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    version 22: awakening

    COTY

    OCEANE -- Year 208

    QOTY

    "Because if she had not met him, she knew she would have been searching her whole life for the piece that he filled her heart with." -- Eva, written by Shelbi


    [private]  that's all there is;
    #1
    The wind is like ice in her lungs, stealing her breath in a way that reminds her of flying as high as she can, where ice coats your wings and threatens to drop you back to a sudden death on earth. She’s used to that feeling, because it accompanies the feeling of utter solitude and freedom of being so high up, the freedom that flight allows. But the girl tucked into her side is flightless, and so they are experiencing the bite of the cold as a walk, instead of a flight. The filly is tucked under one of Noah’s dark red wings (though with the way the girl is growing, that won’t last long) and too excited by the adventure to even feel the cold the way her dam does.

    Winter in the Pampas is mild. But the weather as they cross the mountains at the edge of Loess to find the Taiga is anything but – still, Noah finds it preferable to descending into Sylva. Some part of her will never trust that forest Kingdom, and so she keeps her precious only daughter beside her on the heights of Castile’s mountains instead, following winding paths that grow less and less familiar as she nears Taiga. She has never been to the deepwood forests of Lepis and Bane’s new home, but the Pampas is quiet and seeminly safe enough, and she misses the companionship of her first friends, and wants to introduce them to her daughter.

    Finally, as the sun rises behind them, they start the final descent into the milder shelter offered by the massively tall trees, and Noah finally lets her copper-and-white shadow dart forward away from the shelter of her wing, to investigate every little thing she sees. “Don’t go far,” she cautions, in a whisper that would be laughably inadequate if the filly hadn’t been trained to listen for her mother’s softest voices from the day she was born. She also doesn’t bother to call out for her friends – perhaps Noma’s crashing around will attact them, but she’s willing to bet they already are aware she is here. (And anyway, it's not like her voice carries). They tend to be aware, that way.


    Wolfbane Lepis
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    #2
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    RUN AND TELL ALL OF THE ANGELS; THIS COULD TAKE ALL NIGHT
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right
    Lepis often walks the border. The Comtesse is a rather unimposing sentry, but she is what they have. In the past it was even a task she enjoyed, a way to acquaint herself with the edges of her realm, to see what she should not look for otherwise. She does not find pleasure in the undertaking today, not with the frozen ground and the bitter wind and the frigid swelling inside her chest.

    The wind whips at her over-long navy hair, tangles it into knots and snarls the smooth fade of navy to white. Golden wings, clutched tightly to her sides, are warm enough. Yet Lepis seeks shelter frequently, and tells herself that these pauses allow enough snow to build that she might see the tracks of anyone passing into Taiga that she has not seen. A few minutes after leaving a small copse, she finds such a trail, one that leads farther into the woods. The trees there grow closer together, providing far more shelter from the wind, and even though there is a moment of worry (who has slipped in unseen?), it is counter-balanced by the relief from bad weather.

    It is a foal she sees first, and her heart clenches. Not alone, surely.

    But no, it responds to a call she does not hear over the wind, disappearing down a path that Lepis swiftly follows.

    “Hello?” She calls out, knowing that the child and its guardian must be nearby. Her mouth opens to call again and then falls further at the sight of a familiar red face.

    “Noah?!” Lepis exclaims incredulously – her presence here, in winter, with a child that is surely hers – all this and more flickers across her face, and then disappears. Disappears because that expressive face is buried in soft coppery wings that smell of every flower Lepis has ever seen a hundred she hasn’t. “How lnog has it been?!” She exclaims, pulling away with a smile that blurs between the joy of reunion and the guilt of the answers that she knows is: too long.

    Gale’s funeral, she thinks. When Noah had scattered flowers across the fresh earth of his grave. The memory strikes a newer chord, a different death – no less painful than the first. More so, even, and her voice quakes uncharacteristically when she admits:

    “I’ve missed you.”
    Reply
    #3
    Over the sound of Noma crashing around in the undergrowth and fallen needles surrounding them, the voice is still clear. It's a welcome voice, a familiar one, and Noah turns her face away from her daughter briefly to follow the sound of the call to it's origin, waiting for Lepis to emerge from the gloom beneath the trees. She doesn't bother to call back, because the other mare emerges only heatbeats later, her green eyes meeting Lepis' gray-blue over the top of the chattering filly, who is attempting to tell her mother all about whatever she just found under that tree, over there.

    "Hi," she offers lamely, but is saved from any more words for a moment. She is glad of her daughter's quick movements right now, because the filly has moved on to another tree inspection already, leaving a space which Lepis fills before Noah has time to contemplate anything else. Instinctively, she wraps her own neck around her friend's in a tight embrace, inhaling the familiar scents mixed with the new ones unique to the Taiga. It's a good thing that they are of a close size, she muses, because if Lepis had outweighed her like so many others did, the force at which they came together might have been quite unfortunate. Instead, she can brace for the touch and support the press of the lighter colored mare's body, for the time until Lepis pulls back so that they can converse. "Always too long," she answers the query with a look in her eyes that agrees; it has been too long. Not for the first time, she wonders if it's worth it; as much as she loves the Pampas, she considers again giving it up, to go live somewhere one of her friends-like-family resided, instead of her almost solitary little herd.

    She, too, remembers the awful days that proceeded and followed their last meeting. It darkens her own gaze, because even though she had not lost like Lepis and Bane had that day, the senseless violence between two she had considered friends had hurt Noah deeply as well, causing her to withdraw quite quickly back to her Pampas. She had stayed to help them bid farewell to their (at the time) youngest child, but then even Lepis and Bane's need could not prevent her from going home to lick her own wounds, and wonder why of all of those who could have clashed, it had to be Castile and Leliana. But something else is shadowing Lepis' golden face now, something clearly more recent, and her voice shakes on her next words. Noah steps closer again to the other mare, even as she keeps a careful ear and eye trained on the filly engrossed in tasting different moss off of each forest rock.

    "I miss you always when we are apart," she whispers, "But what is wrong? Tell me what's happened." Reaching out to brush her muzzle against Lepis' shoulder, Noah feels dread coiling in the pit of her own stomach ahead of whatever Lepis has to say. What has rattled her stalwart friend so thoroughly?
    Reply
    #4

    WOLFBANE

    Taiga was his home, now. Wolfbane slowly began to mold himself to her darker, more secretive places. He sometimes frequented the woods as a large buck or soared above the evergreen boughs as a golden eagle. When the beach seemed inviting he slipped beneath the waves as a thick, long-toothed beachmaster seal. In part he’d been avoiding the one horse who needed him most right now, because he can’t seem to be the rock Lepis so desperately longed for. He went against her, went against them and coming to terms with that fact required lonely contemplation. She deserved so much more: as his wife and friend, and as the mother of their ever-growing brood.

    But duty trumped feeling, especially when the familiar smell of their long-time friend Noah pierced the otherwise common smells of the residents here.

    Turning away from his view of the open meadow, Wolfbane angled a narrow head and twisted his thick, dappled brown neck to get a better sense of where the cherry-red roan and his wife were congregating. He was a buck, currently: well-muscled and its prime, sporting a handsome rack that’d sprung out into a wide crown of bony spikes. His wet nose quivered, the only action of movement on his otherwise still and contemplative face aside from the rotating flick of his ears. Pinpointing the two mares, Bane sprung up and away from the calm shores of a pond at the center of their redwoods and bounded through the woods on agile, slender legs, tail high and his spirits as well.

    The thrill of seeing Noah, even of seeing his wife (regardless of their latest interaction) gave him reason to hope.

    Mid-stride he shifted, changing the neutral browns and white belly to his regular gold and viciously beautiful blue stripes. His glorious crown of horns sunk back into his head, replaced by the growth of an upright mane that tufted out full and white, rising up from the center of his poll and extending down along his spine before it blended into the white strands of his busy tail. He slowed approaching them, choosing a cheerfully high-stepping trot that led him over and through the tangled mess of wild brush near the border of Taiga, smiling to see the two mares embrace for a moment until he spoke, “Noah!”

    There was a crunch of twigs and the faint sound of his tail slapping against his shimmering hide, and then Bane was present in their group, taking the open spot alongside Lepis with careful consideration. His wings - both renowned for their length and purity of color - are gone; he found it easier to travel swiftly over ground without them. But the exposed skin of his shoulder shivered pleasantly when he touched it briefly to the bent wing of his only mate.

    He turned to look at her; to look at Lepis.
    Pain, brief but sharp, flashed in his eyes.

    “I sense something,” He admitted, glancing between both females with a half-enthused smile. The upwards tilt of his mouth lowered a second later, “Do I smell that terrible?” The stallion did his best to avoid the obvious.

    Commandant of Taiga // Champion of Loess



    Lepis
    Noah
    [Image: Wolfbane2.png][Image: 3bCHvj.png]
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    #5
    lepis, comtesse of taiga
    RUN AND TELL ALL OF THE ANGELS; THIS COULD TAKE ALL NIGHT
    i think i need a devil to help me get things right

    Lepis is reluctant to let go. She does eventually, but it is slowly, and she her expression is wistful as she nods agreement. Always too long. So long that she had not even known Noah had found someone she was even interested in having children with, that Noah had time to raise what looks to be nearly a yearling. Forgetting the Pampas had never been her intention, and she worries it has seemed that way, that she had forgotten her friend. Noah has been a fixture in a great portion of Lepis’ life and the dun mare does wish that she lived nearer, that she were not so devoted to her pampas flowers.

    Her leaning in is a half-second delayed mirror of the roan’s. Little ears are always listening when one thinks they are focused elsewhere. She still remembers the colorful words that Pteron had come back with after following his father and Vulgaris on a patrol around Loess. But what Noah says first is nothing to be whispered, and Lepis almost starts to pull away until she realizes that the roan mare has more to say, more to ask.

    Tell her what’s happened? That would take more time than it would for the tobiano filly to taste every bit of moss in sight, Lepis thinks. Tell her what has happened? Where should she begin?

    Nowhere, it seems.

    The crunch of feet on snow has her puling away from Noah, her pale eyes flicking across the shadowy woods as her navy nostrils flare. There – a deer. It leaps toward them, uncharacteristically determined, and Lepis has almost begun to frown when it changes in mid-leap. At take-off: a buck in its prime, and at landing: the husband she thought long gone.

    Her emotions have been slipping back in one at a time, slower than ever before. Only the worst of them too: sadness, fear, loss, worry. They found each crack in her defense, shoved their way in and ballooned until she was left no choice but to collapse on Noah’s shoulder immediately after the other woman’s arrival. Lepis has not given up hope that the others will return in time, and yet she had never imagined they would all return quite so suddenly the moment she meets his eye.

    His silhouette is markedly different without the wings, but Wolfbane is still without a doubt the most handsome man that Lepis has ever seen. The rush of emotion, of every emotion, bring with them memories that change him in front her eyes in a way quite different from his shifting. Concentration brings with it a braid in his tail that she and Gale and Marni had spent quite some time puzzling out. . Shock carries with it the light in his eye as he’d explained that their son would probably become visible again before his first birthday. Envy is the way the muscles in his neck flex at the end of a perfectly executed aerial spiral that even attempting make her terribly dizzy.

    There is no emotion without some bit of Wolfbane attached to it, not even the heartbreak that shines from her own face when brushes against her. It is the pain in his eyes that stills her tongue. That was missing before. Anger, bitterness, and disappointment had been there, but not pain. The breath she takes in is shaky, but the second one quivers less, and the third barely at all. From bleakness to everything all at once; maintaining balance is all she can do. She can’t summon a smile at his jest, at least she doesn’t frown.

    She definitely does not pull away from the soft pressure on her sky-blue feathers. She presses back, just before he pulls away, but looks back at Noah

    “I was about to tell her I was thinking of moving back to Loess.” Lepis lies. She means it to come off confidently, as though this is not a momentous decision. Instead, she finds herself looking toward Wolfbane, searching those shifter’s eyes as though she might pry his response from him unspoken. Is this good, she is too proud to ask? Is this what he wants? Will this make the pain leave his eyes?


    Noah
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    #6
    The crackle of movement draws the attention of all three of them – Lepis draws away and turns, and Noah follows her gaze to the trees, tensing. Their attention brings the filly’s head around as well and she scampers back towards the two mares, tucking herself close to her mother’s dark wings and turns her own green eyes to watch the stag that becomes a horse, a stallion who comes up to them with no hesitation.

    Noma might still be tense with interest, but her mother noticeably relaxes when the stag becomes a stallion mid-leap, Wolfbane calling her name as he trots in their direction. And she doesn’t notice anything wrong at first, because her own heart leaps joyfully at his coming, and there’s nothing strange in the way he brushes up against Lepis. But even from the angle she can see something…not quite right when he looks at his mate, and his words are stilted. Lepis’s reaction is slightly off, too, and that cements her unease.

    She smiles at his little quip, but it falls between the three of them flatter than he intended it to. Her pink-tipped-red ears flicker uncertainly when Lepis makes her bold declaration, and she is torn between elation (having her friends closer to home!) and confusion (this doesn’t seem like something that would have caused the reactionary greeting she’d received). Still, her smile is soft and her eyes fond. “It would be lovely to have you back home,” she answers; because Loess is as much home as the Pampas; the Pampas is her herd but Loess is her Kingdom and Castile her King. “But I hope it’s not because anything is wrong here.” The trees towering above them are already growing on her, though she couldn’t see herself living her full-time.

    Fidgeting at her side reminds her of her own news. The little mare lowers her head to run her lips briefly across her daughter’s golden mane and then she lifts bright eyes to her friends. “I came to introduce my daughter, Noma,” she murmurs. “I just wanted her to know…” she hesitates, shy, “my family.” She doesn’t really have anyone else – she has a cousin who is sometimes around in the Pampas, but with her father gone that’s it. She just has the few friends, however weird they might be acting.

    Lepis Wolfbane
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