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    Gale -- Year 215


    "To be a woman is to face monsters" --Brunhilde, written by Phae

    The birds of morning don't sing anymore [Aquaria]

    never thirsty, ever drinking

    It had only been a moment of comfort in a world turned upside-down, reaching out to one another in darkness, tamping down the fear that threatened to rise up from their hearts and burst out from their open throats like seawater from drowning lungs. And, Dace thinks, it had worked, for a time, but now he finds his worries multiplied tenfold at his hooves, sleeping peacefully when he has not found decent rest for days.

    I'll never sleep again, he resolves, letting his weary gaze fall from the fairy lights drifting through the jungle to the child's fragile ribs, letting his bright head fall from its sentinel position so that his lips can brush the downy fur of his daughter's shoulder. She smells like milk and spice, like cinnamon bark, dusty remnants of the trees they passed through earlier peppering her bright coat. Quietly, mournfully, Dace wonders if he will ever see that coat painted over with sunlight, or will he be forced to imagine what it could have been?

    A sound makes him lift his head. A voice. It's almost familiar, but he trusts nothing, now; the creatures that brought the darkness wear so many guises. Sometimes they are simply shadows and teeth and claws, sometimes they wear the faces of his friends and his family. Sometimes they wear faces of horses he does not know at all and these are always the least suspicious because a stranger can look like anything. He takes a protective step over the filly, ears laced back and the skin of his haunches quivering, ready. The tension across his face pinches his nostrils until his breath comes in a growl and draws his lips up into a snarl, baring teeth that gleam with the light of the magician's magic, glowing birds.

    Come on, then, Fiend.

    But nothing comes. Only the softly growing sounds of conversation all around him. He hears his own name, and he hears them say his daughter's name, but everything else is strange and indistinct; murmuring that becomes an ocean's crashing and still no words that he can make out. A crowd of half-remembered, half-dreamt voices, chattering all around him, ringing in his ears (and only in his ears for Gilda still sleeps soundly beneath him, unaware) until he thinks he is going to go mad.

    He is going mad. He's spinning awkwardly as the volume shifts - left, right, behind, above, deafening. How can the girl sleep through it all? How can she not hear them? The empty clearing is full of bellowing voices.

    "Shut up! Shut up!"

    He roars into the dead silence of midnight, sweat dampening his skin and legs shaking, exhausted. Gilda lifts her head from where it lay tucked against her body, blinking those liquid doe eyes sleepily, confused.


    She does not understand why he is screaming.

    Image by Almatea-Art

    @[The Monsters] Kindly mess with Dave's water aura Heart
    @[Dace] your water aura has mutated into self water healing

    I'll be almost to the ocean when you open your eyes

    She is limping, a raw and saltwater-stinging collection of slashes sluggishly weeping blood down her leg. So close. She had been so very close to home, in sight of the familiar shore and ready to be back. It had been a turbulent journey already, the ocean currents uncooperative and wild around her. If they hadn't been, maybe she would have felt the massive form cutting through the water before it had rammed her. Maybe not. 

    Either way, she had been stunned for a moment. Had felt her hind leg be wrapped in something muscular and cold, and hadn't reacted until the pain registered. Then she had thrashed for her life. Pulled at the ocean with everything she had until it forced itself between her and her assailant, ripping out the barbs from her flesh as it did. That had almost stunned her again, but ocean wouldn't keep the monster at bay for long. 

    Ears ringing, she struck out blindly, only wanting to get away. From the monster, from the rocks, from whatever hungry but mundane sea goers would taste her blood and want more. She'd picked the wrong direction, of course. By the time she was able to drag herself onto a gritty beach, she was too tired to care. 

    She needed help. It was that, or die, here alone on a beach that wasn't Ischia's. She was too stubborn to let that happen. Too stubborn to let her wobbling knees collapse back beneath her when she forced them to stand. Granted, it was stubbornness that had gotten her into this mess in the first place. 

    Leaving a trail of bloody sand in her wake, the ragged seamare trudged inland, looking for something, anything to help. She needed to get home. Back to her children, to her island. But gods help her if she got back into the water today. 

    It was a matter of putting one hoof in front of the other, and that task took all her focus. It was only when a voice broke through the quiet that her attention wavered. "Hello?" She rasped, uncertain she'd heard anything at all. Then it comes again, and her doubt turned into concern. That was not a gentle voice. It was harsh and maybe a bit frightened. 

    She hesitated between steps, wondering if she would turn back. She was weak as it was, another conflict would whatever reserves she had left. This was the first sign of life she had come across though, and she couldn't turn her back now that she knew they were there. Groaning, and swearing, she tottered as quickly as she could toward the shouting voice. Prepared as well as she could for whatever she was walking into. 

    It was not what she anticipated. A stallion, alone she thought, until a small pale head rose from the underbrush. He smelled like fear, and she couldn't see why. "Hey- hey, what's wrong?" She asked, swaying softly at the edge of their clearing.


    The sound of her voice is lost in that rush of noise that fills his ears and drowns out the sound of the great waterfall and the singing of the shadow shrimp. It melts into the calling and the screaming and the laughter, the wordless muttering and the whispers that scratch across the back of his neck. He does not hear her voice, but he notices the dragging sound of her footsteps and if he could growl, he might, but instead he stamps a thick foreleg into the soft earth like a pillar between the scale-marked child still lying in a tangle of leg and delicate bone and whatever lame, lurching beast is coming. Flame-orange ears press flat against his poll, those storm-grey eyes like stones within the sea of his silvery mane.

    It is not a monster that breaks through the foliage - at least, it is not obviously one, but he does not see at first that it is only a mare. He is angry and defensive and his vision is clouded by the shadows and the lies of the howling beasts hiding between the light of the magician's lanternbirds. It is only Gilda's position beneath him that saves Aquaria from the blind fury of a charge, that extra moment he takes to extricate himself from the child who has already turned her large eyes to the stranger and the clearing's edge. The girl's confusion becomes curiousity and though she wisely remains on the ground while her father frees his feet of her, the small wings tucked against her cheeks tremor lightly with the desire to go.

    It feels like an eternity before Dace has pulled himself away from the child, but it is not very long. Time is so liquid when there's nothing in the sky to track it by, when his adrenaline is turning his blood to fire, but when he looks again, he sees her - really sees her - and the exhaustion on her face is like a mirror. He wants to rush to her side, ever gallant, but the soft laughing oh that escapes from Gilda's lips as she harnesses those impossibly long legs reminds him of his priorities. Injured mares... his lips twist into a conflicted frown.

    "Who are you?"

    Less a question than a demand. He ignores her question, swinging his haunches around to bar the stranger's path to his daughter (and vice versa.) She could be another trick of the monsters, but even as his mind rings with suspicion, his eyes trace the story written across her swollen hocks and bloodied haunch and his heart twists on itself.

    What if she isn't?

    How can he care for two?
    Image by FootyBandit


    I'll be almost to the ocean when you open your eyes

    A wave of nausea rolled across her, her stomach feeling very much like a storm tossed bit of driftwood. A dull, pounding ache had settled into her hindquarters. It hurt, but it didn't get any worse as she stood there and the blood flow had slowed to a wet seeping from the pattern of wounds. 

    Pulling herself out of her own pain had been an effort, but she'd been aware enough to piece together that this distressed stallion and the little one at his feet seemed to be alone in their grotto. No fragments of darkness writhed towards them, no evil yellow eyes reflected back at her. It was, she figured, a very calm scene. If you ignored the terror only just beginning to fade from the man's eyes. 

    His question is a good one, and she had to take a moment to wet her tongue before it would make the required sound to answer. "Aquaria, of Ischia," she rasped on a dry throat. She'd nearly drowned, but now she felt as if any spare liquid in her body had drained out her leg. 

    She offered a weak smile to the long legged filly who rose at last from her bed. There were many odd things she'd seen, both on land and in the sea, but the strangely tiny wings that adorned the girl's face still raised a brow. "Aren't you a funny flying fish," she murmured, lips tingling bizarrely around the words. "D'you know a Wishbone?" She slurred dreamily.

    With very little thought, her legs made the decision that they were done with holding her up, and now that the adrenaline had faded from her blood, she was inclined to agree with them. Down she went, hind leg cocked out. It was too stiff to fold beneath her by now.


    He can't help it. The mare speaks kindly enough to his daughter but there's a flare of hot anger in his chest when she does, one that makes the muscles of his cheeks ripples with the squeaking grind of his teeth. Gilda takes no real notice, young enough still to be oblivious to the danger of the dark world she was born into. Peering beneath the silvery skin of her father's belly, the small wings flare proudly when Aquaria speaks to her. The next instant they are flat and tight and nervous, pressing close to her golden cheek as the Ischian Dame crumples to the earth and the girl startles backward, landing in an awkward seated position.

    Dace is already lunging forward, though she reaches earth before he can span the couple strides between them, the anger of moments before left in his wake. Instead, there is a re-awakening of that former boldness that once defined him as he forgets the crooning, jibing, creatures crawling through the jungle's deep shadow.

    "Woah, woah, hey. Shit." He's at her side now, a bracing foreleg bearing the weight of her shoulder so that she can stay upright despite the awkward angle of her hind leg. She asks for Wishbone and he can only shake his head, remorse staining the lines of his face because he does not know a Wishbone. He has only come here since the day was shattered, since he found himself responsible for the gold-scaled girl finding her feet again and pausing curiously to watch them. He knows she is thinking of coming over (because she is unafraid, and because she has followed his every step since her mother left,) but it isn't within his ability to stop her and to support the weakened mare.

    "No," regret thickens his tongue, "but we're new here. I'm sure we could find her if you could only stand." He knows, too, that there is a waterfall that could heal her, and though he hasn't been to it, the wind-sound of its rushing waters breaks the unnatural silence that surrounds them. The pale locks of his tail betray his frustration as Gilda finally rallies the courage to approach them, picking her way on long, careful legs until she is close enough to brush her delicate muzzle against the fine scales of Aquaria's.

    "I have scales, too!" Heedless of the Dame's condition, she grins, nervous wings relaxing, and swings her head back to gesture at the scaled markings on her own skin before turning back to Aquaria with a whisper.

    "I can't really fly, but I can run really fast."
    Image by FootyBandit


    I'll be almost to the ocean when you open your eyes

    The world felt like slow motion. Like watching sunlight filter through the water from below. She missed the flash of anger on the stallion's face as she addressed his daughter, too caught up in falling to care. 

    She was in pain, and she was tired, and she wasn't sure yet which one she felt more. Laying her head in the scrubby grass sounded nice, but she couldn't. His dark leg prevented it. "That's a pity," she murmured, eyes taking a moment to track from his knee to his oddly marked face. "Welcome to Tephra." It was an out-of-place phrase, one she couldn't hold back if she tried. 

    The pearl mare had been a hostess far too long to ignore propriety, even if she was just as much of a stranger to this area as he was. More, actually. The scripts and habits gave her something to cling to when the world seemed insistent on shaking itself to bits. 

    Stand, stand, he wanted her to stand. She pondered the request, thoughts struggling to the surface of her bogged down mind. Every muscle and bone ached, and her hind quarters felt like they were on fire where barbs had torn. A grim smile sat vague on her lips. "I don't think that's going to happen," she admitted quietly, throat dry and gritty. All the saliva in her mouth seemed to have vanished. 

    "Oh," she hummed as the tiny girl approached. "So you do, they're lovely. Just like my daughter's." The gentle touch was about as innocent a thing as Aquaria could remember. This had been one of her favorite ages to experience with her own children. A time that was best used exploring the world and pushing everything to its limits. 

    That wasn't the childhood many were having now, though. Not with the dark and the fear as thick as honey, touching everything it could reach. In a miraculous way that comes naturally to small children, this girl seemed to carry her own sunshine with her. "I believe it," she replied, words sticking together in her mouth, missing her own children fiercely in that moment. She wasn't certain she'd ever see them again.


    And now what?

    The instant she falls, the mistrust and the anger evaporate away like water poured onto lava, and the fog left behind brings him no clarity. There is no solution here, he cannot leave her alone, not for long, and he certainly cannot send the child into the dark jungle to find help. The pale strands of his tail flick as if at unseen flies, snapping the sharp pattern of his vexation across scale-marked flanks. Welcome to Tephra, indeed.

    The sound of the Waterfall lures him. It can't be very far, and he recalls another parched fish washed up on his shore in another time. It feels so long ago, longer than years, there's a century of darkness between then and now, but remembering gives him hope. It gives him a plan.

    "Gilda," he calls sternly to the gold-marked child beaming under Aquaria's groggy admiration, and waits for her to turn her delicate face up to him, and when she does, the muscles of his cheeks clench involuntarily because he hates this plan, but there's nothing else to be done.

    "Gilda, I'm going to go find the Waterfall, and I want you to stay here with... with our new... friend. You make sure she stays awake, can you do that?"

    Gilda nods enthusiastically in reply and Dace smiles down at her as if dread isn't pouring out of his heart. Slowly, gently, he pulls his leg from under the Dame, until her pale head rests against the ground. The filly looks down at her charge, but he calls her attention back.

    "Now listen - and this is very important, okay? If the Monsters come back (you remember those creatures we saw at the River?) - if they come back, you are going to run. As fast as you can, you're going to run, and you don't stop until you find me or one of the Magician's birds." He pauses, centering himself with a deep breath, "Do you understand?"

    Large brown eyes blink, the child looks down again at Aquaria, bleeding and prone.

    "Gilda." She looks back up at him and nods a second time.

    "Yes, Papa," she lies, confused but obedient. She does not understand.

    He nods then, teeth gritted, and drops his muzzle to brush lightly against the dazed mare's ear.

    "I have to go, but I'll be back," I hope, "Gilda will stay with you until then."

    He doesn't even dare to think the other dark hope that underlies every word; that if the Monsters return, they will focus on the injured and very likely dying Dame and ignore Gilda entirely, that Aquaria will be the sacrifice that saves his daughter. He presses a kiss between the filly's gold ears and disappears into the dark jungle, following that wild rushing sound of water.

    Gilda watches him go, unsettled, uncertain, but the sound of the scaled mare's harsh breath reminds her of her task and so she curls her long legs beneath herself, tucking herself close beside the Ischian Dame.

    "Uh-Kware-Ee-Uh," her voice is silver-bright in the shadowy thicket, "That's a pretty name. Does your daughter have a pretty name, too?"
    Image by FootyBandit


    I'll be almost to the ocean when you open your eyes

    She felt her head drift steadily downwards, until it lay cradled in sandy loam, ferns flattening beneath the weight of her webbed mane. It was felt, but only from far away. Buffered by a downy layer of woozy unreality as her did its best to seperate her from what had happened to it. 

    Her breathing had slowed, thinned, and the blood oozing from the deep lacerations had slowed as well. Things were happening, and she wanted to help. She was a helper, always, it was what sat at the core of her being. Her body wasn't cooperating though. It was tired and begging her for sleep, rest, anything to quiet the pounding in her head. 

    It wasn't until the the little body curled against her, so much warmer than expected, that Aquaria found herself swimming against the current so close to pulling her under. Her head lifted an inch or so, wanting to see what had nestled against her, but the effort was like lifting a boulder. Too much. Instead, she forced a thin hum through her lips, acknowledging the words that filtered through the fog. 

    "Kaimana," she breathed. Her lost little girl, elder sister to the two she hadn't met yet. Hadn't named. A name she had chosen with care, and now laid reverently here. She hoped it hadn't been like this. Not for her girl. Not with time dripping by so excruciatingly slow.



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