Pleasant Confusion and Peaceful Contemplation (1 Viewer)

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The campfire of her most recent stay crackles up into a dark and star-dotted sky. An unclouded spattering of light so far away and out of reach... Yet not everything eludes her grasp. Sheltered by the makeshift roof and a bed of hay, Avos has already settled down for the night. Her hound rests with his head against her thigh and while he watches the makeshift hearth, she does not. Instead, Quince sits with a staff laid across her lap, and in one hand her finger traces the grooves of a four leaf clover gently, the note open beneath it. The tokens, while certainly not unwelcome, draw a note of confusion to the woman's face, her brows drawn together slightly. Decades on the Road, decades aspiring to the word-of-mouth and seldom-written traditions of the Traveler... She has often kept to herself, just as consequence of drifting around so ceaselessly. If these were... merely left by someone, who? Who knows of the path she walks...

"... 'M reading too much into this," she mutters, pulling a hand up through her hair. The silence broken- Peak perks an ear and glances up to her and in return, the woman offers a faint smile, going to scratch between his ears. "Don't worry, buddy. You're all good..." Quince lifts the staff and turns it once clockwise before leaning it up against the side of her tent. The clover and the note still in hand, to which he gives a curious sniff, then looks back up to her. She smiles. "Does it confuse you too? ...'S alright. We'll get it figured out, yeah? You, me, Avos..." Her gaze turns up to the stars. The desert has such a stark sky... unlike any other in the world. As endless and wide as the wanderlust that pulls her to the Road. Some more brightly than others and in her time, Quince's eyes automatically go to paint connections between them- seeing the shining sparks as towns and cities, the darkness the woodland and roads between them and not for the first time, she wonders if that is what the Traveler sees of their world. Just pricks of light, of mankind, cast against a dark field... Wisps of clouds making the roads between. "... 'M probably missing something crucial that would make this... entirely mundane.-that someone just left these and... really, they have nothing to do with you. Maybe 'm just hoping for too much, yeah?" Quince chuckles, mostly to herself though Peak gives her an encouraging nudge.

A silence passes, and she sighs lightly. "I know you're out there..." Addressing the Traveler, as she so often has in the space between dinner and rest... Quince tucks the clover away and sets the note aside, placing a pebble over it to keep the desert winds from blowing it away. Pulls an odd knob of wood from her pocket and takes her carving knife to being working it into a familiar design, much like the tokens she has already made in her spare time such as this. Time to reflect, time to ask into the silence, time to wonder with hope if she will be able to still travel when she gets older and grayer than she already is. Not quite grizzled yet, but, on her way. ".. I know that even though you don't say anything... you're out there... Dear Fellow Traveler... ...the comforting silence on the Road... In the gentle reassurance of not being alone in the flats and crags that stretch between the edges of society..." Small curls of wood are shaved off and fall onto her lap as she works at the wood. ".. Don't worry, I won't be staying in the desert wrong... but I like to think your Road brought me here for the reason these people currently face... snakes that threaten their freedom, their will to travel... beings that make the desert dangerous. ...I've resolved to stay until I've helped them, then move on again..." Quince smiles gently as the rough outline of a horse begins to form in her carving. "You have taught me well, and I have long since left behind the idea of seeking anchors..."

Her gaze roves off to the staff, the note, the clover.. Then down to the faintly green amulet she has worn for.. as long as she can remember. Or to the familiar weight of the beaten compass in her pocket. "... Is this your doing, or another who.. understands... ... ...I don't expect an answer, but if it is you, then... thank you..." Her heart warms much like the fire that lights her face and her work. "...Thank you, because... I've often wondered if it's ever noticed... I know I've made no big or grand gestures.. I'm not a preacher, and you're not a war god... the Road isn't a place for bold actions really.. it's just something you stick with, yeah? Defend it, respect it, get by, go along... but I do try... I do try to be worthy of.. getting to some day walk your footsteps.. walk alongside you. Wishful thinking, yeah? ...maybe so.." Quince pauses, looking to the rough coin shape now in her hands- a bit larger than one would actually trade with, but the design, though simple, is recognizable. She runs a thumb over its face, then the other. Is this praying? Probably not... more casual, more of a conversation... and not of religion but of faith. Nothing rigid.

Comforting.

And comfort on as rough a path of life as the Road is a beautiful, wonderful thing. Her fingers close over the token before she tucks it into her pocket, sheathes the knife, and takes up the note. Turning it over to write very simply for whoever or whatever might have left the clover an the walking stick-

Thanks,

The Vagrant
34976




((@ Whoever the heck left 'Oklamat's Luck' and 'Bethezael's Walking Staff' outside her camp))
 

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Another long night falls upon the woman as she has found a reply to her previous note, as well as yet again the bounty of the Road laid at her doorstep- tent-step? Ruin-steps? One of those. It gives her plenty of thoughts and a warmth in her chest that no campfire could instill. As the stars creep across the sky and the moon makes its slow crawl, the cloudless expanse gazing down once again... She hums softly to herself, letting the crackling campfire die down to nearly embers. Peak eats happily at the gift the Traveler- or whoever it might be- left him. A hefty steak, a dog's dream. Dinner has already been cooked, her own finished- a salmon, simply cooked and for which she is thankful. Of everything she has done in her life, Quince could still never manage to get the swing of fishing...

Curls not of wood but of ivory fall around her, Quince's blade very carefully working away at an old bit of whalebone she'd come across some time back. Kept telling herself she would do something with it.. since she has practiced her carving with the tokens, she feels confident enough to finally work at it... Slowly but surely, a shallow outline of a satyr-like figure is formed as she hums a gentle tune to herself and her hound. Avos, always the good steed he is, has once again gone to sleep for the night, leaving the old duo awake beneath the stars. Eventually, Peak finishes and comes to rest with his large head over one leg, his own tucked beneath him. Seems to enjoy the tune. Avaltan- an old herding-call a farmer taught her the last time she was up north. Her knife moves in slow, steady strokes over the material, making a bar relief, much like one would place on a coin... of Bethezael, walking along down a roughly-depicted road holding a staff not unlike the one resting against the nearby wall now.

A light sigh escapes the woman as she sets the whalebone and knife aside to stretch her hands, let her fingers rest... Thoughts wandering as the Avaltan song fades, its foreign notes lingering on the desert breeze. Another note left for her,- two this time, now, and she reaches over to grasp the walking stick and lay it over her lap. Wanderlust grips her- not that it doesn't always, but this is the kind that is.. refreshing. It hits you in the face like rain and leaves you wanting for the petrichor when the storm is over. But she doesn't want the storm to be over.. no, Quince's grasp tightens slightly, knowing full well how she would dance in the rain for years.- how she has done exactly that... And thus her mind wanders further, to the... obscure dinner she had. Again, getting hit with a refreshing burst of rain.- the salmon, a welcome treat for dinner... and a time long forgotten that graced her evening...


The gentle lilting tones of a low-hummed tune sound from a small tent propped up under a pine tree... a foggy and rainy night turning the whole world damp and chill in the forests north of Al'Sel. Theoretically, it's summer. Theoretically... The girl- and at this point in time, she is a girl- sits under the sagged eaves of her tent, trying to get her campfire to light. It occupies a sad, sheltered hollow from the rain, but collecting dry wood hell and a half. And to KEEP it dry was a whole separate issue. She sits back from it with a huff, glaring at it. This has been her first winter on the Road... No money but what she made from carving little things and selling what she could from her hunts.


An old wooden talisman rests against her check as she looks to the campfire-in-progress. She'd gotten it to smoldering. It was almost there, she knew it. Just a matter of sticking with it without her arms getting tired. The girl sighs and falls quiet, listening to the rain patter against her tent.. And the steady rhythm of it calms her, surprisingly. Bring peace, even a smile. This is what she signed up for. This is her life now, and damnit, she WILL get that campfire going. Quince wraps her gloved hands around the talisman and begins speaking softly into the falling night.

"... Uhm.. hey there, Traveler. I know my mother said I'm not supposed to ask the gods for things, or pray just when I need something, and I promise I won't... But just this once can you lend me a bit of luck, Dear Traveler. See, I need to get this fire going or I'll get sick tonight from the cold... and I like the Road so far. I don't want to have to step off it soon. By your luck and legends, I hope to walk your Road until my hair is all grey like Gran's." The girl smiles gently and.. waits in silence... after a bit mutters, "...Whether or not you listen, thank you Oklamat... I trust you.."

Cracking her knuckles, the girl sets back to her tinderboard and the collection of twigs- logs collected earlier to be put on the fire once it's going.. She sets to it, resting her thumbs in the twine tied over and through a notch atop her small stick against the board- two loops on either side. The tinder and some curls of wood shavings rest at the base around the stick. Quince puts pressure on it and begins moving back and forth rapidly, the friction beginning to draw a wisp of smoke. The fledgling huntress is filled with hope, then anticipation- and finally, triumph as light flickers at the base of her stump of wood, the smoke now curling in earnest. It takes and the most beautiful sound graces her ears, mingling with the rain- the crackling of the beginnings of the fire. Gently, she transfers these to her makeshift hearth, and thus is graced by the golden glow and warmth of such.

"... Thank you..." Even if it wasn't Oklamat, even if the Traveler wasn't watching way back then... it still gave her some measure of joy...


And when the memory had faded, Quince was returned to the desert and her dinner... now she looks upon a campfire after nightfall, and the thought lingers with her... how endurance and faith are likely what saved her on those long cold nights... gave her the will to keep going. They still do. They still drive her, as her bones grow old and she finds it funny now to be living her childhood dream... Old and grey and still on the Road. makes for an interesting story, no? With everything she has seen...


Another note is left in reply for whoever is bringing her these fortunes and favors.- longer, and with something to reciprocate. Only polite, no? Thus a scrawl is pegged up and a satchel beneath it with a bottle of a foreign wine she'd had the good fortune of finding, to save for special occasion, and a minic flute. Both interesting in their own way, both tokens of her time on the Road.


"Thanks for the food and the wineglass. Peak certainly enjoyed his meal, and reminiscing was welcome... Here I've left some gifts for you as well. I hope you will enjoy these, from my own time traveling. Drink in good health, play in high spirits.
- 34996



(( @ Whoever left the steak for Peak, the salmon, and the wineglass, find the items posted in-game.))
 

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"When you lose someone... people try to tell you they're gone forever. That it's not your fault, that you can't change anything.. And you should just let it go.." The huntress rubs her fingers gently between Peak's ears, the hound sat beside her.. a ways off from the camp, the small fire only background noise to the vast white sound of breeze subtly shifting the northern desert sands. For miles around, asides from the campfire, that's the only sound... No longer in Mutajara, but off on the Road again. She needed a few days to get away. She built, as far as she knows, the first shrine to the Traveler in this world... Now sitting atop one of the mesa flats, she thinks... "... Fifty years I've been around, Peak... give or take. You haven't been here for most of it, hell you haven't even been here for the darkest of it..." Her gaze turns up to the stars, little flecks of light splattered almost carelessly across the sky. No reason, no order... and they're perfectly beautiful. Chance taken to the wind, to the sky itself.

The breeze that shifts the sands winds its way up to grace over the camping pair. A pair of dice sit on the grass beside her, another token left behind by this mysterious wanderer who has been exchanging little bits and pieces of the Road with her. She drapes an arm around her hound and scratches under his neck. "People say 'let the dust settle'... 'let it fade'. Walk away." Quince pauses, then shakes her head. "... I honestly think... that's the worst way to treat someone who was close to you. Someone you cared for.- Because it's all we are, isn't it. We're just collections of memories.. tied up in meat and string and sent out into the world to make more. ...Life is experience." Quince falls quiet for a time, wondering how to word this. Not that she expects Peak to understand, but she needs to know how to say it, for her own sake. To settle her own nerves. To speak her understanding into the darkness... and hope that the Traveler might hear. Hope that she isn't alone. Maybe she's just getting old, and wants some hope... maybe she just wants to know for herself that her life hasn't been for nothing. Is this her justification? Her plea for atonement for what she has done? Finally, her mouth opens and she speaks into the darkness.- to the stars, to Peak, to the Traveler, to ... whatever might be listening.

"...You can't sit somewhere and read about life.. that's what makes it so special... there's no way to truly capture in record what it was like- what impact someone made, how they made others feel. That goes beyond ink, my friend. ...Even the stars can't write that sort of thing down. The Traveler knows of course... I wouldn't put it past Him to know every step that has been made by the vagrants and wanderers of the world. But the people here below who treat it as something so ordinary... something that can be summed up in a few words and processes and put in the ground like it's nothing... ...You know why... I felt wrong felling those marauders... because as much as I loathe was they signify... as much as I despise the trouble they make for good, honest people on the Roads... They're important too, to the people they knew. Every life is a story and... I've never had any power, any authority... I have no right, no place, to script the end of theirs. I have no right to decide when their final chapter closes... ...and for that, I hope Oklamat sees the intentions beyond the acts... to make somewhere safe for His merchants and vagrants, to make the paths just a bit easier to tread... Do you know how I apologize to them, Peak? ...How I make it up to them... ...I never forget them. I never forget their faces. They deserve at least that..."


"So, in a way... 'moving on'... that's the worst thing you can do, isn't it? Forget them... We die twice, Peak... Once when the breath leaves our bodies and for the final time... when he last person who really knew us... says our name for the last time." ...And thus in the silence begins to slowly arise in the woman a reminder of what she fears. She turns her gaze down from the stars, down and out to the dark path of the road wound through the sands and red stone. A dark figure walks along it, staff in hand- then she blinks, and they're gone, and her shoulders fall slightly. "The Road is a beautiful place to live,.. that does not make it a beautiful place to die. Unless... you are very, very lucky... and there's someone there to die with you... or even just to live on, but... so that you're not alone in your final moments. Even the old wander the Road, Peak... give it another ten or so years and I'll be among them." The woman cracks a quiet chuckle. It sounds too loud in the relative silence of the world. "... Because... it... is possible to die twice, at the same time. It's possible to reverse the order.. the last person you know, who knew you, dies, and it's just you."

And at that, the thought of her companions fill her chest with warmth.- both the physical, and the faithful. Garai, and the Traveler. A presence new in her life, and another that has been there, pulling at her wanderlust since she was young... And he gets it, Garai- he understands what she wants from life. No anchors. No settling. No staying. Just the vasteness of it all... to see and wonder at every experience of life, witness every vista from the southern shores of the Luk'Mali isle to the very tip of the North. And she's so, so close... She's done it before, aimlessly, but now she has a purpose. And her gaze turns to the shrine. ...Something to leave behind for other wanderers, something so that they know they're not alone out here. Someone else gets it, too. Someone else understands the lonely companionship of the Road. The distant strings that pull each vagrant to the single guiding pinpint that is the idea of the Traveler.

Peak's ears lift and angle towards her, and she realizes the words she'd faded off with could be worrisome. The huntress grins slightly and scratches between his ears again. "Don't worry, buddy... I've got the Traveler to remember me... and we'll have the Road, until the end of our days... ...and then we'll have the Road up among the stars..." Quince's grin softens to just a faint, warm smile. "We've got a long time to go yet, yeah? C'mon. Let's get some sleep." The woman puts a hand on her knee and gets to her feet, going to light the candles at the shrine before ducking into the tent to call it a night...


35034
 

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Breeze ruffles the huntress's hair, the platinum blonde catching light in what sun falls over the Reikland meadows. It tickles the back of her neck just slightly and sends wisps of curls obscuring the vision of what she is carving. A gnarled bit of wood being slowly transformed into a talisman of a cart wheel. With her hunting knife in hand, little bits and curls and chips of wood fall into her lap. Her bow lays nearby, though one of the quivers is elsewhere, missing with her arrows in the retreat. Someone has it, she hopes, or she'll have to go back for it once the matters have quelled and the area is secure... For now, she focuses on the sound of her knife moving through the wood, the wind moving through the tall meadow grasses. How long ago was it now that she and Peak had run through them? How many have come and gone running alongside her? The hazy summers, the smell of wildflowers and the bright petals as the sun turns them from flora into drops of stars when shown through.

So many faces come and gone. The woman's gaze fades out to memory, only to be pulled back with a sharp gasp as her blade slips on the wood and she nicks herself. Quince drops the knife but not the wood, and immediately goes to fish for it among the grasses as her thumb bleeds a thin trail. It stains and soaks into the earth, quickly gone by the time she finds her knife by kicking around a bit with her boot. In reaching down, her gaze catches the edge of her bandages peeking out from under her sleeve. Nothing major, but a bitter reminder perhaps.-
No. ... A moment passes, the woman sighs and closes her eyes, letting her shoulders fall. A woman already her age has no time for bitterness... she wasted too many years over being bitter. It saddens her, yes... It weighs on her heart, yes, to see good men fall on the field of battle to a witch who would see the world returned to chaos... Quince fights because she cannot imagine a world without travel, a world where the threat of necromantic abominations and magical warpings hangs in the air with every small journey... "The most any of us can do is try, no?" She scoops up the knife, this time handling it more gingerly, cutting groves around the spokes to hollow out the space slightly, bring it forward.

And, as she always tends to with carving, even if the gentle undertones of the world are replaced by wind rather than the cozy crackling of a campfire... it's still soothing. It still brings her some peace. It still makes her smile even though she has yet to tidy up and wash the blood off her boots. Helps take the mind off things, get into a rhythm, remember times that weren't necessarily better, but different. She turns her gaze up and out and over the fields, letting herself be lost to that same distant haze... wildflowers and the promise of rain yet the warmth of the setting sun still shines upon her. She hears... running. She hears someone calling, calling her name, and the woman with her eyes closed rises and turns, a warm smile, trying to remember the voice without opening her eyes.

The promise of rain comes too soon.

A drop of rain hits her forehead, then another on her cheek.. And another, and another. The voioe fade and is replaced by the gentle hiss of rain on the grass. The sunlight that had been warming her back fades, and the woman looks down to the rainwater now mingling with the blood from her nicked thumb, turning the wooden carving dark. Her shoulders fall and yet still she smiles faintly.
The path before me is the path meant to be. It will not always be happy. It may seldom be easy... but no, I trust you. The roads diverge and I go where your fate takes me... I would close my eyes and follow you into the dark woods, if that were the path ahead. Faith, without seeing what's there. That's trust, right? ... I am done being bitter over circumstances... I do not have enough time yet for such things. She sheathes the hunting knife and holds the half-carved talisman to her chest. Besides... there is... so, so much for which I am thankful to you... Slowly but surely, you will have a mark upon the world... For all of us lost and wandering your Roads.

Quince begins to make her way down the hill and under a nearby tree where she'd tied Avos. On her way down, the wet grass soaking the knees down of her pants, the woman tucks her hands into her coat pockets and turns her face to the sky.
"...Do you hear the rain, Dear Fellow Traveler, wherever you may now be?"

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"I met a man upon the road.. A man with white in his hair and the whole of history in his eyes. He asked my name, I gave it. I asked his and he answered 'Cyrus Larkins'. He was old and frail, and possibly ill, but kind. He reminded me of my grandfather." Curls of wood fall into the woman's lap as her knife shaves and shapes a chunk of dead, gnarled root. It will soon become a sigil pendant. The campfire crackles, a gentle layer of background sound as she talks to Peak in the dead of the desert night. Back from the Rahktari... the chapter closed, her bow set down to rest. Unstrung. Arrows in the quiver beside it, some of which will need cleaning. Her spat with Klaus earlier and this strange matter still pulls at her. She keeps her gloves on for now, thinking- hoping- she can ignore it.. that it will pass and fade.

"... This was long ago. I was younger, and more inclined to caring for people. Caring about people. Everyone on the road believes in the kindness of strangers, at least a little. He believed in me, and I came to take care of him. We didn't travel far, and I let him ride my horse when we did go anywhere. I wonder how much longer he would have had if I hadn't come along. There's an age you get to... when you can't keep doing all the things you used to. I wonder when was the last time he hunted for himself.." Quince lowers her gaze, setting the bit of wood and her knife aside from now. She sits forward, clasping her hands with her elbows rested on her knees. Looks to the fire, then to Peak with his head on a rolled-up blanket. Scared. It's nights like this that usually get her thinking about old Cyrus. ..And others too, sometimes. The Road is not a kind life to the old.

Her eyes fall closed and she is taken back to the abyss. The plate had given way beneath her and she jumped and... fell short. And fell. And were it not for the rope, that would have been it. As it was, she swayed and dangled at the edge of a yawning, gaping abyss, staring down into it with wide and panicked eyes, until they pulled her back up. Quince rubs her arm, unsettled again. Is she really getting that on in years, that she can't jump a gap? ..Somehow Quince had never thought fifty was 'old'. Maybe because she didn't stay home long enough to watch her parents age.

"Cyrus, he... he and I traveled for many months, Peak. Until the weather got cold. I kept giving him the better portions of the hunt... stayed up once the weather got chill to keep the fire going for him, even as we moved south. Pelts, blankets. He told me all the best stories- about his life, friends, his adventures, his family... Over time, the stories became fewer. He would only talk about his family, then... he lost their names, too. And he would ask me- he still remembered me. Called me Quinny. The southern bird. Little snow huntress. And when his mind was starting to really go, he would put me in stories he'd already told of his own daughters... I still will never forget.. the scared emptiness in his eyes when he woke up and asked who I was.. Asked me who he was. Then for weeks it was that. Every morning, I would come back with the hunt and more firewood and we would talk. I would tell him both our names, and he would start up as if the last months had never happened."

"... Winter got colder." She puts her hands up to warm in front of the fire, rubbing them together. "He got worse. His health took a turn I couldn't help just with broth and blankets... and over the next three days, he died. I told him stories of his life, friends, his adventures, his family.. told him all the stories he'd told me, that wonderful old Cyrus... and he enjoyed them. He was glad, he said, that someone would remember him, even if he didn't remember himself."

"Buried him the morning after he said that.." Quince gets up and reaches for a bucket and in one go, douses the campfire entirely. It sputters and hisses and dies beneath the weight of the water.. and she sets the bucket down and turns to head into her tent. "... That's why I don't forget anyone, Peak. Even if I hate them, I never forget them... that's the worst thing to do to anyone..."

Her gaze turns up slowly to the faint light growing in the sky. Had she stayed out till dawn? The woman's brows draw together and she frowns, another shudder running through her. Remembering this story, as much as she cherishes her time with Cyrus, never ceases to make her worry. She wonders if, with the fall into the Abyss- did that happen because it was just too far, or because she wasn't good enough? Do people look at her with her wisps of white-blonde hair and think her old? Past her time? What legacy is she leaving? "... Will you remember me, Traveler? ...Will you one day let me walk alongside you?" A long silence passes... "...How much time do I have left... Will it be enough to make you proud?"

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Snow melt of spring turns the usually needle-blanketed ground of the Reikland forests to a mush of mud and fallen twigs underfoot. Thankfully, the ground around the camp and shrine are less marshy. From here, she will soon be going north. Two weeks.. Night is falling, and though the sky is still light, the pines have turned into a purple twilight of darkness and the shifting of yet-to-green bushes, the spindly remains of the last season. Here the huntress sits on a rolled-over log, by a modest fire. Peak is not with her, nor is Avos. They're both back in the desert in Garai's care. She has a rented horse tethered here, and one that pays little mind to her as she sits and mulls over. A wolf howls in the distance, though she minds it not. It will not come here, and if it does, she'll toss a bit of jerky or something to veer it away. No, the woman does not mind many things. These days, she wonders dimly if she even has the right to.

On instinct, she looks towards the shrine in the yonder clearing for advice... though silent do the stacked stones stand, the candles burning soundlessly. Quince's gaze lingers there, crimson and cursed. She won't sleep tonight. She won't sleep tomorrow. She won't sleep for weeks, months... years? Quince frowns softly. She had known this would be the end of many things, but something as basic as dreaming... Her shoulders fall. She'll figure out something. Isn't that what the Road means? You always figure out something, and you keep going. But not everything can be handled by an army of one.

Resentment. That probably hit her the hardest. Resentment and repulsion, that which she carries towards herself now, and that which others have carried against her. When the irony taste first hit her tongue, she'd wanted to draw away, refusing to be satisfied by it. Part of the very thing she'd come to despise, even to hunt on occasion. Part of the very thing that had drawn her best friend away. Quince tosses a stick into the fire and sits forward, her head on her hands, elbows on her knees. Hunched there, listening and thinking. Still occasionally glancing to the shrine. There is no one else to whom I can go for advice on this... On the next step. I don't know the road ahead, but you do, Traveler. ... You always do. A long sigh escapes her. Tired, but never to sleep. Never to rest. At least she won't have nightmares of the look her commander had given her.

Marriage, a new chapter... The conversation had been tense, irritable at points, but it worked itself out. The hunters embraced, and he was glad for her- not as a commander but as a friend. Her brows draw together. How quickly that smile had vanished... How quickly the chasm sprang between them. As much as it hurt to tell him, it would have been worse to wait, or for him to find out through someone else. Faithful each of the Shepherd and the Traveler, fellow bowmen. Can they be friends again?- The very thought drives a harsh scoff from her lungs, spiteful at herself. Of course not. She is what they vowed against. This is her life now. Her choices. The road split and she picked a side. Love is the death of duty. Wise words she should have listened more to, but...

Quince's lips quiver slightly in the growing silence as the forest finds its way into a deep slumber. The light fades from the sky and the pines close overhead, making a dark needled web between her and the stars. Heart twisting in her chest, she knows that if she had to decide all over again... she still would have accepted this. The time Quince will now have... is it worth it? In her heart, yes. In the duties that will come with this marriage even, yes. Politics would be tied into everything now too. All of this, all of it put together. The world is one big crushing weight, and that weight only lifts in the arms of her love, or the arms of the forest. Everything else just piled stones onto these smoke-scarred lungs. Yet whenever someone comes around to ask if she is alright, her reply is always the same- more weight. Even if she is resented for it. This curse is a weight, and a boulder at that, but it lifts a far more crushing terror. She isn't dying, yet... She has more time.

What was it she'd advised Saf? Not every encounter is a fight, but if you must fight, fight to buy time. Everything we do,- every battle, every negotiation, every strategy- is to buy time for our loved ones, with the hope we may spend that time with them. She has decades now, decades she never would have. Damn the crimson eyes if it means she will not take her beloved's years from him. Damn the endless nights sitting awake with an iron hunger if it means the next fight won't be her last if her body were to fail her. Quince has lived through more, and far worse, then this...

But when you lived through those trials, you were not a danger to those you love. You were an asset. Now not only does part of her belong to the night, but whatever touch of the dark well rests over her, she resents it. She resents the lack of sovereignty, the fear of it getting out... the fear of being used against those she loves. It happened once before. She made a choice then, too. Forced as it was, it was still her choice. She could have died then, saved them the pain, but she took the weight and the consequences that came with it. This curse now, this just... gnaws at her. Anyone can use her against Garai, against Klaus, against herself. Quince rises and crosses the muddy meadow to the shrine, looking to the dwindling candles. She blows them out, drains the wax, cuts the wick, and lights them again. They are rested in a small covered nook, sheltered from wind and rain. To burn through the night. Might be the one constant in her life now, her faith. Everything changes but still, she looks to the Traveler. It's an old comfort, to be sure, and a welcome one.
"... What do you think of it all, then? You, the god of... unhindered freedom. Of looking to the horizon and chasing it... I'm cursed, two-fold. ...My actions are not my own, and..." She falls quiet, thinking back to Klaus's words. Why was she doing this? Why not just polymorph. Again. She'd done it before...

Quince folds her arms over her chest, regarding the flame.
"Is it so bad... that I want some of me to still be human when I die? Eventually, now, whenever it may be? ... Even if it's only half the time, and that after sundown I'm this... thing. ...Do you understand that sentiment, at least? After all... the old stories say you were once human, Traveler." She falls quiet, thinking, mulling over. "... Please guide me... please don't leave me to handle all this alone... If you've ever been watching me, now is darker than ever... Everything is changing... I'm trapped in a web, Traveler... a web I have spent all of my life avoiding- politics, the curse, the high side of society... help me find the simple road again. I have not lost sight of it, I promise you." The wanderlust still pulls her. She'll be preparing to ride north soon. That... will surely bring an adventure. Mountain-climbing to say the last. The woman tries to smile. "I will never lose sight of it..."

With that, it will soon be time to pack up and make the ride north. The prayer, the conversation, though brief, does some to console her, and she can remain steady as ever in her work, in this charge. And thus along the endless road, she can convince herself at least that she isn't entirely alone out here...

35269
 

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"Hello Old Friend," mutters a woman into the night.. Peak is long asleep already and she sits on the roof of one of the ruined temples. Another sleepless night and a breeze kisses her cheek. That had been what prompted the greeting. The hope that she isn't alone as she tumbles and stumbles through life. Quince pulls her knees up to her chest and the blanket around her shoulders. One hand, the one not holding said blanket, instead grips a coin of Wiseman stone while her mind tries to piece together what brought her here.


A chill draws her attention away from the stars to memories of a different sky. The stars were all in changed places, but the night was just as crisp and empty of sound. Peaceful, beautiful, and smelling of fresh apples on the breeze. It's one of Quince's last nights back home and she lays on the roof of the barn, hands up behind her head well past midnight. The orchard lies below, neat rows of apple trees starting to become ripe. It's still summer, but tonight is unnaturally cold, and eerily quiet. She'd always found that strange- that even now, the crickets didn't sing their chorus. No night birds graced the air with lilting lullabies. So the sound caught her sharp- footsteps and scrambling against wooden panels.


Quince sits up and not a second later, the black curly mop of her brother's hair sticks up like a tumbleweed over the edge of the roof, poking up in all the wrong angles. They used to come up here to avoid curfew. Sometimes they would even bring a bit of bread and jam, or juice. But never a lantern. They would eat in the dark and let their eyes be opened by the darkness to even the subtlest of stars above. This night is not unlike those- he finds a foothold and holds up a small sack before tossing it to her- and the girl catches it gently. No need, it's heavy and solid.

"First apples of the season. Snagged a couple earlier from Kimberlin's tree. They're the good sweet ones." He flashes her a troublemaker grin and clambers up to sit next to his sister. Rummages into the bag to grab one, leaving the other for Quince, and she takes it with the grin echoed.

"And they call
me the troublesome one."


"To be fair, my gallivanting only takes me down the road, not into the next country." He rubs the apple on his shirt, looking up to the stairs. "I'm gonna miss you.

"... And I'm never gonna forget you. But times change, and so must we.
Cheers." She lifts her apple and takes a bite.


The shrines in the north.

What started as the woman trying to make a simple statement has since become a series of events she could have never anticipated, and as horrible as some of them might have been, she wouldn't have changed. Everything leads into the next thing and if anyone brick of the foundation were changed, the entire structure might never have been built. No, this has been a proper adventure with her fate far, far out of her hands... It's been terrifying and exhilarating and entirely unpredictable. She hopes Oklamat is watching, hopes there might be some guiding hand in this. Hopes the dice might be kissed with the same breeze to fall in her favor, just once or twice. Just often enough to do this while she wanders the northern wastes, leaving behind little refuges for hunters and fellow vagrants, shrines for the Traveler. But Xia... Xia is a whole new kettle of fish. When she first embarked into the silent city, Quince will admit, she had no idea what she was getting into. It only started as making a shrine to freedom where there had once been chains.

The three kings, that also terrified her. Love, leadership, and faith. I am the product of my actions. That was the lesson. For better or for worse. While I bring about the good in my life, so too do I bring my own worlds crumbling down. She reflects on this... this lesson, coupled with the old terror of being trapped under stone made for a vivid memory indeed. They taught her to value her own happiness, but to remain strong and not bend. Not break. Not always put herself last... And in becoming a leader of the desert, of a people of traveling merchants, she has come to realize the importance of protecting that tradition. Building these shrines has brought her not only to appreciate the teachings of the Traveler more thoroughly, but in dealing with marauders and brigands and other dangers, Quince has come to realize that her charge is protecting the Roads as much as it is being a queen. Politics and crown aside, she is protecting the tradition of travel. From sand to snow.

The woman sits forward and rests her head in her hands against her knees. There's.. so much to think about that she can barely piece together. Now with the war coming and her last conversation with Hyssir, even more writhes in the corners of her mind. The plan has changed. She has a choice and power she never asked for. What rests on her next actions might very well be the difference between an unprecedented unity or driving a wedge into the heart of the armies meant to hold this world together. And now, it sits on the shoulders of an old woman who should probably be thinking of retirement soon. It sits on the shoulders of an unproven archer staying up awake under the stars, sat atop a crumbling ruin she calls one of many, many homes. All because she got curious and walked into a shrouded city, only to find too late what she had come two gates and a broken enchantment later into. Shot, lived, came back. Cursed, lived, came back. Still bound by blood and orders, though no longer by death and eyes.

Her hand clenches around the coin and she flips it into the air, catches it. Flips, catches. The stone flashes in the faint starlight. Two paths. The diverging road. Let the allies be surprised by being forced to fight alongside an enemy, for the sake of the greater good? Or tell them, and risk them refusing to even show up to the battlefield? The woman reaches to her belt for a small hunting knife and brings her knees down to merely cross, and leans forward with the blanket still around her shoulders. She checks the stars and moon for reference, and draws the sigil of Oklamat, the branching road, aligned to the northern vertical so that its paths move eastward and westward. To the west side, to Folset and the Reiklands, she marks the option for 'Tell'. To the east side, pointed towards the pillar, Quince marks the option 'Wait'.

She tucks the knife away and looks up to the stars, those flecks of navigation, then down to the sigil and moves her hands out from the warmth of the blanket to rest to either side of it. Thus softly, she speaks into the night...


"... I try not to bother you... I try not to ask... try to leave well enough alone, but..." A long sigh escapes the huntress as she looks to the holy symbol. She sets her compass down on the middle, also aligned north, and watches the needle. "... You are, and always will be, the god of direction. ... For once, I am lost, and this is not the kind of 'lost' that stars and maps and compasses can guide. ... I know... Foli is not our realm of concern... but your people are. The travelers, the vagrants... what do we do? Which path do I take, in this..." Quince bows her head and screws her eyes shut for a moment. "... I've never asked you so directly before, I know, but please. ... I don't have much to offer to you more than myself... I hope,.. pray even... that may be enough..."

Thus the woman waits in silence, weighing on these two options. Never before in her life has the split road been so apparent, and have so much stacked upon it. Architect of legends, would she be remembered as a unifier or a sundering force? As as traveler, a wanderer, Quince was used to being in the background, not having decisions that could affect the turnout of the final unified army against Foli. Hyssir's plan was already in motion, all that remained was to decide what to do in light of his actions. Quince will sit there until morning, and even as the crimson fades from her eyes, she will shed the blanket and sit through the day... meditating, praying in front of the small holy symbol. Not expecting an answer but hoping the Fellow Traveler is listening.

35700

@Kyle1322 in case Oklamat hears the prayer and wants to do anything...
 

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Dusk falls on a camp halfway to Xia, where a horse eats and a woman sits up through the night, knowing it will be a long watch. As with any evening, Quince has gotten used to the lack of sleep by now, but she knows her horse needs rest. And rest Avos does. By the time the campfire dies out and he has finished his oats and apples, Quince has made herself a perch up in a nearby tree and thrown a blanket over her horse as he beds down for the night. She sets herself up in the crook of the branch and pulls her knees up to her chest, watching the trails of smoke of the campfire catch on what little moonlight peeks through the trees. It's gonna be another long night of mulling things over, of asking herself if she's doing the right thing, or if it will mean anything, make any difference in the end. The past few days have been a blur of roads and courts and going on a tear across the southern two thirds of the continent. From Mutajara to Highmeadow, to Piermont and back to Folset. And now, finally, she rides north to make sure a foolish dragon hasn't raised hell on the already slim chances this world has...

A long sigh escapes the woman as she crosses her legs and reaches for her pipe. It takes a few strikes, but she gets it to light and takes a long puff. Hyssir,... I hope you understand when we speak again why I have gone out with the message. Quince lets her eyes fall closed, leaning her head back against the tree trunk with a dull 'thunk'. Please, the Guide and the Shepherd, may you forgive me for what I have done... For a long time, she sits there, just thinking, reflecting on the events of the past few days. The wrathful wraith that is the Morto Saint. Goslynn, formerly her commander and she hopes, one day a friend again despite this curse she took onto her shoulders. Lucrece, barely a young woman and already on a throne too big for her, already going into war when she has yet to learn how to fully govern a peacetime. And Perise, the king she barely knows, but she has heard he is a fair king, and a brilliant one at that. A man of talents before and beyond a crown. Bedraggled as she is from the endless traveling, no, she decides, no this wasn't the wrong path. They had to know. Hyssir can damn her all she wants, she's already going to oblivion...

Something snaps in the woods nearby and her eyes shoot open, quickly adjusting to the darkness even through pipe smoke. Automatically, the woman's hand goes to grasp her bow, another to her quiver,- until she sees the source of the sound to be nothing more than a passing dear some tens of yards away... Avos stirs and snorts in his sleep, and Quince's hackles only lower when the doe ducks and dips out of sight, back into the undergrowth. Calm down. What was he thinking? A mote of anger rises in her, quickly quelled by another drag of the heavy pipe smoke. Whatever happens, she will have faith. Whatever happens, they will do their best. And whether this undead army fights with them or against them, she will do everything in her minuscule amount of power to help make sure the forces of man are still standing when the dust settles. That has always been her duty, in a way. Making the most of what little she has, as with any night on a long road between inns. Speaking of, it will be a long way yet to ride north. Plenty of time to keep thinking about this, no? Quince cannot deny that she is nervous. Meddling in things far, far beyond her. Great powers of god and man, and a messenger, a trail guide, caught in the middle of it all.

Once upon a time, a girl set out from home with a horse and a bow and some money and food enough for both. She looked out to the road and decided she would experience all life had to offer, the good and the bad... Now under a different sky, mapping her location to a whole new set of stars, Quince wonders... how far will she go? And a smile cracks across her face, faint and unseen in the darkness. Bittersweet, but a smile none the less. The last shrine for now has been built, and she had a long conversation with this... other version of herself. They think her to be a fool. They are her, with all her suffering, and none of the adventure. If Quince had never left home... she shudders at the thought. But they gave some good insight, particularly about risk-taking and consequences. And here, Quince was taking one hell of a risk, but hopefully the consequences would be that the united forces of man know what's coming, and will be able to prepare.


Prepare for the worst, if you aren't doing so already.

Her mind wanders to her letters, the flurry that had been sent out in wake of the alarm being raised to Goslynn. Everything is moving so fast, she feels outpaced by the other players in this game. Mages, Blessed, great commanders and people who can campaign across the country at a moment's notice... yet the damn dragonling trusted this news, this information, to a relative nobody. A woman whose only aspiration in life was, and is, to travel. Sure, greatness can be found in extraordinary places sometimes, but this is a little ridiculous. Sitting with a pipe between her lips, cold, sleepless, hungry, Quince scoffs into the night and looks up to the stars.

"... What do you think, Dear Fellow Traveler? ... You presented me with two roads... Tell, or wait... I chose to tell. Is that the more adventurous path? The less-traveled? ... Have I made a difference?" The older woman chuckles softly, wisps of smoke between her teeth and out into the night along with the steam of a chilled breath. "... 'Ve got the leaders of the world in a tizzy trying to figure out what to do with Hyssir's friends in Xia... Please... please let the dice land in our favor, aye? Let fate be kind? Let luck be generous?" Quiet questions and gentle hope offered into the night to a god who has never answered her before, yet one she continues to put her faith in. One she hopes, and trusts, is there. The Traveler, the Guide, He Who Lays the Paths... her own North Star...

Once upon a time, a girl wanted to travel, see the world, and make her mark on it. And when that world ended, the dream carried on into the next, and she made it her life. And now, sitting out in the woods, spending the night awake on watch in a branch, Quince wonders if this was the mark she was meant to make, or if she's just lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. Either way, it's a toss of fate, isn't it...


"I suppose... we'll just have to see... ... how this all turns out..."


35911

@Kyle1322 if Oklamat wants to respond
 
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At long last does a gentle and calmed breath leave the lungs of this quiet old woman. The war is over. Though it had really only been something in the periphery of her life, the archer had watched those it claimed, and watched over those who remained. She had carried out her task as messenger to the realm, a non-stop rider for a stint of a handful of steps that saw her put to use everything she had gathered- every pathway, every quickest route, to update people of the situation leading up to the war. She'd held her arms open to her husband when he returned, though recovering from injury. In her time in the courts of the Imperium and the Reiklands, Quince had always been around men of war, but in her time as a traveler, and with the infinitely more near and dear experience of being around men of little, she often looked with discontent upon war. No aspect of it thrilled her, however necessary the fight may be. Chaos and order must always be in a tenuous balance, lest the world tip too far in any one direction. Anarchy, or tyrants. Each side has a justification to hate the other, and Quince would rather the soft and simple existence of not being caught in the middle, but an observer from a distance. Till the day that the path crumbles beneath her feet, the woman will hold her post at the fringes of the world, caring for and giving aid to those no one else notices. The vagrant, the lone rider, the unlucky merchant, the restless youth, the listless soldier. The people who travel by virtue of their existence, who see it not as an action but a state.

It was in the subtle haze gathering on the horizon that Quince saw once more a glimpse of a great many paths. While the war may be over, she has yet only a handful of places dedicated to those in a similar boat as herself. The crossroads camps, the wayshrines, they serve well their current purpose but what if there are more? How many will the fight with Foli have displaced? Slowly, the world will return to what it was, and things might just have a chance to settle. Quince would just keep doing what she always did- be a murmur of a presence among the many ways of the world, an entity that always seemed lucky enough to turn up at just the right time. Wherever and whenever she was needed, and she would do so for the displaced as well.

it is in these gentle hours that the woman begins planning again, another route to embark on. She can't stay put in any one place all that long.. She'd sent off a letter to another bloke starting up a group of travelers and to see such sprouting in the world warmed her. Their flyers had mentioned wanting to establish outposts, and she mentioned the spots in hopes maybe he would pay mind, maybe even direct some of his own men to stay there when needed. After all, that was what she made them for. Hopefully she will hear from him soon, and has been leaving notes with the local couriers as to where she is headed next if she isn't in town when they get mail for her.

As dawn starts to creep across the sky and over the darkened pines, Quince packs up her camp and calls Peak to her side as she packs her saddlebags for Avos. She's due to make it back to the desert soon, after both the ball in the Reiklands and the coronation of Lucrece. It's been a long time riding, and it will be back to the road again as the sky gets lighter. But the paths are familiar, so often has she traveled them. She thinks back fondly to the stories she has told in the past few septs, the times and drinks and fun shared among friends both old and new. It's a livening experience, and one that brings warmth back into these aging bones. It has brought her back in time, in a way, uncovered old memories and given the chance to share some of her knowledge, some of the many, many lessons she has learned to impart on younger generations now of people looking to the Road. While far from being a mother anymore, it kindles a certain fondness in her heart. A jumbled and mismatched, makeshift guardianship. Just a kind old woman who hops around the world. Is this what it's like, being a grizzled traveler? Getting to show others what had come before? To reminisce, to fantasize? Tell stories of grandeur and share what has been gathered in all these years?

She hums softly as she loads up Avos, though she doesn't mount. Instead, Peak bounds up and sits himself on the blankets folded over the saddle, and Quince takes the reins to lead the pair of them out of the woods and back onto the path. As she does so, her mind wanders. "How are you, old friend," Quince asks softly into the dark woods. Slowly, a smile creeps to her face as they tread past ferns and fallen logs. The earth smells fresh in the crisp morning air.
"...How has life on the Road been? Anything new that I should be aware of, or worry about?" A hum escapes her, followed by a light sigh, and she shakes her head, the soft smile becoming a comforted grin. "Who am I kidding. You've got my back, yeah? Lucky time or two thanks to you." They move past a small pond and Quince stops by the wild iris and reeds to cut a flower. She chuckles and brings it up to Peak to sniff before tucking it behind the good boy's ear. "Lucky for all three of us. You don't have a hand in the world much, at least not in any big way most people see. Some think that's a bad thing... Me? I don't mind it. ...It's more meaningful, the times you do show up. If you show up. I wouldn't know, and I don't mind." Quince smiles. "It's more like a story that way." The expression fades slightly as they reach the edge of the woods and the old dirt road. "I heard Foli got you, though... I heard... she wrote the worst song ever, hm? But it's all over now... And we can move on, walk on yeah? You're back now, so everything is alright."

Quince hums softly and looks to her horse and dog, who by now are accustomed to her talking out into the nothing. Close companions though they may be, they don't quite understand. She leads them out of the woods and up to a hilltop overlooking where the road splits and goes one way towards Folset, the other way to Florentia. It is at the base of the hill that she leaves her horse and hound, and takes a long-loved cloak and walking stick. From where one can see the Road split, the woman climbs the hill and gathers some stones to the place, and sticks the walking stick deep into the ground so that it stands sturdy and upright. The stones gather around the base to hold it upright, and she ties over top of the staff the cloak. Bathezeal's Walking Stick and the Shawl of the Huntress. She has done this many times, never expecting an answer but hey, it's the closest the wandering soul will get to a place of worship- making it oneself, able to be stowed and brought anywhere.

With the green cloak flapping in the wind, Quince takes a knee before the makeshift shrine and offers a warm smile out beyond to the Road.
"... Are you out there, Dear old friend? You, or a traveler who knows you perhaps. ...I offer these once again to you, not to leave the Road behind, but for a walking stick that is not truly mine. Your Road has been kind to me, and the gesture is one made from a place of bounty and willingness to share. You taught me the kindness of strangers, and what it means to live a life of freedom, of whim and wonder. For that, I will forever thank you. Your presence has guided me into the good and out of the bad, both problems of circumstance and opportunities of luck. You have never left me to wander alone, nor abandoned me even as faces and names of my kin fade to time. The path ahead now is a long and difficult one, but peace has been brought to the land. Finally, one may focus on other things.." The woman hums thoughtfully, a smile coming to spread across her face. "I would hope you accept this offering, if not today then some day. Not for reward or recognition, just.. accept it. The bounty is here, and I have only you to thank for such. Your ways have taught me endurance, to always move forward, to seek purpose wherever it may be. Though the road is clearer now of what to do, I recognize there is still much to learn. If you could cross my path with a faithful who knows more of the Road than I, please... with focus off Foli, there is much to return to, and much to be learned."

The woman will remain there as the sun rises, staining the sky a warm yellow before fading up and off into the blue. The crimson fades from her eyes, leaving just a rugged vagrant woman in her older years knelt before this little fluttering cloak and the divine walking stick, her best friends in the world idling at the base of the hill. They know better than to disturb her in these hours of quiet contemplation, in which she gets her life in order, asks advice, or thinks through to get to the answers herself. Thus far, it has been silence from the Traveler, and should this time be no different, Quince collects up the shrine and returns to her horse and hound to keep walking down the Road...


36282

(@Kyle1322 offering 'Bethezeal's Walking Stick and the Shawl of the Huntress to
Oklamat or a demiservant of Okalamat if anyone is listening this time around)
 

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The world is, among many things, a very strange, very dangerous, very beautiful place. It can hardly be understood, scarcely contained between two scraps of leather in a book, nor processed by the minds behind the eyes with which most gaze upon it. At any one point in time, it can be both impossibly large, and minuscule to a suffocating degree. Now, people are welcome to say what they wish, of course, but one must wonder how many of them actually fathom this. Most are content to live out their lives in their little corner of the world, or maybe visit a few other corners of the world if they're brave. But they rarely pay attention to the in-between. They might fall asleep on the carriage ride or the ship, or zone out and pass the miles by without a thought in the world even if they could see them. Stay on the beaten path, keep going the ways everyone else has always been going. And for some folks, that's enough... Sometimes, not always but sometimes, they know about how open the world is. Sometimes, it occurs to them, and they turn away from it. Or worse, they take a taste and something goes wrong, and they spend the rest of their lives scared to step out the front door.

Scary thing, walking out the front door. Scarier still walking out that door without a map. Scarier still doing both without a clue or care in the world where you're going. How many people walk out that door and let their feet just.. take them. Whenever, where-ever, doesn't matter. Just to go for the sake of going. See for the sake of seeing. Live for the sake of living. How many people live. -- The woman shakes her head a little and chuckles into the silence. It lingers, and as usual, no voice adds to it. Just a woman paused in time in her older years, out in the middle of nowhere. Existential tangents make for an old woman a yawning grave she has often looked upon and never dared go into. Quince has learned all too well, in nearly the hardest ways possible, that when one looks into the Abyss, the Abyss glares back. Its eye will sweep a person off their feet and drag them to places they thought their sense of humanity would never let them go.

Stars slip by, slowly turning across the sky before vanishing to the fuzzy bit of the horizon where one can't be quite sure when the land ends and where the sky begins. More riding through the desert, more searching. More tirelessly hunting, canvasing, reviewing it all. Out here, it's just a woman and her horse and a relative silence, and the constant white-noise of sand in the distant shifting under unseen wind.
You won't be accepted, no matter what you do. Doesn't that thought sting. Quince breathes a sigh, taking in the sharp night air of the desert. Might as well be the chameleon hunter with all the colors she has worn in her days. Or perhaps the phantom hunter, for all the stretches in between where her allegiance has belonged to no one but herself. Colorless. Nameless even, for some stretches. I don't have to fit in. The world and I have gotten along just fine without me fitting anywhere into it. She reminds herself of this, always. Possibly to keep off the lingering despair of the abyss, perhaps just to fill the void with something less dismal. Say it's alright to be this way. And it is. The silver hoofprints in the sand are told tale enough that it's alright, it's alright, to just be a guide. Just be an entity whose name is carried on the winds. She has her husband, and that's more than she could say a couple decades ago, so it's alright. He trusts her, so it's alright. He, out of only a handful of people in this world, accept her, so it's alright. And even if it's only just him and the Traveler and maybe one or two others, it's alright.

There is a long, long, winding road ahead, and that she can take comfort in,... so it's alright...


36762
 

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Travel and acceptance, two things that can never seem to go together. Being useless and being alone, two fears that she can never seem to keep at bay. In trying to hold on to something that had brought her joy, Quince has been slowly and steadily losing more and more of the first two, and falling deeper and deeper into the grip of those fears. Soaked and shivering to the bone, a lonely soul kneels in grass and mud uncaringly, her eyes closed and turned up towards a gloomy sky. Just once, could she not weep in a sunny meadow? Just once, could she not cry into a beautiful dawn? Fuck the weather for resonating with her soul. She would rather the feeble warmth of the sun or a world dry enough for her to make a comforting campfire, hear it crackle and pop as she falls asleep in despair to the sounds of a gentle forest. But the earth and wood are all wet, and the sky continues to weep with her. She can't even smoke in this weather and let the haze tell her it's alright to stop caring. But in the rain, there is only the sound of the rain. There is only the damp chill. There is only white, static noise of droplets rattling through the pines before slithering onto the grass. It's not a refreshing rain like the ones she welcomes and so often basks in. It's not a humid rain like the ones that would beg her to go out for a drink and laugh and run around barefoot while her clothes soak through.

It's the kind of rain that weighs you down, sticks to you, makes you shiver and miss warmth like a face you loved but can't quite remember. It's the kind of rain that weighs grim thoughts down on the shoulders, rather than washing them away. It's the kind of rain that will lay you low and get you sick if you're not careful but who gives a shit about being careful these days? There is a woman named Quince god damn Jain sitting in the corner of a dark and dangerous woodland with an itch to fight everything that would get between her and screaming from the nearest mountain because what has ever stopped her before.

What has ever stopped her, except the same walls as always. The same root she always trips on. The same doubt and fear that stumbles her up. Despising the choices she doesn't make. Disgust and anger with herself for every fault in her life. Back once again to being alone because her life is so much different from everyone else's. Stuck in reset. Trapped in a loop. The way here has been a progressively drunker slog, a stumbling stroll until she reached the darkness of the dangerous woodlands to take her up in its arms and give her comfort. There will be no screaming from a mountain. There will be no great battle for the right to experience catharsis. What had she been telling herself a couple stretches ago? She had her husband, so it was alright. There was a long, long winding road ahead, so it was alright. But can the two go together? When he wants her to travel, and at the same time resents the very soil she walks on, the lands she flies above? A shudder rips through the woman, calling her back to remind her that, she is still mortal, and she is very, very cold. Quince bows her head and with it, brings her lips to drink once more.

Clinging to happiness that has been recently so elusive. And Quince knows it's nothing wrong with him.. That's the worst part. There's nothing wrong with him. He is being who he has always been, no matter who or what else he wants to be. And she, well... she's being what she's always been, isn't she. She's letting people down. That's all it's ever been. Sure, there are brief reprieves where she gets to feel happy. She remembers the beginning of them, two hunters sizing each other up, admiring each other and their ways of life. A tension almost like stalking each other to see what they were each like. What joy they'd had in the beginning.. But now the stalking around each other has become distant. They're not admiring each other, they've been just avoiding more fights. Quince with her way of life and dedication to an idea more than a place or people, and Garai with his absolute firmness in being a guardian of the desert, the guardian of the desert. And Quince gets, what. Hopes that may never pass and the brilliant torture of watching the man she loves tear himself apart. Realizing that she has been tearing herself apart for him. Unable to do anything but observe as a twisted soul tears at the seams wishing he could join her in the life she leads, but chained by duty to the sand. What right does she have to break those chains, or ask him to remove them...

What had she felt, when she was on that mission in the Reiklands? She wasn't alone. More than that, she was useful. She was walking in-stride with a dear friend, rekindled after so many years. The last of the Lion's Court. Forging ahead with nothing but a compass, a map, and intuition. Their laughs, their smiles, the dance that started it all. The banter and jabs about their pasts and present selves. The fierce approval she harbored for the new recruits as she sparred with them, an old woman showing the kids how its done. Because Quince had realized that it wasn't just one friend, but many. With all her love for Garai, they both know she'll never have that in the desert... People will always resent her. People will never understand. She'd thought he did, she'd thought Sigmund did.

But looking around this empty meadow, at the bottom of her flask and soaked to the soul, Quince realizes that at the end of the day, she fucked up on every front. Once again, she is being asked to be something she isn't, and when she tried to do that, the door to what she'd always wanted went from smiles and banter to a misunderstanding that has left her back to the beginning: A drunk, hollow, nameless entity wondering where it all went wrong, even though she already had the answers. When did it start, this time? When she'd walked away? Somewhere in her wasted mind, she'd thought that was what they were talking about- going to take a walk. Going out of the city for another instance of putting aside their problems and being who they wanted to be. She wonders if her duty to the Road has left her destined to be alone but, no, she'd had that. She'd had travel and acceptance hand in hand. But when she opened up to him, when she laid herself out to be ridiculed or understood, the woman had been met with a metal wall. Is it bad that part of her had wanted to be happy with the general. Friends, watching each others backs in a fight, delving into woodlands and crypts. A hand goes up to brush the soaked feather still tucked behind her ear, somehow less faded than the rest of her. She wonders if crimson will always be her color.

What of Garai? The question hits her like a kick in the chest. Her husband, a man she loves, a man she has been sacrificing everything for. Her humanity, her devotion to the Road, her friends. All for the happiness of being in his arms. Quince knows she has hundreds of years ahead, for the sake of her duty, and where is it? It was in guiding men through the forest, it was in giving advice and words of caution to those entering the Indar, it was in speaking of a route between Florentia and the Desert so that merchants had a path to follow, it was in laying offerings that meant something at the altars of the Rider and the Hunter in Morto's graveyard, it was in Xia, no matter the pain she endured, to make sure the southern kingdoms would not war the well of unfathomable profanity, no matter how much it repulsed her. It was riding without rest, to the point of sacrificing her own health to act as a messenger to the kingdoms of the world in leading up to the Foli war. He'd understood her. He'd rekindled the basic joy in her that was being human. He made her realize she had something to live for, someone to live for. Arms to come home to- and it's a camp in the ruins of a once great kingdom but it's been a place she can come back to. People in the desert resent her for being an outsider who, they think has just been chasing a crown. And Garai defends her and god bless him for that, and she wonders if she will end up selling away every part of herself but her heart just to stay with him.

He can't trust people. He can't trust her, it seems, because every step she makes is the wrong one, but she can't stand still. She's never stood still. Every word that has passed between them recently has felt like a crossbow bolt sinking into her chest. Comparing her to his past wives as if she's worse, and they're not even here. Selfishly trying to pull him from a duty he hates, but it's still a duty. She should respect that, shouldn't she? Does he respect hers? To travel, to help anyone no matter their colors. To lead but not as a leader or a queen would- far more simply than that, to merely guide people along the many paths of life. To chart and map the world, to patrol all the roads and protect the people on them from those who would threaten for their own selfish gain.

So what. What does it matter, you stupid woman. Either way, you are alone. Whether you love Garai and long for his arms, or weep because Sigmund's smile has faded to a frown of misunderstanding and not listening to her attempts to fix the rifts that had been so carelessly opened between them? What does it matter which she regrets more, regret will do nothing to solve this. His talk of duty, how she wished he could see that she'd never meant for a farewell. She'd meant that her duty rides alongside his, two proud horses tearing across the meadows. Or Garai, a dear and dire love whose commitments she will never understand, who will never understand hers either. Are the three of them all irreconcilable? Will she be losing her dearest friend and her dearest love? Would either of them see her as she is, or would one deny while the other resents.

So what.

No matter what the case is, Quince fears what she always have: At the end of the day, she is useless, and alone, watching the people she cares most deeply for move on. And she knows it's nothing wrong with them. ... It's never been anything wrong with them. They're wonderful. They're both great men, both torn between who they want to be and who the world needs them to be. And she is what she always has been: A woman with a compass, standing alone out in the rain.



The sky shudders overhead and rain begins to fall in earnest. The woman is already long-soaked and shivering as she has lost herself in thought, and as the weight dumps itself on her, Quince drunkenly ways to her feet and drags herself into the nearby tent. Her coat falls to the ground in a heap, along with most of her outer attire. Her shivering, numb hands fumble for the clasp to her red feather pin and as gingerly as she can, she places it on the wooden slats that make a bedside table next to the cot of furs, and she sets her book atop it so that it won't be whisked away by the wind. There will be no campfire tonight. Just shivers, booze, cold, and great looming fears that have followed her all her life.


 

Moolight

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Hands rub together nervously in front of a campfire, far far to the north where snow lays over the ground in heaps. On the other side of the campfire is the long-built shrine, the woman positioned as if addressing it. Another talk with the Dear Fellow Traveler. Her head bows briefly and she slides off the left arm of her coat. Bandages need changing, that's all. Nothing more, nothing intricate. But it helps to talk to something to pass the time.

"This is gonna be a short one... Past few days have been... busy. Good kind of busy though, it's taught me a lot that's really important. The kind of shit that... seems obvious, I guess, to most people, but... I dunno. Maybe I'm just a low learner, y'know?" Quince unwraps the shoulder wound, letting it breathe and sting in the chill night air of the north. "But I do learn, eventually. No more walkin' away. That much is certain. Walking, yes, always walking, walking somewhere, but never away. No more turning my back, no more running, no more hiding from life... And life, life what a wonderful, insane thing life is, hm?" A warm smile moves across her features, wistful, bittersweet, one both weighed and lifted by emotion. "What a wonderful thing... And so very, very hard to explain, and so very,.. very hard to get right. I've found that.. the best thing t' do is just.. be kind."

"... A lot of people don't understand that, I fear. Why travel, why map the road, why reject owed favors and tell folks to just pay it forward. I tell 'em all the same of course, in the end. ... Not doing this because it's about winning, or taking sides. Hell, you know it's not 'cause it's easy, 'cause it never is. Hardly ever works, but worth it for every little time it does and the world gets a little better for it. People don't seem to understand that- doing something for the sake of doing it,... not for winning, not for glory or makin' a name. Not for witness or reward, but to just do something because it's decent. It's kind. ... Makes things just a little better, in the grand scheme of it all. ...just that.. it's just kind."

Slowly, the woman reaches over to her medical pack and takes out some gauze, some disinfectant, and starts to wipe around the wound, making sure nothing is awry and all is healing well. It's gonna be a nasty scar, but that's nothing new. The scars that really matter, the ones that had marked her heart and mind, are.. mostly mended. They'll never fade away or be forgotten, but what matters has been fixed.
"Not much... physical, in this kind of lifestyle, you know? Folks out on the Road cherish things deeper than that. Friendship, aid for the sake of aid, not payment.. the kindness of strangers... Can be something as simple as pointing someone in the right direction, or as meaningful as saving their life.- ...and I think that's what 's wrong with the world. Everyone shapes it up to be about sides and they forget about th' folks who don't want to take a side, they just wanna live." Quince tugs the roll of bandages out of the pack and begins to put a fresh wrapping over her shoulder, tugging it tight and snug. With that, she pulls up the collar of her shirt and tugs the coat back on. The medical pack is scooped up from the snow and she looks to the shrine, offering a respectful nod.

".. So,.. thanks for Your guidance, as always. And thanks for listening, Old Friend."

The fire is doused with a few kicks of snow and she goes to dust a few pine needles off the shrine before adjourning to the warmth of her walled camp and the greater campfire ke providing her a pocket of comfort against the absolute frigid chill. A smile upon her face... It felt better to say it: Be kind, no more walking away.


36994
 

Moolight

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Patron 2

Gentle tones carry from a small tent at the corner of Florentia, a woman sat at one of her first 'homes' of the world with the looming red stone of the mesa above, cracked and dusty under a cerulean starry sky. Back from the north and having had a long ride to think, she's stopped off for a rest on her way back to the desert. Peak, the great loyal hound he is, sits against the log beside her as the pair relax before a small, crackling campfire. He has some wild pigeon to munch on, and the woman isn't all that hungry. Fingers pluck nimbly at the old sitar, a forlorn and mournful sound echoing across the stone with a soft, ethereal quality. The song comes to an end and her head bows. The instrument is rested aside, the woman going to rise and sit off on the edge of the plateau, looking out over the sands. Not a soul or settlement in sight as far as the eye can see, and she smiles because... that's beautiful. The solitude, it can be utterly beautiful.

"What would you do, if you were lost and alone for an eternity? Stuck, without direction..." A guardian of ice, a prisoner of the north had asked. And she had been confused, because, while it seemed like he mourned his shackled state, when she asked if he would like to be free, he'd silenced her, and asked this in return.

"... Well, I suppose I would just do what I've always done. ...You're not the only one who understands what it's like, you know- the loneliness of oblivion. It's quite familiar to me." Quince replied simply, frankly, with nothing to hide. She knew what empty years felt like. They would never end. How many seconds in an eternity? "But I would never give up trying to find my way again. I wouldn't sit down in one spot like you have, and just accept it."


The smile soon fades. The others they had been traveling up that spire with had made things... difficult for her. The northerners, to start off, before they'd even arrived. They talked as if they owned the wilds. As if someone could put a stamp on the middle of nowhere and call it theirs. Quince had seen no markers, no signs of occupancy. They wanted the wastes for their pride, to say it was theirs. They were as stubborn as any people who don't understand the world. And it irritated her, to see people so haughty as to think anything could be theirs just if they said so. Ruins, ancient, long before their arrival. Resting places of those who had no connection to their people. Forests, proud and tall and dark and empty. No-man's lands, lifeless yet somehow under some petty lord or lady's banner? The right of a person to explore, to travel and see the world, goes beyond boarders and colors and flags. It is a state of being that infects only the best of people, driving them to new sights- only to meet a boot and a wall of bureaucracy? The party, Quince and her friends, they embarked eventually at the cost of losing their leader to a decades-old grudge... Idiots. This is what happens when people don't understand the world they live in...

But, they went. They explored, this rag-tag group. On the mountain tall, past snow and ice and stone... and Quince had drawn up short when the doors opened and they entered the chamber... They'd found Hyssir, a husk of ice but his soul captured by the pillar.. and she was the only one who wouldn't let him be shattered. But when he spoke, he spoke with peace. When he spoke, he spoke as if fulfilled. And when she listened, she listened to an old friend she hadn't realized how much she'd missed. The brilliant fool gave her quite a run, he forced her far out of her comfort zone. He did things that were stupid and amazing and impossible. ...And yet, an agent of chaos. Quince wonders if it had been a charade, their friendship. A vile and deceitful illusion. He'd said he needed a messenger, someone who could be trusted to make a choice or guide the way. As if anyone could ever genuinely need you. As if... Yet still, she remembered their conversations. She remembered when he sat at her camp and talked about all the foolish things he'd done in Xia, and had tea for the first time. How could a man reach adulthood and never have something as simple as tea? There was so much she'd never asked him. Questions raised that,... she realizes she now aches to know. Is it hindsight or regret that informs her now?

"... Y' fucked it up, Hyssir. ...Got too involved in it all. A non-stop life, wasting no time, stopping at nothing, fearing no one. Why Foli,... of every star in the sky, why pick the one that no one would forgive you for? Did you think she would win?" Quince pulls from an inner coat pocket a beaten envelope, and from that, a letter. His handwriting, not hers. One she has read many, many times. She knows what he thinks, and worse, she knows the answers to the question she'd just asked. An agent striving for perfect order, a follower of Veltes, upholder of the virtues of the Angel of Judgement, aligned with Chaos herself. For the good of the realm, at the cost of himself, his reputation, and all he had done in life. For the good of the realm, to be hated, discredited, and forgotten. He played games no one but himself could understand, set pieces in place and plans in motion that carved not just her path, but so many others. In a way, two sides of the same coin. How much has Quince done, that she has told herself was for the good of the realm? They understood each other, in that, though it had never been said. She wishes she could show this letter to Seraphina, or Umaroth,... but, no, both of them would either tear it to shreds, or denounce and destroy it as lies and heresy, and she would lose the last of what she has clung to of Hyssir.

Never make a promise you can't fulfill.

"I promise you will not truly Vanish. I promise I will hold your Name and your memory, to the end of my days. Your story will be shared, your will safeguarded... ...You should be in Morto's realm... you should have been given the right to pass on, to be judged with fairness and stand before the scales. ...We will free you from your frigid prison, and let your soul rest. ... I say we. ... It's quite possible no one else cares, but, somehow, I'll try to get help. I promise."

Soon her shoulders come to slump and she idly knocks her heels against the red stone, making clacks too dull to echo. Movement down the slope catches her eye, on the next level lower and some ways across a gorge. Larger than Peak, walking with power in its limbs. A wolf, its white pelt almost glowing in the moonlight. She frowns, merely watching as it stops and as if recognizing that it has been noticed, turns its head directly up in her direction. A shiver goes through the woman.
Not now. Go away. The old wolf, the thing that has always nipped at her heels, clawed through her nightmares. It's a grim construct of everything she had never hoped to be, but over the years, what started out as a black creature gradually lightened with her hair, now almost mirroring the silvery locks in coloration. What are you here to remind me of this time?

No pack ever accepts the outcast wolf. The very fact that they are alone is a mark that they are not to be taken in. It is a prideless and desperate beast, one that holds its own survival at the front of its mind, and a longing for companionship close behind. It is viscous and hungry to defend something, but lacks a home to defend. Friends are a privilege that come and go. After all, they have their own packs, an those packs move on. But sometimes,... and her gaze lifts to the ridge across at another flicker of movement. A black wolf makes itself known, a liquid shadow in the darkness going down to meet the omega. ...Sometimes, the lone wolves find each other. Lone wolves like Garai, like Arya and Hyssir and even that kid Vega. Palluson, to a degree.

Is that what this is about? ...Are you here to tell me I might finally have my happiness, Harbinger?

Watching the pair, though she knows they are illusions of her own mind, the awareness and the display both bring her comfort. Her thumb fondly roves over a bone pendant of a horse. Garai wants to have a family, with her, and this time, she's... she's going to try to do it right. They can make it work. They can raise their child on the Road, they can travel. They'll wander, they'll trade, they'll make it work. They'll be everything they've always wanted to be, in the world, and for each other.
Been a long time since 've had something like this.

"I'll fix it all, somehow." As she says this, the wolves had begun turning away but the white wolf pauses for a moment, to turn to her a nod. Quince blinks, slight surprise. Was that affirmation? The woman watches them leave, afterwards muttering, "... Hyssir, this marriage, being a guide... it will all work out in the end. This I promise. Even if the world says no, or dislikes me for it, fine. No matter what happens, it'll be a good story, long in the future, at the end of it all." Her gaze wanders up to the stars as if for confirmation from the Traveler, before rising and stepping back from the edge of the plateau. A mournful smile shows. She knows as well as He does why she is here, why He gave her time. She reaches into her pocket for two tarot cards. One with a Name, and one,.. maybe, sometimes, soothsayers have something special going. 'The World'. Quince wonders what may come of it some day. What adventures does the horizon hold? More ruins, more lone wolves? More to see?

"... I trust you, Traveler. I trust you as I always have that you will guide me to... fixing this... You have not given me purpose, but even better- you have led me to find it for myself. Boarders and allegiances be damned. There's a whole globe out there. Someone 's gotta show people how beautiful it is, aye?..."

37350
 

Moolight

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"When I was younger, I wasn't afraid of anything- wasn't afraid of dying, nor reason for it. I thought that if I died, that's fine by me any time at all. But then I met a certain someone and that changed. I started to think that.. I wanted to survive. It was on my mind- I'd never felt that kind of feeling. Almost.. paralyzed."

"And? Where are they now?"

".. They... faded off, somewhere."


37760

Dim light fades through layers of canvas and furs over and around their tent, reminding Quince of why she so loves camping out on the mountain. The place beside her is empty, Garai likely gone out and down to sort a breakfast. A soft smile touches her lips, cut brief by a twinge of regret. As usual, you came very, very close to fucking it all up. Her head tilts to one side as she gathers her hair and starts to braid it, gaze casting down to her hands. And he still loves you. Slowly, the smile returns. This is the only life she's ever wanted. Being out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild and untamable beauty with the one person in the world who gets it, at her side. Being a help to people, be it in the mountains or the meadow or the mire. The faded red feather pin is placed in her hair and the woman pulls on a coat over her sleeping clothes before stepping out barefoot onto the scrub grass chilly with morning dew. Discs of silver rove out east to watch the sun lift through a pinky-yellow haze, the light riding the backs of ridges and sparkling down mountainside waterfalls as they come and go and mist in the wind. Absolutely beautiful...

Quince steps carefully over the slim, stony ridge around the caldera of the mountain, one long, long since cold and now a deep, fresh lake. Colder than winter and clearer than a mirror. There have been mornings where the wind was so still and the sky so bright that she'd thought a hole had opened to the other side of the world, and she was gazing at a sky through the earth. The thought draws a chuckle and she steps over to the shrine to the Traveler, going to simply re-light the candles and replace the incense there. Ashes and soot of the previous night are cleared away, and once everything is sheltered and left to burn gently, Quince returns back to camp and rekindles their fire as well, tidies up, refreshes the firewood and sets on a pot for tea. Little things to make the place a bit better, a bit tidier for when Garai comes back.

Turning back to the dawn light, her arms stretch up over her head with a long yawn. The warmth of it prickles her skin under her clothes and shines upon her face, and the woman realizes with that how cold her feet are. And, how much she missed things like this. Maybe it's just been a long, long time since she's had that close an encounter with death. Maybe it's just because, if it had happened this time, it would be entirely her fault and not just some accident. Maybe it's just the fear of, if she was able to come back- allowed to come back- ...would there have been anyone waiting for her? She likes to think so, but people fade in and out of her life. You are the product of your actions. You are the master of your fate. That can go both good and bad ways. Sometimes there's no telling which. But, she had been truthful to Garai in this: Where she went, where she was briefly gone, she had never intended to stay there. She had certainly never intended things to come as close as they did.


Does anyone believe what you say anymore? Quince sighs, then laughs to herself and shakes her head. Funny that,... I've never been a liar. Never once. Can't stand it. ... And people don't believe me anyway. Again her gaze loses focus and drifts off. Into thought, into memories of happier times, into things she'd have missed. The way he holds her and smells of a south wind- spiced and sandy and with the faintest tinge of ocean. How she can cry in front of him and not feel weak or less than what she is, how she isn't afraid to tell him what has always scared her the most and why she devotes to what so many have discredited as a fool's dream. Hell, he has too, but maybe... maybe some day he'll understand and it's that hope that's enough for her. They never walk away from each other. He believes me. ... He doesn't believe what I say. He believes what I do, when I do the things that mean 'I love you' without words...

The Road is not a life of acceptance. It is a life of taking joy in small things that most others take for granted. It is a life of taking refuge in the kindness of others and never forgetting who you've met and the places you've seen along the way. It's an unsaid closeness that will keep even oil and water bound together because there's seldom ever anyone else who understands what any of this means. It's a place where freedom is everything. A breath of fresh air is a gift and there is nothing more exhilarating than the tension in the air right before a thunderstorm, when the wind rolls in and you can hear the thunder but the rain hasn't started. It's a joy in the crispness of a winter night and watching the stars from a snowy mountaintop, or climbing down a cliff with the ocean swirling dark below. It's a subtle softness in the summer haze that touches meadows full of wildflowers when the sky turns orange and the suns starts to set and the birds have yet to quiet for the night but the crickets have already taken up their orchestra. It's loud, it's vast and terrifying to think that even when you can see so much, there's endlessly more beyond the horizon.

And among these, there is nothing, nothing greater in it... than getting to share it with someone.

And that,.. now that really makes Quince smile. It makes her laugh and sigh and shake her head, unable to help a stupid goofy grin that once belonged to a young girl on a farm at the thought of seeing the world, whose only goal in life was to make things a little better, no matter where she was. Be free, be unbound, and be kind to people. Find someone to be kind with, find those who need her and be everywhere and nowhere at once.- vanish off and live life in absolute unbridled wanderlust, return to the place and time that one is required and help, share laughs and stories, meet new friends and make new tales, then disappear into the wilderness again. Hold the hand of someone tender as the stars crawl along and the years go out and unfurl ahead for decades to come.

Head coming to bow a little, the grin fading to a softer, gentler look as she watches the campfire take and start to crackle.
You have it. Now hold it tight, and really, truly, never let go. Owe thanks and joy to the Traveler for the realization that He has allowed you, and the freedom to master your own life. Squander nothing, regret nothing, take none of it for granted. Everything you have done is the reason you are now here, that you now have this. Scary, isn't it? It should be. It is, absolutely terrifying. And it's wonderful, so, be an idiot about it. Don't you dare let go.

37759
 

Moolight

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"We were born in the valley of the dead and the wicked
...
We were born in the shadow of the crimes of our fathers
Blood was our inheritance

No, we did not ask for this..."

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Well met, old friend. Did you wave to the seven stars for me on your way down to the valley? And from the tip of the mountaintop did you wish the sea farewell and watch the golden disc fade into its depths as a passing smile kneels before grim news? Tell me Traveler, have you seen the fires burning off below the hillside? Have you heard the song of fading and the ringing bells of the church as it fell? Have you stood upon the cliffs and witnessed the fall of the heart of man, and feel the weight in your chest of a home brought to its knees? I cannot say I have.

Swaying slightly upon horseback, thus follows the long way back a quiet and empty melancholy that cannot be described within the confines of this world. It's a wafer-thin and fickle thing teetering on the edge of relief and heartbreak, whilst knowing in some rational part of her mind that the case should be neither. There should be no heartbreak for a heart moved on, and in an optimal case there should be no relief were there no fallen in the first place. It exists in a state of numbness. Sour wine can be sweetened with hope, but there is no way to dull swallowed thorns. The two conflict and rip and tear like oil and water set afire, burning and smothering at once. The world had not graced her a dearer friend in decades, longer even. A pair who could laugh and scowl and fight and drink together and exchange all manner of conversation. Long nights, early mornings, saving him from meetings and paperwork- and being saved by him in far weightier situations. They'd had each other's backs. Could vent and relax when bored. Could voice skepticism and bounce ideas off each other. None of it meant anything and nothing was ever held back, even at their worst. They learned- well, Quince learned- early on no walking away. She'd promised that, and stuck to that promise in the passing tsels. Even when faced with his corpse, she kept to her promise. No walking away. No tears, no anxieties, no getting worked up and dismissing herself from the situation.


The lingering, the one who stayed, the remainder when all else had gone quiet and lonely and calm, and it was over. Most of those there, they either.. had injuries to tend to, or had to come to terms with the notion that their home was gone. Destroyed. Fallen. She couldn't understand, couldn't... feel the way they'd felt when they first saw it, standing there in the snow through a portal. A painting of destitution, what could have surely passed as a cruel joke were it not for the entire truth of the matter. That strange feeling had shown its head there again, relief and heartbreak. Never would she have to feel that resignation and utter disbelief at how circumstances had sundered her from a place she knew so well. Never would she get to feel the connection of deep belonging and comfort within the familiar embrace of a place she'd come to know so well. Bittersweet, heart-wrenching. The usual. Slowly around her did the landscape come to change, and slowly around her did the mountains give way to foothills and soon, she'd reached it.

The skeleton woods. The bare and blackened cinders of the nearest thing she'd had to a familiar place. A forest she'd once known well, reduced to ash to clear the way for the assault on Revenhault, which,.. what did that mean now anyway? It had been destroyed as well all the same, brick by brick. Stone by stone. Riding across the abandoned landscape, through the sea of stripped shadows and spindly trees waving over the snow, her silver gaze wandered.. and wandered.. and wandered.. and her mind wandered with it and she remembered hunts here. She remembered friends at that camp in the clearing with the small meadow. She remembered nights with loved ones and best friends and almost-family. She remembered solitude and unity and understanding. And peace. What a fleeting thing. She remembered a thousand kind gestures, and promises fulfilled. Now a smile grows over her face, followed by tears until. Out of nowhere, a question occurs to her.

Does he still have the jar of snow.

Even if it's just on a desk somewhere, sat in a little dish with an icedust stone to keep it cold, and a patch of dirt in which grew the sapling of a pine tree. Something inconsequential in the extreme and more precious an artifact of friendship than any great and gleaming gift of a sword or robes or token. Bitter as a quince and sweet as cherry wine it was, captured every facet, every descriptor for their companionship, for what they'd shared. It was a promise. It was absurd. It was a laugh and got a rise out of even the infamously frigid General. It was handled with care. It was enduring against all odds and laced with disbelief when first proposed. It was hearty, standing as a protest to what most would have thought possible. It was ordinary and average. It was lacking in ornamentation and frilly presentation. It was simple, clean, and to the point. It was everything it needed to be when it needed to be there, and it did what it needed to do when it was so needed.

Be loose, be careful, be stubborn and enduring. Past the skeleton trees and into the pines that stood black-clad and tall like soldiers on a front line, and from the pines to the meadows that crested and rolled over each other in tall grasses laced with snow, the rider continued. Continued and hoped and when she took a letter from inside her coat pocket, a copy of that which had been given to him with the jar of snow,.. she brought it to her chest and let go of the reins, and held it, and cried. Silly thing, crying over someone who would be coming back. Who... had to come back. But there was the chance things didn't work out, or for whatever reason they got held back, stayed too long, or weren't... there enough, didn't have enough to go on. Any number of things, any number of things. It didn't always work out, so why...

There was just nothing for it, was there? He'd come back, wouldn't he? And that would be that and it would be it and it would all be well again. The world might fade and twilight fall to night but what mattered? Everything ends, and that's always sad. But everything begins again and that's always happy. Come back, live a while, be a father, prove that you listened a lick to the advice. Be better than this lonely woman, do it right. Have your family, do everything I didn't and don't do a damn thing I had. People here still need you,.. your wife, more than anyone. So come back, alright? ...and Traveler, if you can... if he strays,.. show him the right path back...


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