words as he let the threat hang in the air. Seamus cleared his throat before he began speaking once again. “Now, since you obviously have no further objections, I will say this only once again: Please open the cell so I may claim my child and go home. I
    assure you, proper consequences will be dealt out, though it will be handled privately.”

    The officers made sounds that could only be described as ‘uneasy acceptance’ and the gears that controlled the door began to groan and squeak. Kieran sat up, feigning shock as the door ground open and his way to freedom was laid out for him. A small smile curled his lips as he took the time, dusting and straightening his clothing before strutting out as a free man.

    “Get that grin off your face, boy!” Seamus snapped, agitation getting the best of him for the first time since he arrived. Kieran’s face fell as he followed his father out of the room. The Law Depot was a veritable labyrinth, but Seamus led them through with ease. Not speaking until they were well out of range of any ears, and riding the elevator down to the street.

    “This is absolutely unacceptable! Kieran, I cannot save you every time. Your punishment has already been discussed with the Council, and though you have the choice not to accept it…” Seamus took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair before turning to face Kieran. Kieran hadn’t noticed it before, but his father looked haggard. Deep set worry lines spiked out from around his eyes and mouth, giving Kieran the impression that Seamus was waging an intense internal battle about the words he was going to speak. “Kieran, if you do not accept this consequence with grace and maturity, I will have no other option than to publically disown you and distance the family from your destructive behavior.”

    The elevator slammed into the ground with a much greater force than it should have and the footman opened the cage. Seamus left the elevator like it was on fire, leaving Kieran staring stupidly at the street.
  6. It took Cadel over a full day to decide to come find Keelin. Through the course of the day, as she talked with various people, played with the children who were old enough to have a desire to entertain her, and lived the life of a woman of the cliff clan, she caught glimpses of him watching her. Whenever he thought she had noticed him he would immediately leave, and wouldn’t return for a couple hours. Long enough that his passing by her again could seem almost accidental.

    For the most part, Keelin did her best to ignore him. She was undeniably pleased to see that she had managed to intrigue him, and that he seemed to have no overt desire to turn her away, as he had done with the rest of the members in the clan. She even earned the passing gratitude of Yanneh, the young woman who had been courting Cadel, when she told Keelin that this was the most that Cadel had been out of the house in one day since his accident. Keelin had taken the compliment with gratitude, and did her best to alleviate the young woman’s worries about what was going to happen to him.

    He finally came to her late in the evening, hours after the sun had set, and when the last visitor to Keelin’s home left for the evening to find their own nests. She had replaced the warming stones for the final time that day, snuggling in close to them as they radiated the heat that would keep the home warm for the rest of the night, when she heard the sound of hesitant footsteps on the stairs. She didn’t look up, wanting to give Cadel the choice to walk away should he so choose.

    “Keelin? May I come in?”

    Apparently he had decided to stick around. Keelin looked up, a smile spreading over her face. “Of course. I’m glad you came.”

    Cadel moved in, crouching down next to her. He remained balanced on the tip of his toes, like an animal only moments away from taking flight. Keelin, by contrast, settled comfortably next to the stones, prepared to wait as long as was necessary for Cadel to feel comfortable. It was getting later in the evening, but she was in no hurry to fall asleep.

    The silence between them was undoubtedly awkward, but Keelin gave no indication that she noticed the tension. She reached out, finding a soft brush made from the bristles of a wild boar, and began to brush her hair for the evening. She made it halfway around her head before Cadel’s toes got tired, and he sat back heavily, before crossing his legs.

    Keelin finished brushing her hair, and set down the brush lightly. To her side, she felt Cadel tense, clearly waiting for her to speak. Keelin, however, did not oblige, and rather picked up a small whittling tool, and a scrap of bone she had found earlier that day. When she finished with it, it would be a serpent with its tail in its mouth, but right now it was nothing but a lump of broken bone.

    Finally, after several minutes of silent whittling, Cadel finally chose to speak. “Please, say something.”

    “Alright,” Keelin agreed easily, setting down both bone and the small, stone knife. She folded her hands in her lap, and turned to face him. “What did you do today?”

    “What did you do?” Cadel threw back. Keelin let out a small, internal sigh. He had apparently seen her choice to remain silent as a way to gain power over him, by forcing him to speak first, rather than as the respectful gesture she had intended it to be. Now, he longed to regain control.

    Keelin obliged willingly. It was, in the end, impossible to win a conversation, and there was no reason for her to try. “I spent the day trying to learn how to be a member of the cliff clan,” she replied easily. “Despite the fact that all clans are a part of a single tribe, they are all rather different. It’s been ten moons since I was last here, and I’ve forgotten a lot of it.”



    “Like what?”

    “Well, if you really want contrast, look at the glacier clan, which lives at the very peak of a mountain, versus the marsh clan. In the glacier clan, all activities revolve around efficiency, in order to maintain your breath and your heat. Whereas, in the marsh clan, the most important thing is acrobatics, in order to keep yourself dry and to protect the marsh and the things that live in them. Every time I visit the marsh clan, it takes me a good eight days to even begin to feel comfortable in some of the most basic acrobatic moves, and I’ll never be as good as someone who was raised there, no matter how long I practice.”

    “Where were you raised?”

    “I was raised in the meadow clan.”

    “What was that like?”

    “Peaceful. Of all the clans, life in the meadow clan moves the slowest. There’s no need to hurry, because for the most part life is easy. Rather than thinking about life in days, most people in the meadow clan look at life in seasons. Summer and autumn are the times for gathering, winter is the time for making, and spring is the time for planting. It is very different from the people of the river clan, who need to move fast enough to keep up with the river that runs their life.”

    “How do you adjust?”

    “Well, for one thing, I never have to go right from one to its opposite. For another, I’m okay with not being the best at each clan’s nature. The whole clan is there to support its members, and what I don’t do well some else does, and what they don’t, I do. Every time I go, I relearn what each clan has to teach.”

    Cadel looked at Keelin sideways, his face suddenly going distrustful. Keelin’s only response was to laugh.

    “You seem to have decided that there was an ulterior motive in this path of conversation. I’d remind you that you picked it, except I don’t think that would do any good. Very well. What would you like to talk about now?”

    Cadel was silent for a moment. “I think I’ll just come back later.”

    “Alright,” Keelin agreed. She reached down, picking up the bone fragment and whittle once more. She looked back over just in time to catch an odd look from Cadel. She smiled, taking a guess at that particular expression’s interpretation. “I’m not here to force you into anything, I promise. If you don’t want to stay, I’m not about to try and force you. What you do has to be your choice, or else it has no meaning.”

    “I see...” Cadel replied slowly. “Thanks, I guess.”

    “You’re welcome.”
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  7. Kieran was beyond the point of livid as he paced back and forth on the plush carpet of his bedroom. Deep indentations stood in stark contrast against the depth of the rest of the carpet; indentations left in the wake of his furious and repetitive steps. “Absolutely ridiculous,” he murmured to himself as he moved.

    His father had put him in a difficult position to say the least. Kieran knew he wasn’t a diplomat, his father knew he wasn’t a diplomat. There was only one logical explanation for why his dad was sending him, and why the Council was allowing it—they didn’t expect him to succeed. Nobody could succeed. The whole thing was foolish fantasy!

    Exasperated, Kieran launched himself off the floor and onto his mattress, brooding on the task he was given. “The tribe lands?!” The incredulity of his destination weighed heavy on his mind, but no matter how he tried, he couldn’t find a way out of this situation.

    A soft knock pierced the relative silence of his room, and brought him up. Instinctively, he knew it wasn’t his father. No, there would have been no hesitation in the sound, and the door would have already been opened. His siblings couldn’t be bothered to come and say farewell, he knew that he had burned those bridges long ago. That left only one option. “Come in, Kevin.”

    The door creaked open and Kevin’s grey haired head poked in. “I was sent to see to your luggage, Mr. Kieran.”

    “Haven’t packed yet. You can go back downstairs.” Kieran ran his fingers through the mop of dark curls on his head as he glanced at the empty case laying in front of his wardrobe.

    “It is as expected, Mr. Kieran. I was sent to pack for you; your father was convinced that you would need assistance.” Kevin had made his way fully into the room at this point. The soft scuffling of his black shoes across the carpet filled the room in the silence that followed his proclamation.

    Kieran scoffed, and threw his hands in the air. He pushed himself to his feet and tossed the case onto the bed before moving to the wardrobe. Instead of being picky Kieran tossed the whole lot into the case and slammed the lid shut. “There!” He proclaimed stepping aside for Kevin to see the full trunk. “All packed. Am I to take it this means I’m leaving immediately?”

    Kevin’s face was answer enough. It was clear that he wasn’t expected to return. If he failed, and it was almost certain he would, he couldn’t return to his family home. Without word, Kieran left the room and made his way to the elevator.

    He wouldn’t say goodbye. He had no plans on maintaining lines of communication with his father until he returned triumphant. And triumph he would. The Council wanted him to negotiate mining rights with the tribes, that’s exactly what he would do. He wasn’t sure how, but he would.

    The automobile waiting for him wasn’t the one he was used to navigating. It was old, rust shone through the chipping paint in several spots and the upholstery looked as though it were growing something. Kieran felt his upper lip curl in disgust, but he also knew that protesting against the atrocity of a machine would result in him having to take public transport to the border. Nothing would have pleased his father more than to add to his humiliation by forcing the public transit on him, and Kieran wouldn’t give him that pleasure. It took an enormous amount of restraint, but he bit his tongue and waited patiently for his luggage to be brought. It wasn’t long after he arrived street level that Kevin joined him, dragging the large trunk behind him. The trunk was loaded into the auto and the engine was wound for a long trip. Kieran wasn’t worried about getting lost. Most of the roads in Horloge circled so even if he started out the wrong way, he would get to the edge of the tribe lands eventually. With a deep breath, and a curt nod to Kevin he slid into the driver’s seat and took off.

    Even In the auto the way was painstakingly slow. He didn’t want to put too much exertion on the engine and have to rewind it more than necessary. The border of his home city came and went and he directed the auto through lesser known, and not nearly as well maintained streets. The cities were flush against each other, but each one was required to provide its own upkeep, and the poorer areas of the country were not difficult to determine.

    The automobile proved to be more reliable than it seemed, but as he was winding it for the second time the gears ground and locked tightly. A string of curses flew from Kieran’s mouth as he unleashed all of his frustration on the outdated deathtrap his father had sent him away in. Time passed, though just how much escaped him as he kicked and punched the aged metal.

    Out of breath, with bleeding knuckles Kieran leaned against the rust bucket and gazed down the street. His rage gone, and his will exhausted. The dusty street lamps flickered above the cable line casting a weak golden glow. He sighed, and cast a weary glance at his watch before returning to gaze off to the east. The sun would be rising soon. Glowing brightly against the untamed land the resided just beyond the borders of the civilized world. Shining and encouraging the wild of the untamable wilderness and the people who reside inside it.

    He stayed. Leaning against the auto and watching the sun pull itself inch by inch over the horizon. It hadn’t yet fully rose when he began to wrestle his case out of the car. Luckily it had some attachments that would make it easier to transport on foot. Opening an outer compartment, he popped the wheels out, and set out, once again, for the ever nearing border.
  8. Sima, a clan elder woman known for her creative use of spices when it came to preparing the daily meals for the clan, stalked Keelin for most of the next morning, shadowing her from place to place as Keelin moved through the village, but always patiently waiting for a time when she would not be interrupting the shaman. Keelin waited patiently herself, for the woman to choose the moment she would approach, but eventually Keelin was forced to acknowledge that the woman would not come speak to her until Keelin was not wanted somewhere else. The problem with that theory was that everyone in the village was still so excited to have her around that they all wanted to find a way to claim her attention. She didn’t mind, she loved hearing all the stories that had happened to the clan since her last visit, but it was clear that whatever Sima had to tell her, it was not superficial.

    Keelin was eventually forced to shoo a young gatherer, who had just finished an exciting tale about a bear and a squirrel and was clearly preparing to launch into another story. She stood up before starting to walk over to Sima. The woman smiled slightly sheepishly, but reached out a hand to brush her fingers against Keelin’s own.

    “What is it, Sima?”

    “Nolyn told me that you have taken Cadel under your guidance. Is it true?”

    “Yes, it is.”

    Sima looked simultaneously relieved and anxious. “Normally I’d just deal with this myself, but since you are here, and you are willing...” she hesitated, before glancing at Keelin and remembering that she had no reason to be embarrassed around the young shaman. “Cadel took the knife again this morning.”

    “He did?”

    “Yes. It isn’t really that big of a deal right now, but I’ll need it again before dinner. Normally he does return it eventually, if someone actually goes and asks him for it, but the way he took it this morning made it look like he was trying to make it disappear.”

    Keelin sighed. “I’ll go to him, and see if we can reach an understanding about the matter.”

    “That is all I ask. Thank you, shaman.” Sima bowed slightly, before turning and hurrying away.

    Keelin sighed again. She couldn’t help but remember some of the long conversations she had with her own mentor, back before Eilena’s bones had grown weary of the travels every moon, and she had returned to the valley clan permanently. They had often stayed up long into the night, discussing anything and everything that came to Keelin’s mind. More often than not the questions she posed would quickly grow circular and frustrating, and Eilena tried to convince her of a truth that Keelin was not yet capable of understanding. In many ways these conversations with Cadel reminded her of that. Except for the fact that Keelin had always initiated her conversations with her mentor willingly, while it felt like she almost had to trick Cadel into listening. But Eilana had never given up on her, and she certainly wasn’t going to give up on Cadel.

    Cadel was lounging in the grasses, just barely within sight of his home. For the first time, he did not greet Keelin’s arrival with suspicion, although some of the calmness did seem to leave his body. Keelin approached with apparent ease, but her mind was racing. She was going to have to be very careful about how she approached Cadel about this matter. Now that he was starting to trust her, she didn’t want to shatter that with lectures or forced lessons.

    Keelin sat herself down in the grass next to him, and engaged herself in weaving a crown out of the tops of the nearby grasses, which were opening up into the wheat-like tops of late summer. To her pleasure, however, Keelin wasn’t even able to make it a quarter of the way through her grass crown before Cadel spoke.

    “Did you have something in particular to say and you are just too polite to interrupt, or were you just in the mood for my company?”

    “I’m never going to force my conversation on you,” Keelin replied, rather noncommittal.

    “Too respectful, then.” Cadel waved away the differentiation with a lazy hand, before sitting up, and turning to face her, legs crossed. “The question still stands.”

    Keelin held back a sigh. Another sigh. She was far too young to be sighing like this. “May we speak about the knife?”

    Cadel’s eyes widened briefly before he glowered her. “I should have guessed that was what this was about. It seems like all anyone ever has to say to me anymore is if they can get that damned knife back.”

    “I’m not asking for it back,” Keelin said with a light laugh, trying to lighten the mood a bit. “I just want to talk about it.”

    “What is there to talk about?” Cadel slumped back down, landing heavily on the ground and staring up at the sky. “I need it, so I took it. No other knife would work.”

    “Do you need it right now?”

    “No. But I will again before the day is out. Why shouldn’t I hold onto it?”

    “What about the other people who need it?”

    “They can get a different one.”

    “And when someone else decides that they want to hold onto that one?”

    “They won’t. No one else holds onto anything.”

    “Humor me. If they did?”

    “Then I suppose they’d need to get another one.”

    “So... it is better for everyone to have their own cooking knife?”



    Cadel looked like he wanted to get irritated again, but Keelin’s tone was too honestly curious for him to suspect that she was mocking him. “It’s easier. More efficient. Then people don’t need to go get it, and then bring it back to wherever they found it.”

    “But what about the time it takes to build the knife?”

    “What about it?”

    “Well, for every cooking knife that is made, a gatherer need to go to one of the central mountains, and bring back some of the metal. Then someone needs to grind it into shape, and someone needs to make the bone handle, and then someone needs to press the bone to the blade. It can be a week long process, if not more.”

    “But once the knife is made, it doesn’t need to be made again.”

    “It does, if everyone needs their own.”

    “No, I mean... once everyone has their own.”

    “Okay,” Keelin agreed. “But what about when all the knives aren’t in use? Does it just... sit there, until the one person who is allowed to use it needs it again?”

    “Yeah. Why not?”

    Keelin was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry, Cadel. I think I’m missing something. Why is this better than the way it is now? With all the work that would go into making the knives, and then those that are made sitting around for a large portion of the day, not being used?”

    “Because it is easier!” Cadel repeated, clearly getting frustrated. “Because I don’t have to go get the metal, or craft the knife. I can just have it and use it whenever I need, without having to track it down and take it.”

    “But who is going to do the jobs of the people who do have to go make the knives?”

    “I don’t know! I don’t care. I just want to have a knife.”

    “But you do have a knife.”

    “Yeah, right now I do. But I don’t always.”

    “No, Cadel, you always have it. There is never a time when you can’t have it, when you need it. All you need to do is go get it.”

    Cadel was silent for a moment. Briefly, Keelin wondered if he was out of arguments, or if he was simply so mad he could no longer speak.

    “Go away.”


    “Go away!” Cadel shouted, picking up a sod of dirt and flinging it at her. “Go away, and take the stupid knife with you.”

    Apparently he had run out of arguments, at least for the moment.
  9. The artificial lights and cobbled roads of the city were behind him now. At his feet was the wild, and in front of him, Kieran faced the unknown. So little was known about the people who dwelled beyond the civilized world, and his mind was racing with two hundred different ideas a minute. Of all the different notions, one thought was ever-present—these people were, no doubt, savages.

    Even in the cool morning sun, sweat plastered Kieran’s hair to his forehead and his limbs were growing heavy. He had considered himself to be in good shape, but he now understood the truth of how truly pampered he had been in Sprigate City.

    The landscape was far from flat, and Kieran wasn’t even sure how far he had managed to make it outside of the city, but the muscles in his legs were screaming in violent protest when he finally fell to the ground for a rest. Pulling his trunk to him Kieran snapped the top open, and smirked. He knew Kevin wouldn’t have brought the case down before neatly arranging all of his belongings, but that wasn’t what actually surprised him. The top, left quarter of his trunk had been filled to the brim with supplies. Some already made foodstuffs greeted him brightly, as well as several prepackaged water containers and a filter for cleaning out any native water he could find. Kevin had always watched out for Kieran, and now sitting alone in the wilderness, Kieran felt sorry for the way he acted before leaving.

    Kieran took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of dirt and vegetation as he looked around. Not seeing hide nor hair of anything sentient he undid the buttons on his shirt and pulled it off. Grabbing a bottle of water he pushed his trunk away and dumped the tepid liquid over his head, washing the sweat and grime from his journey thus far out of his hair, and off his skin. A large burst of air escaped from his lungs the moment the water hit him, reenergizing and invigorating him. He was already so anxious to find where he was going that stopping to rest had been a major concession, and once again, he had to remind himself that he needed to rest; at least for a few minutes longer.

    After returning the empty container to his trunk, Kieran grabbed the first food item that he could see. Wrapped in a warming cloth, and nestled atop the pile of supplies, Kieran was salivating before he could even unwrap it. Judging from the weight and shape of the folded cloth, Kieran knew exactly what he was holding even as he worked to free it from its woven entrapment. His fingers kept fumbling with the damned towel, but eventually he freed his prize. Roast on fresh baked bread. Kevin had truly outdone himself with this sandwich, and Kieran said a silent ‘thank you’ before devouring it.

    With a full stomach, Kieran pulled his shirt back over his arms, and began repacking his trunk when a glint of metal from within caught his eye. The corners of his mouth curled up in an awestruck grin. Kevin had thought of everything. With cautious fingers, Kieran freed the weapon from his belongings and turned it over in his hand.

    The thought that he should probably keep the small, bronzed firearm in his bag was fleeting and soon enough he was tucking it into the waistband of his pants as he gathered his belongings and readied himself to continue his trek.
  10. Tairo had known, since the moment he was born, that he had wanted to be a part of the boarder guard, just like his parents. That belief had seemed confirmed by fate when, shortly after his name day, the people of the outside world had invaded his mountain home, intending to tear up the land for the metal which grew within the ground. Both his mother and his father had fought against the invasion, using their understanding of the land and the animals against the strange weapons of the world outside his home. It was then that Tairo had learned of the unfeeling cruelty of those people who wanted to control the land, and he saw the echoes of that every day in his parents' faces. He had learned how to defend his home as he grew older, but he had taught himself his hatred for anyone who was not tribe.

    It was for this reason, when he saw the lone silhouette tromping through the hills and sticking out like a sore thumb, Tairo had immediately readied the hunting knife on his waist. Only the steadying hand of his partner and lover Ranya kept him from immediately trying to execute the outsider on the spot, and send a very clear message to those who would try and invade his homeland.

    "Why are you stopping me?" he hissed at her.

    "Think," she replied, voice soft and steady. "We've never seen a lone outsider before. They always come in groups. Whatever it may mean, it is something different, and therefore we can't just plunge in recklessly."

    The two engaged in a brief, fierce staring match, before Tairo finally shook his head in resignation. "Fine. What do you suggest?"

    "We should get Markeus. He'll be able to make the right decision."

    "And if we lose him in the meantime?"

    Ranya gave him a disgusted look. "Really? Lose that?" She gestured with distaste at the stumbling figure, lugging around a big bag and struggling to place his feet in all the right spots. Tairo blushed slightly, and the two turned away, disappearing into the underbrush.

    What they didn't hear was the faint huffing of a bear just over the next ridge. A bear which the stranger was walking right to.
  11. A gentle, albeit crisp, breeze developed as Kieran ventured further into the wilderness. For somebody used to the hustle and bustle of a thriving metropolis he found that every little rustle in the trees, or snap of a twig were putting him on edge. Any little sound was cause for alarm in his mind. These lands were wild, and unknown, and Kieran’s imagination kept making it wilder, even more terrifying than it already was.

    The vegetation was becoming thicker the further away from civilization he moved. Kieran kept his eyes peeled, constantly looking for some overgrown and underused path. People were said to live out here, they had to get around somehow. How had they not developed any pathways?

    A rumbling noise sounded from beyond his line of vision, and Kieran’s head snapped around as his fingers fumbled for the firearm he had tucked away. As the gun came out of his waistband it slipped from his fingers. No, no, no! His mind scolded him as he dropped to his knees in an attempt to catch his weapon, though his efforts were of no avail. The gun landed in the dirt with a soft thump.

    “Dammit,” he bit out the curse under his breath, still trying to get the gun into his hands while his eyes never left the brush. Constantly scanning for any signs of movement, any sign that he wasn’t just paranoid, Kieran finally got the gun up, aiming blindly into the vegetation with shaking hands.

    Everything was quiet for what felt like an eternity; the only sounds in Kieran’s ears were his own ragged breathing and pounding heartbeat. He was just about to rise, chalk the whole episode up to his flagrant ignorance of the land he was traversing when he heard it again. Louder this time. Definitely a growl. Probably a growl. More likely than not it was some crazed hostile animal looking for a nice human sized snack. Well, that was fine, but this human was not going to stand around an just become a willing snack. Oh, no. Kieran took a deep breath, tried to steady his aim and pulled the trigger.



    Kieran’s eyes grew to be the size of dinner plates as the large, brown-black beast came crashing toward him. Its eyes shining with pain and rage, and a small trickle of blood decorating the fur just below its shoulder. “Shit!”

    Screaming the curse over and over, Kieran flailed across the ground trying to drag himself to his feet. The creature was on him quicker than he could think. Claws slashing across his arms as he desperately shielded his face.

    Pain wracked his body. Then there was nothing. No pain. No panic. He knew he was dying, and all he could do was lay there and accept his fate. His body went limp, and slowly the world went black.
  12. The noise echoed like a gunshot, and it brought Tairo to a dead stop. It felt like his very body had cried out at the unnatural nature of the noise. However, the furious bellow that followed it was familiar. A cruel smile spread over Tairo’s face. The idiot had just done something to enrage a mighty brown bear. His life would end soon, and it would be quick and painful.

    Tairo’s glee was not shared by Ranya. Her eyes went wide, and before the young man could stop her she had whirled about, bolting on quick feet back in the direction of the noises. “Ranya!” Tairo shouted in surprise, but she was moving too fast to care to hear him. Swearing, Tairo threw himself after her. He would not allow her to throw away her own life to save that of some outsider.

    Tairo was not a slow runner. His feet were familiar with the ground and he threw himself forward recklessly, trusting his body to process his footing in a way that his mind never could. But no one had ever beaten Ranya in a foot race. It was part of the reason she was a scout, and even as Tairo hurtled after her, moving as fast as he could, Ranya was slowly but steadily pulling away from him. There was no way he was ever going to catch up with her before she reached the bear. And who knew what she would do to save the life of that pitiful outsider.

    he bear was standing over the crumpled, bleeding figure of the outsider, a patch of sticky wetness on its shoulder. It huffed, its teeth clacking together in fury. His body brought him to a screeching halt, as every nerve and instinct told him not to approach the thing. It wasn’t worth it. But Ranya had no such reservations. She hurled herself at the bear, tumbling through the air and striking a sharp blow to its wounded shoulder. It released its fury in another bellow, taking a swipe at the lithe woman. Ranya dodged, barely missing the claws that were nearly as long as her hand.

    “Get him!” Ranya shouted at Tairo, before she spun wildly, dancing just in front of the bear. She was going to get herself killed. The bear lunged again, and once more Ranya managed to just barely dodge the blow.

    “Get him!” With no further words, Ranya turned, darting into the trees. There was no way she would be able to outrun the bear, but in the forest the hulking creature would be at a disadvantage. She just might be able to get it off her trail.

    For a moment Tairo was tempted to leave the outsider. Only the knowledge that Ranya would be risking her life for nothing kept him from acting on the instinct. But, even still, it might be too late. The ground was muddy with his blood. Tairo knelt down next to him, listening to the slowly fading sounds of Ranya and the bear. At any moment it might decide that the young woman wasn’t worth the effort, and then it would be back to finish its first prey. Tairo had to move before that happened.

    He hauled the young man, pulling him deeper into the brush. The progress was slow, and Tairo was torn between conflicting interests. On the one hand he wanted to move quickly, not only because the bear might come back, but because if he was rough enough the stranger might very well bleed out. Only the knowledge of the sorrow this would cause Ranya kept him careful of the stranger’s wounds. Even still, it was doubtful that they would be able to make it back to the outpost before the stranger bled out, no matter how careful Tairo was.

    Fortune, it seemed, was with the unlucky stranger though. Less than five minutes after the sound of the thunder-shot, another patrol found Tairo and the outsider. Their response was almost identical to Ranya’s. They hurried forward, the medic Seith dropping to his knees and pulling out the salves and bandages he had brought in preparation to heal one of his own people. He used the supplies liberally, quickly stabilizing the outsider.

    Two other soldiers picked up the man under Sieth’s meticulous instructions, and together they made their way back towards the outpost. The rest of the guard turned to Tairo.

    “Ranya?” one of them asked with concern.

    “She lured away the bear.”

    Captain Caraf nodded once, and Tairo fell into the man’s ranks. Then the five of them were off, to find Ranya and bring her home.
  13. Intense, burning, searing pain.

    Kieran screamed, his arms and legs thrashing wildly as he remembered the bear and desperately attempted to fight it off, even throughout the pain that ripped through his body.
    Another garbled scream tore from his throat, though the words that he’d tried to get out were, “No! Get off!”

    Try as he might his eyes just wouldn’t open, leaving the world dark. He feared he had been blinded, and his panic rose higher. Desperation and adrenaline coursed through his veins, his heart racing as he writhed and bucked against the forces on his body.

    Somehow, through his own sobs he made out the sound of voices. Bears don’t speak. His rushing thoughts attempted to make the connection. Why were there people around him?
    His limbs suddenly because heavy with pain, and refused to move any longer. His feet wouldn’t kick, and his arms fell clumsily to his sides. His body was no longer responding. The noises faded from his ears once again, and Kieran’s mind fell back into the black hole that he was sure was death.
  14. It had been a long, sleepless set of days for Seith. He had not left the outsider’s side since he had been carried into the village on a litter other than to relieve himself a small distance from the house. The rest of his time, when he had not been so tired that sleep had claimed him for a couple hours, willing or not, he devoted his attention to dragging the outsider back whenever he slipped towards the edge between life and death. Seith had tended a bear mauling before, but it had been minor compared to the wounds that the stranger had suffered, and had not included then being dragged away from the scene through mud and detritus of all sorts, and then carried well over a mile to the village, losing blood the whole time.

    In many respects, it was a miracle that the stranger was still alive. Most in the village attributed it to Seith’s skill in the healing arts, but the medic was not certain whether this was an attribute of his own skill, the desire of the stranger to survive, or some weird machination of destiny. In the end it did not matter. The stranger had finally stabilized, and would not fall over the edge again. Weary beyond all reasoning, Seith slept.

    As the man had worked on his charge, a runner had been sent from the forest clan to the cliff clan. They had left the stranger be while Seith had worked on him, none of them willing to face the medic’s wrath should they interrupt his attempts to save the man’s life, but there was also the matter that no stranger had ever been allowed to remain on tribe land. This was not a decision that Brannen, chief of the Forest Clan, would be able to make on his own. They needed the shaman.

    When the runner finally arrived, he was quickly given some water, before being directed in Keelin’s direction. She was at Cadel’s house again, speaking to the young man until he grew frustrated with her presence. She wasn’t certain what progress she had made with him. Some days he listened readily and seemed to take what she said without question. Other days, however, it felt like they hadn’t spoken at all, so close were his mentalities to the first day they had met. But she was a patient individual, and would continue to work with him until she had to leave.

    However, the news delivered by the runner demanded her immediate attention. This was not a decision she could make from a distance. She departed from the Cliff clan with the young man, and he guided her back to his own clan. By the time Kieran awoke, Keelin would be just arriving in the village, put in a position where she would have to make a decision between the life of an outsider, and the tradition of the tribe.
  15. Each time Kieran woke he felt less and less pain. Each time, no matter how hard he tried he couldn't stay awake and he wasn't sure if he was getting better or worse. The fading pain could indicate either, and in his foggy mind he was certain he was dying. In fact, when he finally woke, he was sure he was dead.

    The warmth of natural light woke him, and his hands went immediately to his face to block the glare. His arms were stiff, but didn't hurt exactly. Blinking, Kieran pushed himself to a sitting position and glanced around at his surroundings. It was like nothing he had seen before. Peaceful, and rudimentary, he saw nothing of modern technology. This must be the afterlife, he thought. Tech wouldn't be needed after death, I suppose... Death was the only reason for the tech to be missing from this scene.

    Rubbing his face, Kieran tried in vain to remember the situation that threw him into death's embrace, but the memories were far from clear. Lots of pain, claws and teeth, but not much else. Something wet trailed down his cheeks. Tears? He was crying. Because he was dead? Because of his last flashes of memory? It didn't matter. Kieran wiped the tears from his face and rose from his resting spot. It was when he stood that he saw another person. Cautiously he approached. His legs refusing to function right away. He was so weak. He laid a hand on the man's arm he wondered idly if the man was dead as well and what his purpose was in Kieran's afterlife. The man was warm, too warm to be dead. Maybe Kieran wasn't dead either...

    Falling back to the ground, Kieran ran his fingers through his tangled and matted hair. He wasn't dead. Nothing made any sense. Where was he? How was he saved? As he sat there, staring stupidly at his new surroundings, he lost his sense of time, and for a short time his hold on reality. Ignoring everything around him as he struggled to make sense of everything that had happened to him.
  16. Seith was leaning against the archway that made up the door, his legs locked straight to keep him upright, but his head lolled as he fought and lost the battle for consciousness. The messenger had run ahead only hours before, saying that the Shaman would be here soon. It had been such a relief when Seith had heard this. He had been fighting against Markeus for the rights of the lone stranger to live. He was a strong, self-confident man, fiercely protective to his tribe and violently aggressive to any outsider, as well as one of the best border guards in living memory, and the Captain of the Forest Branch. Markeus had only agreed to wait until Keelin arrived. He would make his voice heard, and so would Seith. In the end, it would be up to her to decide what to do with him.

    A light touch to his arm caused Seith to nearly overbalance in surprise. He whirled around, coming face to face with the outsider. "Ah, no," he said, worry contorting his face into a mass of wrinkles. "You should not be standing up yet!" He quickly grabbed the slumping man, desperately trying to get him to return to the fur and straw nest he had been occupying only moments before. "You'll reopen your wounds, and then we will both be in trouble."

    Keelin heard the commotion from many steps away from the entrance to the healing house. Unlike the rest of the buildings, which were more underground than they were above to preserve heat in the winter and keep cool in the summer, the place of healing was built entirely above ground, so that the wind could comfortably pass through the rooms and carry the sickness away, keeping it from sitting in the small shelter. From what she could tell from this far away, the healer was having some difficulty keeping his patient in bed. Keelin felt a small rush of relief. If he was feeling well enough that he was ready to leave, this would make Keelin's job much easier. She would be able to send him away with a border guard, who would be careful to lead the stranger on such a route that he would not be able to trace it back to the clan, and he would return to his own world, leaving them to theirs.

    When she peered in through the doorway, it quickly became apparent that it would not be so easy. The man looked like he was still on death's doorstep, and only determination or panic must have drawn him out of the nest. The healer, a middle aged man with sandy blonde hair, turned when he heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and a look of sheer relief crossed his face when his eyes came to rest on Keelin.

    "Shaman. Thank the spirits you are here. Please, come in."

    "It is good to see you too, Seith," Keelin replied. "I'm sorry it couldn't be under better circumstances."
  17. Alive…not dead. Alive… Kieran couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around the facts. For what he could remember—the violence, the pain—he shouldn’t be alive. He was alone. In the wild. Far away from civilization and doctors. Lost in his jumbled thoughts, Kieran was only vaguely aware of the hands on him, and the words being spoke, and only vaguely aware of the pain slowly creeping back into his mangled body.

    Burning. The fire that lit among his nerves is what cemented the fact that he was alive in his mind. It hurt so bad he couldn’t cry out. It just snuck up on him. From lost in the jumble of his own thoughts, and terror of his memories, to excruciating, unbearable pain.

    Kieran’s breath caught in his throat and his heart was beating so hard in his chest that if it were possible it would be causing even more pain. He gasped as he fell backward to the floor. Unable to hold himself up any longer, even in a seated position. It wasn’t until that point that he noticed the people around him. The man he had touched, and somebody new. They were talking, but the blood rushing and pounding in his ears made it impossible for him to hear what was being said.

    It felt like his lungs were about to explode. Why couldn’t he breathe? Kieran clutched and clawed at the floor as his back arched toward the ceiling. It was all he could do. He was going to pass out. Or possibly die… for real this time. No, damn it! He was too damned stubborn to go out like this. After he survived a bear attack. Only to die later from the pain. He could be strong. He would be strong.

    Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in… Slowly, his heart slowed. It hurt so bad to breathe, and he had to concentrate solely on that, but he was managing. A nagging plea in the back of his mind begged for somebody to help him. The pain was still too much for him to deal with for much longer, and he was afraid if he passed out he might stop breathing again.
  18. "What's the matter with him?"

    When the young man had collapsed Seith had moved over quickly to him, and Keelin had fallen into step behind, staying out of the healer's way while still keeping the outsider under full observation. Everything about him seemed foreign, his close cropped hair that had been sliced away in perfectly neat lines, his fine, soft clothes made from a material that most in the clan would not be able to identify, his pale, soft skin, which looked as though it had never seen a day of true labor. Even a young child would have been able to tell that he didn't belong here.

    "He got mauled by a bear," was Seith's short reply. "And then got out of bed when he woke up instead of staying still." Even as he talked his hands were moving, gently stripping away bandages to check the stitches he had used to hold the dying man together. The movement had ripped several of them open, and a shower of crimson blood was slowly soaking his side. "Go grab the brown and yellow pot from the shelf."

    Keelin moved without question, not the least bit concerned about being ordered about by the healer as though she was his apprentice. Right now, he was the most important person in the room, as it was only his actions that were keeping the outsider alive. The pot was nearly empty, and it became clear that it was not really supposed to be that way when Seith opened it and had to restrain a sigh. All the same, he smeared the herbs liberally on the split stitches. Keelin recognized them, by smell if not by sight. It was several different herbs combined together, designed to numb pain while cleansing any illness that had managed to enter the body through the wound. Without the numbing agent the poultice burned the flesh like it was a cold flame, but combined they did their job admirably.

    "Hold still," Seith admonished his patient. "The herbs should take effect soon, but if you move again you'll rip more of your stitches, I'll run out of the softleaf, and then you'll have to live with the pain."

    Satisfied that he had remedied the situation, Seith turned back to Keelin. "I think you arrived just in time. Now that he's awake Markeus is going to raise and even bigger commotion about him staying here. I think you are probably the only person who can keep him from coming in here and slitting my patient's throat for the crime of being born outside tribe lands." It was clear what Seith thought about Markeus' attitude.

    Keelin placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "You've done well keeping him alive," she said softly, and Seith smiled. "But Markeus is a protector. It's his job to see everything as a threat. If he didn't, your patient's people might have long ago entered these mountans and killed us all."

    The smile vanished from Seith's lips. "So you agree with him?"

    "Did I say that?" she asked with a playful smile. "I don't agree with either of you, at least not yet. I think the first thing we need to do is hear from this outsider. How soon will I be able to speak to him?"

    "The herbs should take effect soon. We can see how he's doing once he returns from his delirium."
  19. Kieran trembled, his body’s reaction to the shock of pain, as the people moved in closer. Speaking to each other about him, as though he wasn’t there. He really wasn’t. He barely was aware of what they were saying, and few words permeated his mind.

    “Mauled by a bear…” So that’s what had happened. Air hit his wounds causing his lungs to involuntarily suck in a deep breath of air. His head spun again and he it took him a minute to refocus on what was happening around him, and not to him.

    “…Live with the pain…” The man turned away from him again, and Kieran suddenly found it easier to breath. Whatever he had done was already working. He wondered if these people dealt in magic. Not that he believed in magic, those stories were just fanciful creations told to entertain children. It was hard to follow everything that was being said. The language was remarkably similar, but the accent was all wrong.

    With the pain beginning to dull, it was easier for him to pick up the flow of the conversation and he didn’t like what he heard. He’d rather be disowned than dead; his mind spun as he tried to come up with a way to get the hell out of this situation with his heart still beating. Nothing promising came to mind. In fact, every scenario his addled brain concocted resulted in his inevitable demise.

    Tears once again sprung to his eyes, this time caused from a more internal pain. He took a deep shaky breath, and tried to remain as still as possible. For the first time in his life, Kieran kept his mouth shut, silently hoping they wouldn’t notice that he was coherent.
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