"Each forward step we take we leave some phantom of ourselves behind."

Crown's Refuge <Wildlands>

Established in the year 625 ATA (After the Aegis), the village of Crown's Refuge was founded by Talus Kahar XIV, Emperor of Fastheld, after he entered exile in the wake of the Ravager crisis.
The town is built on a hill overlooking the shore of the waterway known within the Aegis as the Fastheld River, west of the great wall as it forms the border of the city-state once ruled by the exile. Here, in the realm known to inhabitants as the Wildlands, the river is known as Jadesnake and it winds its way from the perimeter of Fastheld to the distant sea.
The town has been formed from timbered wood taken from the nearby forests by citizens, many of whom are descendants of Fastheldian exiles of years past, who have chosen to follow Talus Kahar's lead in this strange land.
It is a terribly cold and frigid evening as the sun sets beyond the horizon to the west. The slightest breeze stirs over the land infrequently.

There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moons howl amidst the blessed candles of the night that shimmer upon the canvas of darkness cast across the heavens. The night that has settled upon the Sixth hour by the Shadow on Willowwalk, the 12th day of Whistlewind, is one such night.

Terribly cold and frigid, it is a night upon which even the bitter zephyr that assaults the bluff upon which Crown's Refuge is built dares not make a sound, as if the Wildlands were holding a vigil of silence for those that had fell but a few evenings before, never to rise again.

It is amidst this chill and sequestered twilight that a wolf of a very different kind returns to the pack that is not in reality his own. A lone Alpha that doesn't quite run with the clan, but fights with teeth and claw as if they were his own flesh and blood. Trusting instinct. One with the plan...

Dark leathers, armor suited for combat, herald the shadow that prowls into the outpost of Crown's Refuge; a shadow escorted by the cloak that sweeps around his heels in his silent wake, and the coruscation of rapier hilts sleeping safely in their scabbards by his side. Features expressionless, the Hunter walks alone, ice-blue eyes shining with a lifetime of fierce sadness and boreal compassion. Disposition that of coiled feline grace; fluid, poised, and utterly deadly. He also seems to be holding something with great care and dedication, bundled as it is within the folds of his cloak.

In the frigid days of Whistlewind, there isn't a serpent in Fastheld, or the Wildlands for that matter, that would not envy the little snake that was stirred from its hibernating place by ignorant hands and dispelled into the warmth of a leather sack. At least, they would envy him until his cozy sanctuary came to a shrieking halt.

Precisely eleven minutes had passed since the royal healer had retreated back indoors with a humble collection of food for those hungry within. With light from a single candle she'd set to work sorting the morsels, cleansing them by the fire with her satchel resting at her feet. Perhaps it was the energy from the nearby flame, perhaps the premonition of becoming prey to some hairless being that stirred the hidden creature to life. Regardless of the reasoning, a sleek, indigo head had peeped nose-to-nose with the woman as she bent to retrieve another mushroom. It had coyly flicked its tongue in greeting, and then all thoughts of the seeming fortune turned swiftly to hell.

Rowena could not too loudly scream for two reasons. Firstly, her breath had caught so tightly in her throat from the surprise that only a squeak was able to breathe forth. Secondly, scattered about on the floor were the remaining wounded, and most had been mercifully sent to sleep by her melodies and tea. Thus, the duchess had very, very cautiously retracted her hand, then hopped off her chair in reaching for a fire stick. Shaken by the thump of her boots, the reptile took flight from the sack and went slithering frantically about the room in search for a hiding place. This feat is not too difficult for those darkly colored on a dark night, and thus it remained safe from any maliciously brandished stick.

And so Rowena had only one option to herself: take flight. At least until she ran into a more able-bodied person to rid the house of the perceived danger. The door to His Majesty's home is flung open with the strength of a thousand gales, and a darkly shrouded figure hastily escapes, though it is oddly careful to close the door with much softness. Turning away from the home, the hooded head turns in search before the booted feet lead it hurriedly away towards another hutch. Occasional torchlight permits brief glimpses of a pale nose, a lock of dark hair. There is a second light, however unnatural, that reveals more ghostly features that the hood's shadow hides. That blue glow haunts the face, deepening the hollows of the eyes, as it radiates from the hand which holds the hood in place.

The lone wolf continues his prowling; although from the dignity and elegance that flow with each silent step, one might think his spirit to be one more akin to a proud hunting cat, ready to pounce at any moment, and purr just as quickly. Torchlight - when it falls upon his form - reveals leather armor that seems recently cleaned. The blood of conflict apparently having been washed away by means unknown; a factor that seems to be shared by every aspect of his form, too. Only the thin line of crimson that mars his cheek - a gift from an arrow that sought more than mere blood - reveals any evidence of a battle all too recently fought.

Of a contained ferocity all too recently unleashed.

Regardless, such ruthlessness is well contained upon this clear and frosty night, though shines all too clearly in the eyes of those who look upon him as he passes. Eyes that hold deference and abhorrence in equal measure. Eyes that wonder what to make of this Wildcat that walks among them. Eyes that watch as that hunter heads on a path that puts him on course with a meeting long destined to take place...

Finding that door barred to her entry and no answers to her plaintive calls, Rowena bites her lip in frustration and huffs angrily into her icy palms. The fog dissipates between her fingers and she watches it vanish, fighting the sting of tears that brim over her lashes. Her efforts had been in vain for the majority of this expedition. Many had died, many more would until she could perfect the black wildling antidote, those who *were* getting better showed freakish rates of skin regeneration and left her feeling on edge. Vhramis and the Marshall hadn't returned from the wood and there was little else to eat. So, she had tried her hand at gathering food as common women do, not from golden platters, and what had she done in the process!? Taken a vile, belly-crawling, death-bringing creature in to the table.

She missed her home. She missed the warmth of fur bedding with silken sheets, of bawdy laughter resounding through the halls, of noisy pestering from her four-legged babies. She missed the long talks with the Chancellor that habitually left both parties equally saddened or frustrated with one another. But there was one similarity of this untamed land that Fastheld also held. She was alone, and that she did not miss.

"Oh, silence." She hisses to herself and rises from her stoop in front of the door. She eyes a native of the town a bit warily, as a prison guard may look upon a freed prisoner. Was that hatred reflecting back at her? Was it mocking? Most likely. Feeling wet upon her cheek, Rowena purses her lips in defiance to it and squares her shoulders before marching dangerously close past the old man and towards a bladesman's tent. She'd seen shadows move from within. Before she reaches it, however, another form catches her eye. It moved with dignity, with decisiveness...with defiance.

Most importantly, it moved with stealth, for she'd not realized its presence until it was nearly within her reach. From beneath the bow of her hood, she looks to the face, to the eyes. There walked a phantom amongst them, as she'd so been told, and lo and it was, the answer to her riddle. Be he of spirit, or be he of flesh. Flesh, she decides, but just to be certain, straightens a bit from her cowering to reach for his arm.

All that spirits desire, spirits attain, it is said. Though the Wolf that passes by the Duchess has spirit enough for all the laments that have carried across forsaken battlefields, for all the last wishes that were never spoken, and for all the retribution ever sworn against the Shadow, Serath Kahar is not a soul of incorporeal means.

The gentle touch falls upon substance; the arm of a Hunter. The touch prompts a curious gaze of ice-blue that at once speaks of vengeful death and boundless compassion. A fleeting look of cold fire; an ethereal ice that swiftly melts into registered shock, warm familiarity, a maelstrom of emotion, and then...

A smile. And so he stands there, frozen as she is frozen to him, as time itself passes by without sparing a glance at two who are rejoined. Love be damned, time has better things to do than wait for people to catch up. And catch up they shall...

From the direction of the palisade, Wilesly, his cloak thrown back over his shoulders to function mostly as a cape and a source of warmth, walks through the settlement of Crown's Refuge. For a moment he stops to rub his hands together, and blow on them. As he does so he allows his inquisitive gray orbs to quietly scan the scene ahead of him. He lets a bemused smile onto his face, but seems quite content to stand where he may and watch what unfolds.

There's a long moment of silence that acts as a prelude to the tears that are bound to come. Rowena's fingertips are indeed frozen, in more ways than one, and they need not the ring to turn blue at the tips. It matches the shade of her lips which now tremble in efforts to speak. "Flesh it is..." She whispers and looks quickly down to the arm which she holds just a little more substantially now.

The weight of her long-due discovery forces her to sink to her knees, hand trailing down the length of his arm as she goes. Reaching the end, it gently envelopes his fingers in her own, both hands clasping at the wielder of both death and tickling. She raises it slowly to her lips and bestows upon it a most careful kiss, as though he'd collapse to dust if she merely sneezed.

A kiss upon leather shrouded fingers. It is, perhaps, not quite how the wayward Prince of the Blood had expected the reunion to come to pass. However, that thought, he hadn't really ever settled on just how this could all play out. Fears and desires chasing each other in circles until one became indifferent from another.

Better to have loved and lost. Thou art to me a delicious torment. A man is not where he lives, but where he loves.

And so it is that all fears are chased away, all hopes brought to reality, and all emotions come to pass, as those soft lips fall gently upon fingers lightly scarred from previous battles of the physical, in which a gauntlet had not done it's job, or from when the cruel bite of steel had bit just a little too far. But what of the scars of the emotional?

Well, there's only one cure for those; and so, in a swift and sweeping motion, the Prince of the Blood sweeps the Duchess of Light's Reach into arms that have beheld only solitude for so long, into an embrace of enduring love and hope, and from there? Well, that depends entirely upon the Mongoose. What can time change?

Serath can only fear that that the answer is not "Much"...

Bitter and sweet is the smile that now coats the the lips of the obviously tired observer who wipes at his eyes for a moment. He appears to consider for just a moment attempting past the couple into the house, shifting uneasily from where he stands. Apparently he choses the latter, knowing a good performance when he sees one, being what some would call a master of the stage and theatrics. The extremly off chance that his simple passing might interupt something, seems to have the man hold back his forward momentum. Besides he would rather not explain right now why he has forsaken a bandage over what may have, a day earlier, appeared to be a rather serious wound. For now... he continues to watch.

There is only one immediate fear that remains in the mongoose's mind as she is wrapped snugly into safety. And that fear is...

"Snake." Rowena mouths with distant expression, her cheek pressed firmly alongside his neck while her fingers grip like a hawk to his shoulders. She blinks forcefully to clear her watered vision, sniffing a bit noisily. Shades, she'd forgotten about the serpent, left to lurk around the sleeping bodies. While she'd prefer to simply remain in this position for the remainder of the eve, duty did call.

"Snake." Rowena says more emphatically, as though it were an accusation. She repeats it a third time, squirming against his grip with a push to his chest, and looks at him with urgency.

"Snake?" Serath purrs in return to the accusation, quirking a brow as the warm embrace of Rowena upon his body is soon replaced by a push to the dark leather covering his chest, and a new embrace of discomfiture a little less welcome than the Duchess's slender grasp and fervent tears of joy. Light how he's missed her. Still. "Snake?"

No Badgers, at least. Serath shudders involuntarily.

Still, after a few short moments of considering this somewhat unexpected arraignment, the Prince of the Blood considers what he's currently holding, and then innocently smiles and pours something into Rowena's hands; a bundle of fuzz wrapped around two bright eyes, small and delicate, that inquires towards the Duchess with a dainty sneeze, and a questioning mewl.

"Kitten." Serath explains.

Wilesly sees his chance! A cute and furry animal, a bundle of distraction! Run for it Sly! The observer practically bolts from his position, moving with a certain amount of natural swiftness and doing his best to keep his head turned as he passes the couple. The door is only a few steps and a triumphant grin reaches his face as no one has yet ordered him to halt, and he frantically fiddles the latch.

Rowena's fingers wrap around the fuzzy warmth as mere reflex, its adorable existence otherwise unnoticed. Instinct, however, is gratefully functioning independently of her conscience and it draws the kitten inward towards her chest. Still, her eyes never leave his and she shakes her head, lips twitching incredulously at the notion that what lay inside the house was a kitten. "Snake, indeed." She asserts once more, then turns on heel and makes a hasty retreat towards the house.

"Snake." The word is repeated once more, as if just abiding that one noun will eventually unlock the mystery behind what is, without a doubt, a somewhat surreal reunion of two... well, Serath isn't quite sure where he stands now, having only hope and deep rooted emotions to hold dear to. Regardless, the Prince follows in Rowena's wake without question, his gloved hangs falling to either side of his waist to rest upon the hilts of rapiers that heed not for the affairs of those that love, sleeping soundly within their respective scabbards. As the chill breeze continues to flow around them, Serath's cloak shivers around his feet in protest.

"Indeed." he laments, softly.

The kitten mewls piteously, mourning the rather bumpy ride it endures, pressed beneath a stifling cloak and tunic buttons while something rather hard and pointed prods at it from the other side of the woman's clothing. Its wide eyes stare expectantly at all that the pair passes, and a paw wriggles free to latch its claws into the lock of fallen hair.

Rowena stumbles to an abrupt halt at the door about ten seconds after it is slammed shut. There she hesitates, glancing over her shoulder to ensure that her brave knight is truly following her. Oh, thank the Light for the rescue. She faces forward again and breathes deeply to compose herself. A shivering hand opens the latch and she opens the door with all the stealth she can muster, peering into the darkness. The fire has died nearly to embers and a single candle remains lit upon the table, illuminating some of the spilled berries and mushrooms. The Ring of the Stars adds just a hint more light to the situation as she thoroughly examines the floor in front of her before stepping one boot down inside. A berry squishes beneath her toe.

Here you are, daylight star, made out of miracles... Serath sighs, still unsure of his footing around the love of his life. Still, there will be time to find that standing later, the Prince quietly laments, as for now there is the matter of a 'snake' to find. Apparently.

It can't be any worse than Wildlings, at least.

Or can it? At least in Rowena's book of knowledge, it's possible. Not logical, perhaps, but possible. She slips the rest of the way inside, and then stands aside to allow Serath to enter and be free to move ahead of her. "It was in my satchel as I was washing the mushrooms and came at me, so I ran out. I don't see it..." She bemoans softly, searching the shadowed space between the bodies. Most of the injured have now awakened and look to her with a mixture of confusion and discomfort, though at the sight of another silhouette at her side, they remain silent. "I swear to it that it's here....somewhere."

The kitten has forsaken all attempts to seize her attention and love for the moment, it seems, and huddles in her palms with a quiet, imploring stare to its former captor.

Talus Kahar's House - Living Room - Crown's Refuge

Built mostly by his own hands, this is the first structure built by the exiled Emperor of Fastheld, Talus Kahar XIV, as a project to learn self-sufficiency among the denizens of the Wildlands.

The main living room area is rather spacious, with room for a couch and several chairs. An L-shaped wooden counter divides this area from the kitchen and dining area. A door leads to his bedchamber.

Also here: Silvan Dimrost

The living room appears to be in disarray, a good amount of berries and mushrooms scattered across the floor and a few articles of clothing (cloak, vest, tunic) have been thrown over a nearby chair. Near the doorway is a lifeless form of a small garter snake, approximately a foot long, flattened and not moving.

To add to the confusion Sly is undergoing a rather entertaining set of contortions as he fumbles about with a long bit of bandage which he has frantically attempted to wrap across his bare chest. Curiously enough he does not appear to be in any amount of pain (despite the inherent nature of serious wounds) as he puts up a valiant effort with the small bit of cloth.

"Shades!", he hisses as a good bit of it unravels itself.

And it is then that Rowena's eyes fall on something other than imagined serpentine shadows. "Master Spriggs?" She inquires with a most perplexed expression.

Surveying the extent of the ataxia that has transpired within his brother's house as a General might survey a battlefield before the onset of war from a position at Rowena's side, Serath Kahar - Prince of the Blood, Scion of the Imperial House, Pathfinder Ranger, and former Horsemaster of the Imperial Horsemen - can only shake his head in abstract amusement and respire a long suffering sigh.

Rapier swiftly drawn, blade leading, the Kahar paces slowly across the floor in the direction of the somewhat immobile serpent, ignoring - for now - the interaction between his Duchess and the man to whom she sends her question. That's beyond him right now. A tip of steel pokes a lifeless form. Another sigh.

"Snake." Serath reports, his tone indicating that the 'threat' - such as it was - is now quite over. And, it would seem, quite flat. "Did you /have/ to kill it?" he intones, looking towards Wilesly... and then finally noticing the abashed glare that Rowena seems to be giving the man.

Suffice to say, the awakened Rapier does not plan on sleeping again at this moment.

Wilesly looks up from his struggles, his face losing all its blood in the process, much like an animal who realizes it has been cornered. He pauses for a second. "Kill wha-Your Grace.", Sly manages to run the two responses together, as he goes back to struggling, frantically now, with the bandage. Apparently he has not yet even noticed the snake he trampled upon entering the room in a hurry. Sly, for some reason appears to fear something than angering the Prince of the Blood. Something much more horrible in his mind: the scorn of a woman.

Unlike the petty humans, the kitten's eyes have well adjusted to this low lighting and it sees many things of intrigue that it would prefer to explore. Making this desire known, the little creature protests more loudly than before and wiggles in earnest. A tiny set of claws sink into the tender wrist of its carrier, and at last the furball is noticed.

Kill? Snake? Kitten? Wilesly? Kitten.

Momentarily distracted from the befuddling action that occurs across the room, Rowena looks downwards with wonderment at the thing that she holds numbly in her hands. Where had this come from? She raises it to eye-level, a smile breaching her lips. The kitten strains forward and tickles her nose with its whiskers as it inspects her every feature.

She opens her mouth, but instead of cooing over the delivered cuteness, she croons "That's a rather frantic approach you've taken to self-mending, Master Spriggs. I suggest sacrificing haste for effectiveness. The way you've woven that will loosen in a matter of minutes."

The kitten stretches out a tiny, pink tongue and offers a mewl of confirmation.

The hiss of a steel blade being returned to its scabbard is all the sound that Serath makes while watching the interactions around him, followed by the soft thuds of light steps upon wooden flooring as the Prince makes his way over to the far wall, setting his back against it to lean casually upon its supporting length. Arms soon folded across his chest, the Prince is content to watch... and wait... and wonder.

Rowena is quite right. In fact the bandage has already begun to unravel itself even more so, exposing a good deal more of the wound or at least where a wound should have been. In its place are small faded streaks, barely noticeable if it were not for the breaks in the patch of hair that covers his chest. He attempts to hike it up but too late perhaps?

For the time being, Rowena has her eyes full of downy kitten fuzz. "If you aren't in too much pain, I will see to it later, Master Spriggs. It's been tightly stitched and I don't suspect you need to worry about spotted bleeding after all this time. I'd like to speak with Serath for a moment, unless of course you feel that you need me at this time?" Arching a brow, she lowers the kitten from her face and cradles it a bit more carefully this time to her belly.

The look that the Prince of the Blood offers to Wilesly suggests that Rowena's "speak with Serath" request is one that is not open to negotiations. Call it a perk of being the Sovereign Prince of Fastheld, but those ice-blue eyes - the eyes of an Emperor - leave little open to discussion to the matter. He doesn't say anything to that effect however. Nor does he needed too. Growl.

Wilesly lets out a defeated sigh as he removes the bandage rather unceremoniously and places it on the table. He quickly requisitions his tunic and pulls it over his person while the rest of his possessions are plucked up off the chair. He gives a gracious smile to both parties, and then responds with a weak smile towards Rowena, "That won't be necessary, Your Grace." As he finishes buttoning up his vest and donning his cloak he announces, "I believe I will be going for a very long walk."

He opens the door, kicking the dead snake outside as he does so. Something causes him to stop at the doorway before he turns about to address the couple once more with a roguish grin, "I'll be sure to knock." With that he procures his small angled cap from his cloak, dons it, and exits out into the cold night.

Mimicking Wilesly's dismissal of her services, Rowena calls over her shoulder "/That/ won't be necessary." One had to consider, after all, that they remained in the presence of half a dozen pairs of eyes. And one very innocent kitten.

Now then, what to be said? One hand absently begins to scratch at the kitten's nape, igniting a purr of response. Rowena looks across the room to him with an unreadable expression as she paces the floor to ensure that all wildling claws and vials of toxin had been tucked safely out of reach. Once satisfied that her purring present would not be poisoned, she bends to the side of a less critical patient. "Here." She says softly and gently transfers the kitten to his hands. "Will you watch him for me?"

"Do you even have to ask?" is the reply given as the bundle of fur is again poured into another set of hands. Hands covered with bandages. Bandages that happens to be ideal for clawing at. Which the kitten proceeds to do in earnest, though the patient that has received the kitten doesn't seem to mind. Except when those claws miss, that is. Ouch.

The stance and position that the Prince of the Blood has adopted doesn't change much; between watching the kitten claw his flesh off, those glacial eyes watch Rowena instead. Every movement, every emotion, documented by a gaze that has not looked upon reality for nearly a year; content, instead, to make do with memory. In retrospect, a poor replacement for the real Duchess.

Poor indeed.

"Thank you." Rowena murmurs, then rises from her crouch and considers the Prince again with her eyes. Had it been only a year? If so, then time had been cruel in weathering her as if it had been ten. At least she /felt/ more aged. Her face has lost some weight, some color, her eyes made hollow by the puffed, black pits beneath them that testify to days without sleep. While the eerie lighting may thus bestow a more ghastly appearance to her features, there is only tenderness in her eyes. Tenderness and the shades of eternal sorrow of a woman slain not once, but twice by the fall of her heart's captor.

"I don't suspect you know of a place more... secluded?" She asks softly, glancing to the others in the room while weaving between them to reach Serath's lean against the wall.

In contrast to the ravages of sorrow and endless hope that Rowena has had to endure, Serath has become something of a wolf over this last year. Lithe, graceful, tenacious, and deadly. The effects of a ranger trapped alone behind what many in Fastheld would consider to be a forsaken land, having seen death smile upon him once again, only to cast its gaze elsewhere as if bidden by some unseen master. He was always dexterous, of course; his time with the Imperial Horsemen, his alliance with the Pathfinders, and the prowess with twin Scimitars saw to that... but this Serath is one forged and honed by nature herself. A prowling hunter. All feline refinement and hawkish precipitancy.

Yet he's different, somehow. For all the death and justice his skill with a blade still holds, there seems to be something changed about him. As if the storm that once lashed at his soul has long since passed. As if the wildfire within had finally burned itself out. Not through despair, or through strife... but as if that rage - the Fury of Kahar - had simply took flight.

And the compassion those eyes hold, and the humor that smile contains, are as abundant as ever. Especially now. Particularly for Rowena.

"We're in the Wildlands, Row." he purrs, using a pet name that has not been uttered by that voice for as long as he can remember. The sound of it makes him smile. "I'm sure I can find somewhere for us to hide."

"Somewhere warm?" Rowena presses with skepticism reigning in the lift of her brows. "Or at least sheltered from these frozen winds?" Reaching him, she studies his face with continued disbelief. A hand lifts to gingerly trace the scratch upon his cheek, wincing as though the touch had inflicted her. "I assume it is not a kitten that has done this to you?"

"I'm thankful that was the worse of it." Serath undertones, willing that touch to last an eternity, but knowing it shall soon fade. Still, that's all that the Prince offers by way of elucidation, instead clasping that reaching hand in one of his own and - after catching Rowena's gaze - offering her a smile of the kind not before seen outside of Fastheld. He doesn't speak, content to guide instead, leading upon silent and measured footsteps...

Some time later...

Forest Wilds <Verdigris>

So named for the distinctive blue and green hues that the leaves of the monoecious deciduous Verdigris trees that grow only in this expansive region of the Wildlings, the Verdigris Forest is at once archaic and resplendent, and home to all kinds of durable flora and fauna that, at times, put even the most astounding forests of Fastheld to shame, shattering the illusion of the Wildlands being bleak and evil places.
Approximately seventy miles across from north to south, and thirty miles from east to west, Verdigris is a place where time seems to stand still; a waking dream of the ancient days before the Cataclysm that would bring about new and dangerous times for the greater world around it. A place of untold beauty and ancient secrets. Of Wildlings, Drakes, and the Arcane...
The shadows of the forest seem to be thicker here, the whispers of the wind slipping through the overhead branches sounding like chants of some demonic cult or religious order. The noises of native animals and natural elements are hushed, as if nature itself were holding their breath and waiting for something to happen.
Bright flowers of sapphire, ivory, and violet dapple the otherwise bleak trunks of the verdigris trees, bringing a spark of brilliant life into this otherwise somber region of the wilds.

With her hand held fast, Rowena follows Serath on the march for the quest of privacy. There were times when she would have raced ahead, venturing as far as her voice's reach would allow for the sake of being the first to discover a new place to swim or a new berry to taste. Those days, like much of the good that had once existed, were long ago entombed by a universal sense of fear.

Thus, Rowena remains as humanly close as possible. She keeps silent, ears strained to listen for other signs of life within the wood.

It would seem that the Prince of the Blood has no fear of the Verdigris; having hunted Wildlings through here only recently, it's not difficult to understand why. Still, the quiet of a forest cast in the dark and sylvan hues of a moon filled sky are still enough to put even the most skilled of Rangers on quiet caution as he leads the way, eventually finding the destination to which he had planned for: A small clearing, complete with a trickle of a stream, and an adorable little waterfall that gurgles and bubbles over rocks and roots.

"Tis a shame that the air is not warmer..." Rowena murmurs, hearing the burbling of water before she catches sight of its shimmer over the rocks. Giving the captive hand a meaningful squeeze, she looks coyly through the sides of her lashes with a smile that all of Fastheld had not seen since before the Ravager laid towns to waste. "Methinks there's no one to scold such behavior here."

And with that remark, she lets go, willingly this time, trusting that the separation will not be followed by months of solitude. A few seconds, perhaps. She's willing to take the risk, however, and trots ahead a few steps towards the water.

Months of solitude do not, in fact, follow the passing of Rowena's hand from Serath's own. Merely, the Prince just pads to a stop, watching Rowena with an interest forged of having loved, lost, and then regaining something beyond that which he thought he had to begin with. Though she may have not evaded the trails of concern that have haunted her over the last few months, Serath hardly seems to notice.

To the Sovereign Prince of the Blood, there is no creature as beautiful right now as the once that dances in the clearing before him.

And yet still he falters, with neither the words nor the heart to as yet tell her so. Yet that look... Light above, that /look/... smites his heart with all the ease of a Drake laying waste to a glass bowl. Thus he does the only thing he can do: He finds a rock to sit back upon, and does just that. "Rowena..." he whispers, on the verge of adding more words that as yet refuse his summons.

Pausing when she fails to hear footfalls after her, Rowena stops and turns to meet his stare with a more sobered expression. Very well, that rock it shall be. Wrapping her arms more snugly inside her cloak, she treads back slowly. It was time to behave like an adult.

Amidst the maelstrom of emotions and conflicting apprehension and trepidation that squall upon Serath's spirit as he sits upon that rock, watching the Duchess caper beneath the silently watching trees and the ever beautiful stars above, a thousand battles are fought and lost. Battles of emotions. Of what to say. Of where to begin. Of how to start. Conflicts fought, vanquished, and waged again.

And yet there she stands; her form bathed in pale spectral light from the Moons above. Her cloak flowing around her form. Her expression sober. Yet it is the promise of those eyes, of that voice, and of her very posture, that finally grant Serath Kahar the answer he seeks:

Sorrow be damned. He can save his tears for the day when the pain is far behind. For now there is only Rowena, and that's all the answer he needs. A quest at an end. Thus, as his Duchess draws closer, the sober expression of the wildcat promptly melts into a tender smile.

The cat pounces upon his beloved prey. Preow! Then there is only her, and her warmth, and the soft embrace of grass below, and the coil of cloaks intertwined, and that's good enough for him. And lo, there is much cuddling to follow.

Yea verily.

Caught greatly off guard by the spontaneous attack, the mongoose falls prey to the wildcat. Pinned, she can think of little to say in recovery, though a witty thought does come to mind. "I do believe I prefer leather over bronze, my love." Rowena musters, one hand caught between herself and the leathery breastplate.

"Although, I suspect that the bronze offered far more protection..." Words of warning murmurs into his ear, Rowena uses her other hand to snake through the side of the armor and prod menacingly at his side. Perhaps it was not a time to act as adults. The tears and somber recounts could come later but for now.

Much cuddling indeed.

Return to Season 4 (2006)

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