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[P]  tread on no toes

Offline Najwa Apr 25 2020, 7:25 PM
#1
  • Rogue
  • Age: 26
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  • Race: Eximius
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There were some immutable facts about wandering the unclaimed areas, unwritten rules that not even the boldest of rogues could disobey. Few that lived in more civilized spaces realized just how many of society’s rules fell by the wayside if you didn’t care to carry them with you. Spices, salt, the fancier of meats and vegetables and the variety enjoyed by Stadarfell or Khorl quickly became nothing more than a pleasant dream if the next dinner only came from what could be gotten with your own two hands. Even the tools that most humans defined their kind by quickly became obsolete for those skilled and desperate enough. In the end, there were only a few things the unredeemed couldn’t shake. The need for food itself, the need for sleep, for a place to rest their head and above all else, water.

Water was the very literal lifeblood, and even a day without it could be torturous in the right temperature or location. And if someone made the mistake of trusting water that had gone sour, it could be a lot worse than having gone without for said day. So for Najwa, even she often found herself something close to stubborn and closer to protective when she found a spring she knew was clean. She’d been camping here for years, the natural spring a treasured secret, just a stone's throw off the abandoned highway she spent most of her time orbiting. When you had animals or other people in tow, knowing the clean sources and the dirty rivers apart was more than just valuable, it was EVERYTHING. Therefore, her camp was as entrenched as it got. She had a permanent fire pit here, dug into the ground and lined with rock. A quick excavation made it set for the night, as convenient as her chosen lifestyle got. She had a stew simmering in her blackened and sooty cookpot, the warm smells of rabbit bones and wild onion almost a haze in the air over the coals it was nestled in. She had no passengers this time around and it was as leisurely as she ever got to spend a day or two here. Grazing spots for the ox, hunting opportunities for her and a chance to relax. Or it could be.

The campsite is eerily empty when the person she’d heard approaching actually set foot into the clearing. The ladle is lying on bare earth next to the still steaming stew, thick broth caked in dirt and trailing shreds of onion and rabbit meat into the hungry ground. The ox was watching the human man with huge, liquid eyes, not a care in its placid face. The caravan is lit with the orange and red light of the coal pit and the spring is a quiet murmur in the background, liquid gold shimmering in the light of the slowly rising moon. But of the person who’d been tending the fire, stirring the pot? Only scuffed footprints remain around the fire, dug DEEP with claw prints from toes used to launch whoever they belonged to with an unmatched speed. If Falks was sharp, he’d spot the slit glow of eyes from the black depths of the nearby rocky ledge, an easy ten feet up. More urgently, he’d see the jagged shape of teeth backlit by another, hotter fire. Najwa wasn’t one to be snuck up on without warning, and while it was rare to consciously provoke her to strike first, it was possible. Only the human who’d unwittingly spooked her could direct how this would end.
Offline Falks May 7 2020, 12:10 AM
#2
  • Rogue
  • Age: 50
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Falks is haunted by this highway down to every last fiber of his being.

Sitting beside the abandoned road, in his mind's eye he can envision it for what it once was when it was under their control. It once connected the two great nations together, a bustling trade route between the might Svalbard and the shadow of Dorsum. Even years after its abandonment the ground is worn into a clear path, though the stone is broken and cracked by nature pushing out from beneath it. The rock is eroding, thinned and weakened from the wind and rain, ridding the earth of its former stains. The battle for this highway was one of significant losses, arguably the most devastating given the domino effect it created in its aftermath. During the fight, as his own people died and suffered, the king slipped into hiding with his daughter--leaving them to perish on the field with no order to retreat. Eventually, Falks had taken it in his own hands to cut their losses and abandon the battle to save who he could.

He remembers, clear as day, tending to the soldiers and dragging the injured. Those that were not torn to literal pieces by the jaws of massive dire or the hands of vengeful eximius had far from escaped death. Many more died within the halls of the castle or on the journey back.

Running a hand down his face, he turns and steps back into the woods. This was the unclaimed now, left to the hands of the wanderers and the beasts to shape how they liked. Regardless of location and lack of foot traffic, being out in the open was never a good idea.

The shadows of the canopy engulf him, blanketing the former general in the tentative safety of cover. His path is aimless as he walks, stepping over roots and avoiding prickly thorns, each footfall careful and calculated. It doesn't stop him from being heard by a nearby presence, though, much too distant himself to see anything save for the smell of wood smoke and food. Veering upwind to follow the scent, he pauses to assess the supposedly empty campsite before departing the ring of undergrowth at its edge. A scene of red coals with no attendant tightens the cord of his muscles, brow knitting in concentration as he listens. Nothing stirs for several long seconds, and in that span of time his mindset shifts to concern.

Still, his hand goes to the hilt of his blade when the light touches his skin. Close enough to see the marks on the ground, his entire body goes rigid before golden eyes catch sight of a form silhouetted against the backdrop of the afternoon sun. Perched upon a sheer cliff, he squints as his feet slide apart, bracing in a defensive posture for possible impact. Even with the light threatening to darken the details, the sheer black of their limbs is nothing short of inhuman, the glow in their throat burning like dragonfire.

"I mean no harm," He begins, "Is this your camp? Forgive me for intruding, I saw signs of life but no one present and wanted to be sure that everything was alright." It is truth, but he doesn't expect them to believe it.
Offline Najwa May 7 2020, 1:50 PM
#3
  • Rogue
  • Age: 26
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In a way, he is lucky. In the same, sorely the opposite. They’d watched the cautious approach, a shade of their own modus operandi. One who was not the peak of the food chain always had to be careful, watchful to avoid danger lest it come upon them unawares. But concern, compassion shown to them, to their kind even in absentia? That was unfamiliar, and merely another facet of his manner observed and tucked away for later, not a factor that they would recognize. They could only know what they had been SHOWN. What manner of person they were looking at did not escape their keen eyes though, further softening the fear. Greyed over and worn, one of the older humans they’d seen in their life. Kitted out for living in the unclaim was a factor, but the likelihood of him springing something unawares on them and turning the tables was unlikely unless his steel cleared leather. The ugly mix of anxiety and urge to protect this little bastion as theirs had almost eased as he stepped into the center, no aggression to the ox and a noted lack of interest in their possessions one that spoke in his favour. All of that is thrown to the wind in an instant as the sudden tension rippled through him, hand now on the hilt of the sword and body hunched.

In the next second, his eyes caught their form, purposefully silhouetted against the sun to have any sort of leverage while holding onto the height advantage. They snapped to attention, every fiber of their being taut and ready to lash out at the perceived threat. Sticks and coal, strung with piano wire, ready to snap like the crack of a whip. They are caught there in that moment, torn between that howling urge that always struck from the blind spot and reason, screaming of their sense and sanity and the lack of need to ESCALATE. It’s a perilous pendulum, one normally kept still so as to keep it from swinging. But it was loose now, the only question of where it was that it would stop again.

Najwa dropped into a coiled crouch at the sound of his voice, pupils blown WIDE, another yellowed glow hardly distinct from the sun behind them. Their teeth match their tense stare, choppy and uneven canines on full display with an aggressive jut of their jaw, cracked open wide. (equally reminiscent of a scared mutt and a predator scenting the wind so so so which are you today) The words are almost white noise in their scramble to keep ahold of their reactions and it took a moment for Najwa to filter them from the raw instinct that shrieked in the background. Nnnnnnoharm, no threat? The hand on the butt of the sword was a flare of lies to that truth and they twitched, a full body flicker that was just as much contained reaction as fear.

Still, they hadn’t moved yet, one hand dug into the rock with a sift of dislodged gravel and dust from beneath blackened nails. An anchor point for the eximius. He needed one as well, he had to get one. A soft but strained voice echoed out between them for a moment, nearly overcome by the quiet burble of the still hidden spring “Sit...please.” While a request most wouldn’t dream of accepting considering the tense standoff, it’s a plea dragged out from between rows of teeth with complete sincerity. If he sat, they could too. If he took his hand off his weapon, they could let go of the reaction that was theirs, let them settle back into soft keening instead of the internal howling it was now. Please, don’t give me a reason.

Offline Falks May 11 2020, 5:01 PM
#4
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  • Age: 50
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Everything in his body clicks into place, years of war fine-tuning his body for combat. By appearance alone he deduces that the figure perched above is some form of eximius, putting his chances of victory down to a narrow, narrow margin. He’s fought them before and won, but he cannot afford the injuries they trade in return for their lives. A broken bone is death in the unclaim, fodder for beasts and opportunists alike. Age did not help his ability to heal, nor his reflexes. There was still strength in his muscles and strategy in his mind, but it was nothing like it used to be.

Avoiding a fight altogether would be the favorable outcome.

Falks can practically feel the tension growing hot between them, sweat beginning to wet his brow in the light of the afternoon sun. The gold of his eyes is brightly illuminated in the slant of light, pupils shriveling to adjust his sight. A warm, orange light burns in the back of the eximius’s throat, their teeth born in a snarl that crackles and spits like the coals by his feet.

The scar tissue along his shoulders, broad and flat and smooth, tingles at the edges where nerves still breathe. Being burned by magic feels far worse than any man-made flame, and he remembers the pain well.

Mind running a thousand miles a second, he prepares himself when he sees their body shudder, hears the strain in their voice. A moment of hesitation stops him, nearly falters in the tight coil of his muscles. He has enough control not to let it catch him off guard, though he allows the request to process. There was risk in it, shutting down his best chance at defense by sitting down and becoming vulnerable. It would not be impossible to dodge if they leapt, but significantly harder and likely to result in injury.

Still, if there is even a chance to avoid an altercation, he has to take it. Slowly, he unfurls one finger at a time from the hilt of his great sword, raising his empty palms in a show of surrender and trust as he neatly sinks to the ground--first to his knees, then rolling back onto his rear. His legs are bent, feet flat on the earth should he need to move, but for now he complies with their request.

”Everything is alright. I do not wish to fight with you.” Falks keeps his voice low and even, eyes watering from the intensity of the sun and his refusal to fully break his gaze from their direction.
Offline Najwa May 17 2020, 6:15 PM
#5
  • Rogue
  • Age: 26
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For a moment, it didn’t feel real, this attempt at bridging the gap one that had far more frequently gone wrong. Peace in the unclaim was rare, territory infringed upon and threats shown often EXACTLY what they seemed. Even Najwa, one of the ones who clung to every attempt to salvage reason and sense from those tripwire instincts had held only a thin resolve that this would be anything but another spot of bloodshed on their record.

But there he is, sitting. Both hands open, free of the weapon he’d nearly brought to bear. Theirs, similarly sheathed in rock and dust to keep them busy. The calm way he’d approached, the reasoning he’d given for breaking the unspoken boundary of their camp, none of that was necessarily a lie. Possibly even true. For the first time, Najwa felt comfortable taking their gaze off him, eyes skipping over the familiar tree line, searching for anything out of place. No other people, no other oddities looking to creep up on their blind spot. Nothing disturbed the peace of the woods around them and some of the tension leached out of Najwa’s posture, the jittery windings of a toy soldier coming to rest as they managed to defuse that screaming urge to defend what was theirs.

Painfully slow, they crept forward and slipped over the edge of that steep incline, the drop not one that would bother them. Bare feet settled in the earth with a near silent puff of dust and they blink, getting their first proper look without reducing him to nothing more than a set of angles and lines and the estimation on how best to disassemble them. Him. In this moment that they had expected none else to see, they wore only the leggings and the thin chemise reserved for summer, bereft of the cloak that hides the boiling heat and light at their center and the tattoos that kept them grounded in the worst of moments. One of their hands is tracing the one on their forearm at that very moment in fact, even as they eyed him cautiously.

This called for an apology, didn’t it? “Sorry.” Still that raspy croak, surprise a rough edge, it was at least a little more friendly this time around. After all, he'd done nothign wrong thus far, they were the one who had jumped to conclusions.
Offline Falks May 21 2020, 11:23 PM
#6
  • Rogue
  • Age: 50
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Falks keeps his hands up, fingers spread and far from the comforting hilt of his blade. Should the eximius be unable to control themselves, or decide that they did not, in fact, enjoy the intrusion, all he could hope for is that the adrenaline compensated for his lack of physical capability in this position. The madness is a disease of strangers, a poltergeist that haunts the minds of humanity when faced with one of the changed. The abilities they gave them came at a price, one that humans only became aware of when the dire had been wiped from the mainland. Left with machines that no longer had a purpose, they were cast out to an uncharted, uninhabited waste of an island to perish. While never directly responsible for these decisions, it was a gray area that he cannot help but feel partially responsible for through inaction. Falks doubts that he has ever met this eximius before from the features he can discern from a distance, though that hardly routes his mind in a direction that does not assume he will be punished for their suffering.

Too soon, he must turn his eyes toward the earth. The ox chews before him, none the wiser of the tension between the strangers. The outline of the form upon the cliff, eclipsing the sun, is imprinted in a shape that lingers in his vision. Blotchy, green--the shadow of a threat that he cannot predict.

Softly, a sound reaches his ears that lifts his head. The eximius has discarded their perch, rising in a plume of dust from where their feet stuck the landing. Caution hovers in their every movement, glowing, ember eyes capturing every detail made readily available by his person. When it is clear that he is not a current problem, their posture shifts to one of sheepish embarrassment. Closer now, he can pick apart the details of this person, from the pitch black of their limbs to the fire lit inside their throat. It reminds him of Sullivan all the sudden, how she used to speak of the anger within that was so potent it burned.

"It is alright, I cannot blame you for being reactive. I was not respectful in my approach." His gaze meets theirs, so dull and ordinary in comparison. "I am going to stand up." He tells them, lowering his hands to the ground in order to gain leverage over his weight and push himself to his feet. His pants are smeared with dirt that he brushes aside, unbothered by the stains he regards the other with his emotions folded neatly inside of his chest. "Forgive me for disturbing you, finding others in unclaimed land is a rarity." There is a pause, debating the consequences of being too forward or revealing.

"I did not tarnish your dinner, did I?" It's a valid question, considering the ladle that was carelessly abandoned on the ground and is now dirty.
Offline Najwa May 28 2020, 8:13 AM
#7
  • Rogue
  • Age: 26
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  • Race: Eximius
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They watched him keenly, doubly aware of every twitch and shift of his bulkier frame now that they were on even ground. It is a long built reaction, one they could not shake, even if they were interested in trying. Rarely did surprise meetings end well, although who got the short end of the stick was always a toss up. Today, it would seem to be neither of them if they both stayed this cool shade of respectful distance.

They eyed him curiously at the assurance that the fact that Najwa nearly jumped him was something that could be attributed to him. While indeed approaching without a hail could be seen as a threat in the unclaim, of the two of them, they had been the one to be the more threatening in that regard. The sentiment rang hollow and false for that, if delivered in a plain tone that didn’t seem to hold rancor or sarcasm. Polite perhaps, although they were a notably terrible judge of other peoples’ intent. Weird. They merely nodded in response, something still jittery and unsettled in the glint of amber eyes. That anxiety was yet more obvious in the way they watched Falks rise to his feet again, posture still a little hunched in repentance and caution both. The eyes were a window to the soul, and theirs was a nervous one, fluttering like a moth to the flame.

“It is at that, most keep to themselves.” The thought is half cut off, trailing into an unfinished thread at the second question. They’d entirely forgotten about the still simmering soup in the close encounter. Their eyes darted to it in a flash of concern and they skittered towards the cookpot heedless of Falks’ presence now. Still abandoned in the hot coals and its ladle laid in the dirt like a forgotten toy, the way the hot metal rested on the coals directly was a quick way to ruin any food. “Oh, no!” Leant forward over the coals, they didn't hesitate to fish the handle out of that bed of coals and hoist the soot blackened pot from where it was cradled. A thorough inspection of the soup’s surface showed naught amiss, but that meant little if it was burnt on the bottom. They snatched up the ladle before they paused once more, stymied by the dirt stuck to it.

A quick trip to the water is enough to clean it, the fresh spring one they didn’t worry about cleaning before they drank or used it. One eye kept on Falks even still, they knelt at the edge to give the pot a stir, wisps of steam from the damp ground beneath it and from the surface an enticing one. “I think it’s fine… Doesn’t look burnt.” They glanced back at him with a measured glance. He might still think it was on his shoulders, but they knew where most of the escalation laid with. Perhaps this could go some distance towards mending that bridge. People in the unclaim were rare, kind ones moreso. They’d be a fool not to take their chance for conversation when it was dropped in their lap.

“Would.. Would you like some? To stay for dinner, I mean?” It is not entirely unselfish. People grounded them in a way hard to describe. Something tangible, something real, something even their brain had trouble making wholecloth well enough to fool their senses. Another part of it is to make reparations for the clear way they’d frightened him. If he’d told the truth, he was only concerned, and for that they’d nearly came at him. Apologies were due and actions went farther than words out here.
Offline Falks Jun 21 2020, 1:23 AM
#8
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Falks can feel the energy radiating from the eximius that had narrowly made the decision to tear him to shreds, the dull, honey hue of his gaze fixed to a point off to the side. Having extensive experience with their kind, he knows better than to challenge further aggression by stomping on the graciousness they showed at his intrusion. Sullivan killed for lesser wrongs, and Arivanya had slaughtered masses for the turmoil she felt within herself. Life was of more value to him than pride or arrogance, demonstrated by how he had cast such weight from his shadow years ago, presented in his obvious show of surrender to a much more powerful force.

When the confirmation that they will not attack reaches his senses, the edge of his posture slowly softens. It is nowhere near what it would be in the presence of an ally, as was to be expected, but backed away from the label of threat as much as he possibly could without fully lowering his guard. Even at this distance, he can feel the faint heat licking at his skin from their words, intense and boiling as it stews in their throat. The burn scars along his shoulders itch in response, recalling with ease the way they ached and seared for days and weeks after while they healed. It was not something he wished to experience ever again, if it could be helped.

Falks blinks when the other rushes to the fallen pot and ladle, watching with steady control how they simply stoop to pluck it right from the burning coals themselves and hoist it up. The embers and ash stick to the blackened skin of their fingers, burning like stars against the dark backdrop of the night sky. They grow cold when separated from the fold, blending with the natural hue of the eximius's flesh as they repair the meal and ensure that it was not burned. Without hesitation they turn their back to wash the ladle in the stream, leaving the human to marvel at what he just witnessed in their wake. Glancing at his own hands, the only feat that could be spoken of them is how the flesh of his right was pale with jagged arcs of scars crisscrossing all the way over his arm to disappear beneath the short sleeve of his tunic. The scars from his use of electrical magic made it look as though he was struck by lightning--ending at a space on his shoulder blade where the energy had made an explosive escape from his torso.

Eyes are drawn back up to them at the question that drifts in the air. Before he can respond, his stomach rolls and growls. Sighing through his nose, he gives the faintest of smiles.

"Thank you, I would like that." Figuring it was best to keep his actions as disarming as possible, he takes two steps nearer to the coals and sits once more. "What is it that you're making? It smells delicious." He is careful with his questions, tailoring them to appear as least-probing as possible. The last thing he wished was for them to form the belief that he planned to rob them.
Offline Najwa Jul 10 2020, 4:33 PM
#9
  • Rogue
  • Age: 26
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Awkward would describe the scene, still tense and obviously the site of two people uncomfortable with each other. Najwa, less so. More eager to mend that bridge and hold onto polite company while they had it. The simmering whispers always quietened around others and nowhere were they louder than the quiet of the unclaim. For all that the settled places of the world rejected them, there was still a allure to it and the peace of mind it brought. Having a visitor was the best of both worlds and they planned to make the most of it.

"Rabbit, wild onion. I used some of my salt too. Enough. Leftover from the salt for packing meat." Ashy hands set the cookpot down between him and the firepit before they darted towards the little wagon. Half in, half out, they were crouched to rummage through the interior for whatever it was they were searching for. On the whole, they kept as much space as they could for the books and errata they had collected over the years. Keepsakes, things to jog their memory and things they simply had a fondness for. The excess curios didn’t often trump survival necessities, but nonetheless their possessions were often overflowing and culled frequently. But bowls, bowls they had. The occasional patron on their travels from northern Svalbard to the depths of Dorsum made a couple of extras useful.

A victorious cry marked them finding the target and those ashy hands held them aloft as they skittered back towards Falks and his spot by the fire. Carved from wood and perhaps imperfect, they are nonetheless marked by their careful claws, spiraling patterns covering the surface. One gets dropped with a rough wooden spoon at their feet, the other the subject of their attention. Careful hands ladle the thin stock into the bowl before eagerly passing the bowl to him. Then, theirs.

Still a little cautious despite the hope that this would be company that would like them, they are careful to settle on the opposite side of the fire. Still, it is a mere token to the idea. If he had truly wanted to get the jump on them, he could've tried to stand while they were busy searching the caravan for the necessary accoutrements. They eye them as they bring the bowl to their lips, forgoing any attempt at a spoon. It tended to tangle poorly with their teeth, and they were hungry enough to take a gulp instead.

Curiousity ruled them though and they weren't quiet for long. "What's your name? How old are you?" He was quite possibly the oldest human they'd ever seen on their own in the unclaim. That almost always meant he had a story to tell. The oddities usually did.

They were eager to listen.