Somehow, despite everyone’s best efforts to stay together, the shadowed spirit forest managed to scatter them far and wide. Abiorn can no longer see or hear any of the other Wayfarers. There is only icy snow, and the smell of wet bark, and snow-patched boughs of pine.
Kipinä’s voice rang out through the forest.”Abbi?! Abbi! Help!”
Abiorn paused in his stride and looked up wildly. He turned a full circle, batting boughs out of his face and getting smacked about by them in the process.
“Kip?! Kipinä! Kipinä, where are you?” he shouted as he spun.
Ahead, between the trees, Kipinä lay prone, struggling to escape the clutches of a slithering, undulating shadow creature. Angry red eyes flashed from within its depths as ht clutched at her legs.
A frightened gasp escaped Abiorn as he rushed toward her. “No!” he cried as he grasped at her. “Kick, Kip, kick it off!” He pulled on her shoulders.
Kipinä wept as she gripped at his hands.
“Help me, Abbi! You have to pull! You have to be stronger than it!”
Stricken by her tears, Abiorn wrapped his arms beneath hers and started hauling back with all his might. The tension in his jaw as he ground his teeth against the pain was reflected in his eyes as he kept pulling.
“Don’t give up, Kipinä!” he growled. He tugged again and then shouted at the spirit.
“Oi! Gerroff her! Let go of her!”
Eventually, the demon squealed, and released its hold on her. It bubbled back down into the snow, and is gone.
“Thank you!” said Kipinä. She threw her furred arms around his neck, and kissed him passionately. Her body trembled with lingering fear.
Startled, Abiorn froze with his arms still about Kipinä’s torso. After the shock melted into the sensation of her lips against his, he closed his eyes and pulled her tightly against him as he returned the kiss. With passionate eagerness that bordered on clumsiness, his lips moved against hers and parted instinctively.
Kipinä’s kiss was bold and exploratory. Her gloved hands patted his cheeks and neck, and finally came to rest in the v of his furred collar. She grinned, a nit shyly.
“I’ve been wanting to do that since we met.”
Breathless and blinking, Abiorn tried to focus.
“No…” he finally managed to piece together, “wait. You… no, you barely… how are you here?”
His pale brow furrowed with his confusion and he looked about them for answers.
Kipinä leaned back, and stared at him.
“…I followed you,” she said, uncertainly. “I was worried.”
“Step away from the boy,” said a deep, rich voice from behind Abiorn.
A massive white bear galloped through the snow, its dark eyes fixed on Kipinä. Kipinä scrambled away, eyes wide.
Abiorn blinked and then looked back and forth between bear and Kipinä without understanding.
The white bear lifted a massive paw, and slashed at Kipinä. The girl went flying backward, screaming as blood gushed from her.
Alarmed, Abiorn reached out for Kipinä.
“No! What are you doing! What is going on?”
He turned to stare at the bear for a moment and then back at Kipinä.
“Look,” rumbled the bear.
Kipinä’s body slowly faded, and then burst into a plume of black, smoky shadow. Slowly, the shadow drifted away on the wind, leaving nothing behind.
“Nothing familiar can be trusted, in this place,” said the bear. He swung his mighty head around to look at Abiorn.
“I am Joren. You and I have business. But right now, you must leave this place before it ensnares you forever.”
The bear lifted a paw, and rolled Abiorn away, as if herding a cub. Suddenly, the forest fell away, replaced by snowy white foothills. Beyond them, at the top of an impossibly high mountain, Veli-koti loomed.
Somehow, despite everyone’s best efforts to stay together, the shadowed spirit forest managed to scatter them far and wide. Cwen and Oen can no longer see or hear any of the other Wayfarers. There is only icy snow, and the smell of wet bark, and snow-patched boughs of pine.
Oendir paused for a moment to scan the circumference of a small clearing. He reached up to brush ice from his hair.
“I think we might be going in circles. All of this forest looks the same.”
Cwen frowned as Oendir paused. “I certainly hope not. You are a better tracker than that, Oen.”
She ran an open palm over a low-hanging branch. “Should we start leaving a trail? Perhaps if someone stumble upon it, they can find us as well.”
Oendir gave Cwen a slightly irritable look.
“It would help if we were in the real world, you know. What are you going to leave a trail with? Spirit crumbs?”
Returning the look, Cwen said, “We could break the branches in a specific way. Or, certainly, conjure spirit crumbs. Though the spirit animals will probably gobble them up.”
Oendir let out a strained sigh, and waved a hand.
“Do what you like,” he said, his voice tired. “I’m going to focus on getting us out of here.”
Cwen dropped her hand from the branch and stood there for a moment with her lips in a modest pout.
“If you do not believe it is a good idea,” she finally muttered, “then you could simply say so. I am trying to help and if plodding ahead like a…like that stupid mammoth is all you can do, then…”
Flushed with her frustration, Cwen turned away from him and fell silent.
“What?!” said Oendir, spinning around to face her. “I’m trying to get us out of here. All you’re doing is criticizing me.” He let out a slightly bitter laugh. “Not that I should be surprised. You only see my faults.”
Cwen turned back to him with a mouth gaping in astonishment. “How am I criticizing you?! I…I said you are a better tracker than to get us lost! That’s a compliment, you know, and then you got all… all sarcastic! Why would you even think that all I do is see fault in you? I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you!”
“You’re right,” said Oendir, lips pursed. “You don’t.”
He let out a breath, and turned away.
Stunned and hurt, Cwen blinked at his back. Tears blurred his shape and finally she turned away to hide them as they began to softly fall.
“Then I’ll just go back and wait for you at the Ferry.” She forced the quaver from her voice I…I’ll w-watch over us all until you return and then I will go back to…back home. I do not know why you force me to keep my contract if you think I am so unworthy, unless it is simply to punish me.”
Even as she finished speaking, her calm broke and she started for a direction away from forward but probably not quite back.
“Why I force you?!” said Oendir, spinning back around. “I’ve never once forced you to do anything! Do you see the worst in all men, or just me?”
“You don’t want to release the terms! I will not break it, no matter how unfaithful you think I am, I will not break that contract without your permission.”
She kept her back to him and the muscles in her neck strained to hide her trembling.
“Men will always force their will upon women. It is their nature.”
“No, it isn’t!” Oendir insisted. “You just want it to be! From the first night we met, you’ve been judging me by what you think men do, instead of seeing who I actually am.”
Whirling finally, Cwen faced him with glistening, and angrily flushed, cheeks.
“I see you as something so nearly perfect that I am constantly reminded exactly how unworthy I am for you simply by the thought of you! And regardless of your perfection–you still vanished without thought or consideration for me! Or Neilia!
She was devastated when we showed up at Overhill and you simply were not there. What could I tell her? Yet another man just up and left her without good-byes, without explanation? Her own father at least gave her the courtesy to simply leave… he didn’t allow her to be raped and left for dead, thank the gods!”
Oendir blinked into the force of her words, as if stunned by a sudden blast of icy wind.
“What…” he said, almost too quiet to hear. “Is that what happened to you?”
Now that it was said, the weight of it seemed to both crush and free her. She sank to her knees and the tears dripped from her chin quiet and unheeded.
“After he and my fiance burned down our village. They were infiltrators. Dunlending blood. I am what I hate most in the world.”
She closed her eyes and bowed her head.
“It is nothing. It is over and done.”
Oendir knelt down in the snow, and circled her in his arms.
“I’m so sorry,” he murmured into her collar. “I didn’t know.”
He rubbed her back gently.
“We clearly have some…things to talk about. But we can do it later. Somewhere other than this forest.”
Suddenly, the forest shifted, and deposited them both at its edge. In front of them, white foothills stood in front of a majestic blue-white peak. High above them, ghostly Veli-koti loomed, silent.
((From RP mailz with Oendir as Kipinä, Joren, and Oendir. Thank you bestest GM eva!))
((Edit: Sorry for the wonky paragraph spacing earlier. The visual editor did not show the html formatting and so some invisi spacing was left broken when I got rid of images and stuff from Enjin. And I caught more tense shifts. Stupid tense.))