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    COTY

    Aela -- Year 216

    QOTY

    "So she smiles prettily and steals away when she can. Feels the brutal pounding of others around her with a savagery that she has never comprehended—their emotions so vast, their hearts so wicked. It warps her more than she was already warped. It presses a thumbprint of cruelty into her darkness, shaping her into a thing of shadow, a thing of longing, a thing carved from the darkness between every breath." --Baptiste, written by Laura


    Our Tangled Roots // Raul & Kids
    #1
    Warlight

    Soul as sweet as blood red jam


    The waterfall was her refuge, and rarely did she stray far from the healing pool where it fell. She had slept more than any healthy creature should since her return from The Mountain, but no amount of rest could mend her body of the damage the Dark God had done.

    The open wounds from her crashing descent on that same day had healed, thanks to Nikkai's magic waters, but the sickness in her bones still boiled. She had one more task to accomplish before she could return and call on Carnage again, but this weakness had been a battle she wasn't prepared to fight. It had shaken her more than she would admit, even to Raul, to feel a sickness so like the plague take up residence in her lungs and blood again, to feel the way she had in the days before she met her end. 

    But it hadn't truly been her end, and she keeps reminding herself of that. 

    Despite the curse she carries, she gave birth to a healthy filly - a little face that brightens her otherwise pain-darkened days. More often than not, Will leaves the parenting to Raul, but on this late-winter day, she is happy to see her mate and youngest daughter trotting towards her.

    The leopard mare rises from the shallows where she had been laying chest-deep in cool water. In the late-afternoon sunlight, golden rivers stream from her belly and tail, and she smiles at the pair as she takes a step towards them.

    "My little love," she calls over the thin stretch of grassland that separates them. "Come and tell me what you did today."

    [Image: Warlightpageddoll1.png]
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    #2
    Julia knows nothing of Carnage.

    The dark God has no dominion over her young mind. Her whole world is enveloped by the faces she sees every day, by the one that is smiling down on her now. The painted filly had been walking by her father, looking above and around and everywhere because there was simply so much to look at.

    "Papa!” she chirps, suddenly stopping and staring straight above her. ”Did you see that bird? He was red and blue and yellow!” Her petite head comes down and when she looks back up to the stallion who is the bedrock of her young world, she is wide-eyed. "There are more colors though, right? Does that mean there are bird with even more colors?” Julia asks.

    The pair continue to walk in the afternoon Tephran sunshine and the filly plies him with more questions. Was Laia part bird then, since she had wings? Where had Loey gotten her spikes from? Her sire had a reaching stride (or it seemed to her) and when Julia wasn’t asking questions, her young face was pursed in a look of concentration as she attempted to keep up with her buckskin father.

    It’s a look that gets broken by a loving call.

    "Mama!” the little girl laughs, trotting forward and away from Raul, suddenly a beaming bundle of energy despite the ending day. Her mother is soaked and Julia suddenly thinks that a late afternoon swim seems like an excellent idea. But first, "Mama.” She says, nestling into the warm embrace of her dam.

    "You’ll never guess,” the filly excitedly starts, ”but Papa and I saw a bird that looked like it swallowed a rainbow!”

    @[Warlight] @[Raul]
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    #3
    On the day of Julia's birth, Raul had found himself once more in awe of the love he was capable of feeling. Each child that he and Warlight brought into the world was as beautiful as the last, each a unique soul to be treasured. They had meant to wait. They really had. But when their youngest made herself known to them, the gruff stallion couldn't help but feel a thrill of pride and excitement that they're family would be growing once again. 

    Now she was here, and he found himself delighting once again in introducing his youngest daughter to the things her elder sisters had already grown bored with. Beautiful flowers and fragrant herbs, strangly formed stones and the songs of every bird he could name. She drank it all in with wide eyes and a smile he couldn't deny. 

    That morning he had taken her to the sunny clearing where pumice and obsidian floes cut through the greenery. The dark glass shone black and brown in the daylight, and he'd pointed out how it formed from the lava Tephra's volcano produced. And then, yes, there'd been a bird with more colors than a sunrise, and he knew her attention was compromised. 

    When the brightly plumed creature had taken it's leave, the pair returned home, his little one chattering all the way and he slipping in answers when he could. His smile was fond as they returned to her mother's side, only turning concerned as his darkly patterned wife rose to greet them. 

    He too saw the parallels between the plague that had torn into her once, and her current condition. There was no arguing with her, though. As helpless as he felt again watching and able to do nothing but sometimes ease the symptoms, it was her path to follow. He did his best to support that, though sometimes he wasn't sure why. Often it made his own failure at the mountain sting all the more. 

    At the very least, it was no burden to have Julia as his little shadow most days, to be the source of parental guidance for the elder two when Warlight's pain was particularly ragged. Today though, she seemed well. Enough to greet their spirited daughter warmly, and to encourage more. Raul settled beside them, contented for the time being to watch this piece of his family be. 

    A soft laugh answered Julia's exclamation, his two toned eyes meeting the elder mare's. "I think we may be collecting feathers later." He added, wondering briefly how many different colored ones they could gather. Enough for a whole rainbow, he was sure. Perhaps even Laia would be willing to donate some shed plumage. 

    @[Warlight] @[Julia]
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    #4
    Julia folds into her, and for a moment, it easy to pretend that all is well. There is no hesitation when the filly recounts her day, and as she listens, Will reflects all the girl's excitement back at her.

    "A bird like a rainbow," she muses, "I think I may have seen the same one this afternoon. Did he tell you I was looking for you?" With that, Will pushes her muzzle behind her daughter's ear - mussing her mane and giving a playful snort before taking a few quick steps back to avoid any possible retribution.

    "Have you and papa been working on swimming lessons?" She asks, motioning for Julia to come closer with a nod. Warlight halts as the water swirls around her shoulders, too deep for the fillies toes to touch the stones below. "You know it is important for him to learn to swim," she teases.

    But suddenly she blinks hard, a wave of dizziness comes over her. She has used too much energy without realizing it. The moment of unsteadiness passes quickly, but she knows her time is limited before she will have to close her eyes and regain her strength. It only makes her more determined that tomorrow she would put an end to this.

    With the help of Lilliana, she was ready to return to the Mountain. With any luck, she would leave the sickness behind her permanently and return home as twice the warrior she had been. Now that the end was in sight, she had shed the hesitation that was holding her back before. With a night spent in the healing pool, she would be as ready as she ever could be for the journey to the mountain. Waiting wouldn't make it easier, it would only prolong the length of her sickness - increase the number of memories her daughters would have of a weak and fragile mother. 

    But she needed to tell Raul.

    "In the morning I'm leaving for a little trip..." Will's dark eyes lift to the stallion's, knowing that he understands there is only one place she would be going. She finds that he is already watching her, and she can only manage a bitter-sweet smile before returning her gaze to @[Julia]. And it is so much easier to fake her bravado.

    "Can you find a red feather for me when I'm gone? I want to wear it in my mane when I get back."
    [Image: Warlightpageddoll1.png]
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    #5

    Julia - like her elder twin sisters - came after the ravages of the Plague. They had been born in the time after and so the only sickness that Julia knows is this: her mother is often tired. The sun doesn't stay out long enough, she thinks. Maybe if it came out earlier and stayed out longer, her mother might bloom like she had seen the hibiscus and bromeliads do (though she is too young to understand that those lovely plants only do it once).

    Tephra, already humid, needs a special kind of warmth. The little girl presses her shoulder and then her side along the pale legs of her dam. She's still little but Julia hopes it enough; maybe it works because her mother shares a secret and the buckskin filly brightens in reply, "He didn't!" She exclaims with a playful toss of her head as her mother pulls away and takes one high step towards her leopard-marked dam. Warlight moves back and Julia turns her attention towards her father, beaming up at him. She adores the hours spent with him and the time they spent together lights up her young face.

    Basking in the familial glow and love of her parents, Julia giggles. "Not today," she trills and the corners of her golden lips uplift in a smile. "I told Papa he'd look like a drizzly bear." @[Raul] had explained the flora and fauna of Tephra several times, seemingly never exasperated with her myriad of never-ending questions that will turn into a well on knowledge given time. The girl alludes to the creatures - massive, hairy brown beasts who prefer the Northern cold to Tephra's fire - that are more typically found in the Common lands or the kingdom above them.

    It's a funny picture, thinking of a grizzly bear with its thick coat drenched in water. The image is nothing like the mare she had tucked herself into; sleek (too thin) and slender and lovely.

    Still smiling, she turns her head around to glance at her mother again. There is a shadow on Warlight's face but it's gone before Julia can catch it, like their feathered friend. Her mother's ailment has already taken flight before Julia can catch it by its dark wings.

    She was leaving? Was she taking La and Loey with her? How long would she be gone? Julia follows where the deep blues above her go and it's to her father. It's also where the buckskin filly looks for assurance. For some kind of explanation like he so often gives (like that the pitcher plants are good for preventing scars or that the kapok tree helps with swollen joints). She doesn't understand this but she can do what @[Warlight] asks of her.

    The buckskin filly is still watching her sire - waiting for his reply - when she answers: "I can do that, Mama. Maybe I can find you a blue one too? And maybe Papa will help me find a yellow one so you both can have the sun in your mane."

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