Araatris: The sky is starting to lighten when Rhese wakes suddenly, his skin crawling. He curls on his side, taking deep breaths as he silences the wolf.
Rhoelyn: Someone kneels next to him with a soft thump. The person waits until he relaxes with another deep breath. She speaks softly, “Good morning.”
Araatris: Rhese looks up at her voice, lifting has hand to rub at his aching head. Brow furrowing, he whispers, “You can’t be here. You aren’t.”
Rhoelyn: She laughs, a silvery sound both delightful and familiar, “Yes, that is true. This is the form you chose to see, but she is certainly not here.”
Araatris: His muscles protest as he sits up and looks at the phantom of his sister, relieved despite knowing that it’s not her. “Who are you?” Rhese asks.
Rhoelyn: “How to answer that…” She smiles, her blue eyes gentle and kind, “I am the last vestige of the spirit you chose when becoming a druid.”
Araatris: “The last…” The druid breathes a sigh of relief. “I was afraid you’d forsaken me. Or been consumed by the wolf. I’ve been trying to hear you.”
Rhoelyn: The spirit cups his cheek in her hand, “My dear Rhese, I would never forsake you. I’ve been trying to protect you, but I don’t have long left.”
Araatris: He sighs, pressing his blackened hand over hers. “This is true for both of us. What can I do? This scythe, this wolf is going to ravage me.”
Rhoelyn: “Be strong. Remember your first journey and find me. Regain your claws.” The phantasm turns to Nysse with a knowing grin, “It need not be alone.”
Araatris: Rhese nods. “I can make the journey again, but it’s better if it’s alone. I’m afraid I’ll just hurt her.” He gestures. “All of them…”
Rhoelyn: She brushes his hair back, “They know the risks and they know what you would do for them. She, in particular, gives you hope and strength.”
Araatris: He starts to argue, but the spirit that looks like Rhoelyn silences him with a finger to his lips. “You can’t see your way blinded by fear.”
Rhoelyn: Rhoelyn-spirit leans forward and kisses his forehead, “She is strong enough for the journey. Let her be your guide.” The form fades slightly.
Araatris: Rhese bows his head in acquiescence despite the worry creasing his brow. Before he can say more, the vision wavers and disappears.
Rhoelyn: Nysse rolls onto her back with a sleepy murmur and she tosses one arm over her eyes. Rhese watches her rest on the other side of the fire.
Araatris: For a long while, he just sits and stares at her, thinking. Tsume wanders over from somewhere and noses her way under his uncorrupted hand.
Rhoelyn: “Aren’t you supposed to be with your mistress?” He scratches her ears and she turns her head towards Vulf, “I see. You were with your mate.”
Araatris: With a grimace for his sore, tired muscles, he lifts a knee and rests his arm across it, his gaze going back to Nysse. “It should be that simple.”
Rhoelyn: The wolf tilts her head, then she pads over to Nysse and begins nosing her. Nysse pushes her wolf’s head away, “Tsume, your nose is cold!”
Araatris: The druid smirks and clicks his fingers at Tsume. She’s too well-trained to ignore him, though the look she gives him is surly as she trots back.
Rhoelyn: Nysse rolls over facing him, yawning and burrowing deeper into the blanket. Tsume wuffs at him quietly and looks expectantly at him, then at Nysse.
Araatris: “Don’t be so impatient, little sister,” he whispers, patting her. “I’m working on it. You wouldn’t understand.” Val steps up, offering a hand up.
Rhoelyn: “Let’s get you up and moving, fuzzbutt.” Rhese frowns at him. Val sighs, “Don’t look like that. Wrune said you would need to stretch your legs.”
Araatris: “Easy for him to say.” He offers his clean hand, and they work together to pull him to his feet. When Tsume shoves at his leg, he stumbles.
Rhoelyn: Valerio steadies him and laughs, “Seems you’re not moving fast enough for her. Heel, Tsume.” With almost a huff, she sits beside the hunter.
Araatris: The druid moves gingerly. “She’s going to have to learn patience. I’m not sure I could move faster if I had to. Every part of me aches.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse sits up with a groan, “Tell me about it. Also, if you were trying to let me sleep… it didn’t work.” She stretches her arms up tentatively.
Araatris: “Sorry, lovely,” Rhese smiles apologetically. “We were trying to be quiet. … but Val is such a chatterbox.” He slants a teasing grin at his friend.
Rhoelyn: She chuckles, “He didn’t help, but it was the light doing most of it. Honestly, I’m tired of sleeping anyway.” With effort, she stands on her own.
Araatris: The druid manages to straighten and step away from Valerio, who glances between the two of them and turns to wander away, calling Tsume with him.
Rhoelyn: Nysse looks at Rhese shyly and ducks her head as she fumbles with her pouch. She grasps and clutches something behind her back, “Want to walk?”
Araatris: He nods and steps close enough to carefully tuck her borrowed cloak tighter around her. “That sounds like a good idea. We need to talk.”
Rhoelyn: “We do, but can I give you something first? I don’t know what you remember from yesterday.” She fidgets nervously, “It was a little crazy.”
Araatris: Rhese winces and scratches at his stubbly cheek. “I’m afraid I don’t remember much after she grabbed me. But of course you can give me something.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse smiles broadly, “Belated happy birthday. Rhoelyn helped me make this for you.” She holds up and dangles a necklace from her fingers.
Araatris: The feathers take on the glow of the rising sun as the breeze blows against them. Smiling warmly, he reaches out to take it without touching her.
Rhoelyn: Once he has a hold on it, she clasps her hands behind her back, “They’re the same feathers I use for my arrows. I really hope you like it.”
Araatris: “It’s perfect, my love.” He starts to lean toward her, but pauses and straightens with a frustrated sigh. “Even I’d forgotten with… everything.”
Rhoelyn: “After this mission, why don’t we just disappear for a little while? Just us.” She blushes and looks away as if to make sure no one else heard.
Araatris: He offers her the necklace and leans in to let her tie it for him, letting his cheek get as close to hers as he dares. “Somewhere warm.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse sighs happily, “Oh that would be so nice…” She carefully wraps the leather cord around his neck, knotting it securely. “That should hold.”
Araatris: He doesn’t straighten right away, whispering against her ear. “Thank you for the gift, Nysse. And for everything else you do. I love you.”
Rhoelyn: “I love you, too, Rhese. I know it’s been hard, but we’ll make it through this.” She laughs lightly, “Though we might go crazy on the way.”
Araatris: He snorts. “You’re telling me. I had a conversation with my sister while you slept…” The druid shakes his head ruefully as he straightens.
Rhoelyn: Nysse tilts her head, “You weren’t asleep?” Rhese shakes his head, “Wrap up and let’s walk. I think Wrune is glaring because we aren’t moving.”
Araatris: As the huntress pulls her cloak tight once more, the two wander together out of the camp, frost-covered leaves crunching underfoot.
Rhoelyn: The air is fresh and crisp and the walk is companionable. Nysse reluctantly breaks the silence, “What were you saying about Rhoelyn before?”
Araatris: “Mm. When I woke up, we had a short conversation.” When she gives him a puzzled look, he corrects, “Sorry. Of course, it wasn’t really her.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse ducks under a tree limb, “You’re going to need to start from the beginning, beloved. Who talked to you this morning and about what?”
Araatris: “The cat spirit. The cat told me what I should do about the wolf – the scythe. Or… at least gave me a start.” He glances up into the trees.
Rhoelyn: She smiles, “Really? We could use some good news on that. What did she tell you?” Nysse peers at him as they walk, but stepping carefully.
Araatris: Rhese considers how to answer for a moment, pausing to rest against a tree trunk. “We haven’t spoken much about the spirits behind my Forms.”
Rhoelyn: “I know a little from Verune. He said there was a spirit for each, but usually a druid had an affinity with one.” Nysse huddles in her cloak.
Araatris: “Yes,” he nods, tucking his hands behind him to keep from reaching for her. “Each form is a bond with a unique spirit. We journey to find them.”
Rhoelyn: “Does everyone find a different spirit? How do you know where to go?” Nysse pulls her hands up and breathes on them, then rubs them together.
Araatris: Rhese pushes away from the tree, restless. “Yes, each druid finds his or her own unique spirit. Knowing where and how is the real test.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse tucks her hands back under the cloak, “Verune mentioned that you — how did he word it — that you would earn the blessing of a spirit?”
Araatris: “By that, he essentially means earning its respect… and friendship, in a way.” He pulls a branch out of the way for her, gesturing her onwards.
Rhoelyn: She passes and waits for him to join her. They continue around the outside edge of camp, “I can understand that. I had to gain Tsume’s trust.”
Araatris: Rhese nods. “It’s really the same. Except my wild animal is not as corporeal as yours.” Trudging along beside her, he looks out through the trees.
Rhoelyn: Nysse snorts, “Nor does mine allow me to change shape, but I’m glad to have her nonetheless.” Her stomach gurgles loudly and she flushes.
Araatris: With a laugh, Rhese steers their walk back toward camp. “I’m afraid at least one part of you is bored by my lesson. I must take after Verune.”
Rhoelyn: “Oh! No, that’s not it. I was interested! Really!” She denies vehemently. “I just haven’t had much to eat these last few days.” Nysse sighs.
Araatris: “From the smell, breakfast should be ready. Let’s head back. We can discuss this more after food.” He starts to offer her his hand, then lowers it.
Rhoelyn: Nysse clasps her hands behind her and smiles gently, “I never thought about how often we touched before. Now it’s all I can think about.”
Araatris: He groans and turns away. “You have no idea how m-… never mind.” With a sigh, he looks back and manages a grin. “Come on, lovely. Let’s get back.”
Rhoelyn: She stops and stares at Rhese in confusion. As the slow realization hits her, Nysse’s eyes widen and she turns crimson with a tiny squeak.
Araatris: Clearing his throat, he leads the way back to camp. Nysse follows, eventually grabbing the back of his slit jacket to stop him. “Rhese…”
Rhoelyn: “I know it’s not much, but I’m bundled in a cloak. It’s never come through fabric.” Nysse scuffs the ground with the toe of her foot. “Please?”
Araatris: He stiffens, clenching his fists against the temptation. “Nysse…” Rhese turns, his brows furrowed. “What would I do if I hurt you, again?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse shakes her head, “You won’t. You haven’t hurt any of the others when they were cautious. Why would you hurt me?” She tugs up her hood.
Araatris: After a final hesitation, he grins weakly. “Anything my lady wishes.” He reaches out and pulls her into his arms, infinitely careful.
Rhoelyn: She makes sure the hood covers her face and lays her head against his chest. She laughs and her voice cracks slightly, “I think we needed this.”
Araatris: Rhese just rests his cheek against the top of her head and nods without saying anything. She can feel his slight tremble as he holds her.
Rhoelyn: Nysse’s tears soak the hood, but she neither shakes nor sobs. Neither of them speak. Yet, she hugs the cloak tighter to keep her hands busy.
Araatris: It’s only after a very long time that Rhese shifts to kiss her head through the cloak. He whispers, “She was right. You do give me hope.”
Rhoelyn: She slowly and cautiously looks up at Rhese with pink cheeks, “You mean the spirit from early this morning? The one that looked like Rhoelyn?”
Araatris: “Yes.” He smiles warmly down at her, and after a moment, his gaze drifts to her lips. With a little groan, he releases her. “We… should go back.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse nods, “We should. I’m surprised they haven’t sent someone to look for us.” Her stomach growls again, “…And I hope they still have food.”
Araatris: Rhese turns and pulls his jacket tighter against the lack of her warmth, leading the way back to camp. It’s not long before Nysse can smell food.
Rhoelyn: She hurries at a limp, slipping past him, “Rhese! They still have food!” Nysse grins over her shoulder, “And…” She sniffs, “There’s pork!”
Araatris: He laughs, letting her go ahead. “You’re saved, my lovely. Please slow down before y-” She stumbles over a root, nearly falling. “… trip.”
Rhoelyn: “I hope Wrune didn’t see that. He’d–” Nysse stops as Wrune comes jogging up to them. She puts her hands out to fend him off, “I’m fine!”
Araatris: He gives her an assessing once-over before accepting her words. Rhese doesn’t help by teasingly saying, “She’s weak with hunger, I think.”
Rhoelyn: Wrune ushers them to the fire. “Sit and I’ll fix you both plates.” Nysse shoots Rhese an exasperated grin while Wrune fills two heaping plates.
Araatris: The two take their plates and eat, while the others work quietly to break down camp. Rhese fidgets, feeling the weight of their glances.
Rhoelyn: Nysse attempts to break the awkward silence between bites, “What are our plans now? Rhese and I are able to travel, but we won’t be fast.”
Araatris: Wrune and Verune exchange looks. The paladin speaks up. “We’re only a few hours of good travel from Amberpine. We return and regroup. Briefly.”
Rhoelyn: She nods, not noticing Rhese frown. “I didn’t realize that we were that close.” She sops up the juices on her plate with a piece of bread.
Araatris: Verune nods. “We need to resupply and make our plans in safety. A single night.” By the look he gives Rhese, he’s after his agreement.
Rhoelyn: Rhese sighs, “This morning my cat spirit asked me to start a journey to find her again.” He meets Verune’s gaze, “She’s been protecting me.”
Araatris: The elder raises his brows. “It’s a good idea. One that I intended to suggest. However, I still believe it’s best to return just briefly.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse watches Rhese, “We’d need supplies anyway. We don’t have weapons, food, or even bedrolls.” She finishes the last bite of her breakfast.
Araatris: He nods, albeit reluctantly, and sets down his food. “Fine. We can leave in the morning.” He tenses against the aches as he pushes to his feet.
Rhoelyn: Wrune takes the plates. Nysse pushes herself up from the ground with a rueful grin, “I wish Tsume was big enough to ride. It’d be helpful today.”
Araatris: Rhese sighs. “Agreed. I don’t think I’ve done this much walking on two legs in the entire past decade combined.” Val smirks. “You’re spoiled.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse shakes her head, “Alright, this walk is going to feel like it takes forever as it is. Let’s get started.” She bends down to pick up a pack.
Araatris: Kaerryn holds her hand out, dragging Rylana behind her. “Give me that. You’ll be moving like an ancient turtle. I want to get there this week.”
Rhoelyn: Wrune takes the pack out of Nysse’s hands and shoves it at Kaerryn, “Your muscles are still recovering.” Nysse growls in frustration, “Wrune!”
Araatris: Kaerryn sticks her tongue out and slings it over her shoulder. “Suck it up, buttercup. You’re traveling light.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse narrows her eyes and grins, “You shouldn’t call me pet names, Kaerryn. Your girlfriend might get jealous.” She gestures to Rylana.
Araatris: The warrior snorts, rolling her eyes. “Pet, maybe. The kind you want to kick all the time.” At her glare, Rylana frowns, staying silent.
Rhoelyn: Verune steps forward, “We’re wasting time. We need to go.” He leads the group as they head towards Amberpine Lodge. Nysse walks next to Rhese.
Araatris: The sky is starting to lighten when Rhese wakes suddenly, his skin crawling. He curls on his side, taking deep breaths as he silences the wolf.