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    version 22: awakening

    COTY

    LILLIANA -- Year 206

    QOTY

    "There is still something of himself - something of the Wolfbane who would always love her - that rallies against the slime. It says, 'lie in the bed you’ve made'. So he gathers the covers and tucks himself in." -- Wolfbane, written by Calcifer


    [private]  i've never fallen from quite this high; Aquaria
    #1
    finger trips across my cheek----------------
    ----------------kiss me until i can't speak

    Each morning, Pteron wakes with a sense of existential dread. There is no brief period of happiness before it sinks in (that had vanished months ago), just heavy blue-black dread. The fog of Taiga feels fitting now, where before it had seemed nearly eerie. If only it would dampen emotion as easily as it dampens sight and sound and smell.

    The dun stallion walks through the woods, tall trees looming out of the fog only when they are a few yards away. His path is aimless, though the general direction is north. Reia prefers the southern part of the territory, closer to Loess, and Pteron is unlikely to come across her here. He makes it all the way to the ocean without finding a single soul, and breathes deep of the salt air as he moves down the rocky beach. He might have paced like this for hours – he has certainly done so often. But his hoof lands on something that is not wave-smoothed granite, and Pteron glances down.

    It’s a starfish.

    Bright and pink and totally out of place on the Taigan shore. What had brought it here, he wonders? A storm? A predator? Delicately, he picks it up with his teeth and flings it back toward the sea. There is little hope for it, even as it splashes down in the deep water, but Pteron couldn’t simply let it die without making some effort. As the splash of its landing fades away, he wonders if perhaps he should have taken it back to Ischia (where he is sure all starfish live). Too late now, he decides, and nearly turns back to continue his pacing.

    There’s no reason he can’t take himself to Ischia.

    Taiga has a friendship with the land, and it is well within his responsibilities to take a trip to other lands. He’d made no such political trips since his coronation, and surely this would be a logical one. Surely Reia could not object to that? He’ll just stay very far from Aquaria.

    Which is of course how he finds himself at her cove, the guilt in his belly for endangering her not loud enough to keep him away.

    He folds his wings to his sides and begins to look around, only to find himself confronted with a half-grown (but very angry) tiger.

    -- pteron --



    Aquaria
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    #2
    HALCYON
    He was sleeping on the beach, belly up to the warm sun, when something passed overhead. The shadow was bigger than the seabirds, and some primal part of his unconscious is aware of this, and prods at him till he wakes. Halcyon yawns, pointed teeth exposed as his striped mouth stretches wide, and he blinks amber eyes at the open water ahead of him.

    There, circling ever lower over their secret cove, is a stranger.

    Mama had left just after sunrise to do whatever it is that Mamas do, which left Halcyon with the responsibility of guarding the beach. She has never said as much, of course, but Halcyon likes to play pretend. And he is very good at playing guard, if he does say so himself.

    He is fully tiger as he leaps forward along the beach, an adolescent yet imposing predator. He skids to a halt in front of the winged stranger, and snarls a warning to stand still. What is he supposed to do now? Halcyon doesn’t think that Mama would like him to hurt the stranger, so perhaps if he growls lout enough he’ll just go away. But then the stranger is talking, and he something he says is familiar.

    ‘Do you know where Aquaria is?’ the stranger says, and Halcyon recognizes Mama’s name. His eyes narrow, and he shifts to a slightly more equine form, just enough so that he can talk.
     
    “What do you want with Mama?” he asks suspiciously.
    shut off your mind and let your heart breathe
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    #3
    aquaria
    - THE TIDE IS HIGH, IT'S SINK OR SWIM -


    She had left for her usual morning circuit of the main island. The daily task did double duty of both exercise and patrol of her home, as her path kept her near the edge of the shore, close enough to see those dwelling on the beaches. 

    Like most other mornings, she had left Halcyon in their sandy cove, the tigerling snoring softly in pre-dawn light. It was part of the rhythm finding him had set her days to. Before, she had wandered freely, on and off the island. Since discovering the striped bout, however, she had found herself less willing to venture out, had wanted to keep him near and safe, and since swimming was not his natural talent, that often meant they kept to the island. 

    He was growing quickly, though, and she had been planning a trip to the mainland. There were places there she knew he'd adore, and he was big enough now to mind himself well when they traveled. Taiga, especially, seemed a likely destination. Hal would enjoy the massive trees, the skittering squirrels and hares that he could practice stalking. As good as he'd gotten at fishing, the challenge might intrigue him. Maybe today she'd bring it up, to see what he thought of the idea. 

    It was with this train of thought that the pearl nereid returned to her home, the water's warm about her as the sun rose in the sky. Her swim had been uneventful, the residents of the island at peace in the morning and no questionable newcomers made themselves known. She was serene as the the cove opened its arms to welcome her home. 

    The serenity faltered as the scene on the beach revealed itself, the two males standing with tense uncertainty between them. She called out as soon as she was near enough not to shout. "Hal! It's alright." She assured as the water released her onto the sand. She shook off the dripping saltwater from her glossy scales, trying not to soak her son or her guest. With a beaming smile, the seamare turned to the winged stallion standing on her shore. 

    "Pteron! Welcome back!" She stepped forward to touch her lips delicately to his cheek in a briney kiss. "I see you and Halcyon have met." She grinned ruefully toward the boy, who's form was as equine as he ever let it become. She nuzzled the tuft of striped fur between his ears affectionately, planting a kiss on his forehead before letting the boy pull away. "My fierce protector." 

    Her expression was full of soft pride as she returned her gaze to the pale pegasus who had joined them. "I'm sorry I haven't visited recently. Things have been a bit- busy, here. How are you? Do you have time to join us for breakfast?" She asked, settling Pteron immediately into their morning routine.

    - MY ONLY RIVAL IS WITHIN -


    Pteron
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    #4
    finger trips across my cheek----------------
    ----------------kiss me until i can't speak

    His blue ears are pinned into the tangle of his bicolored mane, but Pteron’s olive gaze darts a time or two into the woods nearby. He is searching for Aquaria, wondering why her quiet cove is being guarded by a tiger, and hoping that she will make haste in her return from wherever she’s gotten to. It is not that he is fearful of the tiger – he has faced more fearsome things – but he is reluctant to harm it. That becomes doubly true when the striped creature in front of him changes shape. Well, it changes a little. Just enough that he is sure that it is not really a tiger, just enough that he is doubly graceful he had played defense rather than going on the attack.

    The tiger-horse doesn’t seem pleased by Pteron’s inquiry into Aquaria’s location, but that is not nearly as surprising as the suspicious question that follows it. His mother? Aquaria?

    It’s at this very moment that the nereid herself emerges from the water. The striped boy must be Hal, Pteron decides when he ruefully accepts Aquaria’s reassurance that Pteron is not a threat. The boy still eyes him doubtfully, but some of the tension leaves his body and he returns his mother’s preening with a rumbling purr and a bump of his head against her shoulder. Halcyon sits down beside her in a remarkably unhorselike manner, but that is the least of Pteron’s concerns. The stallion is rather certain that Aquaria had not been pregnant when he had visited her a few months ago, and yet here is a foal calling her mother. He’d wondered before if the nereid laid eggs, and he supposes that is one explanation for the existence of a child.

    Pteron feels a twist of possessiveness at the thought of some unknown shifter courting Aquaria, producing this odd blend of cat and horse. For more reasons than there are waves upon the beach Pteron should not be jealous, and yet the idea of Aquaria being close enough to another to allow him to sire a child is unquestionably bitter. Is he still here, Pteron wonders? He glances into the jungle, but the only scents here are Aquaria and Halcyon, which inexplicably pleases Pteron. “Hello Halcyon.”

    The pale nereid apologizes for not visiting, and Pteron shakes it away with a smile. There have been longer pauses between their visits, and he is as much as fault as she.

    “It’s probably best you haven’t,” he replies cryptically, a scowl passing briefly across his face. He does not delve deeper, not in front of the boy, and not when he has clearly intruded on their morning routine. “I would love to.” Pteron responds to the invitation. Halcyon, sitting contentedly beside his mother, hopes that the stranger does not eat too much of his food.

    -- pteron --



    Aquaria
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    #5
    aquaria
    - THE TIDE IS HIGH, IT'S SINK OR SWIM -


    The confused looks passing over Pteron's face were not lost on the nereid. She knew that for her to suddenly be found with a child, any child, would be a shock to him. The fact that Halcyon was a foundling, and not hers by blood seemed irrelevant. It didn't matter to her that the boy was striped and clawed and a little feral. He was hers as much as if she had birthed him, they both knew it. 

    Oh, but that could not be exactly why the pegasus man looked bemused. That, she suspected, had more to do with the fact that children have fathers, and he didn't know yet that she was as clueless as to the identity of the boy's sire as he was. Jealously, where he'd made quite clear none was warranted. 

    Truthfully, it was Hal's arrival that had taken the sting out of that reality. Her baby took all the love she'd wanted to give to the stallion now watching them, had drank it up without hesitation. It was a kind of bone deep affection she was beginning to think she'd never find with a lover. It was why she could look at Pteron now and only feel the faintest twinge of want. 

    Romance aside, however, he was still her friend. Her best friend. The shadow that passed over his face at mention of his home immediately set a warning in her head. With Hal there, he seemed to find deeper discussion prohibited, and that concerned her even more. Keeping her voice light, the sea mare turned to the half-grown tiger at her side. 

    "The salmon are starting to come up the river. Shall we go catch one for you? I don't think you've tried them before." She smiled, nodding toward the jungle path that would take them to the river flowing from the falls. It was a suggestion with dual purpose. Hal needed breakfast, first of all. But it might also give her and Pteron a chance to talk more privately of the young tiger were preoccupied with his new prey. 

    "Come on then," she invited, bumping her hip against the sky colored stallion's barrel as she started down the path. "And you can tell me why it's suddenly not a good idea for me to visit." The hurt of the phrase was cloaked by her ever-cheery tone, but it dug at her nonetheless. There were so many reasons he might not want her around, and none of lightened the sense of dread weighing in her belly.

    - MY ONLY RIVAL IS WITHIN -


    Pteron
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    #6
    finger trips across my cheek----------------
    ----------------kiss me until i can't speak

    The green-eyed stallion watches the exchange between mother and child. It is different from the one he most often sees – Reia and Adarra. Pteron refuses to believe that his wife does not love their daughter, but he cannot think of a time when she has seemed as concerned as Aquaria is for Halcyon, or as interested in what Adarra herself wants. The affection he sees in the exchange and the unbridled excitement in Halcyon as he bolts ahead into the jungle without even glancing back are foreign things; Adarra would have looked over her shoulder a dozen times, just to make sure Reia hadn’t found anything more interesting to distract her from the offer she’d made. That Halcyon trusts Aquaria to be there without a moment of hesitation, that is how a child should feel for their mother. Pteron has done his best to provide stability for his firstborn, but he worries often that it will not be enough.

    It is a constant weight in Pteron’s chest, that worry, and though he’d naively thought that he’d be able to escape it – escape everything, at least for a while – by coming to Ischia, he realizes now that such a thing is impossible. As the white tipped tail of the now-fully tiger cub disappears into the greenery ahead of them, Pteron’s olive eyes flick toward Aquaria just as she bumps her hip against his. She sounds cheerful enough, but he has known Aquaria for nearly a half-decade and known diplomats for his entire life: there is more to read than just the tone of her voice.

    “I inherited Taiga,” he tells her as they make their way through the green trees, “and a wife as well. She is very like her father, Castile, and the match made sense.” Pteron chooses his words carefully. He’s not sure how much Aquaria knows about the plans that his parents had, of his mother’s intent to pull Taiga from the North and ally the territory instead with Loess. A bond between their children was better than any alliance, and when Reia had announced her pregnancy that had cemented the decision in his mother’s mind. The same had not been true for Pteron, whose desires were not consulted. The dun stallion has looked away when he started to speak, and only now turns back, searching Aquaria’s face for a reaction before he adds what he’s not said aloud.

    “I do not love her.” He manages, “but Reia is…possessive.”

    “If you were to have visited, she’d have driven you out.” The best case scenario would be Aquaria being driven out of the woods, the most likely scenarios is far bloodier and far more likely. Pteron still wears a few partially healed burns and scars from recent minor transgressions. He heals quickly, but his wife’s bite is as vicious as her temper and some wounds take time. 

    “I’ve probably put you in danger by even coming here,” the pegasus admits, “but I needed a break, and Ischia has always been a place for that for me.”

    Ahead of them, the sound of falling water has grown louder, a break in the trees reveals Halcyon splashing about in the shallows. Pteron has never seen a tiger hunt for fish before, but he assumes that is what the boy is doing

    -- pteron --



    Aquaria
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    #7
    aquaria
    - THE TIDE IS HIGH, IT'S SINK OR SWIM -


    She let him speak without interruption, ears twisting to keep track of her son's energetic attempts at fishing, eyes focused on the stallion beside her. What was being said drew any number of emotions from the well inside her, splashed them into the space between them. 

    To be captured by duty and obligation, in a loveless marriage and with the weight of rulership thrust on him at once. It seemed a living death for the boy she'd known before. She hadn't thought it was possible for Pteron to meet a horse and not instantly be enamored with them, but it seemed she'd been proven wrong. If she'd needed any more proof of this, then she need only look at the half-healed wounds that lay across his skin. 

    "That bitch," she exhaled softly, horror growing in her belly. "Pteron, has she done this to you?" The nereid asked, lips brushing with the lightest of touches against one such mark on his neck. Utter bafflement wrote itself in the lines of her face, the tension of her spine. Nostrils flared with dismay, she fought to keep her voice level so as not to disturb Hal's carefree fun. 

    "I can't believe your mother would force you to stay in such a... a bondage, if she knew you were being torn apart by it! Besides that, this Reia has no business being married to anyone if this is her idea of... I don't even know. I don't know how anyone could hurt you like this." One hoof stomped viciously into the mossy ground, cutting the green to reveal humid black soil beneath. The worst of it was that she knew Pteron. More to the point, she knew that he wouldn't retaliate against someone he was charged with protecting, even if she seemed to be doing her best to shred him. 

    The translucent sheet of her tail snapped as she flicked it sharply. There were many reasons she had let play through her mind as to why Pteron didn't want her in Taiga anymore. Somehow, this reality was worse than anything she had come up with on her own. Amethyst eyes hard in the green jungle light, she pressed her head to his wing with a groan of impotent anger. 

    Her voice was calmer after few deep breaths, the scent of Pteron filling her with his steadying presence. "I don't know how she could be possessive of someone so very clearly not hers." She commented, gazing out at the now-soaking wet cub by the river's edge. "You're too noble by half, you know that?" She asked with a sad laugh, then shook her head. "I'm not, though. I can't just stand by and know my best friend is being treated so badly. You can't just kick her out, I know that. She thinks she's getting away with it, but she's got another thing coming."

    His words of warning, the obvious signs of damage on his own body, washed over the seamare with little effect. What did she care for personal danger when a loved one needed help? Her only source of hesitation was her cub, and that he would worry for her. There was the obvious solution, of course. If Pteron needed a break, and he surely looked like he did, perhaps the two could mind each other while she took care of business. 

    - MY ONLY RIVAL IS WITHIN -


    Pteron
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    #8
    finger trips across my cheek----------------
    ----------------kiss me until i can't speak

    Aquaria is quiet as he speaks, and Pteron imagines a thousand reactions from her regarding what he has to say. What he gets is what he’d not truly expected – his current situation so often makes hope a vain thing – and he starts to pull away as the nereid reaches out toward a healing scar.

    But she is gentle, ever so gentle, and Pteron stifles the flinch before it truly surfaces. Aquaria does much the same with the emotion in her voice, the dun stallion hears, and he is grateful for the distraction that her son provides as she speaks. It is nothing he has not thought before, but to hear it from someone else is more of a comfort than he could have imagined. His mother does not speak of the source of her scars, but Pteron has pieced together the story of their origin. She would try to stand against Reia, Pteron knows, but he will not risk her – or his mother’s relationship with Castile. The dragon might be a friend, but he is Reia’s father and the importance of blood is stronger than most anything.

    “I once thought dragons lived in isolated caves,” he muses aloud, “I wish that were true.” There is acceptance in his tenor voice, if reluctant. When Aquaria leans against him, Pteron lifts his wing without though, pulling her tighter against him as he rests his chin across the ridge of her mane. They’ve stood like this countless times, a wordless embrace that nevertheless reassures him. The world is still out there – he cannot change that – but the purple eyed nereid is here and on his side. For now, he tells himself that it is enough. Some part of him knows even this nearness will endanger her, that Reia will find the salt-and-sun scent of the grey mare and use it as an excuse to pick a fight. Aquaria has been warned now though, the selfish part of him thinks, and she is capable of protecting herself.

    She even says as much, and Pteron manages to stifle a chuckle at the unveiled threat about his wife having another thing coming. He would not let the two of them come to blows. Aquaria is right that he is too noble for that, but the idea of it is intriguing. Fire and water, he thinks; probably an even match, all things considered. He cannot stomach the thought of either mare being harmed though – Aquaria for her own sake though Reia’s only for their daughter.

    “I’ve thought of leaving a thousand time,” he admits. “But I accepted responsibility in Taiga, and she will be there waiting no matter how long I took to return.” Because he would return; he cannot leave behind responsibility. It is not who he is, who he was raised to be. “The only way out is for her to leave me on her own, and I can’t imagine her doing that.” Once his wife has her claws dug in, she does not retract them for any amount of pleading. She takes her satisfaction – others be damned, and Pteron is determined that the others be limited only to him.

    “I don’t think there’s anything I can do that could make that happen.” There’s nothing that he would do anyway. If he cared less for others, he’d take a dozen lovers to flaunt in her face, to shame her back to Loess. But that would end poorly for everyone but Reia, and Pteron cannot bear to be the source of that. He’d once – briefly – considered finding a foundling and claiming it to be his natural born son, supplanting Adarra in inheritance. But that would hurt his daughter as much as Reia, and he’s still not sure that his wife wouldn’t find some way to surreptitiously murder a child.

    -- pteron --



    Aquaria
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    #9
    It was difficult to reconcile the boy who had crash landed into the ocean with such exuberance with the grim-faced stallion now standing beside her. They seemed two very different creatures. For all that Aquaria certainly had quick moods, she was slow to develop real hated toward anyone. Yet she found herself very nearly hating a mare she'd never even met for the effect she had enacted on her friend. 

    It's almost a shock when he wraps his wing about her, the same embrace she'd enjoyed over the years that made her feel so very warm. Standing together like this, with Halcyon frolicking before them, she was sure they almost looked like a family. It was a pretty lie, but one she had longed for with dwindling hope. His heart would never be hers, it was no secret. But it also did not belong to the mare he'd been settled with, and that was as much a tragedy as she could imagine. 

    There's a mild feeling of disappointment when the winged stallion shrugs off her offer of aid. She wanted to help, to make this all better for him by any means she was capable of. Yet he seemed intent on bearing the weight of this predicament on his own. Stubborn man, that he would rather be a martyr than to save himself. 

    Heavy feeling weighed the pair down, and for a long moment, the nereid didn't know what to say. To curse his noble nature? To beg him to seek salvation through his mother, it's even by the king his wife had been sourced from? None of these seemed like answers he would accept or act on. So she sighed and pressed the length of herself against his body, thankful for the small mercy that was this time together. "If she will be there no matter how long you are gone, then stay as long as you like." She offered, and together they could push reality away for a time. 

    If she could offer him a little distraction, the relief he had sought by coming here, perhaps it would give him strength to resist the inexorable direction his life seemed to be running in. With a faint attempt at a smile, she rubbed her forehead against his neck, carefully avoiding the patches of half-healed skin. "Come on, then. If you're going to spend the day, I won't have you moping. I think Hal might have about got his fish." She observed, knowing their time for private conversation was coming to an end. They would play pretend today. It was what they were best at. 

    @[Pteron p
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    #10
    finger trips across my cheek----------------
    ----------------kiss me until i can't speak

    It was not so long ago that Pteron promised his wife that he was keeping his marriage vows. Reia had stared daggers at him across the downy feathers of their newborn daughter’s wings while he protested an innocence that she did not believe for a moment. Until now today, he’d kept his word. He’d suggested to Aena and Sequinn that they finally take the tour of Beqanna they’d always talked about, told Aegean to keep clear of the redwoods, and stayed firmly on the mainland and very far from Ischia. There has been nothing and no one but Reia and responsibility for six months now, and the weight was growing unbearable.

    It falls away when she leans against him. Pteron exhales a long breath. He pushes gently at the shimmering fin of her mane, very gently but with enough of a smile on his blue mouth to suggest he is trying to be playful. He is savoring what it feels like to have no cares. It takes a moment to fully sink in, and by the time it does the nereid is telling him that it’s time to check on Halcyon. Pteron shifts away but does press his mouth firmly against her jawline before pulling back to look through the trees to where the cub has managed to drag a decently sized salmon in to the shallows.

    “I don’t know how you manage it,” Pteron says, gesturing toward the waterlogged boy as the pair make their way to the river’s edge. “Adarra is just a normal pegasus and she’s hard enough to keep in line.” If his daughter were able to become a tiger, he knows that he would be in over his head. Keeping her from being ruled by instinct is already a hard task, adding the ability to become an apex predator would make it all but impossible.

    “You do it well though,” the dun stallion adds with a cheeky glance over his shoulder. The next words are quiet, not enough for Halcyon to hear over the gurgling water. “MILFs aren’t usually my type, but I could make an exception for you.” Pteron winks and then immediately turns all of his attention to the tiger wrestling his red-sided salmon up onto the riverbank.

    “That’s going to be his breakfast?” Pteron asks incredulously. It’s a large fish, with a silvery tail flopping weakly against Halcyon’s white chin. “Can’t he eat, like, seaweed or something?” There’s a barely hidden expression of disgust on the pinto’s face (though only where Halcyon cannot see him) as he looks from Aquaria to the fish and back again. Knowing that predators eat prey is one thing, but watching the life seep from the salmon’s eyes right at his very hooves is something else entirely. Pteron is pacifist to his very core, it seems.

    “I think I’m gonna puke.”

    -- pteron --



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