How long had it been since she'd seen the sun? No matter how she tried she couldn't get the leather shackles from around her wrists, which took on a more skeletal appearance with each passing day. He'd left her ankles undone this time and she would be sure to make him regret it. All of it. Dr. Osiris Lancaster, he was called. Ex Legion medic and geneticist hell bent on cracking the code of mutation and curing all the world. Every part of her ached, and her skin felt foreign. Every breath was a knife in her chest. And she was afraid. Every sighting of that immaculate lab coat, white as snow, deceptively pure, sent her heart racing. He'd put her under, at first, as he examined the way her muscles worked, the alarming rate at which she healed, how deep he would need to cut before a scar was left. She had many now. But with the scarcity of medical supplies and his increasing curiosity he'd soon resorted to leaving her awake in a nightmare as he peeled away skin and muscle and scraped at bone, testing her tolerance, and whether her healing rate increased or decreased with stress. It increased. Which led to more prodding. Her nightmarish reverie was interrupted as rapid footsteps descended the concrete stairs. Her heart fluttered like a caged bird as she shrank against the cold wall where she was shackled. "Momo?" The voice of a little girl rounded the corner seconds before her small frame appeared. "Are you awake?" She asked, blinking into the darkened space. Aria breathed a shaky sigh of relief. "Jacqueline, you can't be here. He's going to catch you. " she shivered, both from the prospect and the ever present cold. She hated the cold. But these visits warmed her in a way the world couldn't touch. Hope was a delicate creature, but it grew stronger with time. With each frequent visit something inside that the doctor couldn't touch began to heal. Jacqueline simply rolled her little eyes at Arias concern. "I brought you something." She said, taking a cross legged seat across from the shackled captive. She un shouldered a small sack and daintily removed a thermos, two delicate tea cups and a tart, no larger than her small palm, and held it out to Aria. "Thank you." She said eyeing the child, who was her only hope. The one good thing in this place. Although she was sure she meant little more to her than a pet with which to play tea party, it was by far better than being alone. She indulged her, listening to her childish hopes and dreams, and nodding in all the right places while keeping a sharp eye on the staircase. She was smart. It was a shame she had a monster for a father. "Momo," the sound of the name she'd become accustomed to caught her attention "if I undid the bracelets, would you play a game with me?" She asked, short tawny curls framed a heart shaped face in which sat hopeful eyes. Arias own eyes softened, she must be quite lonely. "Of course I would but..." The girl didn't wait for her to finish but scooted forward brandishing a small dusty key ring, and the shackles fell to the floor. "Jackie, your father....where did you get those?" "Papa keeps a spare set up in the-" "He'll notice that they're gone." She began forming a plan before the girl could interject. She had to go. Now. But how could she leave this sweet little girl to the wrath of a mad man? He would no doubt hold her responsible for Arias escape at best, or her neat escape at worst. "How would you like to go on an adventure?" She asked. Jacqueline's eyes lit up with the prospect. "To where?" "The whole world. Would you like to come with me?" She scuffled a slippered foot across the floor, playing with the ends of her hair. "That's really far, and papa says if you leave he can't make you better..." "Look, I'm right as rain." She said standing carefully to prove her point. It cost her dearly, but she could move. "Let's go. But you have to be very quiet, and you can't tell him." Jackie mulled it over and curiosity won out. She grabbed Arias hand and together they made their way up the stairs, silent as church mice. Oh how her legs ached! It had been weeks since she walked. Maybe months. She could hardly tell as there was no sun light in the small dark space, only one exposed bulb over the lab table. Wait! Her file. She stopped and bending down on one knee she placed her hands on the child's shoulders. "Do not move. Don't make a sound. Okay? Keys." She nodded and handed Her the keys. Aria took them and kissed her forehead lightly before making her way over to a metal file cabinet. She unlocked it and quickly leafed through the files until she found what she was looking for. " M.O.M.O. 107, Mutigen Orientation Mass Observation subject 107; Day 5- subject still shows no-" the one matching the letters and barcode tattooed on her foot. This one was hers. She shoved it into the waistband of her pants and hurrying back to Jacqueline, took her hand and made it up the stairs. She paused there, scanning the hall way just above to make sure it was clear. There were 3 doors directly in front of her and one at the far end to her left from which light spilled. She headed that direction, but Jackie pulled her hand, leading her to the right toward another door. This must be the front, where the girl was most used to coming in and out. Just as they turned the corner toward the door to freedom another opened from down the hall; and there he was. He might have been a handsome man, if he weren't evil incarnate. Hair the same color as his daughters combed carefully into place, soft brown eyes that conveyed tranquility and trust. These eyes widened as he took in his nearly escaped experiment with his small daughters hand in hers. He tried to school his features into a stern but loving mask as he stepped forward, hands held out as if to ward something off. "Now Jacqueline, what did I tell you about playing in my lab?" Jacqueline looked at Aria for reassurance. "To...Not to...?" "That's right." He said stepping yet closer. Everything in Aria screamed to run, but as she tugged Jackie's hand the girl didn't budge, looking between her and her father. "Jacqueline, I'm your father, you know I'd never hurt you." Jacqueline releases Arias hand and stepped away, eyes on her feet, hands pulling at the ends of her curls, a nervous habit. Arias heart broke. But she had to run. She took off toward the door and the doctor lunged at her, catching an emaciated ankle. She had so little strength but fear drove her, unleashing primal instinct and she fought wildly. They rolled across the small hall, knocking into end tables and coat wracks until he pinned her, panting, within feet of her goal. A silver letter opener lay within reach, knocked to the floor by their scuffle, and she reached for it, acting on instinct. Before she knew it she sat on his chest, silver tip pressed to his jugular. His cheek bled from a cut that ran from ear to cheekbone. And then she saw Jacqueline, eyes wide with horror. Rage surged within her. But she would not stoop to his level. She lept at the door, still brandishing her improvised weapon and ran with all the strength she had left. Feet pounded after her, the doc must have called some of his men. They wouldn't let her go easily. But she ran and ran and ran, until she reached the edge of the small town and made her way into the woods, where she collapsed, head in her hands. She caught her breath, breathing in the fresh night air until her heart slowed. "Aria?" She looked up to see Nora crouched in front of her, concern written across her face before she slumped to the forrest floor, lifeless. They all were. Her entire tribe, both of them, laid prone on the ground and the doctor stood behind her, smoothly sliding something sharp into her spine. "You'll never leave this place. You can't escape. I've marked you and you will carry this with you where ever you go." He whispered as she faded away. Aria awoke with a gasp, tears streamed down her face and she sprung to her feet. The others slept soundly in the dim confines of the motel room. Nora twitched in her sleep, perhaps dreaming as well and Piper snored lightly, still as a log. Sonya was stoic as ever even in repose. She shakily lowered herself back into the chair from which she'd risen. Her memories would be the death of her, and morning was too far away.
"How much longer?" Aria asked, full of excitement. "We're nearly there." Mica breathed from behind her. His hands covered her eyes but she could hear the roar of water and smell the tang of salt in the breeze that playfully tossed her loose hair. They took a few more steps before Mica stopped behind her and removed one hand and set it gently on her waist, guiding her to face the apparently desired direction. She kept her eyes closed, but caught her bottom lip between her teeth in anticipation. "Alright, you can open your eyes." Said Mica, wrapping his arms around her from behind. It took her sharp eyes only moments to adjust to the brilliant light. They stood on a rocky outcrop above a sandy beach, scattered here and there with large smooth boulders, like so many relics left by haphazard giants at play. To her left was a pebbled path that meandered down and around the outcrop on which they both stood, ending on the fine sand of the beach below. "It's beautiful." She turned to smile at him. "This isn't it silly." He said, lips curved against her forehead in a playful, tender kiss. "It's not?" "No. Where we're going is far more mesmerizing." He stated and laughed softly at her bemused expression. Mica took her hand and together they made their way down slope and across the beach. The warmth of the sand felt lovely as it slipped between her bare toes as they walked, every now and again pointing to the bobbing forms of marine life. Mica lead her closer to the cliff face until they stood in front of a large boulder. The open sea lapped at the shore to their left, the cliff stood to the right. At first glance it appeared that he had led her to a rather large rock. Lovely. But on closer inspection, a small crevice could be seen between the rocky faces. "Clever." She said. "I aim to please." He replied with a wink and mock bow. He slipped through the gap and held out his hand for her to follow. "Milady." He said conveying her into the small space. They stood on a mossy shelf nearly two feet wide. About 10 feet below lapped the tranquil waters of a tidal pool. The were surrounded by rock, save a hole in the vaulted roof of the small sea cave, which allowed the sun to illuminate the water, almost lending it a magical effect. Little fish swam below and wove in and out of the clinging plants to the sides of the pool. "Do you trust me?" He asked. "Implicitly." "Then hold still." He tugged lightly at the bow tied ends of the belt that wrapped around her waist, holding her outer robe and vest in place. "Mica..." "Trust me." His beautiful eyes peered into hers, earnest innocence written in their blue grey depths. She sighed quietly and held still as he unwrapped the belt. Her cheeks colored crimson as the light fabric came loose and fluttered to the ground, leaving her standing in a knee length linen shift and the garments underneath. For a moment he beheld her, eyes quietly burning before looking away. He then removed his light shirt and vest, gathered all the discarded garments together and disappeared momentarily through the gap from whence they came. "Mica, wha-" he swept back in through the opening, and scooping one arm under her knees and the other across her back, he gathered her to his chest and jumped. There was a tremendous splash as the water grudgingly parted to let them through. "You cad!" She screeched with laughter as they surfaced, wiping water from their eyes. "I'll have you know that I am the finest of gentlemen." He sputtered in mock offense. "I'll prove it. Ladies first." He indicated an under water archway from which light spilled. Aria tilted her head and gave him a sideways glance. "You're ever in the spirit of adventure." "You love it." "I know." She smiled and dove through. He was right behind her as she ascended into the light. They were in the basin of another seaside pool backed up against the cliff face. This one was quite large, and ringed about by sea rock about the height of two men, creating a barrier from the world. This was broken only by a natural arch in the rock to their left. The water gradually became warmer and more shallow before landing on a scant crescent of beach opposite them, on which lay a blanket and the makings of a fine picnic. "Now we've made it." He said softly, watching her face, gauging her reaction. She had no words to give, so she simply turned and kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck. "What?" He said as they broke apart, though he still held her waist. "No witty comeback, usti inari?" She blushed and flicked one of his upper ears lightly. "We don't actually know what I am, not for sure. And I'm not so little. " An impish smile alighted on her lips. He had only time enough for his eyes to widen before she'd pushed on his shoulders with all her might and successfully dunked his head under the water. Squealing with joy, she swum with all her might for the shore. "You'll pay for that, little fox!" He chuckled with a devilish grin before diving into the water again, this time in pursuit.
From under the warmth of a home spun blanket Aria registered a noise. Awakening slowly from glorious slumber she heard the soft shushing of the doe skin door to her tent as it parted to let in the intruder. It was late morning, judging by the light filtering through her closed eye lids. Much too early for this. She did value her sleep. The soft furs piled on the wood woven floor whispered to her as they were disturbed by semi-stealthy foot fall as her uninvited guest came closer. She drew in slow even breaths, making a show of being in deep slumber, until her breath left her in a mighty whoosh as his solid weight settled upon her back. His hair tickled her temple and she could feel the warmth of his breath where her cheek was exposed above the blanket. "Nooooo." She moaned and turned her face to tuck it into the pillow. He gave a musical laugh, nuzzling the back of her neck with his nose. He skimmed her hair to the side and kissed it softly. "Wake up dear heart, it's a day for adventure." His lips ticked as he spoke. She turned her head back and smiled softly despite herself. "It's always a day for adventure." She said. He slid off of her back to lay on his side next to her. She rolled over to face him. If she opened her eyes it was over. "Mmmmmm." She wined. "Pleeeease?" He purred. One eye fluttered open and there they were. His eyes. All the blue grey violence of a storm over the ocean, and gentle as a lamb as he gazed at her. She reached out to brush a long sandy lock off his forehead. The strands curled around her fingers, welcoming her home. A mischievous smile crept across her face as she ran her fingers through his hair. "Mmmm...no!" She said, removing her hand and throwing the blanket over head in one fluid motion. There she curled into a ball in the soft darkness, smirking to herself. Her small victory was short lived. "Fine, you've left me no choice." He said, voice grave. She couldn't see his face, but she could imagine the warm crinkle around his eyes as his face lit up with mischief, a toothy grin flanked by dimples slipping from behind his lips and she tensed, eyes squeezed tightly shut. All of a sudden the warmth of the blanket was ripped away and the cold of early spring assaulted her. The hair on her ears and tail stood out uncomfortably unaccustomed to the chill. "Mica!" He descended on her, fingers flying across her ribs, ticking until she couldn't breathe. She kicked and twisted screeching with laughter, but he was too fast. There was no escape. "Alright!" She gasped. "Alright I give." His eyes sparked with excitement as he chuckled softly. He gave her his hand and helped her into a sitting position before draping the blanket across her shoulders and wrapping her up tight as a swaddled kit. He then pulled her into his lap and kissed the top of her head. She sighed through a smile, her cheeks rosy and heart content as she rested her head in the hollow of his neck. "So what is it today?" She said turning her face to soak in the radiance of his smile. "Pack a bag," he said, "we're going on a trip." A witty retort about the cost of travel that had been sitting on the edge of her tongue died in her throat as blood soaked the front of his shirt where he stood across from her. The trees all around them swayed in a gentle breeze that carried with it clamorous shouts and the smell of gunpowder. The white of her bonding dress was splattered with red and Mica grabbed her by the arms, his grip too right. A burst of pain seared through her shoulder but she barely felt it for his eyes, his beautifully tumultuous, stormy eyes were glazing dull. Aria shot bolt upright, casting aside the krilp fur under which she slept, reaching for him. The pain in her heart was a living, raging thing as she placed her head in her hands breathing raggedly. For a moment she let the tears flow as the confusion faded. Her fingers unconsciously traced a small oblong scar just below the collar bone of her right shoulder. She swallowed the sob rising in her chest and rose carefully, feeling as unbalanced and weak as a new born fawn. The sun had yet to show it's face on the peak of the horizon but the others would be up soon and they were sure to be hungry. She carefully arranged the krilp fur that served as a bed over the hard packed earth of the floor and slipped between the tent flaps to join the world. What was left of it.
It was quite early in the morning, the sun itself had yet to show it's full face and the air was crisp with the scent of balsam and falling leaves and the promise of frost. Aria was stoking a fire in the small stone oven she had crafted after the founders made the move to this camp as refugees of The Family. In a wooden box beside her lay a multitude of long sought after ingredients, some of which she had milled and processes herself; flour, sugar, corn meal, dried fruits and fresh apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, and some pumpkin she had mushed and canned at peak ripeness. She rubbed her eyes and yawned widely, still not accustomed to the early day light schedule everyone in Greyfell seemed to uphold. Her naturally nocturnal body begged her to return to the soft warm pile of furs she had procured in the wig wam she had fashioned for the winter. She sighed somewhat ruefully and began about her work assembling the various ingredients into sweet culinary confections. The sun peaked over the horizon and with it rose the scent of her efforts and she smiled remembering days such as these when the whole tribe would come together, each doing their part to create a feast that could be shared with several villages if they had a mind to. She and Raina would bound up the great slope to their favourite patch of black berries and carefully begin gathering them by the bushel. Every year Mother warned them to watch their robes, for the berries were large and ripe and prone to stain, and every year Raina returned with purple hands; a product of large berries shoved into her mouth at lightning speed. Mica had gone with them that year, and returned with a small stain just below his nose, and Aria with stained fingers, where she had smashed the berries below said nose. Oh how Mother had laughed. Father gave Raina his sweet smile and ruffle her hair while she stood over her basket of berries, beaming with pride at her work. Soon the whole tribe would enjoy them. Seeing Micas face and Arias stained hand he shot her a wicked grin and a wink. The snap of a twig brought her back from her remembrances and she tensed, but it was only a squirrel. She let her breath out in a heavy sigh. What would they be doing today? Would Raina be gathering berries by herself? Her heart aches to be with them, straining like a wild thing caged, but the others would be up soon, her second ears twitched, catching the sounds of their restless waking. She put a smile on her face and went about finishing her work. After finishing she took a portion set aside to distribute through out Greyfell as an act of goodwill.
Aria grabbed a small bag packed with enough to last a few days. "where are you going?" Terror asked. "It's been more than long enough, and we've searched all of Greyfell. I NEED to find her. Who knows what's happening to her right now. What ever it is I can't let it continue. She wouldn't just leave. So I'm leaving Greyfell, searching farther. I have a few connections in RC I'm going to check with." She cast an eye back in the group gathered around the fire at camp. "Take care of them." She gave him a thin smile as he nodded, and with that, she started on a new path, hoping for the best end.
She was fire. It burned inside of her. A blazing hot ember grown into a roaring flame, threatening to race between the confines of her rib cage, through her skin and out into the world where it doesn't belong. Where it can't exist. She wrapped her arms across her torso and began making her way through the trees to the only place she could think in this God forsaken place. They can not see. Already they think her weak, less than once she was. Be a warrior. Be a tactician. That's who you are....but it's not. No one knows the girl of many faces. The girl of shifting skin. The only person to ever truly know her was long dead. She is fire. It courses through her veins, forcing her legs into a sprint. Bare feet tear through loam and rocks tear through skin. She doesn't care. Through the forest, up onto a rocky outcrop overlooking Greyfell, so like the place of her childhood. She stops only as she reaches the precipice, setting bits of dirt and leafs to flight. A soft breeze tickles the tufts of her ears. It takes the leaves and the dirt, lifting them, carrying them away. 'To be so light again, so carefree', she thought. She starts upon catching a familiar scent. Lifting her nose to the air she searches carefully for the source, ears alert, body ready. There, a small tuft of white fur in the bark of a nearby tree. A small refugee from The Raven Mockers cloak. She frees it and sets it to the wind as well, sighing. Was nothing sacred? Was nothing hers alone? She didn't belong anywhere. This place had hardened her heart, too much so for her to return and lead her people. She was too soft to stay here, in the land of lost souls. The fire burned brighter still, overwhelming her senses and she knelt in the grass. A prayer on her lips. Very little was right. This is not how things should have gone. She twines her hand in a patch of grass and rips it from earth, throwing it with excessive force over the face of the cliff and for a moment she lets the fire have it's way, only to find herself surprised at it's choice to manifest as salty drops, falling from her eyes to the ground. Memories assault her mind in a violent parade. Her sister Raina's laugh. The shock on the slavers face as he released her, having found the wrong end of Reapers smoking gun in a dark alley way in the scums of Radio City. Deep blue grey eyes. The flood of raw grief at the return of her past. The shadows of a fire dancing on white cavernous walls veined in turquoise. Her axe finding an enemy, protecting a loved one. A pair of dainty Kanili feet beside her own, kicking at water rushing underneath of a bridge. Two small painted hand prints on the deer skin flap of her parents teepee. Happiness. The stitch in her side as she chased the assassin. Belonging. The sound of arrows whistling through the air. A million stars. Heat, anger like the sun. The smell of cinnamon and wood smoke. Eyes full of outright rage, incinerating years of friendship, love, comrodorie. Their smiles. Shaking hands, gripping with all the life they had left to give. The sting of a blade finding it's mark. The warmth of blood, flowing down her shoulder as the rest of her grew cold. So cold. Just for a moment she had felt him. He was with her again. Mica. Peace. And she was torn away. And now, here she is. She is fire. She digs her fingers into the earth. All she wanted was to keep them safe. "There is no greater love," said her Father, "than for a man to lay down his life for a friend." And so she had. She has gained freedom, an unexpected turn of events, but her heart is torn. Why can't they see? Why can't they forgive? Her friends...her family. Still, she loves them. That it would seem is her curse evermore. She sighed. Perhaps things were better this way. She hoped, that where ever they had gone, that they would be happy. That they would be safe. She stood, wiping the salt from her face. The others would need her. Or at least want her. She hoped. And in the case that they did...she would need to be strong. And she knows that she can be. Because she is His daughter. Because she is fire.