Closed Fruits for a Fiveday

Ori, Naadiya, Randal and Artik go foraging.

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Syka is a new settlement of primarily humans on the east coast of Falyndar opposite of Riverfall on The Suvan Sea. [Syka Codex]

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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Oralie on March 14th, 2022, 9:02 am

55th spring, 522

Oralie was sat out on the back deck munching her way through a plate of sandwiches. They were good - she’d found them ready made in the cool box in the kitchen like she had so many times before. The Innkeeper, even though somehow she’d never met them, always seemed to have food of some sort ready just in case it was wanted. Today it happened to be sandwiches. She’d had two already, and was working on the third, watching the waves wash up on the beach near the Inn as she did so.

Sandwiches finished, she stood and stifled a yawn. Oralie was getting less and less sleep as the season went on, thanks to her ever present and always unwanted companion. For some reason, everyone in the settlement has received some sort of bad luck and hers took the form of a shadow being. It had appeared on the first day, totally silent and drifting after her wherever she went, staring always with fathomless silver eyes.

Some days ago, maybe around the 35th of the season, its behaviour had changed very suddenly. The being had started to move objects about and make noise. Nothing overly dramatic, and at first Oralie had only been mildly annoyed. But after the second night of knocking and shuffling, tapping and clattering of objects her patience and nerves had quickly worn thin. She had never been easily annoyed before, but these days she was somewhat irritable, especially after a night where the being decided to be extra loud.

It was hovering next to her now, making tapping noises on the back of her chair that she was doing her best to tune out. With a sigh, she headed into the kitchen to clean up her plate before heading back to her room. It was almost midday, which meant she should be getting things in order to head into the jungle shortly. Randal had asked her to go with him to gather fruits for the Tenday. For some reason, she could never say no to him.

In her room Oralie stripped off her dress and pulled on one of her pairs of moss green isuas trousers. She kept the gold bangle secured on her upper left arm and then shrugged on a beige long sleeved isuas shirt. She buttoned it all the way up and tucked it in before securing her waist with a leather belt. Knee high brown leather boots were pulled onto her feet and she quickly pulled her hair back in a braid, tied with a short green isaus scarf.

Next, she pulled her backpack out from the corner of the room and went through it to make sure she had everything she might need. They weren’t going to be in the jungle for long, but it was always best to be prepared for any situation.

The shadow being drifted nearer to where she was crouched next to the dresser. Knocking sounds thudded in Oralie’s ears and she scrunched her eyes shut for a tick before resuming her sorting. Then came a scraping sound, and before she could see what it was doing, the being had pushed a shell off the dresser. It hit her on the shoulder and she looked up sharply. The shadow being had never done anything physically to her before. Usually it just swapped objects around or moved them from one place to another. Sometimes it would push something off a table but this was the first time it had aimed the object at her. The shell was small, and hadn’t hurt at all but as she looked at the being, she wondered if it’s habits were starting to change again. Or perhaps it was an accident and it had really wanted to shatter the shell on the floor. It stared back at her, not blinking and not moving.

The tarp, bedroll, rope and hammock were always packed in the bottom of her waterproof backpack. Even though she wasn’t planning to use them today, they never left the backpack - just in case. She quickly checked to make sure they were all still in good condition before adding in her second pair of trousers and another shirt. She was unlikely to need them either, but if for any reason she needed or decided to become the ocelot, there was a chance that she would ruin the clothes she was already wearing. She next put in her survival kit with her addition of a small bottle of water additive and also her first aid kit.

Oralie dabbed a healthy amount of insect repellent onto herself before dropping that into the pack, and that was followed by her pouch of coconut fibre tinder, flint & steel, small knife, red leather gloves and her large red marble. She stood, picking up the backpack, her two waterskins and her machete, and walked straight past the shadow being and out to the kitchen.

There, she bustled around filling up the waterskins and finding some food to pack too. She mostly added pieces of fruit - even though there would be plenty in the jungle it was always a good idea to have some to hand. She also found some dried meat and a hunk of bread, which she wrapped in a cloth before placing on the top of her pack with the waterskins. She closed her pack securely and then fixed her machete to her belt.

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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Naadiya on March 15th, 2022, 12:44 am

Getting up as early as she could possibly muster, Naadiya gathered a bunch of things in her arms and tiptoed to the bathroom where she prepared a steaming bath for her newly edited morning ritual.

It had taken Naadiya many days of struggling not knowing how her curse was triggered, and what caused the effects to be reverted. Yes, it had taken a while, but she had finally deciphered those two details. Hot water was her ally until Naadiya could figure how to remove this morphing reflex.

In her preparations, Naadiya had grabbed a few lemons from the kitchen, greeting a friendly stranger in the process. She wondered at how the elusive owner of the inn kept hiring new kitchen staff, Syka was must have been growing even faster than Naadiya had imagined! The lemons, she had cut in half, and sliced one into thin medallions. With one half of a lemon in each hand, she squeezed the acidic drops into the water then left the slices to float in the bath while she searched for soap.

Naadiya lowered herself into the tub holding a brush, a bar of scented soap and a dried up loofah. The loofah she let float in the water along with the lemon slices, it would soak up the hot lemonade and soften. Of the soap, too she let go, allowing it start to whiten the water like milk in tea.

Though this morning, she had woken up with no added appendages between her legs, Naadiya had been starting all her days with a dangerously hot bath, in the hopes that doing so would even ward off a random gender shift midday. She was still pretty uncertain if it would be effective. So far, hot or warm water seemed to have been doing the trick, but she had only tested its effects when already in male form. It was still possible that she could somehow store the effects of the hot water while in her female body… wasn’t it?

If she needed an excuse for a hot bath, here it was… Would making the bath all the more relaxing and therapeutic make the curative effects stronger? Maybe? I don’t know, I’m not a god.

Was it the gods who had caused this dark cloud to idle over the jungle coast? Light poured in from the window and Naadiya thought how ironic it was that such a beautiful spring could be so dark. She scrubbed her legs vigorously with the loofah. Since she had started having her… episodes… her body seemed to have been growing body hair much faster than before, or at least at a significantly different pace. Sometimes she would fall asleep as a man and wake up with a beard growing in. Shifting back into a woman did not make the hairs fall off, though turning into a man, seemed to speed their growth.

Shaving had become more annoying than it had ever been before in the course of her life, exacerbated by the fact that now she had to also occasional help Artik to shave himself… That was about the only thing that made her feel a little better about her own body hair’s growth spurt. Artik had it much worse in that department, though he could, at least, be thankful that he did not become a woman at the touch of cool water.

Although…. That could be interesting as well…

Naadiya ran the soap where her razor would glide and once she was finished, she regretted going so fast. Now her bath was over, what had once been an aromatic bathing tea was now ruined by all the floating bits of hair. She emptied the bathtub and went back to her room, where upon entering, she promptly tripped over a boot. A couple of unsteady steps and a hand jutted out to hold the door frame kept her from falling. Naadiya would have angrily kicked the boots away if they weren’t precisely the pair she’d needed. Holding back her anger, she only threw a dirty look at the footwear.

She paired tan pants with a teal top, both in the locally famous isuas fabric, slipping a pair of protective stockings underneath the pants. With boots laced up, gloves strapped on, and her bag filled with a few things that were always handy, as well as a few large cloth bags she’d often purposely forget to return to Dawn when transporting spun isuas yarns and finished fabric. The large tote bags were so universally useful and easy to crumpled into themselves to fit into small pockets, Naadiya had gotten in the habit of keeping at least one stuffed into her bag’s pockets. Now, she had a few.

Oralie had asked if Naadiya had wanted to help gathering fruits for the up coming Tenday and she’d agreed. And as her recent consumption of lemons had soared to heights beyond imagining, it was only fair she helped replenish some of the inn’s fruit supplies. The bags would come in handy for them to carry anything they gathered. In her backpack, she also packed a pouch of nuts and one of seeds, either sunflower or pine seeds, she couldn’t remember, a waterskin and a wineskin… If Artik had a tantrum, she had his baby’s bottle, though he tended to keep his wits about him when going into the wilder areas.

Still, she made sure the wineskin was properly corked with no risk of leaking.

Taking one of her scarves, a white one, Naadiya wrapped her neck and tied a loose knot to the side. Her hair, she pulled back, twisting the entire mass in her hands and slowly spinning it into a bun on her crown that she secured with hairpins.

Feeling the need to adorn herself Naadiya went to the one piece of jewelry she still had. The earring James had given her when she’d reached Syka. Though it held its own mysterious lie-detecting ability, it was also a really cute earring... besides she had a few things she wanted to ask Artik, should she get a moment aside with him, and having the added edge made her all the more confident to broach the subject.

The two were set to meet up with Oralie and Randal at a point somewhat equidistant to everyone and from there make their way to somewhere they could find fruit trees and bushes.

Finding Artik leaving his ship, Naadiya caught up to him and walked alongside him. She couldn’t help but notice how clean shaven his face was and how nearly every other bit of his skin was covered up. He too had a scarf around his neck, but his was securely tightened so as to not move easily if at all. His movements too were awkward, as if he was bothered by what was underneath his clothes. She knew what was bothering him, but also knew how self conscious he was about it and chose to not ask how he felt, lest he think he was showing visible signs of discomfort.

The two waited for Oralie at the prearranged spot. Randal might be arriving with her or on his own so Naadiya kept an eyes out for both faces while considering if this would be a good time to grill Artik.

It took her too long to decide and before she could put the powers of the earring to use, the other half of her excursion team had arrived.

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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Oralie on March 17th, 2022, 7:03 pm

Oralie gave her clothing and her backpack a final check over and then made her way out of the Inn, skipping lightly down the steps. She did not need to turn around to know that the shadow being had followed her out. She hadn’t gone into the jungle with it yet with its new behaviours, and she wondered briefly what might happen, if anything.

She set out along the Cobbled pathway, heading for the Commons. She was meeting Randal at his new shop and then they would both wait for Naadiya and Artik before plunging into the trees.

It did not take her too long to get to Ride the Waves, for the Protea Inn was just around the bay from the main part of the settlement. She headed up the steps and into the retail area of the shop, casting her gaze about the place. She couldn’t see the carpenter anywhere, so she called out for him.
“Randal?”

His reply came from the floor below. “Downstairs!” Oralie left her backpack propped up against the wall and headed down to find him examining a board he was clearly in the middle of working on. It was carved into shape, but she could see the roughness of the wood still. Randal was dressed for the jungle and not for work, and Oralie smiled at him, thankful he had not forgotten their excursion. She carefully ran a finger over the board. “This one is a…” She tilted her head, trying to remember the differences in the boards he had previously told her about. “A paddleboard?”

The man nodded. “Correct.” “Who is it for?” A mischievous smile played over Randal’s mouth. “You, if you want it.” He let himself chuckle at her expression. “I did tell you that I’m determined to get you out on the water!” Oralie shook her head lightly, but he would be able to tell it was in jest, for a smile of her own wound across her mouth.

A handful of chimes later the pair were leaving the shop, backpacks on and weapons secured about their persons. Oralie let herself look at Randal properly now they were out in the open. While some of the residents had curses that were only known to themselves - like Oralie and her shadow companion - others had curses that were on full display of all. His was one such curse.

His most obvious show was a pair of long ridged dark horns spiralling up from the crown of his head. They had grown rapidly and were, Oralie suspected, as long as her arm now. She wondered how heavy they must be. Randal’s eyes too had changed, the colour lightening from a chocolate to more of a golden brown, a couple of shades darker than Oralie’s own. His pupils were odd too now, though unlike her cat ones, his pupils were elongated horizontally. The more bestial appearance seemed to have trickled into his behaviours too, for the man would occasionally let out a huff of air through his nostrils, and if he stood still for long enough he often stamped a foot on the ground like a cattle animal might do.

They were meeting Naadiya and Artik outside the Mercantile, and when it came into view Oralie saw the pair were already waiting. She waved as they approached and Randal gave each of them a nod. “Are we ready then?” His voice was a little different to normal, given that he had grown extra teeth too.

When everyone had confirmed they were ready to go, Randal set off in the direction of the Community Pool Oralie following behind him, leaving Naadiya and Artik to take up the rear. As they passed by the pool, she turned to smile at the Benishra woman. “I’m glad you decided to come today Naadiya.” Her gaze slipped away from Naadiya briefly as the shadow being drifted past and into view, but she quickly returned her focus. “It’s crazy how we’ve been living under the same roof for so long but have hardly spent any time together!”

Ahead, Randal paused for a tick, considering the direction to take them in. Oralie unhooked her machete from her belt, turning it in her hand to reacquaint herself with its weight. She glanced over at Artik. She didn’t know him well, and mostly by reputation at that. “It’s nice to have you along too.”

Randal finally picked a direction and forged ahead. Their path was already trod, though not quite as clear as some others might be. Randal chopped his way through the worst of the vegetation, and Oralie followed behind, using her machete to clear some of the spikier looking foliage on their right side. She kept her body loose and flexible like a cats as she walked, making it much easier for her to move through the jungle.

She periodically threw quick glances behind her, making sure that the other pair weren’t falling behind."You work at the weavers right Naadiya? How do you like it? I heard Dawn’s work was in high demand before she came over from Riverfall.”

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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Naadiya on March 18th, 2022, 9:40 pm

Artik had leaned on a tree while he waited and Naadiya crouched down by his side, taking shelter in the shade provided by both him and the palm. He was whistling, seemingly not wanting silence to open the door for uncomfortable talk.

Seems like he knows what I want to talk about… Well he is hiding it brilliantly… she thought with sarcasm in mind. His whistles were starting to annoy her. Why did he come today? Surely he means to not let my suspicions grow all the faster in his absence…

For a few chimes, she let her mind wander and think up the likely thoughts that could be running through Artik's head. The easiest thing to do was, of course, to assume the worst and most creative narratives. Naadiya stared at the man next to her through the corners of her eyes, carefully looking away whenever he showed signs of turning her way.

The whistling silence plodded on and she was about to break it when she caught sight of Randal. What a sight he had become. Looking around at the group, Naadiya realized that she could not even feel sorry for herself and her own enigmatic dilemma. If anything, she had it better than the other three, for she could at least return to back to normal, albeit not on command. At least her curse was not felt or seen every bell of the day without pause.

Naadiya smiled sympathetically at Randal when the two had neared, she couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to him if they were unable to find a solution to these horrible hexes that had contaminated the town. Would he become an animal altogether, or rather a beast of some sort, half way between both points.

Gods help us all.

“We are ready,” Artik replied to Randal. Eager to get going, he stood up straight and unclasped the handles of the machetes at either side of his waist and handed one to Naadiya. She cursed herself for not having bought one of her own just yet. She couldn’t just rely on him to always thinking of those things. He’d even assumed she would have needed him to bring one again. Naadiya liked to think of her mind as a steel trap but in truth it seemed to be closer to a steel sieve.

As they walked, Naadiya adjusted her grip on the blade’s leather wrapped handle. She made sure her blade was lowered when Oralie turned.

“Me too,” she had taken a few quick steps forward, so that she walked only slightly ahead of Artik. “I’ve been a bit of a hermit, I have to admit. I think I have been so worried about money that I didn’t do much, just staying in the room working. And then my new little…quirk… also put a bit of a damper on things”

The tension on her face may have betrayed Naadiya’s light tone when it came to their maladies, but she kept talking so as to not linger on the subject.

“Have you been staying at the inn very long?” She lowered her voice a little, “I know this may sound odd, but I can’t actually remember having met the owner or whoever runs the place. But somehow, things keep getting done. Is it all you?”

Despite Naadiya’s dropped volume, Artik was still close enough to overhear. What a strange thing to say, he thought. I remember the owner! Their name was… it kind of sounded like…. I remember it started with a… He couldn’t come up with anything, which left Artik feeling all the more uneasy. He just nodded and made an attempt at a smile when Oralie spoke to him.

They started to cut their way through the jungle and Naadiya followed Oralie, far enough that they machete swings would not cause any accidents. She’d been getting more used to the feel of a machete in her hand, but it still felt a bit foreign to the girl. Naadiya took great care where she stepped, trying to follow almost exactly where Oralie and Randal were walking. She did not want to accidentally tread on a snake, an anthill or any other such potentially fatal nuisance.

Artik covered their rear, making sure nothing would have the chance to sneak up on the group from behind. As soon as they started getting a little deeper in the green, he would look over his shoulder, or else turn completely to be certain there would be no surprises. He had skipped his usual drink before leaving the boat, knowing they would need to keep their wits about them in the jungle, but also because he did not want to accidentally say something stupid while close enough for Naadiya to hear.

There was already the lightest hint of a headache digging its roots in the back of his head. He had started to feel it almost as soon as He’d seen Naadiya. The silence between the two was very telling and he was not drunk at all, so unfortunately he was entirely aware of it.

I need a drink, just a small one. he thought, swallowing dry sips of nothing. As soon as we stop somewhere. A silent promise to himself.

Ahead of him, Naadiya had her gaze focused on what lay in front of her, deliberating not looking back. She chopped a few awkwardly angled branches and roots that seemed to protrude dangerously where they would likely have to walk back. Between swings, and with her breathing a little uneven, she replied, “Yes! Dawn and Tony Swiftwater! She definitely has her ear to the ground on all things that trend among the wealth of Riverfall, even as far as she is from there right now.”

Naadiya’s own tastes and Dawn’s did not always agree. One preferred ornamentation, the other simplicity. One preferred more, while the other championed for less. But Naadiya could not make her own clothes just yet so she, like most other Sykans, shopped in the Swiftwaters’ establishment. She wore Dawn’s creations and glanced at Oralie’s own vestments, trying to guess if they were from the same rack as hers.

“I’m sure Syka was a huge shift for her, but she keeps busy! I wonder what she is going to be making for the kids to wear, she hasn’t had to make patterns that size since she’s gotten here, I don’t think.”

Naadiya had heard tidbits of Oralie’s past, though in truth she couldn’t remember how. But the bits she had heard, were not the kind of thing she imagined the Kelvic would want to talk about here and now. Maybe they would have another opportunity, but for now, Naadiya focused on the girls present and future, in case the past was too painful or uncomfortable.

“You’ve been working at the inn for a while now, right? Do you like it? I’m sure it’s a pretty good way of meeting people, no?”

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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Oralie on March 25th, 2022, 11:53 am

Oralie gave Naadiya a small, sympathetic smile at her words. She was not sure of the finer details of the Benishra woman’s curse, but she knew the most important part. Sometimes Naadiya would appear to be male. Perhaps ‘appear’ was the wrong word… as far as Oralie was aware she actually turned fully into a man. Today Naadiya seemed to be herself, and Oralie wondered what it was that decided it. She did not ask though - she had no idea if Naadiya even knew, and if she did, it was probably something of a sensitive subject.

“Yes… the season has been quite… well, something so far hasn’t it?” Her gaze slid away again to the shadow being, drifting quietly alongside her. She wondered what, if anything, it would do out here in the jungle. It seemed to like fiddling with Oralie’s possessions and making strange, and sometimes creepy, noises. The Kelvic didn’t think anyone else usually heard the sounds, or if they did nobody had said anything about it. She turned again to face forwards, concentrating on the path once more lest she trip over a root or a stone.

Naadiya moved the topic on swiftly, though Oralie herself left her comment open to show she would be happy to circle back to it if anyone wanted to. She took a moment to consider her answer to the next question.
“I’ve been staying since the start of the Winter. I think I arrived maybe 10 or so days before you did.” Oralie smiled again, though this time it was warmer. If Naadiya was looking at Oralie’s face she would notice the flicker of doubt and confusion in her eyes as she tried to recall the Innkeeper.

“No I… I do the cleaning. Sometimes I’ll cook breakfast for myself and maybe Faye but that’s all. It’s funny, I must have met the Innkeeper because I work there but I’ve had a hard time remembering them lately. One or two of the others have asked if I own the place so I guess they’re not around too much recently. I don’t blame them to be honest, with all this going on.”
Oralie waved her free hand vaguely to indicate their curses. “I sort of assumed they get up early to make food and then maybe head off to the Outpost for the day or something.” She shrugged. “Not everybody is sociable, though you would think that an Innkeeper would be…”

She gave a nervous laugh. “I’m glad it’s not just me though. I thought I was going mad from lack of sleep. It… the shadow wakes me up a lot these days.” Oralie’s usually bright face was starting to show signs of lack of sleep. Her under eyes grew more purple each day and her gaze was not quite as sharp and focused as it usually was.

As the conversation ebbed and flowed, the four of them slowly wound their way through the lighter parts of the jungle. The trails this close to the settlement were well kept and they didn’t have to work too much to keep moving forward. Oralie kept her hold on the machete in her hand loose so that she could easily swing it alongside her, taking care of stray branches that crept into the path.

Oralie kept her head slightly angled as she walked ahead of Naadiya so that she could look where she was going and have an ear to listen to the woman at the same time. “I bet she loves designing things for the people here. The brighter the better in a lot of cases right!” Usually Oralie loved to wear colour. It gave her a sense of freedom and identity after spending so long wearing beige servants' clothes in order to be invisible, just another mindless body for her master. Today of course her clothing was more muted to blend into the jungle, the items purchased from the Mercantile not long after she had arrived in Syka.
“I think she’s made a few things already. I helped Faye buy some stuff a little while ago for when she’s… well, you know.” She suspected there were not many who were unaware of poor Faye’s condition.

Ahead, Randal had stopped again. Coming up next to him, Oralie took a moment to notice that the trees were starting to get denser around them. She tilted her head at a noise a little way off to the left of the group. Her brow lowered as she tried to figure out what it was. Randal kept his voice soft. “Nandhai. They’re digging, looking for food.” He looked at the group and gave Artik a nod as the men quietly decided to move off in the opposite direction. “They’re not particularly violent but we don’t want to disturb them anyway.”

As they set off again, heading away from the mysterious Nandhai, Oralie stepped a little closer to Naadyia so she could answer her question. “It’s good work, pretty simple and it gives me plenty of time to do other things too. And meet others, yes.” She smiled."I’ve been thinking about trying to find something else to do though. You know, like a calling I guess. Everyone seems to have a thing that they love and do. I’ve been trying to figure mine out. I love looking after things - working at the Inn has shown me that. But I don’t want to be an Innkeeper or anything. I recently spent some time with Nora, you know at the animal place? I loved it so much. So I might try that.”

It was the first time Oralie had voiced the thoughts out loud and the hesitation was evident in her voice. But there was also something else there, a glint in her eye that hinted at a passion. “Like your thing is weaving right? What do you think you will do in the future? Will you stay with Dawn?”

After some more chimes of walking, a small clearing opened up in front of the group. Water could be heard somewhere to the left of them and there were some scattered trees about the place. Randal took a moment to peer into the dense jungle ahead before nodding to himself, giving an animalistic snort through his nose.

Oralie had found an interesting tree near the edge of the clearing. As she examined it closer, she noticed that it seemed to be two trees, one growing inside the other. She peered up at the canopy, noticing how the branches of the outside tree wrapped around the trunk of the inside tree and grew down to the ground. Other branches hung off it laden with small orange fruits.

“Strangler fig.” Randal had seen what she was looking at and left what she recognised as a dragon fruit plant with its strange knobbly yellow fruits. “It grows from the top of another tree all the way down to the ground. Eventually the tree underneath will die.” Oralie tilted her head as she considered the trees while Randal picked and ate one of the fruits. He handed her a small sack and Oralie set about collecting some of the fruits. High above them in the canopy a pair of toucans were chattering away. It would have been a wonderful experience if not for their curses - the shadow being kept slipping into her view every couple of chimes. There were a few other sources of food about, and Oralie suspected they would stay here for a short while before they had to move on again.


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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Naadiya on March 29th, 2022, 6:50 pm

As Oralie’s gaze wandered off into the empty space, Naadiya followed the direction she looked in. Knitting her brow, Naadiya almost asked if the blonde had been looking at the shadow that followed her. But she didn’t ask. She didn’t have to.

If I am near her when the shadow moves something, would I see the thing move or would that be in her head as well? Would it even get physical if other people were close enough to see?

Trying to forget about the invisible shadow being, Naadiya focused on her swings, being a little too thorough and cutting maybe a little too hard. She was starting to get the slowly creeping feeling of being watched though she knew, or hoped, that Oralie’s curse would not show itself to her as well.

Surely it couldn't jump from one person to another like a disease.

Naadiya’s own experience with magic had been limited and vague. She hadn’t specifically tried to avoid it, it just simply was not a regular part of her life before coming to Syka. In Syka, however, everything seemed grazed by a magical or divine touch.

“Oh my goddess! I thought you had been at the inn much longer than that!” She creased her brow then stopped immediately, her finger subconsciously rubbing what would one day become a real wrinkle and not the rapidly fading creases of lingering youth. Naadiya made a mental note to go visit the spa she’d seen at The Outpost for a little pampering, not that a facial would fix any of their problems but who doesn’t like to lay with cucumbers in their eyes. In truth, she wasn’t even sure if the spa offered such services, she could only hope.

It was odd that no one could remember the innkeeper but then it was also out of the ordinary to grow several inches of hair a day, or horns… Those were definitely unusual things for most humans and she could not image there were very many kelvics who saw wandering shadows and thought it normal.

“You think the innkeeper might have left because of these strange afflictions? I wish I could just leave and have everything go back to normal but it doesn’t feel like that would actually solve anything… And then imagine the solution ends up being here and then I’m half away across the continent trying to make a penis disappear. I wonder if they are off somewhere trying to make their curse disappear too. I tried going to The Outpost, but that didn't seem to make a lick of difference.”

The way Oralie would describe her shadow, it sometimes sounded like an infant which made Naadiya a little uneasy. She looked at Oralie’s dark circles and sympathized, sleep was one of the simple pleasures in life that so often went under-appreciated.

Her evil shadow baby has been keeping her busy through the night and worried through the day. An evil, malignant umbral infant with an insidious mind and a talent for nothing good. And really, what guarantee is there that a baby is not going to be filled with darkness in its core? You can only hope that it is just physically healthy but what of their mind? How long would it take for those dark-natured traits became apparent?There have been so many evil people who have done such horrible things and they all had a mother. Did she bear any of the blame for their actions? She gave them life. She may have cared for them and ensured they grew strong and wouldn’t that make her even more guilty of the evil brought on by her brood?

A small cramp in her side brought Naadiya out of her thoughts just as she almost swung her machete at an unsteady looking branch. A sharp jerk of her arm and she veered away from the branch and whatever it held above. Her left hand rose to her stomach subconsciously, almost protectively, as she looked up to see the weight that could have just accidentally come down on her. Quick steps brought her forward, keeping pace with Oralie.

When the topic came to her current boss, Naadiya was a little more careful with her words. She wasn’t yet sure how well Oralie and Dawn knew each other or liked each other. She wouldn’t want gossip to spread through the grapevine, and Syka was full of vines.

“I think she does, being the only shop in town must make it much faster for her to start seeing her designs filling the settlement. It must be very satisfying. Do you know her well?”

She now knew that Oralie had not been in Syka long before herself and without a need to see the woman on a regular basis the way Naadiya did, it probably wasn’t likely that two blondes would have a deep personal connection, but Naadiya wasn’t about to jump into the ocean without testing the waters.

“Faye…” If Naadiya had to choose which curse would have hit her own soft spot a little too hard, it would have been Faye’s, “how is she coping with… everything?”


Randal and Oralie were the first ones to notice any far off noises, whenever either of them would react to something, Naadiya would react to them. She had never heard of Nandhai before but they did not seem carnivorous from their descriptions. She eased the tension in her jaw, unclenching and giving it a quick wiggle to feel a little looser, then sighed in relief.

They continued into the jungle and Naadiya looked to Artik ahead of her with Randal. He had his haired pulled back in a bun, but already it was starting to look loose. Naadiya wondered how much of that was due to his hair continuing to grow at the root or just from the physical activity of clearing the brush. As Oralie was talking about caring for people and animals, Naadiya tried to decide which would actually be harder.

“Have you ever worked with animals before? My father had camels and we always had cats or dogs in the caravan, I’ve always thought being with them was much less strain on one’s mental health than being with people… I might have to be a frequent visitor if you two get anything cute and cuddly to play with! I feel like I’m always surrounded by birds or snakes now, and I don’t want to snuggle with either of those.”

For a second Naadiya paused before she could get out her reply.

Is weaving my thing?

“I… guess so… It’s what I was trained in most my life and was always a way of making a living so it’s been hard to get away from the loom. But I’m not complaining.”

She was still being a little on the cautious side at the mention of her boss but Naadiya tried to not make her hesitation evident.

“Oh yes, I hope to continue to work with Dawn for a long time to come.”

It wasn't a lie. Even if Naadiya stopped selling her textiles with Dawn as the middleman, the Swiftwaters would remain the only Isuas producers in the settlement and that would be her main source of raw material, if everything went according to plan.

Once they'd reached the strangler fig, Naadiya stared at up at it shaking her head. The plant gave Naadiya a tiny queasy feeling in her stomach. It looked as if some had crossed a boa constrictor with a ficus and Naadiya had just about had it with snakes. She chose to go for the plants that had not yet been claimed by the web of thin trunks. Narrowing her eyes, she scanned the green looking for pops of color and found there were plenty to be found. Before she started picking produce, Naadiya made sure her gloves were properly secured, then she pulled out the large fabric bags she’d stuffed into her backpack. She handed a couple to Artik and kept an extra one herself. She slung the linen straps over each shoulder and across her body so that she had one bag on each side.

First, Naadyia went towards the familiar yellow starfruit that hung lazily from their branches. Naadiya attached her machete to a clip on her belt and started climb a nearby tree to gain a bit of height while reaching for fruits just out of reach. She wasn’t planning on going very high and was content with the extra four fruits she managed to reach, when she felt something from below. Looking down, she saw it was Artik’s hands holding her up, supporting her leg in case she somehow slipped.

The gesture was comforting, but even as her smile decided to show itself, her brow creased again. The clean shaven face she had just seen not so long ago, was now covered with a shortly cropped beard that went down his neck until it was hidden by the scarf. Even the hand that helped balance her weight was covered in a fuzz much thicker than was usual for him.

“Thank you,” she said briefly, reaching for another few of the tangy yellow fruit. There was more she could not reach and wasn’t comfortable to continue climbing higher for them. Reaching into her pocket, Naadiya pulled out a small knife and sawed at a thin branch for a while before finally slicing through and pulling the slim bough with its two large starfruit and three little ones. Naadiya slipped the knife back in her pocket before going back down to the ground, using Artik for added leverage and then picked the fruit off the detached branch, leaving the wood off to the side.

Without a word, Artik wandered away as she stored the fruit. Not sure what to say, Naadiya said nothing and went off to look for something else to forage. Her eyes were caught by a tall skinny palm with what looked to be strings of very dark almost black berries. The small fruit were growing in such abundance it almost looked like giant bunches of grapes, or berries that grew like coconuts.

“Does anyone know what these are?” She asked pointing to the tree noticing there were a few sister trees around it as well.

“Açai,” came Artik’s voice, and Naadiya whirled around to see he hadn’t wandered far.

“Actually,” he continued, “we could grab a few of those bunches, the fruit is both nutritious and revitalizing. I’ll get some, Randal help me out!”

Naadiya watched as the two brought down some fruit, knowing she would not have managed the vertical ascent as smoothly… coming down would also have caused problems. She wondered if Randal’s horns would get in the way or if he had already been starting to use them to his advantage somehow.

“Be careful!” She called out, bringing her gaze down and scanning the surrounding area in case something else came as a surprise. Her senses may not have been as sharp as the Kelvic’s, but she couldn’t stand by uselessly either.

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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Oralie on April 5th, 2022, 5:37 pm

Oralie shrugged lightly, then hesitated and shook her head. “No, I don’t really think the Innkeeper is at the Outpost every day. You can tell that they love the Inn too much just to leave.” She sighed. “I was just imagining that they were to make me feel better about not remembering them. It’s bad enough I have this… this thing following me around, without forgetting people on top of it.” She frowned. “Though since it is definitely not only me forgetting them perhaps it is something bigger… maybe it’s something to do with all the madness.”

She slowed her steps to fall back a little to walk alongside Naadiya. “Sometimes I feel like…” Oralie hesitated, unsure of how to word what she wanted to say. “Sometimes I think I remember having a person, someone I loved very much. Like a sibling, maybe. When I am doing something around the Inn, I’ll get this odd feeling like there should be another person there. But every time I try to think about it I just... There’s nobody in my memory. I wonder if it’s them.”

Naadyia made an odd jerking movement with her arm and Oralie glanced at the Beinshra woman with concern. “Are you okay?” She watched Naadiya carefully, only relaxing again when the conversation moved on normally.

“Dawn? No, not really. I’ve only been to the shop a couple of times and of course I’ve seen her at the Tendays. She seems very nice though, and honestly I can’t say a bad word on her clothes! I just love the colours she’s been able to make with the Isaus. Though it’s a terrible shame how she can’t touch the stuff any more.” Oralie grimaced. The curses the settlers were afflicted with seemed oddly personal. “I guess you have more work this season because of that huh?”

The Kelvic’s expression turned somewhat sad as the conversation turned to Faye. Oralie had grown attached to the girl as the season had wound on and she didn’t think she would ever get used to the poor things curse. Even though she had seen the cycle a couple of times over now, she knew that the shock would rear its head every single time it started again. If that was how she felt, she couldn’t even imagine how Faye did, even if the girl had tried to tell her a couple of times. Oralie shook her head a little.
“She’s coping remarkably, actually. She’s what, middle aged at the moment. It’s worse when she is older… Faye is a tough cookie, I don’t think I would be able to handle it anywhere near as well as she is.”

It had been a while since Oralie had come into the jungle properly, and now that she was back among the green again she realised how much she had missed it. Of course, she still had much to learn if she wanted to be safe and truly able to experience it freely, but with each visit she felt more and more like it was where she was always supposed to be. She would have to make sure she came out more often.

Oralie tilted her head in curiosity. “What is a camel?” She shook her head. “I barely even saw animals before I came here. There were birds and street dogs in Syliras and the occasional cat but that is all. Of course there were things out in the wild on my journey but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to them at the time… It has been nice to be around them here though, they have helped me understand myself more.” She wasn’t sure if Naadiya would know exactly what she meant, not being a Kelvic, but hopefully she would get the gist of Oralie’s words. She chuckled lightly. “And a cat, don’t forget. Though I don’t really wander around the settlement on four legs at the moment…” With all the curses around the last thing she needed was someone to panic at the sight of her. Small as she was, an ocelot was still a predator.

Oralie didn’t pick too many of the fig fruits from the branches. Even if it was a parasitic plant, it still served a purpose and provided things for the animals of the jungle and the settlement. She didn’t want to take everything from it all at once. From somewhere behind her she heard Naadiya’s voice, asking about something she had found. Oralie wandered over to have a look, glancing up at the bunches of small dark fruits. She was about to say that she had never seen them before that she could remember, when Artik supplied the answer.

Randal joined them then too at the other man’s request. He climbed a little ways up the tree, leaving Artik on the ground to reach the bunches from the branches he would angle down to him. It was safer this way; nobody wanted to be above the long, sharp horns crowning his head.

The toucans in the fig tree suddenly took flight with much fuss, and Oralie whirled around to look. She scanned the small clearing with her keen gaze, but saw nothing amiss. Her eyes narrowed as she realised that she couldn’t see the shadow being anywhere, and she momentarily panicked that it had suddenly decided to harry someone else. She spun back to the others, only to come eye-to-eye with the being. Oralie shrieked and jumped back, hand coming up to thump herself on the chest over her suddenly racing heartbeat.

Randal was back on the ground and in front of her as quick as a flash and he gripped Oralie’s shoulders in his hands. She shook her head at him. “I’m okay, I’m sorry.” Randal held her gaze for a moment before letting her go, and she smiled sheepishly at the other two. “It snuck up on me… sorry.” The shadow being had drifted away a little and was now a couple of arm lengths from her. She wondered what she must have looked like to them, scaring the empty air.

Randal stamped the ground and let out a bestial snort. “I think it is a good time to move on. Grab a drink and let's go.” Oralie placed her canvas sack and machete on the ground before sliding her backpack off. She fished one of her waterskins from its depths and took a good drink before tucking it away and gathering herself up again.

When everyone was ready Randal set off out from the clearing, Oralie following behind him. She looked sidelong at the trees, her Kelvic senses and Priskil marks allowing her to see somewhat clearly into the gloom. The shadow being drifted parallel to her off the path Randal was beating for them. Oralie looked at it for a long moment before refocusing, bringing her machete up to chop neatly through a thick but short branch Randal had missed.

They walked for a while, Oralie keeping herself flexible, weaving her way along as she had been shown what felt like a long time ago now. Her heightened hearing picked up the many sounds of the jungle. Animals calling in the distance, birds overhead and underneath it all a hum that she could only assume was insects. There was a rusling too, the dense foliage brushing against itself as it was disturbed by a breeze perhaps or passing animals.

Randal stopped walking as they came across a barrier on his chosen route. A huge fallen trunk lay in front of them. That usually wouldn’t be an issue - Sykans weren’t averse to climbing. This one however had fallen long ago and had been swallowed by new growth that made it much harder. Looking up, Oralie saw a small troop of monkeys lazing in the trees above, mostly disinterested in the four humans below.

As Randal was deciding which way to go around, something very solid hit Oralie on the front of her shoulder. “Ow!” She looked at the ground by her feet to see a round brown shell of some sort, just bigger than her palm. With a frown she bent and picked it up, but as she did so another came flying at her, going straight over her head. She quickly stood straight again, looking upwards to see what was happening. The monkeys were alert in the branches, but otherwise weren’t doing anything. She frowned before movement caught her attention. She was too slow in releasing what was happening and yet another brown shell caught her, smacking her right under her collarbone.

Her Isuas shirt had offered a little protection, but she wouldn’t be surprised if the nut had broken her skin. Oralie had a feeling she knew what was going on now, and it didn’t take her long to see the shadow being moving around up in the trees. It seemed it really had changed its behaviour again and was now actively trying to hurt her. Suddenly angry, Oralie shouted at the thing. “Stop! Just stop it!”

She couldn’t see clearly enough to know what it did next, but only ticks later the monkeys were suddenly in an uproar. Shrieking filled the air around the humans as Oralie watched the shadow being drift back to the ground. It stayed there now, still and unblinking. Randal had tensed next to her, confused at what was happening. Who knew what such a racket would attract?


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Fruits for a Fiveday

Postby Naadiya on April 6th, 2022, 10:52 pm

Oralie’s confession made Naadiya feel a little better. Not much, but a little. Misery loves company, after all. The phrase seemed to have a wider range of applicability than she’d initially thought.

“I know what you mean,” she confided, “I know this isn’t exactly the same but, I’ve been having the oddest deja vu while at the inn… See, after that day you woke up with a nightmare, I’ve been having a similar tea whenever I can remember. It calms my nerves and soothes my throat… anyway, I’m not the one actually making the tea. But almost every morning there is some ready and waiting, steaming from a pot by my nightstand. I’m almost certain I remember asking someone for this, at some point, but I can’t for the life of me remember who… And now that I think about it,” Naadiya narrowed her eyes as she thought back, “I’ve noticed the tea hasn’t been a daily occurrence, of late. Hopefully they are ok, this is a hard time to be alone.”

Though she wasn’t sure if the innkeeper was indeed alone, it was easy enough to picture. If the reason they’d stayed away, unseen, or forgotten was linked to the community-wide curses, they were unlikely to be enjoying it.

“I… hope they are not alone, wherever they are.”

As they moved passed the perilous branch, Naadiya nodded to the kelvic with wide eyes hurrying her onwards as well, “I’m fine, just- you know, careful where you chop.” She tried to laugh it off, shaking her head as they walked.

At the mention of Dawn’s curse, Naadiya knew that her sympathy, while genuine, was bitter-sweet. With her employer unable to handle the fabric, Naadiya had been doing the bulk of the weaving. But it wasn’t just Dawn, Gracelin’s hands had been trembling too much to handle the loom and Tony had been cautiously trying to avoid touching even the spun yarn, afraid his own curse would cause the naturally grown fiber to wither away as his plants did when coming in contact with his skin.

On the one hand, she had now become the one person most pivotal in the fabric production and trade in the settlement. With the exception of Dawn, who could not touch the product, Naadiya had grown to be the local with the strongest weaving skills, just surpassing Tony, though she would never admit it. Naadiya had heard of a reptilian kelvic who was also quite good, but if they had been referring to the woman who she’d spotted near the river, she did not look much of a laborer, and Naadiya doubted the existence of a reptilian kelvic to begin with. The woman she had spotted hadn’t shifted and did little more than lazily patrol the river’s edge.

On the other hand, the shortage of weavers was going to cause major problems for her trade in the soon-to-be-near future. Tony’s curse in particular worried Naadiya. There were other farmers in Syka, she knew, and the constantly swinging door of Swiftwater relatives that popped by, worked the grove for a short time, and then left. But Tony was what made the isuas really thrive.

She hadn’t been sure of how much of the crop had been ruined before he realized his touch was the cause, but as his wife had been one of the more vocal of the cursed settlers, Naadiya had been privy to quite a bit every time she went to the shop.

“Definitely more work this season… And at the start, I had been so worried I would not have as productive a season as winter had been. Be careful what you wish for,” she said lightly, then paused abruptly realizing how her words could have sounded. “I mean— of course, I mean, I didn’t— I didn’t wish for any of this. You know what I mean right? Anyway, yeah, she and Tony are not doing well, their afflictions directly affect how they make their living. Of course, if I did well in the winter then they did too, so I wouldn’t worry about them going broke just yet, and I don’t think the settlement would let them ever go hungry even if they remained that way indefinitely… Gods I hope we don’t stay this way forever.”

The conversation got a little lighter and Naadiya smiled, “Camels are wonderful creatures! The horses of the desert! Well, we have horses too, but nothing is as well adapted to travel the sandy desert dunes as a camel! Picture a horse, but with taller, skinnier legs that look deceptively wobbly and a large hump on its back, some variety have two humps. They can go on forever without needing to find water because they keep it stored in their back humps for when they need it. Magnificent animals, really.”

Kelvics were fairly new to Naadiya, while she had known of their race and come in contact with a few throughout her life, her only true experiences with them had been since she arrived in Syka, where the kelvic population was surprisingly high.

Maybe not so ‘surprisingly’, I suppose. she thought, taking in her surroundings, and how better equipped for it Oralie seemed to be with her heightened senses, even Randal must have been having an easier time.

“I think, maybe I understand a little bit.”

Thinking of the Kelvic’s feline form, Naadiya remembered something from not too long ago.

“Do you ever wander the jungle while in your animal form?” She asked, trying to keep her tone from getting too inquisitive. “So… I recently started construction for a new place and on more than one occasion I have thought I was being watched. The only time I thought I caught a glimpse of it, the creature looked to definitely be feline but it was too fast for me to see anything else. Artik almost convinced me to change the site in case we were too close to a den, but we’ve looked multiple times and found nothing… The feeling seems to vanish whenever Artik is near me. At first, I thought it was a predatory type of instinct, only wanting to strike at the weaker prey when it was far from the larger mate. But I’m not so sure, there have been plenty of opportunities and yet, I’ve never been pounced on. If that was you in the branches, don’t worry I won’t be mad if you were spying, I would just rather know it wasn’t something else.”

Naadiya had been counting the fruit in her bag when she heard a scream. As she looked up to find its source, Naadiya remembered the sound and threw her gaze straight to Oralie. In those brief seconds, Randal had bounded to the kelvic, Naadiya and Artik trailed behind, tense and ready. She looked around, tempering down her nerves as she neared Oralie and Randal. The scream might have drawn as many things as it may have scared off and with that in mind, she kept her back mostly turned to Randal as he helped the blonde. Her feet took her backwards, careful to not trip over a rock or root. Artik had seemed to have had his nerves prodded as well, and rejoined the group with similar though smoother and faster rearward steps. He gripped his machete tightly and pulled the dagger out of its sheath, letting one of the açai bunches fall to the ground in the process.

When things seemed to calm down, Naadiya went back for the fallen fruit and slipped it in her bag before having a drink and handing the waterskin to Artik. He took a sip and frowned but said nothing. She wasn’t sure if his displeasure came from the tepid temperature or the lack of a kick. But he didn’t ask for something stronger so she didn’t offer. Naadiya only arched an eyebrow but didn’t say a thing. Better for him to not know she had any booze with her. If he was still able to control himself and his cravings, he was still fine without it.

Their walk after that incident, had been quiet. Everyone seemed a little rattled and paranoia was so thick in the air you could almost smell it.

The Naadiya had been standing not too far behind Oralie when, without warning the blonde yelped out in pain. Looking up, Naadiya saw nothing. She hadn’t heard anything either, the forest life seemed to be undisturbed. Why had Oralie screamed?

It’s the shadow, she knew even before the second brown sphere went hurling their way. It missed Oralie just as she bent down but hit Naadiya square in the face. In an instant she felt the most painful pop she could ever imagine and suddenly there was blood seeping into her mouth.

Even as her hand flew to her nose, Naadiya felt herself falling back dazed with the sudden pain. Before she hit the ground, Artik caught her with great effort, for Naadiya was a complete dead weight.

Her vision went black. Her sense of time warped.

“You need to wake up!” A voice yelled in her ear. Her voice? It sounded masculine but these days that served as no distinction for her. “YOU NEED TO WAKE UP!” It was louder now, closer to her ear. Her eyelids flew back.

She woke up looking at a thick and long blond beard and bushy eyebrows knitted with so much anxiety she was starting to feel bad for this strange man when the pain made itself present again and Naadiya groaned, tears coming to her eyes unbidden. She was being pulled up by both arms and a piece of cloth was pressed to her face. Her hand was carried up by another’s and Naadiya realized she was now holding a scarf to her own bleeding nose. She could still taste the metallic hint on her tongue and though she tried spitting a couple of times, her efforts were poorly rewarded.

“What-?” She started to say. Naadiya still a little dizzy, and it was loud, so loud. These screams weren’t Artik’s or Oralie’s or even her own and looking up higher Naadiya could see the monkey’s going berserk above them all.

Steading herself and finding the machete she had dropped, Naadiya blinked rapidly, trying to bat away the tears. She felt a hand on back. Was it keeping her up or was she doing the work herself? It was the blond man’s hand.

Artik!? His hair had grown so much since they had left that morning that even if she hadn’t had such a loose grip on her mind, Naadiya would still have had difficulty recognizing the man.

The noise above was not quieting down, and the group froze in unison. Then, one horrible loud howl outdid all the others. When the it stopped, so did the rest. Somehow, the silence that followed was almost absolute and felt much more menacing than the clamoring she had so wished would stop.

Naadiya raised her blade, her eyes still a bit watery but clearing. Her nose was numb, she would need a healer when they got back. If they got back.

Forget your nose. Look up!

From the branches came down a dark shadow and for a second Naadiya thought she was finally seeing the thing that plagued Oralie for so long. She blinked twice more and could see the figure ahead was not a shadow, but an animal. A monkey of some sort but unlike those she had seen before. A bright nose was sandwiched between patches of blue.

Naadiya clenched her jaw, it was almost as if the animal wore warpaint. It paced back and forth keeping an eye on the four and yowled again, revealing long yellow teeth. She wanted to ask what it was, but her voice couldn’t get a grip on the ladder up her throat.

“It looks scary, but they don’t eat meat. It’s a mandrill, I think we are just in its territory.”

It was Artik’s voice, coming as a whisper. His breathing, she noticed, had started to level out. She took a long breath from her mouth, trying to drain some of the panic from her muscles. Naadiya tightened her grip on the blade’s handle but did not move. Her left hand still held a bunched up bit of fabric, quickly going from white to red.

“Let’s try to back out as slowly as possible,” he whispered again. “No sudden movements, no loud noises, try to keep your face turned towards him though, we don’t want him to think we pose a threat, but don’t want to look vulnerable either.”

As he spoke, he slowly inched his way in front of Naadiya, his arms raising slightly to increase his apparent size.

Naadiya followed his lead with her weapon wielding arm, but started to edge herself back. Her eyes darted down in the hope she would not trip but Naadiya was too scared to actually turn her head.

Her foot met a root and she bit the inside of her cheek. The girl did not stumble, but paused and even that pause felt excruciatingly long. She lifted her foot, tracing the edge of the root with it until it found a solid place to land. Their pace heading back the way they had come had a fraction of the speed that had brought them there in the first place. Hot sweat trickled down her back, spurred by anxiety, fear, and jungle heat.

Then, there was a loud noise. Naadiya couldn’t identify it but her eyes immediately shot back to the colorful monkey that until had been pacing in a threatening circle, showing his teeth and occasionally shrieking out. The uproar started again up above and soon enough the red nosed monster was screaming again.

Any distance the group had managed to put between themselves and the animal seemed to shrink as it bounded towards them, yellow fangs brandished, eyes seeing red.

If you had asked her why at that moment, she did not scream, Naadiya would have told you her voice could run faster than her feet would carry her.

Does fear dry the throat? Fear definitely dries the throat!

She could barely swallow and in a panic Naadiya almost went for her waterskin. Thankfully the temporary insanity could not overwhelm the combination of both fear and survival instinct which kept her grip on both blade and bloodied nose.

I don’t have a bow! Oh Gods, why didn’t I bring a bow!? Naadiya mentally yelled at herself even if this was not the time for it.

The Benshira woman had broken into a run without noticing. Her eyes saw only what lay ahead of her and focused on where she stepped more than what ran behind them. The leather bag she had strapped to her back and the totes filled with fruit, however, were slowing her down. They impeded her not only adding weight but getting in the way of her legs. Half of her wanted to drop the fruit and run but the other half felt they could escape without further bloodshed if they weren’t being pursued as a food source.

“What do we do?” She yelled over her shoulder, no longer able to keep her volume down as she ran.

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