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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


    Damn it Moon Moon [birthing]
    #1

    Hey all you cool cats and kittens


    The winter passed quietly in the forest, protected from the worst of the wind and snow by the interlocking branches above them. The quiet and the slowness of the season made her anxious to leave, but it took longer than the span of one storm for her wounds to begin to heal, longer than a few days for the fever to fade and her sleep to grow restful again. Weeks had passed and her belly grew round with the child inside, but neither Pteron nor Aegean pried for details and Neverwhere found herself thankful for that - though surely Pteron had guessed enough to tell her what had happened. She, in return, did not voice her perplexity over the swelling of Aegean's sides, did not scowl or shy away from the magic that blended so seamlessly into their lives. If anything, she was jealous of Pteron's ability to heal, even if doing it left shining scars.

    It has taken longer than she would prefer, but, at last, the days are growing longer, the sun shining more strongly, filtering through the still-bare branches of the trees, and the silver dapple takes her leave of the pair. Pteron will be moving his family elsewhere soon, and she does not ask where. Whether it is Wolfbane he is hiding from, the responsibilities he'd escaped, or some other thing entirely is none of her business, so she turns her feet to Nerine, catching the cold northern wind in her nose, and follows it home.

    The going is not fast, she still limps slightly and the worst of her gashes are covered only in thin, crepey, pink, skin that tears if she moves too roughly, so she has not yet reached Nerine when a dull cramping pain ripples across her skin. The mare's ears pin and she bites irritably at her belly, then stretches, then kicks, as she might at a green horsefly. Her tail lashes against the whipping spring winds, snapping sharply against her haunches and flanks as she scowls and groans her displeasure at the Loessian landscape.

    "Shit."

    Her voice is a growl when she reaches the low, gnarled, scrub pines that create a windbreak near the border with Taiga, a little dry hollow where the wind howls like wolves around them but barely a draft within. For a short time, she paces, pausing periodically to bite or kick at her swollen belly again, but at last she drops to her knees with a grunt and a shudder and the child slips from her. It is not an endless labor, it is not noisy or dramatic, Neverwhere does this as she does all things, scowling, begrudging, and she is on her feet again in moments, muzzle pressed to the ribcage of an angular colt, his slick hide dark, wet, and the sparse curls of his mane stained red and pressed flat to his neck. Instinct sings in her ear, whining and insistent, but she pauses, frozen, with ears swiveling while the colt coughs himself to life. For a moment he lies still, only the thin curve of his neck upright and holding the heavy weight of his head, wagging, weaving, as the muscles waken and wage war weakly against gravity. Then, bleating, he pulls up into a sitting position, ribcage heaving and the featherless arms of his new wings flapping ineffectually, insistently.

    Wings.

    She's never seen wings like this, by the time Lilliana had brought her twins to Nerine Nashua was already growing his first feathers, the soft grey down hidden away. She grumbles softly to herself, unsure how to clean them, the delicate bones fragile under her lips. Why does he have to have wings? Of course, wings alone do not mark the child plainly as Wolfbane's son, but they do nothing to improve her mood. At last she settles in to clean him, mind spinning, decisions unmade.

    The colt protests her rough methods. He gathers his strength and pulls his small frame up onto all four feet with bending, soft knees and looks up at the sky, at his mother's face, peering through the blur of sleep and afterbirth and the shining halos of light that he has never known. He has never seen before and the reality of it hurts his eyes. He has never hurt before, either, and the blue-green of his eyes blinks shut rapidly again with a shake of his head the nearly sends him tumbling into the rough rock and moss, but he quickly finds that blindness no longer suits him. The grey light of early spring filters through his thin eyelids so he opens them again to look with wonder at the hard grain of the red rock floor, the soft grey-green moss, earth-brown of his mother that nearly matches the rough bark of the twisted trees reaching their arms around Mother and Son in a protective ring. The solid, unforgiving ground is new and he flinches away from it, preferring that soft, fluid, dark place that he knew, but the sense of safety within the windbreak is familiar. He shuffles closer to Neverwhere and she does not move away, only frowns contemplatively - an expression he can barely see, let alone read - and he noses at her belly, her flank, her haunches, searching in ignorance.

    He finds a teat and Neverwhere stamps a hind leg sharply against the rocky earth but protests no further than this, only curls her neck to look again and find the iridiscent gold dapples hidden away beneath chocolate counter-shading.

    There'll be no hiding that, she thinks, ears flicking back and the pale tendrils of her tail swishing with a strange anxiety to settle across the colt's dark neck. But there was never any going back, anyway.

    That bitch, Neverwhere

    Image by Ratty
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    #2

    l e p i s
    the next step was a question of how
    never thought it a question of weth-er

    Four years have passed since Lepis had last carried a child. Perhaps time has softened the memories, but the dun mare is certain that her previous pregnancies had not been this difficult. The child within her had been conceived late in the season and though she is not as near birth as many of the other women, the weight of the child within her is already enough to keep her grounded. She worries it will be too large, resembling the baroque disguise worn during the assault. She worries that it will be monstrous, like the creature that wore the disguise. She worries often.

    In her worry she had sought out help, petitioning the genie, but the aid given by her ancestress was nothing more than the healing of her freshest wounds.

    As a result, there is no outward indication of the violence of her child’s conception. She had refused to explain this to Pteron, who in his role as Champion of Loess came to visit now and again. He had left, clearly agitated, but she would rather have him angry at her than risk endangering him. She does not speak of it to anyone. Isntead ,she spends most of her time in the late winter and early spring alone, patrolling the edges of her home on foot. It is while doing that she finds one of the last creatures she’d expected to.

    “I’d usually ask what you were doing in my home” Lepis says from beneath a downward curving saguaro’s arm, having ducked under it to find the mare in her secluded place off the beaten path.

    “But the answer to that seems clear enough.” Her voice is wry, and she remains at a distance that forces her to raise it just a little to be heard. She might have said more, but she can now see the mess that has become of Neverwhere’s dappled skin. The colt that nurses is winged and dappled gold, and Lepis has raised enough of Wolfbane’s children to recognize the stamp of them even this young. Lepis is not sure why Neverwhere has birthed it here, but she means to nip in the bud anything that might affect her plans.

    “I do hope you don’t mean to leave that here,” she tells the bald-faced queen. Her tone is flat and emotionless when she speaks. “Or to stay long if you’re keeping it. I’ve done well enough keeping him out of Loess, and I won’t have you luring him back here before I’m ready.” It is unkind, perhaps, to rush a mare who has just given birth. But just as with Pteron, Lepis must prioritize survival over diplomacy and hurt feelings.


    Neverwhere


    n | l
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    #3

    Hey all you cool cats and kittens

    Perhaps, to some extent, Neverwhere has the advantage of expectation; she can hardly be shocked when the small den is discovered by Lepis. In spite of the way her attention falls across the nursing colt, she is not so oblivious that she does not hear hooves approaching or the rustle of tree boughs disturbed, and when the little dun mare pokes her head through, Neverwhere turns to glare at her in time to see the last vestige of surprise passing over her face.

    This is not a moment she would choose to share with anyone, but Lepis isn’t even on the list of Neutrals, and still, for all that, she nearly laughs at the cold welcome.

    “Are you sure you don’t want it? I thought maybe you would, you’ve raised so many of them.”

    There is an implication behind the words that she would in fact leave the colt, and gladly, but it had not been her intention to do so. The dappled mare makes no attempt to pretend the boy is something he is not – nor does she assume that if she wanted to do so, Lepis would take that bait. There has never been any part of Neverwhere that might be described as shame, and if others have fallen to that emotion in similar footing, she would not. There is nothing about the scars on her skin that suggest this was a desired interaction.

    “Never you mind, Lepis, I’ve already stayed longer than I intended.”

    Whispers and rumors had reached her in the forest, the unrest in Taiga and the silence in Nerine. Both rather status quo, she thinks, but there is a chilling undercurrent to them this time and she is anxious to return. There had been a time that Neverwhere thought she should ask Pteron to go and take word of her to Eurwen, to Brazen, to someone, but even that seemed to come with risk, to her, but also to him. She is not so sure that Wolfbane would have tried to kill her just then, especially not as she became noticeably pregnant, but the risk to Pteron’s family was potentially significant and she’d opted to remain “lost.” This is not something she shares with Lepis, who seems so sure she has kept her relentlessly shape-changing ex-husband out of her kingdom.

    Instead of speaking, she turns back to the colt in dismay. He has finished nursing and turns to look at the Loessian queen with sleepy eyes. He is bold – neither of his parents might be described as shy – and tries to approach, but he is clumsy, too, on new legs unused to gravity or obstacles, and barely three steps out, he trips suddenly, falling into a tangle of limbs, legs and wings and bodies. As suddenly as he hits the ground, there are two colts, mirroring one another, kicking, bleating, and becoming enmeshed. Neverwhere snorts and starts, jumping aside from the jumble of boy and duplicate in surprise. Her breath rolls in her nostrils, and then, forgetting Lepis for a moment, she tentatively steps forward again, pressing her muzzle firmly against one of the squirming bodies until it quiets. The second colt phases out and she turns her gaze back to Lepis with a wry smile.

    “Are you sure you don’t want him?”

    That bitch, Neverwhere

    Image by Cievesare


    Lepis
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    #4
    l e p i s
    the next step was a question of how
    Once, the dun mare had been able to find humor in any situation. Once, she had laughed easily and smiled without hesitation.

    Today, she scowls.

    Neverwhere’s question, even if Lepis doubts she means it, is met with ears turned back. She bites down the desire to argue, to say that her children belong to Wolfbane and not to the creature that wear him. But that would be a lie, and she knows it, and it is better not to lie (if only because it makes keeping stories straight far more simple). Lepis also knows that were Neverwhere to actually do as she threatens that Lepis would be unable to push the thing off a cliff like it deserves. There are some lines that even the woman who that prides herself on ruthlessness cannot cross.

    She is running out of time to gain the ability to, and she knows it. Lepis does not allow herself to think that culling a child would be far easier than what she means to attempt, but it is a close thing.

    Neverwhere confirms that she is leaving, and Lepis releases the smallest of sighs. Good. One less thing to worry about.

    The colt at the dapple’s side pulls away, milk about his whiskers, and Lepis accidentally meets his eyes just as scowl depends on her face.

    This is what Starsin had meant, she realizes. She has no words for this feeling, for the way she aches at seeing Wolfbane in his little face and knows that the little differences are not her contribution. Knowing that his conception had required those wounds at Neverwhere’s shoulders do not soften the sensation, nor does the sudden appearance of a mirror image, a reminder that the dappled colt is not the only half-sibling her children have.

    “Get out of here, Neverwhere,” she growls angrily, because these days anger is always the nearest emotion at hand. She uses it to protect herself first, to drown out the feelings that had pricked tears at the corners of her blue-grey eyes, but Neverwhere receives it as well. “Or I’ll find a cliff to push that thing off.”

    @
    n | l
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    #5

    Hey all you cool cats and kittens

    Her barbs fly more true than she intended, and even as the words left her lips, the dappled mare knew she should not have said them. Lepis is not her enemy, not in this, at least, and the teasing answers are not the sort a friend would offer. They are not friends, either, though, and each intrudes where she is not wanted.

    The colt has grown quiet and she realizes that he is already sleeping, oblivious to the tension that vibrates between the mares, oblivious of what his existence means.

    Neverwhere is less lucky. She is unprepared for the wash of emotion that hits her like a wave, crashing over her in a tide of anger, and she flinches against it. It builds noticeably in her face and the scar tissue there turns red and bright with it, but a choked undercurrent of pain pricks at her eyes. She has shed few tears in her life, but she knows what it is to cry. Except, she was not sad a moment ago, and she might have been annoyed, but she was not enraged, and she cannot reconcile the shift with what she knows to be truth. It dawns on her slowly.

    “Gods, Lepis, is that you?” the red-faced mare hisses through gritted teeth against the weight of it, shaking her head as though to toss the feeling aside, but it grips at her heart with fierce talons and curls her lips into a snarl. Her hoof stamps into the red dirt, leaving a deep scar in the earth, while her body shakes with fury. To the artificial press of magic is an actual lick of anger at this unexpected use of emotional magic and it is with concerted effort that she keeps her voice as composed as possible.

    “I know it means nothing, but I’m sorry.” She gestures vaguely with her muzzle as if to imply that she is sorry for everything that has brought them here, that she is sorry for the colt the sleeps between them, for the destruction of Lepis’ family which Neverwhere had been unable to prevent (it had not been her responsibility, nor had it been possible, it had not even truly been because of Lilliana, but she had tried.) And then, because she has no desire to linger over an apology that would not likely be accepted or wanted regardless of its sincerity, she moves on, eying the quality of light shining in around the other mare.

    "I will be gone by midday. If he follows me, then that problem is solved, if he doesn’t,” she shrugs stiffly, the skin of her left shoulder twisting strangely around the tooth still embedded within, “you do what you have to do.”

    It is not the anger that makes her cold. Once he has woken, she will be moving, and she has no intention of stopping again before she has left Loess, so he will keep up, or he will not.

    That bitch, Neverwhere

    Image by Cievesare


    Lepis
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