His breath tumbles from his mouth without rhythm and at erratic depths. How long had he been asleep? What happened to the predator? Slowly, with aching joints, he stumbles up onto his hooves and examines the word around him with new eyes. There is blood everywhere and yet he finds no wounds as he tests his legs or examines himself. Risk is still ink black with little thin lines of copper shimmering across his torso, and yet he is certain there should be some. The boy swallows hard and takes a cautious step forward.
“H-hello?” he calls out, peering around the trees until the sound of his voice makes him pause. “What.. what the fuck?”
The tones of his voice are deeper now and his words have gained a sort of timber to them instead of the wild silverbell voice before. His chest is a little broader and his hips move just a little differently. Risk examines himself once more, pawing at the ground curiously as he begins to realize this body is not quite an identical copy of the former one. He opens his jaws wide, trading in the grazing teeth of a horse for the fangs of a lion for only a few seconds before closing his mouth once more. Well, he could still copy other animals he likes, at least.
A few more steps reveal small patches of snow on the ground here and there, the first frost of the winter. When that panther caught him by the throat, it had still been summer. He frowns visibly and lowers his head to sniff at the snow to be certain this isn’t some sort of trick being played on him. But, sure enough, the ice is bitter cold against his nose and he snorts softly before shaking off the little flakes. Had he died or simply been healing this entire time? Then, where is Kensa? Where is Kelynen? The shifter lifts his head higher and glances around as though they might suddenly reveal themselves from behind a tree nearby. But of course, there is no such luck. There is only the quiet chirping of birds and the gentle snapping of twigs beneath little squirrel feet.
Risk leans his shoulder against the rough bark of a bare winter tree and sighs roughly. His odd-colored eyes blink a few times in the hopes that this is all just a bad dream.
Lepis had said once, to someone whose face is little more than a blur now, that the older she gets the more quickly time seems to race by. What must it be like to have an immortal life, she wonders; does it seem like they blink and years disappear? The same had been true for the decade old mare, months vanish in a heartbeat; her little son is a man grown, a sapling in the woods is three times her height.
Yet the last nights of autumn and these first of winter drag on with an agonizing slowness. Minutes seem more like months, and the arc of the sun’s passage takes eons rather than hours. Time seems as frozen as the ground underfoot, harder and colder even than the ice that dwells within her chest. At first she had tried to count the days - count down
the days, but that had brought a sharp ache that was almost dread. With both her magical and natural ability to emote as absent as the leaves on the trees overhead, she thought the dread might pull her under, and it made it impossible even to fake smiles for her children. The worry in their faces was - and would will always be - worth easing even at her own expense, and Lepis no longer knows how long she has with them. Each moment was precious, cherished, and she had even been reluctant to leave them dozing today.
But the redwoods are too thick with memory to bear alone, and she has wandered instead, oblivious to the path her feet take. The dun mare might have wandered past the black figure had he not sighed, had she not heard something in his exhalation that echoes some small part of what she cannot feel.
She calls, peering through the surrounding trees in an effort to find the source of the noise. Her navy nostrils catch a scent and she turns to the left and steps around a cluster of winter-bare hawthorn to see a marbled black figure. He looks younger then Marni, she thinks, but older than Celina. The triplets age, perhaps, with a low-hanging head that would likely have elicited a gentle dose of cheer
had she been able. Instead, she asks: ”Are you alright?”
The world has always moved with a dizzying pace for Risk. He had been born in the cold, and left to whatever fate befell him until Kensa took him home. He’d grown alongside Kelynen and sought out any sort of adventure that seemed entertaining enough for the time being. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was all gone and he was left back in the cold once more – alone and lost. How strange, for life to come full circle when he was still so young. But that is perhaps why he hopes this is simply a dream turned sour rather than a cruel reality.
When Lepis calls out, he jumps as the winter silence is shattered by her gentle voice. Risk finds himself stumbling back before trying to regain some sense of composure. He even forces on a smile, lopsided as it may be, when he turns to look at her. Is he alright? His smile fades and he opens his mouth to speak, but the world still makes little sense to him and he doesn’t honestly know how to answer her just yet. The boy edges closer, hesitant, and looks her over. She isn’t familiar but her posture isn’t threatening, he decides.
“I’m.. I’m honestly not quite sure. I think I’ve.. been gone a long time?” he says with his voice trailing off into a nervous laugh. Despite his nerves, the sound of his voice is warm and gentle even as it quakes with nervous energy. His legs tremble a bit but he closes the distance between them with that kind but uneasy smile resting across his lips. “My name is Risk. Before I woke up here, the last thing I remember is a-a panther attacking me. But I think it was summer then?”
Again he laughs, mostly out of confusion rather than anything else. His brows furrow in concern as he turns his head to examine his surroundings in the hopes they may offer up another clue. But there is only the sound of the winter winds sweeping through the naked branches of the trees around them and a blanket of dead leaves that let him know it is certainly not summer here anymore.
hi sorry im so slow with risk
the rain that falls upon your skin
it's closer than my hands have been
Though she is by nuture a cautious creature, nearly a decade of maternity has softened her. She has clearly startled the boy, and so she holds herself back, content to stand in the ankle deep snow and watch with concern on her striped face. There is no way to make herself seem less threatening – she is already small, well-scarred, winged – so instead she waits. Waits as he gives an answer that is not especially reassuring, and that brings a brown to her own face, even when it is followed by his nervous laugh.
The story he tells as he comes closer is nonsensical, but this close to the Mountain things that do not make sense are not so uncommon.
“It’s definitely not summer now,” she tells him, and perhaps the reassurance sounds silly when they are surrounded by bare branches and shallow snow. But there are creatures that twist the world around them, and Lepis is not one of them. This is as winter as it looks. “Perhaps you…fell asleep?” Immortals doze through decades, Lepis has heard, and yet this boy does not look immortal. They usually stop aging as adults, don’t they? Her mother had, Lepis knows, time stopped touching Heda only once she had reached her prime, and this boy is still a few years from that, surely.
“I’ve not seen any panthers,” she adds with an attempt at a smile, “so I think you’re safe now.”
“Are you…” She trails off as her blue-grey eyes attempt to answer the question, flicking across his marbled black skin, “Are you hurt still? ”
lepis, comtesse of taiga
queen of loess
queen of sylva | queen of the south
lover of wolfbane | mother of pteron, marni, tiercal, eyas, gale, celina, and elio
The sight of her frown deepens his concern, but he doesn’t know how to ease either hers or his. Instead, he merely listens as she states the obvious – summer is long over. Risk can only nod as he examines his surroundings, as though seeing them for the first time despite his frantic searching before. His different-colored gaze returns to her when she suggests that perhaps he only slept. Could that really happen? He tilts his head as he considers the explanation before shaking his head. No, too much has changed for it to simply be sleep, he thinks.
“I was.. I mean, I was never a.. I wasn’t born a boy,” he explains, brows furrowed as his frown deepens a bit. “But at least I’ve healed, I think. It bit down on my throat.”
Risk swallows hard and searches her face for something that might explain what’s become of him. But of course, few have died and been reborn of their ashes, so his fate remains a mystery to them both it seems. He’s never been one to dwell on tragedy or terrible luck and so he simply sweeps the topic off the table. Whatever happened can be buried beneath all the other nightmares he has lived through. Repressing things has always been easier than putting words to his fears.
“I’m Risk, by the way. I live in Hyaline with my mother Kensa, and my brother Kelynen,” he explains with a sheepish smile. Or at least, he hopes they still live there. Part of him wonders if they’ve been looking for him since he was attacked. Kensa had almost let him drown in the lake of their home, one summer, until he recalled he could simply become a fish. The memory would normally bring a smile to his face but it remains too heavily weighed down to seem cheerful.
hi sorry im so slow
again you’re gone, off on a different path than mine
i'm left behind wondering if i should follow
The two of them seem bound in a spiral of uncertainty, neither able to reassure the other. The answer that he gives her – that his throat is healed but that he was not always a boy – is no less disconcerting than the rest of their conversation, and he will find no explanation in her bewildered face.
Shifting she knows, but shifting sexes? Surely that’s some sort of magic, and would a magician – even a young one – ever be killed by something as menial as a panther? Lepis has no answers, and she is no small amount of grateful when the marbled boy speaks of his mother and his home rather than whatever it is that might have happened to him.
Kensa and Hyaline, those are things she knows. Well, know of, anyway. Her memories of the mountainous land are not positive ones, but the sabino mare’s name is well known. Perhaps less so now that her kingdom has become merely a territory ruled by an unknown entity in the Pangean wasteland, Lepis thinks. Still, the dun woman cannot imagine that the other mare is unconcerned about the absence of her child, especially if the boy has been gone for these many months.
“Perhaps you mother might know what’s happened to you?” She proposes hesitantly. Lepis certainly wouldn’t have an explanation as to why one of her daughters might suddenly become a son, but she knows all to well what it is like to lose a child to something out of her control. “I’m sure she is worried about you.”
i’m the one who sees you home--
but now i’m lost in the woods
and i don’t know what path you are on