Closed Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Zhol joins Khara on her search for new hunting grounds. (Seasonal Open Event)

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The westernmost tip of Kalea, Wind Reach is home to an amazing group of people and their giant eagle mounts. [Lore]

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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Zhol on April 12th, 2015, 10:52 pm

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Zhol had meant to offer her a hand. He'd meant to be smug about it. He'd meant to use it as a way to flaunt his victory. Maybe even a way to "accidentally" tug her off balance and into his arms. Perhaps this was his penance for allowing himself to think such mischievous thoughts; watching that brief instant of Khara plummeting away from him transformed into one of the single most terrifying moments of his life. Maybe it was the other memories that had been shaken loose by Khara's earlier questions; maybe it was a little too similar to a nightmare that Zhol had woken from a few too many times; regardless of why, Zhol couldn't imagine feeling more scared.

The fact that his arm had lanced out and grabbed hold of hers was more instinct and reflex than intent; thank the gods it had though, and thank them - or perhaps just the measly diet afforded to the Chiet - for making sure that the love of his life was dainty and light enough that dragging her to the top of the slope wasn't an insurmountable ordeal.

If Khara hadn't flung herself into Zhol's arms, he would have dragged her there; he could feel his arms trembling as he held her as close as he could, and knew it wasn't the effort of lifting her that was making them do so. His eyes closed the way they always did when he held her, but he had to force them open, force his gaze to focus on the ground, to count rocks and twigs, to do absolutely anything to force the visions of cliffs and screams and falling from his mind.

She pulled away; he wished she hadn't. The second her lips stopped moving, his lips found them, and he wished he could reach into his chest and tear out his lungs, so that they would stop demanding that he stop kissing her. What began as long and deep and passionate turned into frantic aftershocks, Zhol torn between wanting to whisper and not wanting to stop.

"They still hurt?" he asked, his hand cradling the back of Khara's head, his lips still close enough to hers to feel her breathing. "Do I need to distract you more?"
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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Khara on April 12th, 2015, 11:34 pm

There were far too many urges running through her. Wants to keep kissing him, needs to return to having her arms around him and her body as absolutely tight against his as clothing and equipment would allow, other desires that Khara could only figure could be attributed to the rush her body was experiencing now that the fear had turned into nothing but a feeling of limitless energy that was begging to be unleashed. She didn't trust herself to open her eyes, to look into his and have him see everything her mind was terrified of and demanding for all in the same instant.

Instead she softly shook her head, her scuffed hands raising to find where his rested against her. "N-No. No distracting."

Her heart fell with those words and duty rushed in to once again assert itself in her mind. "I just... I just want to finish what we have to do and... and then we can be together."

Silence fell between them as Khara forced her breathing to steady itself, to try and return her full focus to the world around them rather than wherever it had attempted to fly off to. Her eyes shot open as the realization of what she had said came to her though and her cheeks suddenly turned brilliantly red with the rush of embarrassment that came with it. "N-not like- I just meant... I didn't mean... "

Her gaze fell downward, at first only idly searching the ground as a means of not looking at Zhol but then slowly a new dawning epiphany came upon her at what she was seeing. There was a patch of ground, not where they had scaled, but nearby that was worn down to the rock beneath and leading away from that were more of the stranger prints that she had come across in the muddy bend in the river below.

Khara gently drew away from Zhol and took the few steps to close the distance between where they stood and where the prints were. There wasn't just one set, either but many layered upon one another. A slight laugh left her at the realization and she quickly turned back to Zhol.

"Well, at least this should be easier to follow now." She offered before pointing off in the direction the tracks could clearly be seen.

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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Zhol on April 13th, 2015, 12:15 am

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It was a lie to say that Zhol wasn't disappointed at how quickly Khara brought their embrace to an end. It wasn't lust, or love, or any of those emotions: it was the selfish need to hold her close, for the sake of his own comfort. It was as if he had lifted a rock in his mind, and all the bad memories were squirming around in the space left behind, like worms and ants and beetles, scurrying over each other, his skin crawling and prickling at the memories they dredged up.

It was all the same mindset, but there was a more painful edge to it now. It wasn't that he didn't want Khara to know about his journey; it was that he didn't want to have to speak the words, to find a way to explain the terror and the loss, the struggles, the tough decisions, the people who hadn't made it all the way. Their guides had been cruel at first; told them that the Unforgiving was so called because it would consume those who didn't deserve forgiveness for the things they had done wrong. Zhol knew that wasn't true; if it was true, it'd have been him lying at the bottom of a ravine, him torn to shred by wolves, him with the leg too badly broken to go on. Instead, the Unforgiving had taught him a different truth; that it wasn't him who would suffer for his wrongs, but those around him. He couldn't help feeling that just now had been a reminder; a twist of the knife, to keep him on the straight and narrow.

You can hold her at nightfall, his mind whispered, borrowing Khara's voice to speak. All you have to do is wait until then.

The path that Khara had stumbled across, the route that the whatever-they-weres had marked out for them, wasn't easy going per se, but at least it was easier than the slope had been. There were plenty of rocks and boulders to scramble over, plenty of bare and mossy crags, plenty of uneven surfaces and awkward footings to once again remind Zhol that he was just too big for Kalea; ones that Khara seemed to navigate with relative ease.

There were caves too, disappearing into the increasingly steep walls of the valley. It was strange: for a man who had spent most of his life under open sky and sleeping beneath canvas; for a man who struggled to sleep with stone looming above him, and at times found the idea of being trapped beneath mountain indescribably frightening and overwhelming at times; Zhol had the oddest fascination with caves. He'd been fascinated by them as he'd traversed the Unforgiving the first time. He was fascinated by the Hideaway. He was fascinated by the natural caves that the warrens fed into at times, like the one where they exercised the horses, the one that held the baths, or the one that the stables themselves were carved into. It was because he didn't understand them; he couldn't fathom how nature formed those vaulted spaces. Those that had been carved by reimancers, those he could wrap his head around. Those formed by lava, though? Those carved away by water, or sheered apart when the ground moved? Those were mysterious, and fascinating.

The entire landscape was the same, even. Why had the ground been so steep back at the waterfall, and then flattened off here? Why did the ground sometimes form steps? Why did mountains happen? Why had the water not carved a smooth and gentle path? Did the water carve different rocks in different ways, or was it truly the touch of the gods as people said?

His mother would have known. Etha's mind was filled with all kinds of wisdom. Not for the first time, Zhol wondered at what other knowledge he could have learned from her, if he'd had the forethought to ask. Cast aside all the emotions, the longing for his family, the sadness and anger at having been sent away, and that was what lingered: the opportunities he had wasted; how he should have made better use of the time he had with them; the things he had not said to his mother, to Dinah, or to anyone else.

His heart sank a little, beneath the weight of all his regrets. Perhaps that was why the Unforgiving had spared him: his emotions were already doing a good enough job of making him suffer.

He pushed those thoughts aside, advancing on the cave that he had spotted, the first one close enough to their path and low enough in the cliff for him to have the opportunity to peer inside. A moment of pause, of closed eyes and focus, and his will began to conjure a pool of res in the palm of his hand; a pool that slowly bulged and shifted, rising from his skin as an orb, the surface turning into flame as he stepped towards the shadowy burrow into the cliffside.

"Deer am like hide in caves?" he called over his shoulder, holding his hand as aloft as he could, trying to peer into the darkness.
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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Khara on April 13th, 2015, 1:31 am

An uncomfortable silence had grown between them and each and every rock that Khara had to climb over or step that took them further up stream seemed to grow some sort of imaginary distance between them. Stolen glances out of the corner of her eyes at Zhol gave no answers and caused a strange hollow feeling in her chest and worse still left Khara with a constant wondering of what she had or hadn't done and what was wrong and what she could do to fix it; none of it with definite answers.

The caves they passed were payed little mind until Zhol took an opportunity to peer inside, lighting the way with fire called upon from his soul. She stepped up to his side and felt the smallest tug of a smile form at his question. It was the curious question she couldn't help but wonder if she herself hadn't asked at some point.

"Not that I know of," she answered before glancing back towards the path of tracks they had been following. The smile left her and was replaced by a far more thoughtful expression. "But those tracks are strange. Maybe such a thing exists out here. I didn't see any tracks veer off this way, though. Usually caves are meant more for bears or maybe a kougara. It doesn't seem like this one has anything like that though, thankfully. We'd know by now if it did."

Her eyes looked back to Zhol again and the same nagging sense of worry pulled at her and she felt almost like she would burst if she didn't say something.

"Is okay I keep speaking in Nari? I can change if it is no good." It wasn't what she expected to come out and it seemed like a platitude being offered when there was clearly something else at work. "We can look into caves if you want. We are on good track with the maybe deer, we can spend a little time exploring other things, I think, if you want."

The way her voice cracked as she finished speaking was more than enough to blur her vision and forced several rapid blinks of her eyes to clear away whatever foolish emotions were trying to push forward. "W-we can do whatever you want. J-just don't... don't close up like this, please? I... I am sorry I was not so good at climbing and almost fell."

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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Zhol on April 13th, 2015, 1:59 am

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"You -"

The thought started, but refused to finish, Zhol's brow twitching and conflicting as fresh thoughts were added to the incomprehensible soup sloshing about behind his eyes. Why was she being like this? Why was she acting as if she had done something wrong? True, it had been quiet between them as they had progressed further up river, but Khara had said that they would need to be quiet; Zhol had been trying to do what she instructed, trying not to scare away the very animals they were seeking. Try as he might, Zhol couldn't fathom what he might have done to give the impression that Khara had anything to feel sorry for.

Probably because you've been wrapped up in your own guilt and misery this entire time, his mind scolded, with the scathing tone that Dinah always used to tell him off; the one that wanted to make him curl up and shrink away. It doesn't matter what she said, or what you said. You've spent this entire trip so far barely able to keep your eyes and your hands off her, and now suddenly you're trudging along in silence, barely even sparing a glance for the woman you love.

You're right. There's no way you've done something to worry her like that.

Zhol's shoulders sagged, his brows following suit, tugged downward at the edges by sadness, bunching together in the middle. "On my way to Wind Reach, there was -"

Thorns wrapped around Zhol's throat, trying to stop him from speaking. He stared at the ground, Khara's boots the only part of her that he could bring himself to look at. "We were close to the edge of a ravine, moving along a narrow ridge, and the person beside me fell. I did not catch her, though. I was not able to pull her up to safety. I watched her fall into the water, and then disappear."

His gaze crept hesitantly upwards, but his efforts faltered at the last moment, his eyes focused on Khara's shoulder for fear of the look that might be on her face as he spoke. "When you slipped, I- I suppose the memories of that journey were already lose in my mind, and it- it-"

A sigh escaped, his shoulders sagging further. "What if it was you that I could not catch? What if you had fallen, and it was you I had to watch disappear? I asked to come with you because I was afraid; afraid that something might happen, and that I would not have been here to try and keep you safe... but I had forgotten how bad at saving people I really am."
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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Khara on April 13th, 2015, 3:20 am

Khara's expression shifted, the sadness leaving her for sudden shock at what Zhol had said. Not his story, as unfortunate as it was and as much as it pained her to realize he had gone through such a thing, hearing such tales of people attempting to travel the Unforgiving wasn't usual. It was what he had finished with, at his proclamation that he wasn't good at saving people.

"You're wrong," she chirped out sharply, surprised at the force that it left her with. "I would have gone the way we came from if you had not been with me and the same thing would have happened. I would have chosen that same way up and... and if you had not been there..."

She left the rest unspoken as her eyes sought out his. "You said you were afraid of something happening, and it did. The only reason I am here right now is because you came. How does that make you bad at saving people? We do not do things right the first time. You- you have saved me, more than just this once. I only get hurt when I am not with you."

Khara stopped suddenly, realizing how her voice was getting louder and had begun to echo back at her from within the cave. Her gaze fell from him to her hands which had begun twisting on themselves. "I have only been hurt once and it happened when I told you I would be okay on my own," she admitted softly. "You act like you need to earn forgiveness for all you have done but I have never thought you needed such a thing because you haven't done anything that needed forgiving; not to me. The only wrongs that have ever been between us were ones where we were both at fault for keeping our feelings secret."

She stepped forward and reached out, intending to only let her hand meet his but it moved past his fingers and she stepped up against him instead, her arm gently finding it's way around his waist. "Why won't you accept what I already know is truth? I am safer when I am with you. I have been since the day we met. Out of everyone in Wind Reach who could have come with me here, I am glad it is you. You didn't hesitate, didn't think, you just reached out for me. I don't know if anyone else would have done that without weighing if it was better for them to let me fall or not; for you, there isn't even a choice."

Her other arm joined as she once more pulled herself as tightly to him as was manageable. "And I feel the same about you. Please stop acting as if you are some curse upon the world. We all have made mistakes in our lives, we all have regrets. But meeting you? That is no mistake. That is not something I regret. If I had to choose all over again who I would give my heart to it would always be yours and I will always give it to you willingly."

A deep breath of air was taken after she finished and she squeezed him just a bit tighter, suddenly cursing that she had chosen her outburst in Nari. Even if everything hadn't come out right he would have understood her better if she had spoken in Common. The only thing she had managed in that language was something that had sounded far too much like self blame than it was meant to.

"We have a job to finish, but if you ask me to leave it, to run away with you, to never go home again, I would do it. That is how much you mean to me."

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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Zhol on April 14th, 2015, 12:37 am

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It wasn't often that Khara had so much to say; not the amount of words - Zhol had been lucky enough to listen to her talk for hours about all kinds of things - but rather the importance and insistence she put behind speaking them. Instead of eager or timid, there was an determined confidence in her voice. She demanded that Zhol pay attention, that he take her words onboard; that she'd spoken in Nari added to that, an extra demand that he put in enough effort to really understand her.

He didn't want to concede the point, or perhaps couldn't, despite the strong argument that Khara was making. Yes, okay, he had caught her just then. Yes, there'd been the time in the tunnels when they had first met. It was better for her in those instances that he'd been there; safer, if that was the label you wanted to paint on it. But the time when he wasn't there? Even though his heart stubbornly insisted that if he'd been there he could have done something, even though he demanded that he make sure he was there at every opportunity just in case; his mind reminded him of the beating he'd taken when he'd tried to confront the blacksmith. Yes, the blacksmith hadn't been alone, but Zhol doubted he'd have fared much of a chance in a fair fight; not unless he was fighting for his life; not unless the blacksmith forced him to bring fire and swords into play.

The inner argument didn't matter, though. Khara had asked him to stop acting like he was a curse on the world; one of the few things she had ever asked for. Whether he believed it or not didn't matter; he'd told her so many times that she could ask for anything, and he would do his best to try. That was as true now as ever.

He mustered a small smile, drawing away enough so that he could finally allowing himself to meet her gaze, to see the burning determination that shone there, the sadness and concern at the prospect of her words not having the effect she wanted. He felt the pull of protest though, his smile growing as Khara tried to stop him from moving away from her.

"What you're suggesting is impossible," he said gently, his fingers delicately brushing across her cheek. "We cannot run away from home together; because if I am with you, I am home."
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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Khara on April 14th, 2015, 10:59 pm

It wasn't what she wanted to hear him say, not really; though Khara had to admit she wasn't entirely sure what it was she had expected Zhol to say in return. Why couldn't he understand the trust she placed in him? Were the events of his past so horrible that he couldn't see all the good he did currently? Was everything he had done right constantly straining under the weight of unpleasant memories? She knew how terrible some of them were to him, and she was far from immune to the terrors and guilt a mind could generate as it tried to reopen wounds left behind by such things, but even still Khara couldn't help but feel that Zhol saw him failing her as an inevitability.

Are you so different? Her thoughts questioned and caused her gaze to fall away from him. You keep waiting in dread for the day he will see you as the rest of Wind Reach does, when he realizes how worthless you are. When everyone else finally understands his courage and sees him as you do, when he draws the attention of someone far more worth his affection. You don't just fear it, you're terrified of it, you'd do anything to prevent it, and yet you keep anticipating the moment you turn a corner in the warrens and find his arms around someone else. You wouldn't blame him, after all, he already knows how broken and sullied you are.

Khara could feel herself trying desperately to counteract the accusations her mind was dredging up by willing herself closer to him, as if removing every remaining bit of space between them was a matter of necessity as much as want. She wasn't sure if it was worse or better that the thoughts flooding her mind weren't coming in any voice other than the same she had just used to speak to Zhol, it was her own and it was just as determined to be heard.

See? Her head chimed in again as Khara tightened her hold on him once more. Maybe Zhol is not the only one who needs to stop thinking so badly of himself. Hasn't he told you how much you matter to him? How much he doesn't care about what others think of you except to say that they are wrong? Forever, remember? Do you really think he would have said something like that lightly? Did you mean it lightly?

Her head raised slowly to look up at him and whatever part of her had managed to come up with so many compelling arguments fell silent once more. A slight laugh tumbled from her lips as Khara realized she had no idea what to say in reply to what Zhol had, or what all her mind had conjured. She could have said the three little words that always seemed to be on a nonstop loop within her whenever her eyes met his but they seemed so frail, overused, and not nearly enough to express all she wanted. Maybe there was something she could do, though…

With far more effort than she thought would ever be needed, Khara pulled away from Zhol, just enough to free one arm which she carefully gestured with, trying to get it perfect where she knew her heavily accented words may not be. It was the only phrase in Pavi she heard on a consistent basis, after all. But hearing and saying were two different things.

"I- I l-love you." Khara offered and for the tiniest fraction of a moment she was horrified she had gotten it completely wrong.

Then she saw the smile that formed on Zhol's lips and felt herself pulled into a tight embrace that caused her feet to leave the ground, if only for just an instant. Then came a flurry of kisses and emotion and if Zhol returned the sentiment or not verbally was entirely lost to her. Time was also a victim of being caught up in the moment; how long they remained in each other's arms at the entrance of that cave wasn't something Khara could recall later; how they finally managed to separate or how many failed attempts came and went before they drifted far enough away from each other that they could resume their journey was entirely swept away.

One thing was for certain, they both were in far better spirits as they returned to the slow climb up along the river's edge. Silence fell between them again, but a far more comfortable one that was accompanied by the occasional enamored glance or gentle brushes of fingertips against a hand or arm when the other was in reach.

Whatever sort of deer-like creature it was that they were tracking definitely seemed as calm and at peace within the surroundings as Khara felt in that moment. The path they followed appeared almost carefree to the scout, hoof prints becoming more clearly defined next to areas of vegetation that had obviously been nibbled at. The prints themselves weren't any less baffling though, even if Khara had determined that they had to belong to some sort of deer based upon the occasional small piles of pellet shaped scat that littered the trail.

Where prints couldn't be seen the ground had been worn down, dirt giving way to unyielding rock that proved just how often the animals must have made use of their river path. It both helped and didn't to find their way along more troubling areas. Often it pointed out the easiest and safest route up several steep climbs, though other sections were frustrating as the scrambled surfaces were obviously more fit for the creatures that called this area home rather than two humans.

As they climbed so too did the volume of the rushing water. The higher up they went the more aggressively it carved it's way through the valley and seemed to drown out all other sounds the lightly forested area had to offer. The trees themselves became less impressive as well, gradually giving way to far shorter bushes that clung to the rocky terrain.

Another bend in the river cut off their view ahead and the air seemed to take on a different feel to it, a chill that Khara hadn't quite been expecting. The katinu that she had been considering shrugging off only a few chimes before was now tugged tighter around her and she gave a curious glance to Zhol to make sure it wasn't simply a trick of the mind.

A large rocky outcropping had to be carefully maneuvered around and no sooner had Khara moved past the bend than she was struck with a sudden rush of cold that almost entirely took her breath away. What the air didn't achieve, however, the sight before them certainly did. Boulders littered the entire area, both within the river and out, stacked upon each other in jagged slabs that must have once been a part of the cliff face before them. The river tumbled from overhead, though seemed impossibly immobile in places until Khara realized she was seeing where the waterfall was partially iced over at the edges. Where it collided with the pool below was in the same state; sharp spires of ice reached upward towards the free falling water from the partially frozen surface.

Khara had seen similar before, after particularly harsh winters that froze the waterfall from the twin lakes solid, but she hadn't been expecting to come across such a thing now. The beauty of it almost entirely drew her attention away from noticing that off to the side of the pool the ground sloped down gently before widening into a meadow. Most of the open area was blocked from view by the large rock formations but Khara caught sight of a few more prints heading off in that direction.

She considered nudging Zhol towards the clearing but stopped as her eyes swept back over the waterfall. A glance was cast upwards towards Syna, Still plenty of time, she admitted and reached out with her right hand and found Zhol's fingers, only making the slightest of attempts to capture them.

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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Zhol on April 19th, 2015, 6:40 pm

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Zhol had never seen anything like it. Each constituent part was familiar, of course; he knew that water froze, and has seen almost every form of it turned solid by the harshness of the Kalean winters. This though felt more like reimancy than nature. Freezing was always something he thought of as slow; too slow for the naked eye to watch it happen. The shards of ice though were so dynamic, bursting sharply away from the surface of the pool into which the waterfall plunged; they seemed as if they must have frozen almost in an instant, as if the roar and spay of the falls had been turned solid in the blink of an eye.

Zhol felt Khara's fingers reach for his, a smile forming on his features as he willingly let his intertwine with hers. He had always wondered why Khara was so willing to venture out into the wilderness, to struggle and risk her life only to have the city turn around and consider her almost worthless for her efforts. In part, he knew it was about her mother; it was about clinging to something she knew she was good at, for fear of what might happen to her if she attempted anything else; it was about a desperate hope of following in her mother's footsteps, of mattering and making a difference in a way that her mother would have respected. Yet, it all weighed so much on Khara, and there were times when Zhol wondered if she might enjoy more happiness almost anywhere else.

Was it because of this, though? The spectacles that Kalea could conjure; the impressive sights it laid before you to reward you for your struggles through it's unforgiving terrain? Zhol wasn't there yet, but with such a sight before him, and Khara's fingers intertwined with his, he was closer than he had ever been to feeling like this all might be worth it after all.

It took less effort than it should have to drag his eyes away, but only because of what they turned to instead. He watched the wonder in Khara's eyes and expression as she watched the half-frozen falls; felt the embers of the warm fire that still hadn't faded from Khara's I love you stirred up into a fresh set of flames, more fuel thrown onto his undying adoration. His hand tightened around hers just a little, just enough to attract her attention, to encourage her eyes to look at him for a moment.

"Second most beautiful thing I've seen today," he said softly, his smile and the look in his eyes leaving absolutely no question about what the first might be.
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Zhol
Carry on, wayward son.
 
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Undiscovered Country (Part 1)

Postby Khara on April 19th, 2015, 8:44 pm

In typical fashion, Khara responded to the compliment with a shy smile and a brief look away. She wanted to accuse him of fibbing or overstating, but she had learned how futile it was to try and tell Zhol he was mistaken about such things. Instead she made the very real effort at accepting that was how he viewed things, even if she couldn't understand it.

"I am happy you are with me," she offered in reply once her eyes managed to make the climb back to meet with his. "Not... just because of earlier. But that you are here, now, and you get to see this too. I am normally by myself when I see things like this. Hunters are always very single thought on things when they are out, I do not think so many of them stop to really enjoy such things. I sometimes wonder if it would be good to spend a Summer living outside."

She spoke plainly, fairly confident the sound of the waterfall would obscure any of their chatter from reaching nearby animals - if there were any. The moment didn't seem as formal anymore and so she slipped back into the more typical language she tried to use around Zhol. Even if the water drowned out a few of her words from him, he still would probably understand better than if the same happened and she was speaking Nari.

Her hand slipped away from his, but only so that she could remove her pack and began searching through it. "We can rest here if you like for a little bit. There are tracks that lead out to the clearing but if that is where the deer are, then they perhaps won't go anywhere in the bit it will take us to recover a little."

A small pouch with some dried fruit was removed from her backpack and Khara removed a few slices of what she guessed was an apple. One of the dehydrated sections was offered towards Zhol as she looked back towards the meadow. "I know that is the only way we can go, but maybe you can use the sight thing to see if you can spot anything out there first? That way we can know how slowly and carefully we have to go so we do not scare them all away."

She shrugged a shoulder, took a small bite of one of the pieces of fruit and waited a tick before continuing to explain. "The tracks are different, so I want to be able to say why the deer are different too and how many there is. Maybe they will be better to hunt than others. But I cannot say if I do not see them so good."

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Khara
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