Fable - Ask Of Wheel & Woe [Veithir]

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Aethiriin

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It has been four days since I locked myself in my room because Veithir will not agree to let me join the Sluagh.

Moonlight splashed in through parted curtains, a slash of silver across an expanse of blackness. The room was untidy and chaotic, holding still the physical and emotional remnants of the last angry fit. Things were here and there where they did not belong. A heady aroma of White Sage comingled with a veritable cloud of Sandalwood. The scent was pervasive and overwhelming but the negative energies remained.

I have taken it upon myself to burn the incense I know he abhors. Pucas have an exceptionally good sense of smell. I have closed and sealed all my windows to push it through the vents to the rest of his home.

Off to the side two eyes the color of furious peach glowed within the black. A silhouette sat bundled within a pile of blankets and throwpillows. The sound of graphite scratching across parchment filled all the spaces that the smells did not.

I heard him drop the skillet in the kitchen a few hours ago. I hope it landed on his foot.
 
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Veithir was reminded of a Duanann's might with young Aethiriin's latest fit. How frighteningly powerful they were with their dominion over the aspects, rules, and concepts that constituted the world. Especially scary was the temper of a girl whose grasp of her power was fickle.

It was his favorite skillet that snapped at the handle. Sizzling oil splashed across the stove top and the back of his wrist, and a perfectly seared sole filet dropped to the ground. Just excellent.

Thiri and Vei only occasionally ate together. She preferred mingling with the later hours, and his day started early for this and that. Preparing Thiri's meal was often the last thing Veithir did before he retired for the evening.

Cleaning the mess and tending to his fresh burn set Veithir back several precious minutes from his evening routine. The smell of cooking fish had somewhat masked the thick reek of incense that invaded his home, but the pleasant scent of food cleared out and all that remained was that head-throbbing stench Thiri would only ever burn in defiance to him.

The floor-filet went to the oven. As Vei sat to finally eat, the decision to add a final touch of pepper from the grinder brought another stroke of misfortune as the cap popped off and covered the filet with a small mountain of peppercorns. There was a twitch in his brow. He brushed the spillage away and cut away the soiled parts of the filet to salvage the meal. He ate in complete silence.

Some time later a single knock on Thiri's door interrupted her from her thoughts.

"Child," Veithir spoke through the door with a hand raised to cover his mouth and nose with his sleeve. Approaching her room from the hall had been like a thousand mile march. He never once raised his voice at Thiri, but addressing her without using her name was always evidence of his frustration. "Your meal is ready. If you would, please open the windows. I am off to bed. Good night."

Her favorite food prepared in her favorite way awaited her. Veithir was never one to spoil Thiri, but he did hope to make amends with his cooking.
 
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Child.

I often wonder if he resents the gift of being named my Godfather.

Silence from the room behind the door. Even the scratching of the graphite had halted. It carried on moments past his words, and followed the sound of his quiet steps as he retreated to his own room in another part of the treehome. Always so quiet. Aethiriin shifted when that silence stretched into the yawn of the evening hours, moving from her nest of blankets and pillows to the leather satchel on her four-poster bed.

When he hands me off to Uncle Asemir, I can see the weight lift from his shoulders. As if I'm such a burden to bear.

In the satchel were things needed for a journey. Clothing, self-care items, pieces of her hobby. Less neat than it was organized without structure - by thought of need and whim of want. An experienced runaway would have made several changes, adjustments, and balances. Aethiriin was not experienced in running away, not as much as she was in being alone.

Her eyes settled on a painted portrait of her mother hanging on a side wall, a black shawl draped over it where only a portion of the woman's face was visible.

Enough of a burden to abandon this life, maybe.

Another cursory glance of the items strewn about. Untidy. Chaotic. A state of being that drove her Godfather to madness. Where had the lifestyle of neatness from her parents gone? How had she not inherited at least some facet of Baenon's obsessive compulsions to clean and sort, or her mother's eye for aesthetics and ... what was that they called it? Fen shoe.

The door lock clicked open quietly. An empty hall became an empty room as she padded down the floor runners, shoes in hand and bag over shoulder. Black melded into the darkness of the unlit home where two lonely souls lived together and yet apart. The waft of lingering incense breathed after her, fogged on mirrors and windows.

I suppose I remind him of all the things he's already lost. No one should have to live with that. At least my Godmother can't complain - she's in a coma.

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A weird mewling sounded as her footsteps lead her to the kitchen. The prepared meal waited under a silver hood. Cinpher sat on the kitchen counter, the flame about her skull a gentle white. A night light with four paws. A creature companion Aethiri never wanted and could not seem to rid herself of. Perhaps that's what she was to Veithir. Cozy and content it was not to be adored. Cinpher did not take to being touched with any amount of delight, but great offense.

Just a prickly ornamental vase. Aeth narrowed her eyes at it while considering the thing and its persistent presence in her life since her first beastly blackout.

"Here," she delicately plucked the cover from the meal platter and set it aside, quiet-like, "consider it a parting gift."

Stay here, beastie.

The catling's skull twisted, curious, and she watched it drift from countertop to tabletop like an ominous shadow. It sniffed the offering, then accepted and leaned in to feast. Small singed bites. Aeth slipped on her shoes and then backed out of the kitchen door leading to the back stairway.

The door closed with a gentle click and off into the twilight she wandered.
 
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Veithir could only blink at where he knew the ceiling was. He preferred sleeping in utter darkness. Curtains drawn closed to block out the moonlight, and his candles, so faintly-scented that one would ask why bother with any scent at all, unlit. It was comfortable that way. And the darkness was no obstacle to Veithir. He would have drifted into a deep sleep quite easily were it not for that damned incense. It assailed his nostrils and made its way up into the front of his skull, causing a deep throb, throb, throb, to hinder his efforts of a good night's rest.

He occupied his unrest with thoughts of death, among many other things. But mostly death. All things that begin must end, some sooner than others. The Puca understood and accepted this fact at an age not much older than what Aethiriin was. He was never mournful over loss, whether it was a life or the withering of a flower. It was natural.

And then he met and loved Marian.

And then Baenon passed.

How is it that what is natural is also so unfair?

What would you do about Aethiriin, Marian? You would have been a great, loving mother, I'm sure. And what about you, Baenon? You would know the correct thing to do. You always had a plan.

Veithir's eyes pinched close for a while until quiet scratching at his door pulled him from his grim thoughts. Ah. The familiar is about. He was used to it now. It would bump the door, scratch it. Let Veithir know that, "Hey, I'm here!" and be on with its business.

Scratch, scratch, scratch!

It cried out with a hollow-sounding echo of a meow. With a grumble, Veithir rose from bed and answered the door. Cinpher sneaked through the crack, and shadows danced across the room as red light pooled in with the creature. It circled his feet, bumped his ankle with its skull, and sat and looked up expectantly at a frowning Veithir.

He wandered into the hall, then to the kitchen. Cinpher followed at his heels.

Veithir loudly clicked his tongue upon seeing the untidy kitchen table. What a mess. And left the dishes, too. This tantrum was a serious one. Thiri always neatly stacked her plates and silverware in or by the basin. He immediately made for her room. Approaching it, he could see her door left open. Odd.

"Child, need I remind-" he stepped into an empty, lifeless room. His nose impulsively scrunched up. "Child?" his voice carried into all the rooms of his home.

Barefooted, Veithir's step made no sound, but the house's foundation shuddered with each hurried step he took. "Child!" Back in the kitchen. In his room. The workshop was empty, too.

As he crossed the walkway between the workshop and his home, his voice echoed throughout the woods.

"AETHIRIIN!"
 
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These woods she knew rather well and her feet found purchase on trails she could walk with her eyes shut. Though Veither had chosen a life of solitude away from the public eye and social mouth, he'd settled into a location central to several centers of society. Liagin proper sat to the north following the lichen on the trees.

To the south, a smaller Autumn Court village called Leaffall.

I never did figure out if it was pronounced the way it looks or with some Autumnal accent I'm not yet privvy to.

Lee-ahf-oll.


Aeth rolled her eyes and instantly felt mad about not knowing the town's pronunciation. That would have involved exposure to the actual Court she was citizen to. Uncle Asemir had seen her full education with the help of her Grandmother Ceilidh. Aethiriin liked them well enough, but their constant gaze was quite smothering.

Her name echoed through the trees. The wail of a consternated soul if ever she'd heard one. An owl hooted in response. She found its big, moony eyes aloft in a nearby cedar and offered it a scowl.

"Quiet you."

Time to keep moving. But to where? Aeth found herself at a crossroads of decisions. She could do what might be expected of her and make for Liagin. Find the Erlking Midir and petition him to grant her membership to the Sluagh. She could fall into the backup plan and make for Kor Aren or the Spring Court, both west, where family awaited ... conscious and not.

The point of running away isn't to go to the familiar though, is it? It's to escape it.

Aethiriin looked east. What was east? Nothing that she was remotely educated on beyond the Ixchell. Beasts and jungle. And beyond that? The sea. Volcanoes. Tyr. Fire Giants. That didn't sound particularly appealing to her, and anyone that knew her would never think she'd go for it.

Her lips pressed thin in determination.

Well you're right about that.

So she turned south-westish and pressed her way off the known path.
 
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Veithir was dressed and out the door in no time. He wore all black, rarely any other color, and his favored black cape fashioned from a giant shuck pelt that he had hunted ages ago with Baenon. He descended the stairs leading down from his home two at a time, drifting with grace like a specter.

The Hound could track as well as the next huntsman, but it wasn't his specialty. The Scourge was only called upon when there was a need to stack corpses into a mountain. It was well within his capacity to find a runaway youth, however. She knew Liagin well, and her ambition for the Sluagh was the root of his problem. Deducing she would make for there first, Veithir set off.

Mmmmreeow!

Ten paces away, Cinpher stood alert, bony nose pointed opposite to where he was walking. Veithir stopped and turned.

Mmmmre-

The familiar melded into the night. It blew away in a streak of black smog in the direction it faced. A cloud of black, shimmering with a dull red glow, whipped between the trees. Veithir sprinted after it, but was too slow to keep up.

Just as well. All he needed was direction.
 
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If she had an actual known destination in mind she could have tried using the Ley to get there. Could have, though she still might not have. The Ley were ... scary. An untold web of magical currents that lead anywhere and everywhere across Arethil. Aethiriin had only traveled them on the hand of one of her Guardians and didn't even like using them then.

"For every road man has carved across these lands there are a hundred Ley routes. Maybe more," Asemir explained to her.

Aeth remembered the anxiety hitting her stomach like a hot coal as he told her to hold his hand tight and to never let go mid Ley-traverse.

"If you let go," he paused and she hoped it was only for dramatic effect but his eyes told her otherwise, "there's no telling where you'd land ... or if you got there in one piece."

Ley travel was not for the faint of heart or the uninitiated. She wouldn't chance it alone now ... maybe ever. So what was south-west? The southern coast of the wylds that eventually lead into the delta. A place she'd only ever read about and one not frequented much by the Autumn Court, so far as she knew. Could be a good place to get lost... if she didn't get lost on the way there.

Maybe Leaffall isn't a bad place to start.

Baby steps. She could handle this. Leaffall wasn't exactly what she envisioned in this romantic idea of running away, but it wasn't familiar. Just fae. And fae was ... safe. Ish. Her feet carried her around a particularly girthy tree and pivoted leftward. She'd stay off the main path and use the shadows to mask her trail. No scent for Veithir to follow in the shadows.
 
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Veithir would put his faith in the pet's senses. There were few places worth mentioning to the south. Scattered villages and towns, the nearest being Leaffall. His forked tongue rapidly flicked out into the air and he corrected his course. He, too, would start there. Finding no need to follow the familiar's trail, Veithir decided to take the quickest and most direct route to the village.

Uneasiness set in. He knew the fae wilds were deep and dangerous to unwitting travelers. A night stroll was one thing, but to set off aimlessly into the night... Perhaps Thiri had a plan, but perhaps not.

He only hoped that with her lead on him she would arrive at Leaffall without issue. The people there were kind and welcoming, but the same couldn't be said of the night creatures between here and there.

Veithir's step quickened.
 
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An hour passed by. Maybe two?

How long have I been out here...

Choosing to take the wyld route and forgoing the path may have been a mistake. The jungles here were thick. Ever so much more than the forests she knew between Veithir's and Liagin - well traveled and populated areas for fae. Safer, too. These lands to the south and west saw far fewer fae which meant the wilder the wylds became.

Vines clung to branches and trunks. Undergrowth filled the spaces between. Thiri was not accustomed to navigating such a thicket and found herself snagged every few steps by one thing or another. So far nothing had come near and, as she paused just at the top of a steep inclined that lead down to a small river tributary, it felt strangely quiet around her.

Where are all the night sounds?

The woods around her Godfather's were always alive with insects and creatures of the eve. They dare not intrude on his territory, but she always knew they were there. Suddenly she wanted for the hoot of that owl again but instead she heard a haunted mewling.

Thiri swore beneath her breath as her eyes skated around through the dark, glowing a fresh and heated orange in the jungle gloom as she sought out the illumination of her little shadow. There, sitting on a rotting log by the stream, it passed its paw idly through the flame before its snout. A bath of fire to slick the inky fur.

"Cinpher!" Aethiriin hissed as she leaned forward and stumbled down the incline, "I told you to stay at the house!"

A slick swish of its tail was the only response she received. Cinpher had never listened to orders or demands. It seemed a fair bit more leary of Veithir, respecting only the Puca's space if nothing more. No, the catling had only ever been a shadow.

Not really even a pet.

"Pets listen to their masters," Aeth wrinkled her nose at the little beast and watched for a moment as it ignored her fully to pursue a flickering shadow. Some master she was.

She sighed and looked to the trees again, seeking out the lichen that marked north, and found her bearings once again. Southish. Leaffall. Shouldn't be much farther, right? Leaving the catling to its prowlings, Aeth followed the river until she found a downed tree crossing its waters. The top of it was worn with areas of etchings from claws. Clearly a wyld route, but where oh where were the wylds that took it? So quiet it was, even the trees seemed to hold their breath as she passed through on the opposite bank.

Another hour went by and she paused, tired, at the base of a massive raintree. Its spindly limbs were bent and curved like a child's doodles. Its bark was smooth and peeling like pieces of parchment ready for soaking. Aethiriin looked up into the high boughs - it was quite tall and the thorns of the older limbs were nearly as big as her forearm. A good tree for climbing, so she climbed.

Cinpher appeared on a limb high up, its flame a pale greenish hue now. Aeth had not yet uncovered the meaning behind the changing colors, but she wagered green was wild instinct. In the darkness of the canopies its sleek black body could hardly be seen but its brilliant glow of flame bobbed gently to and fro through the branches, leading the way up like a forest sprite. Aethiriin scowled at the ease in which it managed the ascent, narry a challenge for its nimble little self while she labored to find purchase of appropriate branches and stable holds on aged yet lethal thorns big enough to gut her from an errant slip.

At the top her black hair broke upward through the crown, pushing past the sleeping leaves and into the silver of moonlight above. The heady jungle air gave way to a fresh breeze and while not in the highest tree of the jungle, a broad view of the southern expanse still greeted her. A green light swayed on a branchtop nearby and Aeth could not help but smile just faintly at the curious look of the tiny skull peeking out. The flames billowed in the breeze, pricking like alert ears as it turned its hollow gaze south. Her own eyes followed it, finding several columns of smoke rising from a distance that could only mean-

"Leaf-fall," she said, or so she hoped.

Ley-AW-full, she thought in a snooty fake accent, the emphasis is on the aw because it's so awful here.

...

That's stupid.

Back down the tree she climbed and south she went again.
 
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For a while, Veithir only thought about the plate he'd left behind on the table. Aethiriin had never eaten so ferociously before. The silverware didn't budge. How long did she stare at it, he wondered, before she decided to tear the meal apart with her bare hands. The girl was surgical in her defiance to Veithir. She knew the best ways to get under his skin.

What a burden. What a bother. Why did it have to be me? Such thoughts never occurred to Veithir. But he entirely fumbled through this new task of having to care for another being. To be a mentor. A parent. A step back would do him good. Focused on the leaf, one cannot see the tree. Focus on only the tree, and you will miss the whole forest. When was the last time he asked Aethiriin how she felt? Had they talked about anything of meaning lately?

He avoided tripping on thick roots or getting tangled in thorny shrubs without losing a step of his pace. Faefolk were mostly graceful by nature, but there was an efficiency of movement to Veithir only acquired by several tens, maybe hundreds of years of diligence. Veithir never missed a day of running. His practiced, trained form was evidence of his commitment, and it was a good time to think. Sometimes it would be intellectual conversations or debates he'd had with Baenon, other times song, art, or a new recipe for a meal. He thought of many things, but rarely the past.

The thicket grows thinner, and soon Veithir comes across a lightly-walked trail. Good. He would be upon Leaffall soon enough. The Puca begins to think of what he'll say to Aethiriin when he catches up to her.
 
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Leaffall?

She'd found the source of the smoke columns but it was not as she had imagined. A campsite of various pointed tent like structures that appeared to be crafted from giant, broad leaves, long branches and thick vines. There was a scent among that of campfire and smoke that she could not fully place, but nothing about what her eyes beheld screamed fae to her.

As a matter of fact, it screamed of nothing familiar at all.

Veithir and Asemir had not been negligent guardians. Aeth knew that the world beyond the fae realms were dangerous for all fae kind, even duannan - but especially young and inexperienced fae like herself. She'd listened through stories and instructions on repeat. Heard the horrible fates of those who tread too far beyond their glimmer protection. Slavery. Butchery. Torture. Things someone her age aught not be privy to.

And yet...

AND YET.

The audacious curiosity of youth prevailed. Aeth snuck in to the campsite from the safety of her cover, following the shadows cast by the numerous fires. Cinpher prowled soundlessly between shadows, the color of its skull flame pale and faint like the heat tides over a baking desert sand.

Where are the campers? she wondered. The outskirts seemed quiet and she detected no movement, so pressed deeper into the tents where sounds beyond the crackle of campfire echoed. There in several groups she discovered dozens of ...people? No, certainly not. The shapes were all wrong. Thicker, elongated, with heads like spades and necks ridged with spines. These were not humans, and Aeth had never even seen a human before that she could recall.

They looked like giant bipedal lizards.

Definitely not fae.

Definitely NOT Leaffall.

She began to backtrack away, heeling with caution to try and reach the safety of the dense jungle undergrowth again, but something behind her snapped and Aeth turned to find two glowing eyes.

HISSSSSSSSS

Blackness.
 
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Veithir felt a physical change in the air in the time span of a breath. A tingle, a stimulation caused by ley magic caused him to realize that he came closer to Leaffall only because his approach was permitted. A ward. Hastily erected with a rudimentary application. Veithir had no trouble entering, so he deduced that the same applied to Aethiriin.

Leaffall was a quiet, secluded place. What had disturbed their peace to warrant the necessity of a barrier? The not so far-off lantern lights held the answer, but locating the child came first.

"You there! Halt!"

Glints of steel flashed under torchlights. Passersby were always welcomed in Leaffall, entrance never denied or permitted by standing guards. And yet...

"Step into the light where we can see you! Slowly, at that." One of the two guards firmly commanded.

Veithir obliged, and with raised hands announced himself, "It is Veithir."

The silver hair. Green eyes. Those slit pupils. Right. That Veithir. The Hound saw the realization flash across the pair's faces. The spears were quickly pointed skyward, away from the Viper so as not to provoke his ire. They were crudely fashioned, whittled from long, windy branches taken from the nearby wyld.

"Our deepest apologies," the other finally spoke. The guards shared a hesitant glance, and he spoke again, "What brings you here at this hour?"

"I must speak with Nuala. It is urgent."



....

"I see. I'm sorry to say that nobody has seen the girl. And before you, the ward has not been disturbed. If she is here, then she's exceptionally sly." Nuala contemplatively twirled a soft, thick lock of white hair around her finger. There were bags under her eyes, and her jaw was firmly set.

"I have yet to teach Aethiriin such things," Veithir's face was a lithic mask, unchanging despite the anxiety he felt. He tightly wrings his hands together in his lap. "She has yet to arrive, or worse yet, is lost in the wyld. Would you spare some of your pack for a search party?"

Nuala winces, as if the question had inflicted a terrible wound upon her. No, not quite that. She turns her rueful, desperate gaze upon the Hound.

"Speak."

"I have lost pups, Veithir. Taken from me in the dark of night. And we are not fighters," Nuala nearly chokes on her words, "I cannot send my kin out into the wyld against the unknown, and though I have requested aid from the Court, I have yet to receive word. You know I hold little influence since my exile from the sept."

"I understand," Veithir replies curtly. An almost cold response to a longtime friend. He meant no offense, but rather he was quick to grasp the situation and come to terms with reality.

Teary-eyed now, Nuala's voice quivered, "Oh, Veithir! It pains me so to fail you in your time of need. You and Baenon have done so much for us, and I owe you a debt that I can never hope to repay. And yet... and yet...!"

A distant meowl echoes not through the space between Vei and Nuala, but it is heard in their minds.

"There is no debt," Veithir rose from his seat across from the weeping Cwn. He pauses a moment to think, and takes a step closer to rest his hand on Nuala's shoulder. "I must go find Aethiriin now. Have faith. If your children live, I will return them to you."

He stepped out of Nuala's home into the cold night. Hearing Cinpher's distant cry again, he followed the sound to the edge of Leaffall's ward to find the creature on its hind legs scraping its paws against the invisible barrier. As Veithir approaches, it settles down and skips in a frantic circle by his feet.

"Show me the way."
 
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She awoke to the burning sensation of iron against her skin and immediately felt the frenzy of fear surge from her heart and into her veins. It was dark wherever she was and it smelled of wet leaves and tree sap. Her wrists were bound at her back and a sticky swatch of tenderbark had been pasted over her mouth. She tried to rub it off on her shoulder, stretch her lips beneath to loosen it, but the more she fussed with it the tighter it seemed to get.

Her wrists burned like nothing she'd ever felt before and the longer she was aware of it, the deeper the burn crept into her skin.

Thiri muffled a withered cry and felt the tears hot and heavy gush at the corners of her eyes. This was bad - no - it was horrible, and she didn't know what to do. Nothing Uncle Asemir or Veithir had taught her had prepared her for anything like this. It had always been to stay within the glimmer of the lands, don't wander off, and to hide if she got lost.

And definitely, definitely don't speak to or interact with non-fae.

Regret was a six letter word that felt like a hundred-thousand pounds in her chest.

Hissing sounded from outside, setting her on high and frantic alert as two large figures pushed through a sliver of light and into her current holding area. One carried a torch and with it she was given a glimpse of her captors: large reptilian humanoids wearing armor that gleamed like molten ore. They weren't quite the size of Asemir, but broad enough that they looked and felt huge compared to her own diminutive self. The pair seemed to be conversing over something in a guttural hissing and snarling dialect. One gestured to her, then out somewhere beyond the tent. The other seemed to be unconvinced of whatever it was telling him.

Then that first one moved forward and grabbed her by the upper arm and she squealed in terror as it yanked her bodily upwards and pushed the torch near her face. The lick of the flames came so close she smelled burnt hair, but they were looking at the pointed tips of her ears.

The other rumbled something, seemingly still not in agreement.

Her captor then shoved her forward into the dirt face first and grabbed her by the manacles, pulling up to show the blistering burns on her arms. They were trying to determine if she was a fae and that was the clincher.
 
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Following Cinpher gave Veithir ample time to think. He thought about his lost sleep and that he'd have to strengthen the brew of his morning tea. He thought about his promise to his friend Nuala, who ages ago was exiled from her sept. Alone and friendless, with no knowledge of the world and cruelty of mortals, she was captured by fae hunters. It had been by pure chance - sheer dumb luck that Baenon and Veithir saved her from a terrible fate. He thought about Aethiriin, his mishandlings as her guarding, and the potential danger she was in.

Despite feeling rather calm about the situation, Veithir had been in quite the hurry. How many of her pups were taken? Having to save more than a few without alerting the camp would pose quite the challenge. Questions that needed asking had been skipped over, and he left home without grabbing so much as a paring knife. Hardly ideal gear to take on a lounge of lizardfolk while having to worry about children.

The air thickened with the stench of foul ritual magic. The flow of ley magick contorted as he neared closer to the source. Veithir was not somebody with a deep connection to nature, but even he could feel the wyld cry out in pain to him.

The Hound's pace slowed as the distant lights of a camp came into view. He crouched low. The thin web of his markings peeking out from the collar of his garb emitted a faint glow around him. Baenon was always much for suited for subtlety. Cinpher, who sat right under the Puca, curiously looked up. The pet was an even more inconspicuous beacon than he.

"Shroud yourself, little one. You have done well. Leave the rest to me." Veithir lowered a pair of fingers to the creature's skull. Cin chirps, and bumps his fingertips with its forehead before vanishing into a black mist.

Veithir pulls the hood of his cloak over his head. A cold descends over his body. The feeling of frigid, invisible hands grasp at his arms and legs. They pull at his very mind. He focuses his senses, and with conviction utters an Iza incantation. The cloak's invasive magic dissipates, and a feeling of safety within the shadows overcomes Veithir.

He moves like a specter towards the camp. His body casts no glow, his footfalls make no sound. He doesn't even emit a scent, nor is his bountiful vitality able to be detected by the lesser creatures within the camp. Vei skirts around the camp's perimeter, and feeling prepared, sneaks his way in between haphazardly constructed tents.

The clansfolk surround a bonfire raging in the middle of the camp. Closer to the fire, hissing guttural chants, were shamans in bone headdresses. Their thick, scaly hides were marked with streaks of paint. Each intonation reverberated with a wicked power. Locked in a cage across the way were three of Nuala's pups, huddled together and quivering in fear. Veithir remained there for a moment longer, made certain that Aethiriin was not among them, and scouted the rest of the camp.

As he prowls about, muffled cries draw his attention to a large tent not far from the ritual. He circles the tent, to hear the two other... voices. There was no hope in even trying to decipher what they were saying. It was a tongue completely unfamiliar to the huntsman. But a flick of his tongue ascertains Thiri's presence.

Veithir springs into action, dashing through the tent flaps enwreathed in black wispy tendrils. His eyes dart between the two massive frames before him, and he lunges on the closest one. The fur of Veithir's cloak stood on end and the shadows that clung to him latched onto the lizardman as the two briefly grappled. The torch it held dropped to the ground and was extinguished by the cloak's magic.

Consume it! Veithir willed the cloak as he released his hold, kept himself low to the ground and pounced on the next. It removed itself off of Veithir, exposing him, and began to coil itself around the lizardman. The tendrils tightened over the brute, squeezing with a terrifying force, forcing its limbs to contort in unnatural angles. Shadows snuck under its armor and burrowed into its scales, digging in deep, sapping the creature of life as bones began to snap and metal crumpled. It writhed and twitched and began to let out a shrill cry of pain, but was muffled by the cloak. Forced to remain on its feet, the creature was crushed to death.

Veithir ducked under the swipe of a sharp-clawed hand, and stabbed his hand through a gap in its armor, impaling the creature up to his elbow. He grabs its shoulder with his free hand, and squeezes with such force that his fingers tear into its flesh. Veithir's markings flare and fill the unlit tent with a blue-white glow, and with a newly acquired herculean strength forces the clansman onto its knees.

He releases his grip on the creature, pulls his arm out of its ribcage, and grabs onto the creature's upper and lower jaws. He strains his muscles and pulls. The lizard desperately grabs Veithir's arms. He pulls harder. His muscles strain. The creature weakly hammers balled fists against his chest. His shoulders.

"HIIIISSSSSSSSS!"

It was like the sound of ripping bedsheets. A spray of red covered the Hound in the lizard's most vital fluids. Veithir lets the creature slump onto the earth, but he held onto the upper half of its head for a moment before tossing it aside. He slings his arms, splattering flesh blood around him. He wipes his face with an unsullied part of his sleeve, and turns to Aethiriin in a hurry.

"Aethiriin!" he kneels in front of her and grabs her shoulders to set her upright. He spots her shackles and his brows furrow in mild concern. Search them, he orders the cloak. Return.

Black rapidly swirls around Veithir's form, and burning like fire in his palm rested a key attached to a large ring. He quickly unbinds the child and kicks the shackles away, tossing the keyring with them.

"Bear with the pain," he gives warning just a breath before peeling the binding over her lips. Then, he pulls her into a tight embrace.

"I feared the worst. I am so sorry, Aethiriin," he whispers into her ear.

He could not imagine the pain and fear the girl felt, and let her weep into him. But time was no ally. He grabs her shoulders and separated her from him to lock onto her eyes. Her expression plunged a dagger into his heart.

"We must go, and you must stay close. As close to my heels as you can be, do you understand?"
 
She hadn't ever seen Veithir in action like this and the entire event, though over in nary a few blinks, left her nearly as shocked and traumatized as being taken prisoner. Aethiriin cried harder, her muffled sobs growing in pitch until finally released with a shrieking yelp when her mouth was freed.

Everything, but everything was horrible.

She was dirty. Her forearms were blistering with a painful fury she'd never yet experienced, and now her face was as red with angered skin. Aeth shook and wailed into his chest for several moments, her hands twisted and fingers curled in agony of the fire the iron had brought, and when he held her back it was all she could do to muster herself to listen. She could barely see him for the tears in her eyes and shook her head fervently against the idea of going back out there where those horrible, awful monsters were!

"No - no ho hoooooaaauu-" the girl sobbed, red face now slick with dirt from the ground and tears and nose drainage. Her hair was becoming matted to her cheeks.

"There's more of them-" she blurted, vaguely pointing with a curled hand in the general direction of beyond the enclosure, "I don't want tooooo-" her voice strained into a whine.
 
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Reactions: Veithir
With Aethiriin in his grasp and her safety and relative well-being assured, what began to concern him, even more than the horde of lizardfolk that surrounded them, was the child's power. Veithir would have to soothe her nerves. Hah! For him it would be simpler to slay the rest of the clan with his bare hands than to pick out the correct words to calm her down.

His grip loosens on the girl's shoulders. He gently holds her steady before him and begins to wipe her messy face with his sleeve.

"Fret no longer about them, Aethiriin. For I am here, and now you are invincible." Veithir could sense that the camp was vaguely aware of the disturbance. Within seconds they would likely be discovered, and shortly after the entire clan of lizardfolk would be upon them. "Take my hand, dear child, and trust in it to keep you safe. Trust in me."

He drops his wrist from Thiri's face and offers a very rare smile and even rarer, his wit, "I think the shame of it would be your end, but I will carry you from here if I must."
 
Aethiriin was not above the shame of being carried, but the idea of being off her feet when those monsters were about made her ever so much more unsettled. The tears continued to flow, even as he wiped at her face, and the pain of her iron burns was only growing more intense. Thiri shook with barely contained sobs as she tried, desperately, to listen.

She did trust him. Implicitly so. But her fear was nigh all encompassing and the mixture of other emotions for all the things attached to that fear were also present, but not clearly defined. Yet. Those were kindling for the next fit of tears, at another time for the future-them to deal with.

A wet gasp left her mouth as she gingerly put a burned hand in his and bit into the fresh surge of terrified sobs that welled up within her chest and made her entire body quake. She followed him out, barely able to keep up with his agile and swift strides.
 
Veithir pitilessly tugged Thiri along has he darted through the camp. Everything was a blur of tents and torchlights. He heard a shrill hiss, and then horns, and then the hustle and clamor of the clanfolk gathering their arms.

He raises his free hand and quickly makes a sign, and points his index and middle fingers out at an approaching lizardfolk. Vei recites an incantation and a green-black bolt of pure magick streaks through the air with a high-pitched crack. A cry of pain sounds out and the monster collapses in the dirt.

As he and Thiri dart between tents, the Hound thinks about the promise made to Nuala. It would certainly make things easy if they had been made into a meal, but easy would not be best. He did intend to stay true to his word and save them, but it would be impossible while keeping an eye on the child.

He would have to return to the camp once Thiri was taken back to Leaffall.

They run deep into the woods, and once he was certain that the lizardfolk had given up pursuit, he stops at last to allow Thiri a moment to rest. From the shadows, the familiar joins the pair and sounds out with a concerned mew.

"You're safe now," Veithir says as the child catches her breath.
 
She pleaded and sobbed the entire way, caught between desperation to get away from her takers, and a keen awareness that she could not keep up with Veithir. He scaled the forest like a creature born of it while her own legs and feet struggled to find sure footing where there was none. More than once she fell, collecting fresh bruises and cuts for her trouble.

When Veithir finally stopped, Aethiriin collapsed to the ground. A pitiful and disgusting creature her parents would never, could never be proud of. What her father would think of her. How disappointed her mother would be.

"I'm not," she choked over a strong resurgence of sobs, "I'm NOT!" her voice carried strangely despite the thickness of the trees surrounding them.

"I can't even... RUN AWAY!" the girl's teeth bared in hiccuping breaths that failed to fill her lungs, "I can't do anything right!"

"I'll never be like them. I'm just USELESS!"