Salazar wandered the ancient woods in silence, his form a ghostly vision manifesting only when the moonlit sky caressed the broken, desecrated ground. He passed between streams of celestial lights, the forest cold and still as he made his way further. Despite the darkness, he could see a faint trail of smoke curling through the sky and the embers of a burning fire. Leaving the woods behind, he stood upon the crown of a mountainous hill overlooking a quaint village. The villagers were settling for the night, scattering across the dirt walkways as the church tolled its bell.
Only one soul did not flee to the safety of wooden walls at its haunting cry. Coal-black eyes, devoid of thought or feeling, watched the maiden as she swept down the streets. He spied an emerald-crested belt looped around her waist, an aura of power coloring the air as its tail swung passively at her side. At times she would absently caress the gems, her eyebrows furrowed in what he assumed was frustration.
It was, perhaps, the only normal thing about her.
The rest of her was odd, a mystery he could not solve. It was irking, not knowing. Her hair was long and plaited, gleaming as if the stars were woven within those rope-like braids. Her clothing was unlike any he had ever seen. Her tunic exposed both stomach and shoulders; she wore pants cut short, her knees exposed to the wandering eye. It was distasteful, the way this one woman dressed. Yet she carried herself with a sense of order, her scent clean and pure despite what her choice of outfit suggested.
His gaze narrowed, a spark of crimson burning in his eyes.
Salazar watched as an older woman approached her, the two laughing as they linked arms. He had seen the two often, in his travels. They were within in this small, hidden village as often as they were outside of it. He idly questioned where the rest of their ragtag group was, knowing his nephew couldn’t be too far off. It was only a matter of time before the young dae’ja realized Salazar was near.
It would prove to be most troublesome, indeed. Salazar stepped away from the town below, turning towards the woods he had ventured into hours before as he tended to do every full moon. In many ways, he was nothing more than a ghost yearning for a sensation alien to his nature. His lips curled back, a hint of fang catching the moonlight as he vanished into the darkness of the forest.
Danique closed her eyes as the water spilled across her face, her braid-like dreads heavy with water as they brushed the small of her back. She pushed her bangs from her face, the thin strands flat against her forehead and cheeks. Her eyes stayed shut, warmth falling across her face as the sunlight kissed her brow and lips. She smiled, her shoulders relaxing as a gentle breeze rolled across the river’s slow-moving current.
The clean air, the call of the wildlife, it was a symphony to her ears. It was enough to make her forget all the things she was forced to leave behind: her parents, her friends, her school, simple things for hygiene like body wash and a toothbrush. The world here, in this foreign and faraway place, was nothing like she had ever known. The music that whispered in the leaves of the trees was a fairy tale from ages past, the silence calm and tranquil.
The world here, in this place, was devoid of the pests ravaging the world she had known.
Danny liked it, in a way. She pulled her dreads over one shoulder, heterochromia eyes blinking away teardrops of river water. One was a dark brown-amber, the other the coldest of blues – she saw them in the reflection of the water, one contrasting with her olive skin while the other seemed natural in comparison.
She trailed her fingers through the image, watching as ripples distorted the image until only molten amber and electric blue showed through. This world, the past of her present, was substandard to what she knew of this world’s future; people lived shorter lives, times were dangerous, women had little rights, fear of the supernatural ran strong…
Danny frowned. Everything was below usual, here. That was fine.
Leaving the river’s embrace, Danny made her way to the shore where Anita and Inora sat. The two were drying off, long hair falling around them in tangled, damp waves. As Danny stepped onto the sandy shore, mud-like sand pushing between her toes, Anita rose to offer her a thin towel. Danny took it with a grateful smile, wrapping the old towel around her waist as she joined the two on the boulders overlooking the river.
“How was the water?” Danny rubbed her flesh until it stung as she thought over Anita’s question, a thoughtful frown pulling at her lips. Inora was silent. Danny tucked the corner of the towel into the rest of it and turned her attention to her hair as she said, “I think the water was cold. I would have thought with it being summer that the river’s touch wouldn’t be so…jarring.”
“You cannot expect the Ti’hoi River to be any less cold than you can hope for a damp morning to be anything other than foggy, Danny,” Inora was slipping into her clothing, the material clinging to her body. Danny shot a lot at the tall, lean woman. Off to the side, Anita snickered. Rolling her eyes, Inora added, “It is how things are. I would have thought you would be used to it by now.”
“You think she’d be used to a lot of things, by now,” Danny scowled, turning slowly to eye the onyx-eyed menace coming down the path. Vasant didn’t seem to mind the hostile look tossed his way, only slowed as he took in their appearance. “And you women need to learn how to bathe faster. We don’t have all day.”
He turned and left at that, vanishing around a bend of towering boulders towards the village in the distance. Danny turned to the others, sighing as she said, “He can be so impatient, can’t he? Wonder what has him worked up this time?”
There was no answer to that question. The girls dressed and made their way to the village, each watching as the villagers raced about. A small horde of children played in the streets, their laughter echoing. Danny patted them on the head as they circled her legs, a light smile playing at the corners of her mouth as she spied the rest of their group emerging from their tents. Old Ranao popped his back, muttering to himself as he passed them by to take a quick dunk in the river.
“Another day, another trial,” Anita linked her arms with Danny’s, and Danny caught hold of Inora’s hand. The three made their way through the streets, laughing lightly to themselves as the people of the sleepy village began the slow ascent into wakefulness. As they made their way to the cluster of tents they had set up, Danny murmured, “Men might lust for warmth or love, but I yearn for a meal to warm my bones. For me, that’s plenty and enough.”