“Just relax.” Inias carefully tugs on the collar of the shirt, the ends standing up now.
“I am relaxed.” Mariel responds, smoothing down the collar. Then she does it again. And yet again. Inias smacks her hand away the next time she tries it. “I’m fine, I swear.” She has a brave face on but at the same time, she can feel her heart hammering in her chest. She’s terrified.
Inias gives her a smile. “It’s all right to be a little shaky but you’ll do fine.” Inias gives a small chuckle. “Better than me probably, you’re the one always climbing everything.”
“That—That’s not helpful.” Mariel grimaces.
“It’s very helpful.” Inias grins, showing sharp teeth off. Mariel’s uncertain as to whether or not there’s a hidden meaning there, along the lines of doing this or he’ll chase her around. “Besides, you’ll do absolutely fine. If I can survive and bring something back, you can too.”
Mariel gives her brother a sidelong glance, nervously biting at her bottom lip.
“Don’t look at me like that.” A small frown comes onto Inias’s face.
“Sorry.” Mariel looks away and out the window.
“The clothing should be good.” Inias inspects her as he picks at any imperfections in the clothing. The greens and browns are to mute her presence, though she’d leaned more towards things to cover the areas that weren’t pure green.
“I hope so.” Mariel plucks at the collar again and fluffs her wings. Her blue markings are already glowing with her nervousness.
“I’ll see you off.” Inias assures her.
“Ini…” Mariel complains.
“Don’t ‘Ini’ me. I’m going to see you out of the town and that’s it.” Inias’s voice is firm.
Mariel resists rolling her eyes. Her brother had dropped into dad mode, again. She’s far too familiar with that tone of voice. She’s silent though, examining the doorway.
“Is your bag packed?” Inias draws her attention to her bag by the door.
“Yep.” Mariel looks with a bit of concern over it.
“Blanket instead of sleeping bag?” Inias questions.
“Mmhm.” Mariel shifts a little uncomfortably.
“Good, good. And you sleep in the trees, not on the ground. I don’t care how tired you are,” Inias insists, expression attempting to impress upon her how important the statement is. “Got it?”
“I promise.” Mariel reassures him. She’s been listening to the vague horror stories since Inias had done his ceremony. He’s only made slight reference to them but Mariel is well aware that the number of them that had gone in was not the same as what had come out. It might not be quite as dangerous but there are still things out there that would happily make a meal of a young, inexperienced kid.
Inias seems to measure her response and expression before giving a satisfied nod. “All right.” He turns away and looks over her bag for a moment before giving another nod of satisfaction. “Let’s go ahead and start you out.”
“If you’re the only one walking one of us out, I’m going to send you back.” Mariel warns him.
“Good luck with that.” Inias snorts in laughter.
Mariel feels a small pout come to her lips before she manages to drive it away. Inias is just worried, with good reason. She can’t be particularly mad at this little bit of him being overbearing. As it stands, he usually lets her do her own thing. Which does include a lot of getting into trouble and him dealing with it.
Mariel slides the messenger bag on over her head, the strap cutting across her chest and hard into her shoulder. It’s heavy with the blanket but it is cold yet, even if the snow had receded and given way to a few first sprigs of spring early. A few of the trees damaged in the blizzards had put out early shoots of green from broken off limbs.
“Let’s go.” Inias gestures towards the door, as if Mariel needs to be prodded out the door.
Mariel nods, mouth dry. She steps out the door, hearing Inias close up behind her and she begins the climb down to the ground. Everyone on equal ground. Inias is quiet as he walks along with her as they head towards the edge of town. A few others are threading along towards the spot they’ll all head out into the forests and thankfully, she’s not the only one being walked there.
Though in some cases, she’s not sure if they’re supporting or forcing.
“You’ll take it easy, right? Don’t have to bring back anything big.” Inias’s voice is quiet.
“I know.” Mariel keeps her voice low.
“I’ll leave the light on.” Inias has a slight, teasing tone to his voice.
“Like I’ll see it.” Mariel rolls her eyes but the statement is reassuring. Maybe if she got up high enough, she could spot it. The rest of the town would definitely be dark.
Inias simply hums in response, a slight smile on his face.
He comes to a stop at the edge of the town, or what was considered the edge. While a few more houses certainly existed out in that direction and she and the others would have to go out that much further to truly be ‘out’ of the town, this was the edge for all intents and purposes.
Mariel stares out into the woods. It’s already getting dark, the trees making long, deep shadows that almost seem to move of their own volition. She swallows a little hard, mouth yet dry though.
“You’ll be all right.” Inias’s voice draws her attention. He’s looking out at the shadows, not at her.
“Y—Yeah. Thanks.” Mariel turns her gaze back forward. She feels his hand on her shoulder a second later, rubbing it reassuringly. After a second, she reaches up and places hers on top of his, offering him a nervous smile. He’s smiling reassuringly though.
“Don’t go beyond your limits. Come home.”
Mariel only nods at the statement. She turns her gaze back forward as his hand falls away and she has a moment longer of hesitation before she begins to walk. Others are already ahead of her, glimpses of strange colors fading into the thickets of trees and bushes. Others yet would be behind her, something that she’s certain that Inias is well aware of. It’s definitely something she feels better about.
It would be a long rest of the evening though.
The long drift into evening takes long enough that it almost feels like it should be warmer weather. Mariel is well aware that it’s her nerves causing the sensation. She’s already finished finding all the plants she was interested in finding. Some of her favorites and the ones that Inias was best at cooking up.
There’s a dim glow she can see from where she hung her bag slightly away from herself. The last thing she wants is to do is draw attention to herself. The glowing markings she’s had covered up are bad enough, she doesn’t want anything to even possibly spot her up here.
She runs through her mind, mentally, of the assortment of small traps she’s put out. Inias’s advice rings through her head again and again. Don’t go beyond her limits and to come home. Small creatures would do.
A sound snaps her attention to the woods below and ahead, her body wrapped up in the blanket far up in the tree. There’s something moving among the trees. Mariel’s breath catches in her throat, her body frozen in place. Her eyes attempt to pick out the exact shape among the trees.
It’s large. Large enough to be a threat. Large enough to maim or even kill her if it gets hold of her. Mariel feels herself begin to glimmer a little brighter and she’s quick to cover her one eye, attempting to focus the other one while attempting to shrink down further to hide against the tree. The dark colors should help with that.
It draws further away into the woods, vanishing into the darkness and Mariel tilts her head back to lean against the tree. It hadn’t spotted her, at least. That was all she was worried about. While she’s good at flitting among the trees, she has no idea how long she could manage that for before exhaustion caught up with her.
A new sound catches her attention and she glances back down again. Another of her town, scurrying by, looking terrified and awake. Scratches mar their skin underneath the bright moon above. Mariel grimaces, attempting to settle deeper down into her spot before putting her head in her hands. They step closer to her tree, probably not realizing that she’s up there, much like the creature.
Mariel knocks on the trunk of the tree, causing the gemmismae below her to look up in alarm and then recognition. She wraps her legs tighter around the branch below her and then retrieves the rope she’s dragged along. The end of the rope is grabbed before she can even let the full length out and they start scrambling upward. The sudden weight makes Mariel give a grunt of exertion to keep the rope held.
She could at least help. She might even share the one fruit in her bag that she was hoping Inias would make a fantastic pie out of.
A noise breaks her from her thoughts and with alarm she can see that the creature is back. A shadow against shadows. Mariel swallows hard as the other freezes, panic clear in their eyes. Then they’re climbing as fast as possible as the shadow lunges forward and towards them. Breaking a small branch off, Mariel throws it, focusing her mind to guide the branch in what she hopes is the right direction.
At the sound the creature makes, Mariel knows she’s hit home with it. It stumbles, giving her just enough time to help her new friend up into the tree beside her and yank the rope up. She holds her breath as the creature circles the tree. Low, growling hisses echo upward. The moonlight glimmers through the treetops, catching bits of the creature’s body and highlighting it in terrifying flashes between shadows.
All she has is a knife. Is that enough? She can’t imagine that it is. She could spit poison or stab it with more sticks from a distance in an attempt to drive it away. It seems quite fixated on attacking though.
Inias’s words echo again in her head and she grimaces. She doesn’t want to get any closer than she has to.
“Break off some more branches,” Mariel mutters. She hurriedly begins doing it, climbing further into the tree in an attempt to get at more of them. It isn’t long before she’s holding an armful and while her heart hammers in her chest, she begins to prepare again, attempting to calm herself.
There’s a snarling noise from below and she pitches the first branch, guiding it along to where she can spot glimmering teeth. Glimmers of blue, marking it as being rather tough. She has no want to get around those teeth. A branch in the mouth though, that she’ll do.
It screeches, shaking its head in an attempt to free itself of the branch. Mariel gestures while it’s distracted and her friend clambers up further into the tree before jumping to the next. They’re out of sight fast enough for her that she’s sure that they’re out of sight for the creature.
On the other hand, she hunkers down, drawing her dark-colored blanket more around her, attempting to keep an eye on it even while worrying the next small branch that she’s prepared to throw. It snarls more, finally recovering and circles the tree a little more before slinking away into the shadows again.
The adrenaline keeps Mariel wide awake though and she’s certain that she won’t be sleeping. For a moment, she wonders if Inias had the same reaction. Then she turns all her senses outward, focusing more on everything going on around her.
She stays that way for the rest of the night, only dozing off close to dawn for a couple hours.
Mariel is swaying on her feet when she comes back, attempting to drive sleep from her eyes. Thankfully, her traps had borne fruit and she wasn’t coming back empty handed. The small creatures weren’t much but they were fat from avoiding other hunters’ traps and would give quite a good meal. No poisonous creatures, unfortunately but the amount of poisonous plants she’d gotten should make up for that.
“You look exhausted.”
Inias’s voice draws Mariel’s attention. He’s standing, leaning against one of the trees nearby and examining her before giving a small smile, seeming happy that she’s unharmed. Mariel’s never been happier to see him, feeling the exhaustion really wash over her again.
“Mariel?” There’s a note of concern in Inias’s voice.
“I’m good, I didn’t sleep.” She’s a little quiet when she speaks and offers Inias the bag with her catch. “You get to carry this now, right?”
“Didn’t sleep?” Inias questions, ignoring her other question and falling into step with her.
Mariel grumbles, tossing the bag’s strap back over her shoulder. “I had some excitement on that first night.” There’s another pause. “Your friend with the blue teeth.”
A visible shudder runs through Inias. He looks her over rather more intently this time.
“I’m fine.” She scratches her head. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll worry all I want.” Inias scowls at her.
“Well yell at me later.” Mariel yawns. “I want to take a nap.”
“Good luck with that.” Inias shakes his head. “We’re going straight to the feast.”
“Awesome, I’ll sleep in my chair.” Mariel walks a little quicker and Inias chuckles at her, following after her towards the temple that the feast would be held at.
“I’ll be rather impressed if you manage that.”
Needless to say, Inias does look quite impressed when he wakes her up from sleeping with her head on the table. She glowers at him, trying to ignore the noise around her.
“Well, I figure you’d be mad about getting your hair in your food.” Inias gestures at the plate in front of her. “I picked it out since you refused to move.”
“Oh.” Mariel stares a little at the plate. She’s not sure if she’s more hungry or more tired and her mind isn’t quite working quick enough to make a fast decision. She rubs at her eyes before reaching out and drawing the plate to herself, staring to eat. She decides to sleep afterward.
Inias pats her on the back and she looks up at him in confusion. He shakes his head, staying silent but there’s a bit of a hint of him being quite proud of her that she can pick up on. She offers a smile that’s full of food. His expression turns from proud to disgust. Mariel chuckles as she turns her attention back down to her food, continuing to eat.
Some things she definitely isn’t going to let change and teasing the hell out of Inias is one of them.