Name: Jukka (possibly her actual name)
Age: older than she looks, and she looks about 25
Rough description: dark blue hair, but not as dark as Kin’s, pale silver eyes, darker gray skin, 5’3”; willowy and fleet and almost never still
Jukka was young when her people perished in the Ascension, but unlike her companion, she’s lived the years since, watching the world change around her. At first in hiding, she soon began to follow the paths of the gargants, the last and heaviest mark her people had left on the land. Through the stone giants and the ley lines they tracked, she feels she’s gained a greater understanding of the cycles of the world and what happened in the disasters that killed the rest of her race.
Jukka watched the ley line behind them, the slender thread of light that kept the gargants on their path, and frowned slightly. The line hadn’t shifted, though she’d guessed that much already. A shift in the ley line would cause tremors throughout the earth itself.
She folded her arms, swaying easily with the movement of the old stone soldier whose shoulder she was using for a platform, and closed her eyes, opening them again when she heard her younger companion join her.
“I can’t get a sense of it,” she said in answer to his unspoken question. “The shift came from outside the ley line, but I don’t know where — or what. It didn’t leave a signature.”
He looked over his shoulder, toward the front of the line, where the first gargant had veered off course.
Well, veered. By fractions of a degree. But enough to alter their path entirely, given time.
There was no intelligence in the stone giants anymore. The ley lines were their source of power, simple survival dragging them along the thousand-mile paths, and Jukka watched them. Of all the things her people had left behind, they were the most active, if not necessarily the most dangerous.
She wondered briefly if there were records of aberrant behavior in one of the archives. Maybe it would do to spend some time on solid ground.
Beside her, Kin shifted.
“Not long,” she said. “Just enough to check. Will you come?”
He met her gaze and nodded after a slow second.
“We’re coming up on Phan Tor,” she said, crouching next to him. “It’s a good place to start.”
The city, nestled against the bones of the mountains, had one of the largest historical archives of any she recalled, barring the capital — and nothing was left of the capitol but dust and bones.
Kin nodded, reaching a hand down to pat the gargant’s shoulder. It didn’t react, at least not outwardly, but Jukka felt a faint surge of energy pool under her feet, and she grinned at him.
“They’ll be fine,” she said. “And even if they did shift, it’s not enough to push them off the path. Not yet.” She frowned again. “But we should look into this sooner than later.”
Another nod, and he settled into a sitting position with a low sigh. She smiled faintly and straightend, closing her eyes and casting her attention to the energy of the line.
Phan Tor was still a few days away, and they needed all the information they could get.
Oh damn son nearly done. Today and tomorrow are semi cheating in the same way that Shep and Gilly were semi cheating, as they were characters who already existed in some form, fashioned to a new setting.
The next two are more like .. fleshing out characters who never actually got all that fleshed out in the setting they were deposited in, though that setting isn’t changing all that much.
What ………… ever …………?
Name: Kin (not in actual fact his name)
Age: older than he looks, and he looks about ten
Rough description: dark blue, nearly black hair, dark gray eyes, pale gray-ish skin, 4’7”; scrawny, quick and mute
As far as Kin knows, he’s the last of his people, aside from the older girl who found him when he woke from the long, dreamless sleep that kept him safe from whatever killed the rest of them. He might be able to talk if he tried, but he’s never had the need, able to communicate with his companion without vocalization. They eat what they can forage and travel and tend the nearly-defunct war machines that slog tirelessly across the plains of the lands over which their ancestors fought. He knows very little about them and doesn’t much care, content so far with the strange, simple life they eke out, far from the eyes of the peoples who now populate the world.
The gargant shifted beneath him, stone moving against stone with a slow, deliberate scraping sound, and he opened his eyes to see the sun sinking below the horizon. His companion reached down to touch his forehead, and he shook his head, watching the sun for a moment more before turning carefully to face her.
Balancing on the shoulders of the stone giants had come as easily to him as it had to her, but it would be just as easy to take a long tumble to the ground if he wasn’t respectful of the danger.
“Something’s wrong,” she said, not aloud, though her voice was as clear to him as if it rang in his ears. “Something’s pushed them off course.”
Doubt crept into his expression, but a quick glance at their path told him it was true. Ley lines gave a remote tremor when they shifted, and he’d felt no such thing. The gartant simply weren’t following their path as truly as they should.
He looked at her again, but her pale eyes were on the path ahead.
“This will take us close to a settlement,” she said. “Closer than they’ve ever come to one.”
He reached up to catch her hand, and she turned to him with a wan smile.
“Not close enough to do damage, I don’t think.”
But probably close enough to frighten them. He looked behind them, where the cluster of gargants tapered out to a broken marching formation.
“Almost certainly.” She stood, pushing her wild hair back from her face and twisting it into an unruly ponytail. “I’ll go ahead and warn them when we get closer.”
He shook his head, but she smiled at him.
“They won’t hurt me,” she said.
They couldn’t hurt her. It didn’t mean they wouldn’t try. He shook his head again.
“I won’t leave you alone,” she promised him, bending to ruffle his hair.
He scowled at her.
“I’m going to check the rest of the line,” she said, releasing him airily and springing to the nearest gargant with grace and confidence he had yet to match.
He sighed and clambered to his feet, folding his arms and letting his weight shift with the rocking movement of the stone soldier beneath him. The ley lines burned bright against his vision, slender threads that connected the long-vanished strongholds of his people — strongholds he barely remembered — and he wondered why they watched the old roads.
But never enough to actually ask.
Occupation: faithful servant
Rough description: essentially a walking rat, about 4’ tall, jet black fur, long, thick tail; a little scrawny for her kind
Scinta is a druva of the rathim clan, called demihumans or beastmen by people who want to be insulting about it. Her clan, despite their spread to almost every corner of the continent, is known to boast proudly that they are the faithful servants of the drakken clan, even though that clan is said to be basically extinct. Scinta’s parents were among the most faithful, and raised her in the ways of the drakken court, though she works in the kitchen of a noble human household in the capitol.
The slender druva flicked her tail, keeping her eyes on the meat she had cooking, even when the tiny child dove into her skirts and clung there. When she had turned the steak over, she reached down to brush one clawed hand gently against the girl’s hair.
“Good evening, little mistress,” she said, finally looking down to find the child’s dark-eyed face turned up toward her. “Do your parents know you’re visiting?”
She made a face, all the answer she needed to give.
“Mm, I think they’ll miss you before too long.”
Another face, though this time she glanced over her shoulder. “I want a story,” she said, finally looking back.
“I find that is often why you come to me.” She smiled and turned back to the meat, glancing sideways at a pot of stew, mostly vegetables, that was bubbling nearby. The master liked his meat just so, and the mistress didn’t like meat at all. It was a wonder they ate at the same table.
“I want to know about the drakkies.”
“Drakken,” Scinta corrected her, and her tail twitched quite of its own accord. “Your mother has told me quite firmly I’m not to speak of them to you, little mistress.”
“I won’t tell,” was the earnest response, but the druva nevertheless was silent for a moment.
“Elitha,” she called. “The master’s steak is ready. Will you take it to him?”
“Yes, yes.” An older woman, human, as was much of the household, came around the corner, blinking when she saw the daughter of the house with a handful of skirt still clenched in her small fist. “And should I tell him of the little mistress’ disposition?”
Scinta chuckled, transferring the slab of meat to a plate and letting Elitha sweep it from the counter. “No … as long as she’s at the table for the main meal, I think he will be satisfied.”
With that, the woman was gone, and Scinta bent to scoop the girl up in her arms, resting her against her hip as she stirred the stew. “Is that a solemn promise, little mistress? Your mother will hear no word of the drakken?”
Scinta smiled. As little as she felt the drakken were still about somewhere in the world, it was difficult to resist speaking of them. The lore passed down from her parents flowed in her blood.
“Then let me tell you,” she began, “of Tarwan Rekketh and the silver pearl.”
Name: Shep “Lightfoot” Ahressi
Rough description: sandy-haired and lean with gray eyes, 6’1”; cheery and devil-may-care, for the most part
Unlike his brother, Shep’s ambitions lie closer to home and mostly in storehouses of the other domes, not that he tells his family that. He and a small group of like-minded companions sneak out of the dome and sort through other domes’ leavings as they wait for collection. The practice is illegal, and they run a fairly high risk, even setting aside the dangers of the land itself outside the domes.
“We’re not running tonight,” Shep announced, ambling into the basement room they used to coordinate their jobs. Four sets of eyes darted to him, and he gave a liquid shrug. “Unless you’d like to go without me.”
“Why not?” Scil asked, turning a slim knife over and over in his hands.
“It’s my brother’s birthday, that’s why not. Family first.”
This elicited a series of skeptical snorts from the assembled, but Shep ignored them, lifting his hands in a placating gesture.
“It’s not like our takes have been fantastic lately — we can wait another day.”
Marda nodded, slouching back on the crate she was using for a seat. “Probably best to have a break, anyway … they’ve stepped up patrols outside the north domes.”
“Don’t see why,” grunted Marv. “Lot of fuss over their garbage.”
“Well, if Central wants it for processing, I suppose it’s not quite garbage, is it?” Shep rubbed his shoulder, sighing. “Either way, I’ll be ducking out on you.”
“Your baby brother’s the one wants to sing for his supper, right?” said Marv, a dry grin briefly stretching his lips.
“No accounting for taste,” Shep said agreeably, but his voice held an edge that caused his friend to drop his gaze. “But he’s my brother.”
Marda smiled, waving him off. “Then go be a good big brother. We’ll be fine.”
Shep returned the smile with an easy grin and bowed dramatically. “Later, ladies.” Then he turned and ambled easily out the door again.
Name: Gillum “Gilly” Ahressi
Rough description: mousy brown hair in a page cut, brown eyes, 5’9”; skinny and a little underfed, also awkward and unsure of himself
Gilly discovered his love of music at a young age, when a wandering minstrel stopped at the agricultural dome where his family worked. He’d heard recordings, but he live performance made such an impression on him, he made it his goal to become a bard himself. One of the other perks being that bards were one of the few professionals with a license to leave their assigned domes and wander the admittedly forbidding world outside.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
The tone of his older brother’s voice made Gilly hesitate, and he peered at him sideways. “Well, um — yes. I mean, I’ve wanted it since I was little.”
“And you can’t just wait until another bard shows up at the dome?”
“We don’t /know/ when another bard’s going to show up, remember?” He frowned a little, adjusting the strap that held the hand-crafted lute on his back. “What’s the harm in sending a request for one?”
“It’s going to be expensive, mostly.” His brother cast a moody glance at the fields, tended largely by their family’s crew of mechanical farmhands.
“Relax, Gil. It’s your birthday, right?” He fashioned a smile, and rolled his shoulders in an easy shrug. “I’m sure it can be arranged.”
He peered at his brother with a small frown. “Is — is something the matter, Shep? You’re sorta … tense.”
“Oh … nah.” Shep grinned, reaching out to ruffle his hair in the most annoying way possible. “Patrols are getting a little tight out there.”
Gilly’s frown grew, but he refrained from giving his usual advice, which was to stay and help with the farm instead of taking risks. Given his current request, it would have sounded especially hypocritcal. Though at least his risk was legal.
Shep released him, sighing. “Mom and Dad’ll be back soon. I’ll tell ‘em.” He paused, his grin making a brief return. “You might want to be out of the house when I do.”
A weak laugh escaped him. “They … kind of … already know.”
“Yeah, but they don’t know you’re /serious/.” He touched the lute, rubbing his thumb over its wooden surface. “He’s gonna be sorry he got you that.”
Gilly sighed. “Yeah …”
Shep gave his shoulder a nudge. “Get moving. Hide the lute so he can’t break it.”
He nodded, adjusting the strap one more time, and slipped quickly out the door, heading for a path of trees south of the field to lie low until he heard the shouting die down.
Rough description: green, tendril-like hair, pale skin with a blue-ish tint, 5’7”; small and a little pudgy, has a sleepy air about her
Nel has been more at home in her dreams than in the waking world, and it almost came as no surprise — to her at least — that she could visit the dreams of others. She doesn’t have particularly fine control of it, but she’s told it’s a rare ability, and there simply aren’t many people who can train her, so for the moment, she’s trying to teach herself.
She wasn’t sure when she’d drifted off, but she was relatively certain she was still in class, head drooping onto her keyboard. The teachers had stopped trying to wake her, though, and her grades hadn’t suffered /too/ much.
She blinked out at the dark landscape, testing her footing. Sometimes there wasn’t any footing at all, and she fell right through, but this time there was, even if it was a little spongy. And a little slimy, she noted, bending to touch the ground.
She straightened, wiping her fingers on her uniform tunic and launched herself gently into the air. She always preferred to fly in dreams. It was faster — and frequently helped her avoid ground-based hazards. Though it did leave her vulnerable to air-based hazards …
She scanned the horizon, then shrugged and floated forward, only to collide with what felt for all the world like a brick wall.
“Ow!” She recoiled, rubbing her nose, then felt along the barrier, frowning when she reached a corner and found a wall to her left as well. Scowling, she flew higher, hands carefully extended, and felt her fingers scrap an invisible ceiling as well. She cursed, trying the only two directions she hadn’t yet, and found herself well and truly trapped.
A soft chuckle echoed out of the darkness nearby. “Well — let’s have a look at you.”
“Who are you?” she snapped. “Let me out!”
No one came into view, though the voice id sound a little closer when it spoke again. “Hm … you’re not a race that’s ever showed this particular talent before — I wonder how that came to be.”
She looked blank for a moment. “Yes, we have. My people have tales of dreamwalkers. I’m not the first.”
The voice tutted, sounding closer still. “Dreamwalkers yes, but dreamwalkers of your kind?”
“Um … they didn’t really say …”
“Well, perhaps I’m misinformed, but I doubt it.” The air in front of her shifted, and a slender figure emerged from it, shaped vaguely like her — two arms, two legs — but with none of the racial markings that her people were born with. “My name is — well, you can call me Lessa. It’s probably simpler that way.”
Nel spent a moment staring at her, a frown tugging her lips. “So — who are you, then?” she finally repeated her question.
“I’ve come to teach you the finer points of walking dreams,” she said. “I’ve been watching you for some time, and you have a fair amount of talent, but raw talent needs refinement. In the simplest terms, Nel’toleth, I’m your tutor.”
Name: Helen Miller
Occupation: flower seller
Genre: slice of life?
Rough description: black hair, cropped short, gray eyes, 5’8”; sturdily built and a little muscular, keeps herself in decent shape
Helen washed out of the army, but she keeps herself in shape out of habit, even after returning to help her parents run their shop. She isn’t much interested in running the shop or catching a man, both things her mother wishes she would show more initiative with, but she helps out with the shop anyway, since she hasn’t really been employed lately, either.
“Helen, can you watch the shop for a few minutes?”
Helen looked up from the arrangements she was arranging, eyes darting reflexively toward the door, which had just jangled to admit a customer.
“Sure, Mom,” was out of her mouth just as a tall individual of the male persuasion walked in, looking lost.
She turned a glare on her mother, who smiled angelically and gathered up her purse. “Thank you, dear.”
Muttering grimly to herself, she finished straightening the arrangements before making her way slowly over to the customer, who was standing at the counter and staring blankly at the displays.
“Can I help you?” she asked, probably more briskly than her mother would have liked.
“Oh — uh, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck, looking somewhat like a lost puppy. “I guess I wanted to get a bouquet …” His inflection swept the last syllable into a question, and she arched an eyebrow.
“You don’t sound too sure of that.”
“Oh — well, I’m just not … sure.” His expression grew, if possible even more depressed.
“Well,” she said. “Who’s it for?”
Embarrassment flashed across his features. “My, uh, my sister.”
Her eyebrows lifted despite her best effort to keep her expression neutral. “What did you do to your sister that you have to buy her flowers?”
She froze for a split second, considering for a moment that his sister might have just — graduated from college? Had a baby? Then she saw his face, bright red and chagrined.
“Um — well — maybe that’s not important. Am I right about about this being an — apology?”
He nodded, head hanging. Sharing his embarrassment, for a split second, all her knowledge of flowers and their meaning, bolstered by her mother’s constant reminders, failed her.
“What — what’s her favorite color?” she blurted.
“Um …” He rubbed his cheek. “Well — she likes pink and yellow.”
“All right,” she said, hurrying off into their stock before she realized she’d completely forgotten to ask him what his price range was. She kept her gatherings moderate, calculating the price on the fly, and came back with a neatly arranged bouquet.
“Oh,” he said blankly. “That looks — good. How much is it?”
She reached for colored paper to wrap it in, double-checking her calculations. “Ten fifty-two,” she said, reaching over to tap the amount into the register.
“Oh — okay, I’ve got that.” He fumbled for his wallet. His haste mirrored hers, and she repressed a sigh of relief when he handed over exact change.
She handed him the bouquet with a quickly manufactured smile. “Good luck with your sister.”
“Yeah — thanks.” And with that, he was out the door.
Helen groaned faintly, leaning against the counter and hoping any other customers who wandered in before her mother came back were female.
Name: Rista of the Leeward Wood
Occupation: hedge witch
Rough description: pale skin, dark, reddish hair, 5’5”; neat and compact, moves with practiced confidence, particularly in the woods
Rista wasn’t expecting to take in a child on a permanent basis, and she’s done the only things to raise her that she knew how — teach her the craft and attempt to instill basic morals in her. She apprenticed to her predescessor in her teens, fleeing from a life that — looking back — probably wasn’t as bad as she thought, but she’s fairly content now. She knows the woods and the spirits therein almost as well as she knows the people of the surrounding townships.
“What took so long?” She didn’t look up from her work, checking the powdered plant matter for consistency. “For someone who didn’t want to get wet, you certainly took your time.”
The child flounced over to her table and deposited the sweetblossom without saying anything, then moved immediately to change into something dry. It was when she went for a cloth to clean up the mud and water she’d tracked in — without being asked — that Rista fixed her with a frown.
“There was a man out there,” she said, bending to scrub at the wood underfoot.
She arched an eyebrow. “A man? Did he do anything?”
“He just watched me.”
The girl’s hair had fallen across her face as she worked, but there was a distinct note of unease in her voice. Rista waited.
“He, um. He had antlers.”
Rista’s heart skipped. “Is he still there?”
“No … he walked away right before I came back in.” The girl brushed her hair back, turning her guardian a wary glance. “Do you know him?”
“In a way. You may have startled him.”
Raine snorted. “HE,” she said, “startled ME.”
Rista laughed. “I imagine he did.” She set her tools aside. There were very few reasons he would have come this close to a populated area, and none of them were particularly pleasant. “After you finish cleaning, grind up the sweetblossom and finish the poultice. I may not have time when I get back.”
“Are you going after him?” The girl straightened where she was kneeling, cloth clenched in one hand. “Are you coming back?”
She got to her feet. “Of course I’m coming back.” She strode briskly to the girl, pausing to rest a hand on her head. “He just wants to talk to me.”
Rista smiled. “Have faith. The spirits of the forest have no desire to harm us.”
Her expression became momentarily blank. “/Oh/.”
She chuckled, then hurried into the room they shared for her cloak, heavier boots and a small lantern. He was likely to be waiting a small journey into the wood, if she recalled the clearing he favored. It would have to be during the spring rains, wouldn’t it?
Raine was still scrubbing when she reentered the room. “Don’t forget the poultices,” she said, not waiting for a reply before slipping out the door.
Name: Raine of Leeward Wood
Occupation: hedge witch in training
Rough description: dark skin, tangled black hair, pale brown eyes, 4’6”; skinny and quick
Raine was barely an infant when the hedge witch took her in, a favor to parents who never returned, and she’s lived in the woods since, barring a brief attempt to take her to a more normal family that failed when she showed up on the woman’s doorstep a day later. Her surrogate mother trains her in herblore and takes her on her rounds as one of the few “doctors” in the area.
She pushed a wave of tangled hair out of her face, poking her head out the door and making a face before pulling it shut.
“So I gathered,” the older woman said dryly, glancing up from her pestle to see the child still frowning in the doorway. “Well?”
“But I don’t want to get wet —”
“Raine, I’ve asked you to gather one sweetblossom from the herb garden, not trek to Dolaran market. You’ll dry.”
The woman set the pestle down, but she hadn’t even lifted her head before the door creaked open again.
“Okay, okay,” Raine mumbled into the damp air, pushing the door shut and lingering under the shallow overhang of the roof before ducking into the weather.
She splashed as hard as she could through the puddles to make the work look harder, in spite of the fact that it would likely be her who had to wash out the heavy skirt later in the week. She bounded over the low fence around the garden, splashing heavily into the mud next to a row of herbs.
She glanced behind her after unsticking her feet and wondered if Rista would say anything about the deep imprints in dirt.
Rain trickled down her face, and she padded hurriedly to the sweetblossom, whose tiny flowers were wilting under the water. She sighed and snatched up a sprig of it, lifting the flower to her nose and sniffing delicately, even though she could barely smell it in the rain.
When she opened her eyes, she froze.
A tall figure, human-shaped, stood next to the nearest tree, watching her with pale eyes.
“Hello,” she called automatically. “We won’t be making rounds today — do you need something?”
It shifted, and it was then she noticed the antlers sprouting from either side of its head.
Her mouth snapped shut, and she clutched the sweetblossom to her chest, but it moved no closer, watching her for a moment more before turning and fading into the rainy woods.
She breathed again, then spun and dashed back to the house as quickly as she could without injuring the garden.
Name: Lim Vao
Rough description: tangled brown hair, brown eyes, mottled brown skin, 5’6”; small and slim, hair braided back to keep it out of her face
Lim Vao has tended the herds of the great beasts since she was young, as did her mother and her mother’s mother. Sacred to the mother goddess, only women tend the animals, following them on their slow migration north. As a result, she rarely sees her father and brother, and sometimes wonders if there was a better vocation she could have taken.
The beast lowered its head, bigger than her entire body, and delicately enveloped her hand in its lips. Lim Vao knew the fistful sugar must seem like very little to a creature so large, but they seemed to like it anyway, as evidenced by the low sound that rumbled from its throat.
Something struck her in the middle of the back, and she staggered forward, nearly into the great beast’s leg.
“I already gave you yours,” she said, turning and planting her hands on her hips.
The calf was born twice her height and would only grow from there, until it towered above them like its mother. It bent its head to nose at her more gently this time, and she stroked its soft fur, murmuring nonsense as it whuffled at her.
“Mahn is gathering the last supplies. Are you ready to leave?”
“Yes.” She had packed the night before and cleaned her rooms in preparation for the long months of emptiness. “Fal and I teamed up.”
Her mother smiled. “That was probably wise.”
Lim gave the calf a final pat and joined her mother, who turned to walk back toward the compound.
“I can help Mahn, if she needs it.” She tossed her braid over her shoulder.
“I don’t think so. We should put our belongings where she can find them, though.”
“They’re in front of my door.”
Her mother nodded, reaching out to tuck her arm around her shoulders. “So responsible.”
Lim made a face. Fal was a year or two older than her and hated moving preparations. “Teaming up” had mostly involved Lim nagging her until she filled her satchel and put away her winter things.
“Do we know when we’re moving?”
“It could be as early as today. The tall one has been restless.”
The tall one led the herd on its travels, though it was getting older and had been challenged once or twice by younger males. Lim was glad enough it was still leading, though — it was gentler than the other males and had a great understanding of the mountain trails they would be walking.
“Will father and Ran be seeing us off?”
Her mother’s smile saddened. “They may be working, Lim. But they will try.”
“Oh.” She made a face and quickly smoothed it away, and her mother leaned over to kiss her temple.
“We’ll see them again,” she said. Even if “again” was in six months, when the herds returned.