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PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:46 pm 
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The Hermit's Burden
by RuwinReborn
Status: Public :diamond:

Part One


“...First; matter is not created or destroyed, only moved or changed.” Aloise mumbled as she moved a white-hot needle over the surface of a metal disc. She was tracing tiny symbols onto it, and reciting Valson's Laws of Transmutational Physics helped her to concentrate – even if she did not agree with everything the long-dead alchemist had to say. Surrounded by the instruments and scattered papers of her work, concentration was something that was sorely needed, since the mess was bothering her.



“Second; movement or change requires energy. Where energy is absent, so is movement and change.” The needle was beginning to turn a dull orange. That was the problem with Terrerrium; heat diffused too quickly. But it was best suited for this endeavor because it would not melt. At least, not at this temperature. She held the needle over the open flame she had created for this purpose, squinting carefully through her Ravnican goggles as she watched it glow white once more.



“Third; moving matter tends to- oh!” Aloise was startled, but was careful to scoot her chair away in a slow and practiced motion so as not to disrupt any of her delicate instruments – or the metal disc that was now glowing with a bright, blue light. Aloise grinned, and dropped the needle in a small tin of enchanted water. It dropped to the bottom with a small hiss. She took off her gloves, which had, up until now, been the bane of such delicate work, and waved her hand over the glowing disc. No heat. She tapped it lightly. Nothing.



She felt excitement bubbling within her, but she contained it until she was certain she had succeeded. She removed her goggles, and let them fall around her neck. The light was illuminating the entirety of her makeshift workshop, which happened to just be a shed. The open flame which had, up until a few moments ago, been her only source of light, paled in comparison. But, for now, the disc remained on the desk where she had been working on it. Mentally, she dismissed the little fire. Then, in the light of the disc, she cleared the desk off, carefully placing the instruments inside of her bag. The scattered notes, she left out, and read over them once more.



Aloise grinned as she stacked the papers neatly, and placed them inside her bag, bound with a bit of twine. Now, all that was left on the desk was the glowing disc. She pointed at it.



“Rise.” She ordered simply. And it did, about four feet off the desk until it was well above her head. Aloise shouted in triumph, and jumped in the air. The disc remained where it was, which was curious and made her wonder if maybe the magic she had inscribed onto the disc used the center of the earth as a reference point – assuming, of course, that this plane was a globe – because it was implied, in the texts she had found, that the enchantment would always cause the disc to float a set distance above the head of the person who activated it, and so should have probably moved when she jumped. But it had not, and so did that mean it used something besides her as a reference, and her height as a measure? If that was the case, then maybe-



There was a loud knock on her door, followed by a gruff voice.



“Aloise? Is everything alright? I heard you shout.” It was Wicker, the gentleman who was letting her use his shed as a workshop. She threw the door open for him, pointing at the disc. He blinked several times in surprise, and she remember that it was the middle of the night. Too excited to apologize, she started talking instead.



“I did it, Wicker! Those plates I found, they really were full of practical magic! Look – a heatless light-source. Self-sustaining! And it floats!” She was bouncing on the balls of her feet, and Wicker was just sort of staring at her in mild amusement.



“Well, not to put a damper on things, but it doesn't seem very practical if it took you the better part of a week to make.” He told her. Aloise raised a finger, and beckoned him inside.



“See, I thought of that too! No need for a powerful light source if its not affordable and easy to replicate, so...” Aloise reached into the pocket of her apron, and produced an identical disc, save that it was completely smooth. “Normally, I would have to carve a second set of runes into this disc.” She explained as they walked over to the desk. She ordered the disc to fall, and it floated gently down until it landed on the desk once more. She set the smooth disc beside it. “However, with a little effort, I can simply...” she rummaged through her bag for a moment as Wicker watched, eyebrow raised. Aloise found what she was looking for, and straightened to reveal a small sheet of gold foil. “Copy it.”



“That so?” Wicker said. She got the feeling he was mostly disinterested, but he found her endearing enough the he put up with it. Besides it was nice having someone to ramble at.



“Yes. Watch!” She laid the gold foil over the disc, and with a little focus and a wave of her hand, it compressed over the runes, creasing into an exact replica of the patter. A second spell hardened the foil, and she pulled it off of the disc gingerly. The foil, though inscribed, would not glow because it was not made of the correct metal – a mixture of iron and silver, in this case. The circular shape also had something to do with it, the Aloise was not sure why, yet.



Aloise placed the gold foil over the blank disk. A little heat spell and a small bit of her signature spacial magic, and... The disc began glowing beneath the foil. Smiling, Aloise removed the foil from the disc, pleased to see that both were still completely intact. Wicker whistled lowly.



“Well, can't say I'm not impressed, even if I don't know what you did.” He scratched his head. “But aren't you the only one who can you know...” Wicker wiggled his fingers at the discs. “Make them glow.” Aloise shook her head.



“Here – point at it.” She told him, and though he seemed concerned, he did as he was told. “Now say, 'rise'.”



“Rise.” Wicker repeated.



The disc began to float. Aloise laughed at Wicker's stunned look, and he smiled sheepishly.



“Well, that's just handy.” Wicker conceded. “You planning on selling these?”



“No.” She pointed at the floating disc. “That one's for you and Twill, since you both helped me out so much. I think -” She yawned, suddenly and much to her surprise. “...I think I'll go to bed.” She said as Wicker chuckled. “But really, I'll probably give the other to Satchen. She should be able to make plenty after I leave.”



“That's very kind of you.” Wicker said. “Now, off to bed! Twill may sleep like the dead, but I'm sure she's noticed I'm gone by now.” He opened the door to the workshop for Aloise, and she nodded gratefully. She was currently bunking in a spare room of their small home. It was not much, but it was more than enough for her. Wicker left her with a goodnight in the hall, and Aloise, not realizing how tired she was, fell asleep with her boots and apron still on.



***


Aloise woke to an empty house, which was not uncommon. Wicker and Twill did not have children – they were still a young couple. Wicker spent his day on patrol, and often talked about how he was lucky to have the day shift. Twill was most likely running errands. Aloise did not see much of her at all, really. But she spent most of the time out back in the shed. Or at least, she had. Now, maybe, she could thank Twill properly for her hospitality since her project was finished. But first, she needed to go and see Satchen.



She left after cleaning herself up and sweeping her bangs out of her forehead. She liked her golden hair, but sometimes it was just so frustrating. She could not bear to have it any shorter than it was, though. She did not care how impractical it was. Consequences be damned! She giggled at her private moment of indiscretion, and went off to see Satchen.



Satchen was the resident blacksmith, as well as the only “spellworker” in the town of Vale's End. Because of this, she was widely recognized as the most important member of the community, and so also tripled as a sort of mayor. Needless to say, the hardy old woman was dependable and strong. And just the person Aloise wished to entrust the plans for her little glowing discs to. She made a mental note to come up with a better name for them as she approached Satchen's smithy and home. The door, as usual, was wide open. Satchen took customers and visitors at all hours – though one had better have a good reason wake her in the middle of the night. All those years forging metal would leave bruises that lasted for weeks.



But since it was not the middle of the night, and instead the middle of the day, Aloise simply walked in. The forge, in the back, was silent, and since the tell-tale sound of hammer on anvil was absent, she assumed that-



“Aloise.” Satchen spoke from behind her, and when Aloise jumped, she hooted softly. “Stay on your toes, girl. I shouldn't be able to sneak up on you so easy.”



“Ambushed in a moment of weakness!” Aloise feigned heartbreak, swooning dramatically to one side. Satchen pushed her gently, and she nearly lost her balance. The older woman hooted again, and Aloise laughed with her. “No work today, Satchen?” She asked after they were through horsing around. Satchen shrugged.



“No horseshoes, no angry villagers, and no children pretending to be sick.” She smiled wryly. “I'm beginning to feel useless, not being able to fix all these people's little problems.”



“Then I'm sorry to say, I've fixed another one for you.” Aloise said, and pulled the disc out of her pocket. It was currently not glowing, and so Satchen raised an eyebrow.



“So, what's that?” She asked, and Aloise demonstrated how it worked. Satchen watched with rapt interest, and clapped her hands together when Aloise made it float.



“Marvelous!” She exclaimed, and then turned to Aloise with the expression of a shrewd businesswoman. “How much?” Aloise reached into her bag, and fished out her notes and the still-imprinted gold foil.



“Here's how they're made.” Aloise gave Satchen the notes, and she rifled through them, smiling slowly. “Free of charge.” Satchen scrutinized her suspiciously, then grinned.



“You drive a hard bargain, you yellow-headed rascal.” She turned back to the notes, and examined the gold foil. “Why, this would save us a fortune on oil alone...” Aloise remained silent, pleased with herself, and Satchen examined the notes carefully. The older woman nodded to herself once or twice. When she finally looked up at Aloise again, it was with deep curiosity. “And where did you learn to do this?”



“Well, remember when I first got here? I told you I was looking for the Master's Torch?” Satchen nodded.



“Yes. Is that what this is?” Aloise shook her head ruefully.



“No. After you told me you'd never heard of it, I headed into the mountains to the north.” Satchen's mouth tightened at that.



“I'm still surprised you're alive.” She muttered. Aloise rolled her eyes.



“Well, anyway, I found some standing stones with runes similar to the ones I had found uh...” She was about to mention the similar ruins she had seen on Grevar, but that would only lead to Satchen asking more questions, since Grevar was an entirely different plane. “...To the south. Anyway, they led into an old temple or something. I had only begun to transcribe what I found on a set of silver plates when, um... there was this sort of, moaning noise and... the ruins began... collapsing.”



Satchen's gaze was flat, but very smug. The look was rather impressive, actually.



“Anyway, I got out, but the plates were buried in the rubble.” Aloise continued hastily. “I appropriated what I found, and was able to make these uh... things.”



“Glowstones?” Satchen offered. Aloise shrugged. That worked. Satchen shook her head, chuckling softly. “You're lucky to be alive, Miss Aloise. The Vorst is a dangerous place. I've met 'explorers' twice your age who went in and never came back out.” Aloise shifted uncomfortably. She knew The Vorst, what these people called the deep, forested mountains to the north, was mostly unexplored. That's what made it so appealing to her. She hated holes in maps.



But that often meant going to places that were deemed dangerous.



The silence was heavy and uncomfortable for a moment, and then Satchen continued.



“But, this is certainly a treasured find.” She admitted. “Though I'm not sure how I feel about 'appropriating' magic from the Vorst for daily use...” She looked Aloise up and down. “I think I'll make an exception for you.” She stuck out her strong, wiry hand. Aloise took it happily. “Thank you, Aloise. You are a very generous person.”



“You should thank Wicker and Twill as well.” Aloise said. “They've treated me very well, and I do tend to be a little, uh... Odd.”



“Just a little?” Satchen asked slyly, and they both laughed.



Aloise stayed with Satchen a little longer, discussing trivial things and exchanging jokes back and forth. The old woman reminded her a great deal of Lys, her mentor back home. She had not been home for a long while – five or six months, if she was keeping track correctly – so it was nice to just chat with Satchen. When Aloise finally decided it was time to go, Satchen reminded her that she was always welcome in Vale's End.



“Thank you, Satchen.” She told her, and she meant it. It saddened her slightly to think she may never be back. Now that the ruins had been destroyed, she would have to double back to Grevar and see if she had missed anything. That is, if she still wanted to try and find this “Master's Torch”, or whatever the ruins in Grevar had been hinting at.



The sounds of shouting behind Aloise drew her out of her thoughts. Satchen was watching something behind her in reserved silence, and Aloise turned around. For a moment, she was startled to see a very large figure, easily ten feet tall, plodding down the street towards her. They were completely robed, which was certainly a feat, though the cloth appeared to be simply draped over their thick frame, and was fraying at the bottom to reveal large feet wrapped in stained leather. A hood covered their face.



Behind the figure, several children were chasing after it from a distance. Far enough to be out of its reach, but close enough to shout a variety of insults at it. Aloise's mouth tightened as she watched, and it took only another second of listening to the shameful display before the urge to intervene overwhelmed her. She took a step forward, but Satchen grabbed her shoulder. She looked askance at the woman, but she just shook her head.



The figure walked past Aloise, their footfalls heavy and tired.



“Monster!” Shouted one of the children, lobbing a stone at the weary figure. It was a large stone, though it may have seemed just a pebble to the person in the robe. Even so, when the stone struck the bulky figure, the enormous frame shuddered, and fell to one knee. A massive hand appeared and braced the fall, and a loud groan of pain issued from beneath the hood. The children screeched and scattered. Aloise shook Satchen's hand off of her shoulder, and trotted to the fallen figure's side.



“Are you alright?” She asked. She did not need to crouch. Kneeling, they were still taller than she was. The hood turned, and large black eyes regarded her solemnly, sadly. Bushy eyebrows, a large, thick nose, tusks, a mane of tangled, black hair... that was all she saw, then they – he – turned away. Slowly, carefully, he stood.



“M... Motta.” His voice was deep and thick, and Aloise had no idea what he was saying. The hood turned to look at Satchen, who just watched on silently. “Motta.” He repeated. Satchen sighed, and went inside of her home. Aloise continued to watch the robed man with concern. An ogre, maybe? A troll? She was not sure what sort of people's this plane had, but she was certain she did not enjoy how this man was being treated.



Satchen emerged from her home with a long rod of iron, and presented it to the tall man. He extended his thick hand from beneath the robe, and presented Satchen with several coins. They exchanged items quickly.



“Thank you.” The man said quietly, and then turned to leave. Satchen said nothing, and he plodded away slowly.



Aloise watched him walk carefully. So slow, and careful, for such a big man... And the brown robe, darker on his back... Aloise looked at the ground where the man had been standing. Several small, red dots stained the dirt of the road. Aloise looked up at Satchen in horror.



“He's injured!” She said. Satchen just shook her head.



“Leave it be, Aloise.” She warned quietly.



“We need to help him.” Aloise protested vehemently. “He's bleeding!” She waved at the still fresh blood on the ground.



“He's dangerous, Aloise.”



“Oh, so dangerous that children can lay him low?” She growled.



“He's from the Vorst.” Satchen murmured. Aloise turned on her heel and stormed away before she said something she would regret.



From the Vorst? From the big, spooky Vorst! Might as well just hate everything from the dark, scary forest! She was beginning to realize Satchen was not like Lys at all.



Aloise ran to catch up with the robed giant, and when she did, he made no move to acknowledge her presence. Which was good, because she was still angry at Satchen for letting the children treat him so shamefully. She just walked alongside the behemoth in silence while she gathered herself.



Presently, she heard the sound of grinding metal beside her. She looked over to see the robed man eating the iron bar Satchen had given him like a carrot. Aloise blinked. She was momentarily fascinated with the thought of someone who was capable of digesting metal; and then she realized that this poor man had come to the town looking for food and had been called a monster for it. She watched him eat the bar silently. He ignored her.



They reached the gate of the town, and the guards allowed them both to pass by without a word. Though they both watched Aloise with concerned suspicion. Mostly, it seemed like they tried to avoid looking at the big man beside her.



When the were clear of the gate and well on their way to the Vorst, Aloise finally decided she could speak without screaming.



“You're hurt.” She said quietly. He did not say anything, or look at her. She repeated the declaration, louder, but still he did not respond. He was probably used to being treated poorly – at least he was not reacting with anger. She was not sure she would be so strong.



“What's your name?” She tried, instead. Maybe he just did not want to talk about his wounds. At this, he paused, finally, and looked down at her.



“Motta.” He said, again. Had he been introducing himself before? “What is your name?” His words were slow and deliberate, but clear and well-spoken.



“Aloise Hartley.” She told him. Something rumbled in Motta's chest, and he turned to continue walking.



“Hmm... Aloise.” He rumbled. “You are from far away.”



“What makes you say that?” She asked.



“Hm. Little ones from here have simple names.” He told her. “Dirk. Cantor. Mead. Satchen. And second names, they have none. Simple. Close.” He raised his hands, and touched his finger-tips together. “Villages are small. Separate. Being close is necessary. Safe.” He clasped his hands together tightly, nodding. “Communities band together to create havens of protection. Hm. To combat danger, and comfort the weak. Hmm...” Aloise listened carefully, mildly surprised by his adept analysis of human culture in the area.



“Are you in need of comfort?” She asked slowly.



“I am not weak.” Motta murmured.



“Are you dangerous, then?” He thought about that question for a long time. Long enough for the road to give way to a lightly forested path.



“Hm. The last little one who spoke with me was killed.” He replied quietly. She was about to ask another question, but Motta just shook his head. “You had best return to your village. I enter the Vorst, soon.”



“So?” Aloise asked, a little too fast.



“You would do well to fear the Vorst, little one.”



“I've already been inside the Vorst, Motta.” Aloise told him testily. “It's a forest, albeit with an irregularly large amount of carnivorous fauna. But it's still just a forest. I grew up in a forest.”



“Did you, now? Hm.” Motta nodded slowly. “So did I. Hmm. Hm!” She thought maybe he was laughing, but it was hard to differentiate his many mono-toned grunts from one another. “Still. You should not accompany me home.”



“...You're hurt.” She told him, quietly, for the third time. Motta gazed down at her stoically, silently. “Let me help you.”



“Hm. And why would you want to help me, little one?” The question was without malice or suspicion. Only curiosity.



“I don't need a reason to help the people in Vale's End, and I don't need a reason to help you.” She informed him politely. His eyes flashed, and slowly, like a thawing glacier, Motta nodded.



“Hm.” He grunted, and simply led on.



They walked in silence. Aloise guessed she was only able to keep pace with her larger companion because he was walking so slowly. She could not read his face, and it was not as though he ever showed any emotion, so she was unsure of the extent of his pain. Or his injuries. But careful inspection did reveal that his robe was, in fact, damp with blood. Objectively, Aloise supposed he was quite the fearsome sight. That made Satchen’s reaction to him understandable, if not excusable.



They rounded a corner through the steadily deepening woods, and Aloise was surprised to see a large hut hidden amongst the trees. She wondered where exactly in the Vorst they were. She had started a map during her first excursion, but they had not past any landmarks that she could remember. She would have to compare later, after she had seen to Motta. He led her to the hut, and opened the door for her.



It was simply a fire pit and what appeared to be a dirty cot. There was not much else inside the hut, and the fire was currently unlit. Motta grunted a few times, then sat down in front of the fire pit and waved his hands. She felt the rush of magic, and a flame appeared inside of the pit. So, he could cast spells. But his grasp on magic seemed primitive, at best. She stepped beside him, placing a hand on his massive arm. He glanced at her, and simply nodded, removing his robe.



Aloise bit her tongue, though she wished to cry out.



His back was a shredded mess. The entirety of it was red, raw, and bloody. No inch had been spared, and she had only ever seen this sort of damage on dead humans. Motta was no human, whatever he was, but the sight was still gruesome. And that he had hiked to Vale’s End and back like this… No, he was not weak. Not at all.



“...A whip?” She whispered, recognizing the wounds. She had seen them on “heretics” before. Her people were not kind to those who thought differently. Motta said nothing. “How many lashes?”



“...Fifty.” Motta murmured. Aloise swallowed, and then set down her pack and began rummaging through it. She had water in here, and those cuts, they… She blinked away several tears, and finally found the small satchel of medical supplies she was looking for. She also fished out a bowl, thankful that she was always prepared. She began mixing a cleansing ointment for the wounds, but it became quickly clear that she would not have enough.



Aloise gird herself with her apron, and rolled up her sleeves. She produced her waterskin, and a towel, and regarded Motta’s wounds mutely.



“...Motta, this will hurt.” She told him gently.



“Hm. It already does.” He rumbled. Aloise hesitated, unsure where to start, and then got to work.



Whoever had done this had spared no strength. His skin seemed tough and leathery, and yet the wounds were deep. Fatal on a human, debilitating on most other common species she had seen… And she kept finding thorns. She had to fetch a small knife from her bag, some of them were embedded so deeply. Under… scar tissue.



Who was doing this to Motta?



He remained quiet throughout the process, nor did he flinch when she would have expected the operation to be most painful. By the time the wounds were finally, passably clean, Aloise had blood all down the front of her apron and up her arms. Now, she washed off her hands as best she could, and rubbed the ointment between them. Concentrating, she recalled the sweet, citrus scent of orange trees from her home, and the earthen vibrancy of the fields. Refreshing feelings of contentment flowed through her, and out of her arms. She was not very skilled in healing magics, but she was glad she knew what little she did. Between the ointment and the magic, the swelling had reduced visibly, and the bleeding had stopped.



Aloise sat back, exhausted.



Motta shook himself slightly, and snorted.



“Hm. Hm.” He turned around stiffly, gingerly. “Oh, are you finished?” Aloise blinked at him.



“Did you fall asleep?” He could not have fallen asleep, she had been…



“Hm. Yes. I suppose I must have dozed.” He gave her what she guessed was an apologetic look, and Aloise took the opportunity to really examine Motta’s face. Yes, he looked a great deal like ogres she had seen, though he was considerably more intelligent. And gentle. “I feel much better, Aloise. Thank you. Hm.” He sounded better. His speech was not so slow and labored.



“You’re welcome, Motta.” She murmured. Motta leaned his back towards the fire, and closed his eyes. It almost sounded like he was purring, and Aloise stifled a giggle. Motta’s eyes opened slightly to regard her.



“Hm. You had better clean yourself up. There is a pond behind my home.” Aloise had to agree with Motta, since being covered in all this blood was starting to grate on her nerves. Remembering some of the stories she had read when she was younger, she wondered how people ever even went to war. How soldiers could leave a battlefield covered in blood, not their own, and know that they had been killing. Aloise’s only comfort at the moment was her understanding that Motta would heal.



But she was getting carried away again. She left Motta to himself for the moment, and went searching for the pond he was talking about. It did not take her long to find it, and she was soon set to the task of scouring her skin and clothes free of the blood. It took the better part of a mortal hour, and the water was freezing, but she did not want to have to look at the red stains any longer.



When she was finished, she removed warm clothes from her bag, grateful again for her foresight, and return to Motta’s hut. Predictably, he was still sitting in front of the fire, with his eyes closed. He nodded his head slightly as she entered, closing the huge door behind her, but said nothing else. He had not put his robe back on, and so was sitting in some sort of leather kilt and his foot wraps. Aloise sat beside him, scooting close to the fire to combat the chill.



There was a comfortable silence, and then Aloise’s curiosity got the better of her. Again.



“So, you eat metal?” She asked, and Motta opened his eyes.



“Hm. Yes. My people always have. We call it the Fruit of the Mountain.” He looked down at her, and he may have been smiling. “Mostly it is unrefined ore, or simply stones. Hm. But good iron, free of impurities… it is like a well-cooked meal, to me. Hm!”



“That is why you were in Vale’s End today?” Aloise pressed. “To get a well-cooked meal?”



“Hm. Hmm. Yes. Satchen makes fine iron. But it is nice to see the little ones as well.”



“Do you mean the children? Or all the villagers?”



“Oh! Hm. All of them. They are such wonderful creatures. Hm. With their tools and their walls. Crafty. And so generous.” Aloise opened her mouth, and then closed it again. Well, they certainly had been generous to her. But how the children had treated Motta, and then the looks from Satchen and the guards…



“Motta, they’re afraid of you.” She told him.



“Hm. Yes. I would be afraid of me, too. But they treat each other with such care, and consideration. Hmm. It is… comforting.” Motta was nodding, over and over, with his eyes closed, smiling broadly now.



“What of your people?” Motta’s smile faded, and he gazed at Aloise somberly.



“...Hm. They are cruel, even to one another. And there are not many of us left, because of this.” He placed his hand on his knees, and then turned his palms upward. “My people were not always so. Hm. Or so I have discovered. My people migrated to the Vorst from across the sea - for there is a sea, far from here, across the mountains.” He lifted his right hand, and moved it in a small circle. Then, he raised his left. “I do not know why we came, but before coming to the Vorst, we were a people rich in our heritage. Hmm.” He cupped his hands together before him. “Our traditions were healthy. We were strong. Just. Hm. But living in the Vorst is not an easy life. Before too long, it began to shape us.” Motta lowered his right hand, and stared at the palm of his left. “One day, it is said that we encountered the little ones. Hm. The little ones fear the Vorst - they offered my people refuge away from the forest. Away from the mountains. But this was long ago. Hmm. Long, long ago. Most do not remember.” Still staring at his hand, he fell silent for a time.



“Why do you remember?” She prodded, a little out of impatience and a little out of the deep curiosity that followed her everywhere she went. Motta inhaled deeply.



“Hm. I do not remember. I was not there. But I am the last storyteller. My people do not write. Our history - we speak it. A long tradition. A proud one. But none will listen to me, now.” He glanced at Aloise, his lips curling up gently. “Except for you, little one. Hm…” He looked at his hand once more. “But my people… The storyteller I learned from did not know what happened. But there were battles. Raids. Hm… My people gave the little ones more reason to fear the Vorst. Though they already had reason enough. And then.” Motta balled his hand into a fist. “Then they began to eat the little ones.”



Aloise felt the bottom drop out of her stomach, though she remained where she was. She remembered, suddenly, Motta chewing effortlessly through the iron bar earlier that day. Bone and sinew would prove much more… palatable, she supposed. It took her a moment to realize Motta was watching her with a hooded expression, and she hoped her sickening thoughts had not shown on her face.



“Why would your people… eat humans?” She asked, trying not to think too much about what she was asking. Motta shrugged.



“I am told they taste like the Fruit of the Mountain. Hm. That the little ones have fire and strength that cold stone cannot give.”



“So… you’ve never eaten someone?”



“No.” He murmured, turning to stare into the fire. She felt a little better, and was ashamed she would think such things about Motta. Still… “Hm. My people crave the flesh of the little ones. But they live deep in the forest. Far even from here. And they fear everything outside of the Vorst, just as your people fear everything within.”



“But you’re different.” She pointed out. Motta nodded slowly.



“Yes. Hm. Hmm. Different enough to be alone.” Aloise had nothing to say to that, no words of encouragement to give. It angered her that the people of Vale’s End would never welcome him. It angered her that he was too gentle a soul to be with his kind - that being alone was preferable to being with his family.



She felt angry and helpless, and then Motta placed his hand on her shoulder, which nearly unbalanced her.



“There are some things better done alone, Aloise. Hm. ‘The burden a hermit carries is all the lighter for being his own’.” Aloise smiled slightly at that.



“That sounds like a proverb.” She told him.



“One of many.” Motta assured her. “Hmm. Hmm…” His body flexed, though he was careful not to move his back, she guessed he was yawning. “I am going to sleep, Aloise. You are free to stay as long as you wish. Hm… if you are here when I wake, we will talk more.” And just like that, he closed his eyes. Aloise watched him carefully for a few moments, but he did not stir. Nor did he seem to notice when she stood, and began cleaning up her makeshift operating paraphernalia.



She could not blame him for sleeping sitting up - she would not want to lie down, with a back like that. Still… as she stared at Motta’s still form against the firelight, questions upon questions piled up inside of her head. Why go to Vale’s End with his injuries? Where had he gotten them? Who had done it? And why?



Aloise puzzled over these questions, and many others, until, curled up against the wall, she fell into a fitful sleep.



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:47 pm 
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Part Two

Darkness, and fear. The hot scent of blood and tears surrounded her. She could see dim shapes moving around her, silhouetted against far-away firelight. Growls from the shadows, and then the was running. Running for her life, but she did not know where to. No destination but away, at full sprint, as fast as she could manage. Slick, hot liquid drenched her as she ran. Copper flames licked her heels as she leaped over anonymous corpses of the newly dead. A violent roar from behind her. The scratching sound of bone on bone – snapping, chewing, and then it overtook her-



Aloise awoke with a scream, bumping her head against the wall behind her. She had curled up on the floor, and, sweating profusely, she experienced a moment of disorientation as her nightmare and reality converged. She saw Motta staring at her, and she almost shouted again before she remembered who he was. Where she was.



Motta maintained his characteristic silence as she sat up. She wiped her face with her hands, and shook herself. She found her bag and shuffled through it for what little fresh water she had left, and used it to quell the aching thirst in her chest. She felt her heartbeat slow as she drank, and when she set the water skin down, Motta broke the silence.



“Hm. A nightmare, yes?” He asked. Aloise shivered, and nodded. He sounded resigned, as if he had expected it. Motta stood, and walked over to help Aloise to her feet. Though she did not really need it, she appreciated the gesture. The fear from the nightmare still gripped her, and she felt strange and disoriented. He led her over to the fire pit, and sat her down once more. “Hm... Look into the flames, little one. Aloise.” In the back of her mind, she noted magic flowing around her as she stared at the fire. A sweet scent of pine trees, and then-



Aloise blinked, and looked over at Motta, who was now sitting beside her. She felt awake, but when had he gotten there?



“Hm. The Vorst is full of darkness.” Motta explained, holding his hand over the fire. He ran his hand through the flame, and grabbed a handful of it. It danced in his hand without burning him. “Awake, your mind is like a fire. Hm. Active. Warm. When you sleep...” Motta closed his fist, and the flame vanished. “The fire goes out. Hm. Wolves. Bats. They fear fire. Instinctively, they shy from it. When the fire is gone, they hunt. The Vorst is no different. Hm. When the fire in your mind is out, it hunts you.”



“...Does this happen to everyone who sleeps in the Vorst?”



“Hm. No.” He responded, and she felt relieved for half a moment. “It happens to everything. Hm. My people. Your people. Animals. If you dwell in the Vorst for too long, it twists you into its image.”



“Even you?”



“Hm. I am no exception. But, as a storyteller, I was taught to wield flame.” He pointed at the fire, and it grew. He removed his finger, and it receded. “Hm. Part of my learning was to hold the fire inside myself. Later, I would learn to keep the fire within me lit always, to keep the Vorst at bay. Hm. Hmm.” Aloise pulled her knees up to her chest as she watched the fire with Motta.



“Do you think that has anything to do with how your people have changed?”



“Hm. I am certain it does.” He shook himself, and stood. “Hm. Hmm. But, you should return to your village. You should not spend any more time here.” Reluctantly, Aloise agreed. She did not fancy returning to the village, but she was not certain she could bear another of those nightmares. That, and she did not want to risk becoming some sort of cannibalistic savage. Even if the effects of whatever dark energy permeated the Vorst were subtle, and appeared to only cause negative effects after multiple generations of exposure. Or... something. There was evil magic here. Aloise had dismissed the villagers fear of the forest as superstition. But now...



“...Motta, I'm going to find some way to fix this.” Aloise told him, hoping he would believe her. Again, he helped Aloise stand though she did not need it.



“Hm. Hm! I am not so sure anything is broken.” Aloise began to protest, but he shushed her by waving his hands gently. “Hm. Debates later. First, I will walk you home.” As they left his hut, the fire went out behind them. Outside, it was dark, and as Aloise gazed around the forest, she understood what she could not during the day; that this place was ancient, and feral. If it had ever been tamed, all that was left of those efforts was lost, or in ruin. Even Motta's humble hut seemed out of place. She stayed close to Motta as they made their trek back to town. This time, Motta was not wearing his robe. Thinking back, she was not sure where the enormous thing had gone. She did note, however, that his back, while still a hideous display of brutality, was scabbing over nicely. He would have scars forever, but he would heal.



She was just worried that, whoever had whipped him, would do it again. Every time she attempted to approach the subject, however, Motta fell silent. While her patience was that of a quivering hare, his was more like a sleeping bear. She was forced to let the matter drop.



Once, when Aloise offered to light the way for them, Motta denied her. He claimed it would bring trouble, and simply emphasized that she should stay close to him. When they finally left the trees behind, and Aloise could see the sky, she began to breathe easily again. She looked at the moon, and mentally checked its position against the stars. From what she had seen in the month she had been here, it was probably three hours after midnight. No doubt Vale's End's patrol was on alert, as well.



“Hm. Hmm. You are thinking, again. Hm. Too much, perhaps.” Aloise glanced at Motta, who had not spoken for the past half hour. She had not even noticed he had been watching her.



“Well, I'm always thinking, Motta.” She told him. Motta snorted.



“Hm. Contemplating, then. Turning a question over in your mind. Hm. Hmm. Like a stone, rolling down the hill.” Motta balled his hands into fists, and circled them over one another slowly.



“You can tell all that from looking at me?” Motta nodded, and tapped his nose.



“Hm. Anger.” He touched his thick brow, and the corners of his mouth. “Worry.” He closed his eyes, and touched his eyelids. “Deep thought. Hm. Hmm. Like the problem is before you, but the answer is far, far away.” He opened his eyes again, and stared at her intently.



“You're very observant.” Aloise noted, returning his gaze evenly.



“Hm. So are you.” He stopped walking, and touched Aloise's forehead with his large finger. “Not all problems must be solved. Hm. Not all problems are really problems at all.”



“So I'm just supposed to let you be abused?” She demanded, swatting his meaty hand away.



“Hm. Yes.” He let his hand fall to his side, and looked in the direction of Vale's End. The walls were well in sight now, though they were still too far to be seen.



“That's not fair to you, Motta!” She shouted, and Motta's eyebrows raised in surprise. She thought it might be the most emotion he had ever shown to her.



“Hm. Hmm. Hmm.” His mouth worked over the humming noise for a few seconds, before he composed himself. “Do not yell at me, little one. Hmm. To my people, yelling means... Hm. It means hatred. Battle. Hm. Hmm. Fatal intent. So we always speak softly.” He looked down at his hands. “Hmm. Or, we used to.” Aloise felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She knew she should not lose her temper; she just did not expect such an... unfortunate reaction.



“I'm sorry.” She whispered.



“Hmm. That's alright, Aloise.” He looked up once more. “The little ones yell at me often, because they do not know. Hmm. I did not want you to make the same mistake.”



“Of yelling at you?” She asked.



“Of not knowing.” He replied, and continued to walk. Aloise felt her throat close momentarily, and she followed after Motta in reverent silence. Had he been born on her world, he would have been a great scholar. Instead, he was beaten and shunned, mocked and hurt. But instead of being bitter, he was simply... kind.



They reached the gate.



“Not another step, monster!” Someone yelled from the watchtower, and Aloise recognized the voice. She opened her mouth to yell back, but Motta raised a single finger to his lips, and she bit her tongue. “Aloise! Aloise, is that you?” She watched Motta give her a pleading look.



“...Yes, Wicker, it's me.” She replied, as softly as she could.



“Has it hurt you?” Wicker shouted. Aloise winced, and wanted badly to reprimand Wicker, but Motta just shook his head.



“No.” She called back. Motta nodded slowly, and turned to walk away.



“Goodbye, little Aloise Hartley.” Motta whispered. He walked away slowly, with his arms spread wide, and his scabrous back bare in the moonlight. Aloise heard the gate open behind her, after Motta was a “safe” distance away. Wicker ran up beside her.



“Gods, we thought you were dead!” Aloise was touched by his concern, but at the same time angry that he... She sighed heavily. There really was no helping it, was there?



“I'm fine, Wicker.” She told him frankly. “I thought you worked the day shift?” She mentioned, hoping he would change the subject.



“Well, when I heard you'd been taken, I volunteered to... uh...” It took Aloise a few seconds to realize he had trailed off because she was glaring at him, but once she did, she looked away sharply.



“I wasn't taken.” She snapped. “I followed him – him – because he was hurt.” Wicker shuffled uncomfortably.



“Garth told me you followed it... uh, him, out.” He muttered. “I suppose I just didn't want to believe that.”



“Why not?” She folded her arms as Wicker scratched his ear. He glanced back at his fellow guardsman, who was watching them from the open gate, and waved him away before speaking.



“Twill got... angry. When she heard. She said uh...” Aloise narrowed her eyes, and Wicker looked away. “She said some pretty bad things. Doesn't trust your magic, I guess. Um. Threw that little trinket you gave us into the fire.”



“What?” Aloise was trying to keep her temper in check, but this was outrageous. That had been a gift! Because they had been so kind to her! She had to admit, she had not spoken with Twill often, but she thought she had been a nice enough woman. Wicker raised his hands defensively.



“She was upset, Aloise.” He shook his head, sighing. “We found out today that she's pregnant.”



“Congratulations.” Aloise muttered dryly. Wicker frowned at that.



“She's concerned for the baby, Aloise. Doesn't want Vorst magic in the house.”



“Vorst Magi- What does that even mean? What do you even know about...” She trailed off slowly, remembering what she had learned from Motta just a few hours ago. Dark magic, in the forest, that corrupted everything within. She had checked the spell over and over for traps. Tricks. Little hidden dangers. But had she been too excited? Had she overlooked something? Had she put these people in danger?



Admittedly, the runes seemed completely disconnected from this plane, but if the Vorst had corrupted even that bit of magic... She realized Wicker was talking once more.



“...And so then she said, if you even made it back alive, that you weren't welcome to stay anymore.” Wicker was staring at his boots at this point. Aloise wanted to react, but instead she simply felt her lips tighten as she looked at Wicker. She wanted to tell him Twill was being ridiculous, and that he was being spineless, but that would not help.



“Alright, Wicker. I'm not here to cause problems.” She told him. She was suddenly just very tired, and wished that all these good-intentioned people would just get along. “I'll just...” What was she going to do? She had been planning on leaving today anyway, before she met Motta. Now, knowing how he suffered, she could not run in good conscience. “...I'll figure something out.”



“Aloise.” Wicker stood aside in surprise, and Aloise glanced a the swiftly approaching form of Satchen. This night was just getting better and better, and honestly, she just wanted to crawl in a bed, somewhere, and sleep. Aloise dully noted that the other guard, whom she did not know, had returned, apparently bringing Satchen with him.



“Satchen.” She murmured. “Oh, am I being banned from the village now?” Satchen's face was a mixture of sadness and solemnity, and when she did not immediately respond, Aloise felt something cold creep down her spine. “...You can't be serious.”



“I'm afraid I have no choice. Half the village is in a panic over your Glowstones. The other half doesn't want anything to do with you after you left with...” Her eyes flickered towards the faraway forest, and Aloise lifted her chin.



“Why even let him into the town if you hate him so much?” She hissed. Satchen shook her head, and produced a stack of paper. Aloise immediately recognized it as the notes she had given Satchen earlier that day.



“No one will want these, after today.” She ignored Aloise's previous question. Satchen pulled the last glowstone from her pocket, and put it atop the papers, then handed them to Aloise. She took the bundle numbly. “You can't return here, Aloise.” Satchen whispered. “I know you meant well, but if you come back... Well. I'll fear for your safety.” Aloise's vision blurred with angry tears. No, all this was too familiar. She glared at Wicker, who was not looking at her, and then back at Satchen, who was forced to look away. “...You can stay with me until dawn, but I'll have to escort you to the gate at daylight.”



Aloise turned, and stalked away, tears streaming down her face.



“Aloise- Aloise!” Wicker called after. “Where are you going?” She clutched the bundle of papers, and her tiny, precious disc to her chest.



“Home!” She screamed, and, picturing the only place she could imagine bringing her comfort right now, planeswalked away.



***


Aloise awoke in her own bed, her eyes crusty and dry from last night's tears. She was exhausted and upset, still, but at least she was home. Lys had not asked any questions when she had returned, weeping, but simply embraced her for a time before letting her return to her room. She sat up, and wiping her eyes, looked around her bright home dejectedly.



She lived in the loft of Lys' home. Her room, and the adjoining one as well, were lined with bookshelves. Though she owned many – many, many – books, there were also several dozen souvenirs from her travels: An Avacynian Collar, a gift from one of the Cathars of Innistrad. An old bottle of Noggle Ale, from Jakkard, which she never planned on drinking. A portrait she had drawn of a sad, scarred woman, looking for a warm place to on a cold, rainy night. A small, gold coin, with a hole in the center. Looking at these possessions usually reminded her of her many exciting adventures, and that was usually enough to lift her spirits.



This morning, though, she did not want her spirits lifted. She just wanted a hot bath, and to forget about the injustices of Vale's End. And while the bath helped to relax her aching muscles and tired bones, her mind, as fierce and active as ever, simply would not forget.



After bathing, grooming, and getting dressed once more, Aloise did not feel up to walking downstairs and speaking with Lys just yet. She loved the old woman very much, and she knew Lys would understand if she was hesitant to come down. She was wise like that. Instead, she entered the room that connected to hers, which was her workshop. The only difference, between the two, really, were the specific contents of the bookshelves, and the fact that an enormous workbench dominated the far wall, instead of her bed and a chest of drawers.



The first thing she noticed was the Glowstone and her notes, tossed haphazardly onto the workbench. She walked over and placed her hand on the paper, spreading it out in front of her. She had half a mind to... That was strange. There was a sheet of paper in the stack that was yellow, faded, and old. Not like the sturdy brown parchment she used. She picked it up, and turned it over. A letter? To Satchen? The scrawl was tiny, but neat and legible. Confused, Aloise began to read:



My dearest Satchen,



If you are reading this, then I am sorry. I go into the Vorst tonight, and I fear I face my death. If I return, I will slip this from beneath your pillow and burn it before you ever need worry over such things. But if I do not, you need to understand why I go to the Vorst, and why I am helping him. My precious daughter, please understand. I love you very much. Your mother is too afraid and angry to carry on my work. You are still young, and even I can see the evidence of spellwork within you. I know you will grow to be a fine, beautiful woman, and a respected member of Vale’s End. I would not ask this of you if I had any other choice. I would spare you from this if I could. But I cannot. Forgive me.

First, you should know that his name is Motta. He is a kind and gentle spirit, and he is not a monster. Remember when he would come, in the early hours of the morning, and stand outside of the gate? He would just look, ignoring questions from the guards. Ignoring their shouted threats. Everyone was so afraid. He looks so fearsome. But he is an amazing person. He admires us, my daughter. He admires humans, because we treat each other so well. We are kind to one another.

If only we could extend the same courtesy to him.

Next, you should know that his people are on the verge of collapse. As I write this, he has told me that there is only one tribe, his tribe, left. And that, including himself, there are less than a dozen members of that tribe. Do you remember the old, old tales? Of the giant monsters who devoured naughty children? That is Motta’s legacy. That is all that is left of his once proud people. Ghost stories. Can you imagine if we became ghost stories, daughter? This is Motta’s fate, and I can do nothing for him, save provide him with what comfort I can.

The Vorst is an evil place, but I need not tell you this. It has changed his people, and so they have died. The Vorst kills everything that enters it, save for the trees. In time. I do not know why, but Motta’s people punish him. Fifty lashes with a cruel whip, once a week. Can you imagine? That’s why he comes to Vale’s End every week, my daughter. Because he has been beat like a dog, and seeing our community gives him strength. It makes him happy.

That day when I went to speak with him, the first time your mother and I argued, I was astonished to see that he spoke. And spoke well. He asked me for metal. If you have been keeping track of our inventory like mother has asked you to, you will notice about a pound of iron goes missing every week. Motta loves it. He says it is delicious. Who am I to deny him such a simple thing as food? I cannot. Vale’s End believes he is a monster, and I cannot change them. But I can change myself.

Daughter, tonight is the night that Motta’s people come for him again. Last time I went to tend to his wounds and bring him food, he warned me that his people were beginning to suspect me, and that I should not come again. But I cannot leave him alone. If I am killed, daughter, I beg of you. Take care of him for me when he comes to town. He will come for iron, and to see the people. Let him. Use the influence you will garner as my heir to better his life. He is deserving of it more than most.

I will love you always, Satchen, my precious child. I am proud of the woman I know you will become.

With love always, your father, Brand



Aloise was careful that none of her tears fell upon the yellowed page. So, that is what Motta had meant… Satchen’s father sounded like a wonderful man, though Aloise wondered at his daughter. She had watched the children harass him so passively, had endured his torment for so long, and yet there was nothing she had done but give him a single iron rod.



Slowly, Aloise shook her head. No, she could not pass judgement on Satchen. She did not have her story, just pieces of it. Aloise folded up the aged, leather parchment, and pocketed both it and the Glowstone. She knew she had to make this right, somehow. Wiping her eyes, she ran quickly into her room, and began preparing.



***


Aloise stepped out of the Eternities, her head still spinning a bit like it always did, and was careful to stay out of sight of Vale’s End. She had purposefully chosen to end up close to the town, so she would at least know where she was going, but she did not want to risk… upsetting the villagers. It was night, and, after reasoning that the dark magic of the Vorst would leave her alone as long as she was awake, she entered the forest.



The only thing that saved her from getting lost was her preternatural affinity for landscapes. The Vorst was refreshing during the day, but as she had learned a night previously, the night plunged the cursed place into grim darkness. She heeded Motta’s warning from the night before, and did not light her path. Instead, a little magic concealed her and muffled her footsteps as she stalked through the trees.



Eventually, gratefully, she came to Motta’s hut. She was about to approach it, but paused. She had come to speak with Motta, to work something out now that she knew more of his situation. But there was no firelight within his hut, and the door was wide-



A crunch of branch from across the clearing alerted her to his presence. As she peered into the darkness, she could make out his huge bulk amongst the trees. She sighed in relief, and dismissed her concealment spells.



“Motta.” She called into the still of the forest. “It’s me, Aloise!” The figure stepped forward, into a shaft of moonlight, and something uncurled from his hand. Aloise’s blood went cold.



It was a whip.



“Aloise!” The monster shouted, cracking the whip above his head in a single, savage motion. “I am Thrim, last of the Lokrah! And tonight, I feast on your flesh!” And with thunderous footfalls, he charged through the forest, towards Aloise.



Aloise turned and ran.



She knew she could not outrun Thrim in a footrace. Regardless of how proud she was of her athleticism, his legs were simply longer. This forest was also his home, so hiding was not exactly an option. Fighting was…



Thrim crashed through a tree, some distance behind her.



...Inadvisable. Which means she had just one advantage; her magic. Aloise held her hands out in front of her, and leapt into the air. A short burst later, and she was flying. She heard Thrim roar (Could he see in the dark?) behind her as she flew out of his reach. The flying spell took a great deal of concentration to maintain, but at least it gave her some space. She swerved back around, towards Motta’s hut. Thrim followed dutifully, though she was not certain what his plan was. She closed her eyes, and summoned a blinding flash of light. No doubt staring right at her, Thrim roared in pain, she heard his footfalls cease, for the time being. Aloise landed behind Motta’s hut, unable to keep the flight spell going any longer. She was already breathing heavily. She would have to think of something quick.



She heard Thrim begin running again, and then stop. He inhaled once, loudly. Then twice, and laughed.



“Hmm! Where are you hiding, little morsel?” A loud footstep. Aloise pressed herself against the wall, waiting. “I knew Motta was hiding you from us. Stupid Motta. Hm!” Another footstep. “...But Motta cannot hide you now!” With speed belying his size, Thrim dashed to the other side of the hut and cracked his whip into-



Thin air.



Thrim roared in aggravation as Aloise blinked back into existence on the far side of the clearing. She stumbled as her feet touched ground, and almost fell into a well concealed ditch. She heard Thrim rounding the hut, and suddenly had a plan. She steadied herself, and watched Thrim carefully. He spotted her almost immediately, roared and, predictably, charged.



How long was that whip? More than ten feet? Less? He was already swinging it - with an arm that long, he would make contact… now! Aloise teleported herself almost directly behind Thrim, who growled again as his whip cracked into nothingness.



“Thrim!” She shouted. Thrim followed his momentum to the edge of the ditch, and then spun on his heel as she called his name. Just as she had expected. She blasted him with a fierce gust of wind as all of his weight was on one foot. Thrim lost his balance, roared, and fell into the pit.



There was a loud crash, and, satisfied that she had another few moments of reprieve, turned to…



There was another roar from the pit, this one less angry and more… tormented. It was punctuated by a wet gasp. A cracking sound. Another wet scream. Then silence. Aloise swallowed hard, and waited just a few more seconds. Nothing. Feeling sick, she decided not to investigate immediately.



Motta was more important. She ran into his hut.



She could see his prone form on the ground, in front of the fire pit.



“Motta, no…” She murmured to herself, and ran to his side. She fumbled for the Glowstone in her pocket. “Rise.” She almost shouted at it, but it floated and illuminated the room with light.



Motta’s back looked… Aloise took a private moment to be sick in the corner, but wasted no more time. Without even reaching into her bag or rolling up her sleeves, she simply fell to her knees by his side and placed her hands upon the bloody pulp that was Motta’s back. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she brought to mind her favorite riverside, on a faraway plane, where she had seen a Unicorn, all those years ago. She remembered the bright, gorgeous forests of Lorwyn, and the friendly treefolk she had encountered there. She remembered - anything, and everything, that would help heal Motta.



“Hm. Hmm…” She heard Motta grunt as she channeled. “My little… Aloise. I cannot… I cannot light the fire. Hmm…”



“I’ll light it for you.” She whispered encouragingly as she focused, tears streaming down her face. She could scarcely believe he was breathing, let alone that he could talk! “Hang on, Motta, please.”



“Hm. He came… again. I did not expect him… so soon. Hmm…” Motta coughed.



“Save your strength.” She pleaded, but he did not hear or heed her.



“He was afraid to leave the Vorst. Hmm. They all were… They all were…” His body shook, and she heard a deep, whimpering sound come from his throat. “They wanted me to bring them the little ones… Hmm… I would not… No, please, Thrim…” Aloise could not speak, but she could feel herself reaching her limit. It was not enough, it just wouldn’t be enough!



Aloise felt a pair of hands atop hers, and a sudden, new energy flowing through them and into Motta. She looked up, wide eyed, and saw Satchen staring down at Motta intently. Aloise sobbed, then. Great quaking sobs of relief, and gratitude. Motta stopped mumbling, and began breathing deeply. The wounds on his back closed, painfully slowly, but they began to close.



After an eternity, Motta was whole. Unconscious, but whole. Aloise fell back, staring at the blood on her hands, and then looked up at Satchen. The older woman looked just as drained as she felt. Still, she was able to stand, if shakily, and came to sit by Aloise on the other side of the sleeping giant.



“How…?” She managed as Satchen put her own bloodied arm around Aloise’s shoulder, and allowed her to rest against her.



“I didn’t know where you went, when you vanished like that.” Satchen told her. “But I knew you would not leave this alone. Not after I gave you my father’s letter.” Satchen shook her head. “I was only coming to tell Motta that you would be visiting. I did not expect you to return so quickly… Or that…” She fell silent, but Aloise understood.



“...Did you see him?” She asked, shivering.



“...He’s dead.” Was all Satchen told her, and she did not elaborate. Aloise shivered again, remembering how close she had been to falling into that unknown herself.



“Why didn’t you just tell me?” She asked, to move her mind away from that thought. Satchen inhaled deeply.



“I did, Aloise. I told you he was dangerous.”



“No. Why didn’t you tell me you were helping him?” Satchen was silent, and Aloise feared she would fall asleep from exhaustion before she answered.



“...I could not provide Motta with the healing he needed, it was too dangerous. If his kin discovered…” She sighed. “And I could visit him only scarcely, and at night. If anyone saw me associating with him other than the few iron bars I gave him out of pity, they would become fearful, and suspicious.” She shook her head. “In the end, I had too many responsibilities to too many people. If not for you, Motta would have perished with the rest of his people.”



“The rest…?” Aloise murmured.



“Did he not tell you?” Satchen asked, and Aloise shook her head. “...Thrim was the last one, besides Motta.” She whispered. “He was Motta’s brother.”



Unbelievably, more tears found their way out of Aloise, and she sobbed into Satchen until Motta stirred. When he did, he needed only look at them to understand what had happened. Slowly, carefully, he rolled on his back, and stared at the ceiling of his hut. He folded his hands over his stomach, and a heavy tear fell into his matted, black hair.



“Hm. Hmm. Thrim. I had always hoped to save you.” He murmured into the air.



***


A few weeks later, Aloise stepped into an impressive study. Everything was very precisely in order, as opposed to her workspace, which was just “neat”. She found it very impressive that everything seemed so polished, despite the fact that there was very little free space. The thing that interested her the most, however, was the dark skinned man sitting behind the desk.



“Oh, oh, you must be Aloise!” He stood with grace, his white, stainless robes swishing behind him. His white hair was pulled back in a perfect series of braids and ornamental jewelry the fell behind his pointed ears. Though they shared similarities with many elves Aloise had seen, they called themselves the Fusari. She found their ancient culture fascinating, and - Well, she was here on other business, anyway. The man bowed as he approached her, and she did likewise. He smiled graciously. “My, my. So polite and well informed! It truly is a pleasure, Miss.” He produced a letter from his robes. “As you can see, I received your missive.We don’t see many humans all the way out here. You are quite the novelty!” He tapped the letter endearingly. She grinned at him.



“I came a long way to see you, Professor Salvadir.” She told the Fusari. And it had been a long way - Two continents away from Vale’s End, halfway across the desert the Fusari called home, and into the back halls of an enormous university. “I was told you are an expert on the Lokrah.” She frowned slightly. “I’m sorry to say that the term ‘expert’ was not always used with grace.” Salvadir waved his hand dismissively.



“Bah. Some think my work is meaningless. After all, who cares about the ancient culture we drove out of their ancient lands a thousand years ago? Who cares how they crossed the ocean, or where they went?” He huffed. “Well. I seek to preserve the culture of the Lokrah. I will not let them vanish into the sands!”



“What can you tell me about them?” Aloise asked, and without even sitting down, Salvadir launched into a lecture. The Lokrah were a proud race, and the conflict between them and the Fusari was ancient. He suspected it was because the Fusari crafted weapons and buildings out of the Lokrah’s food source - Metal and stone. But, in the end, the Fusari were united, and the separate tribes of the Lokrah were not. Defeat was inevitable. In a fashion still unknown to the Fusari, they fled to the ocean.



“After that, it is believed that they either drowned at sea, or else came to port far across the Sea of Storms, in the humans lands. But, alas…” He pulled down a map of the plane, and pointed at it. “The only thing along the east coast is a forested mountain range that the humans call the Vorst.” He shrugged. “They say it is cursed. I would not know. But the sheer cliffs would make for an… inhospitable docking point.” He sighed. “And, as far as I could discover, humans had made no contact with the Lokrah. After all, some form of diplomatic agenda surely would have been annotated in the United City… Why are you smiling?”



At this point, Aloise could not help but laugh in joy. Salvadir seemed confused, and then suspicious. “Are you mocking my work?” He asked testily.



“No, no!” Aloise assured him. “Please, Professor… This is amazing. I have someone I’d very much like you to meet.” The professor cocked his head.



“Very well, bring them in.” He ordered, but she shook her head.



“I’d love to, but I’m afraid he won’t fit through the doorway.” She explained. Salvadir regarded her with confusion, and then, wide-eyed shock.



“O-of course!” He almost tripped over his robes trying to get out the door, and then nearly ran into Motta as he rushed into the hall. “S-Stars above!” He murmured, looking up at Motta as though he were dreaming. Motta wore a long robe, still, but it was well-made and in good repair. His hair was clean and braided simply, and he gazed down at the Fusari with a wide smile.



“Hm. Hmm.” Motta touched his chest. “Motta.” He said, and Aloise laughed. Slowly, the professor touched his chest.



“Salvadir.” He said, and then grinned. “A Lokrah. Here! In the halls! My good sir, it is so very, very good to meet you!” And with all the excitement of a boy, he embraced Motta tenderly. Motta patted the much smaller man on the back, and glanced at Aloise, who was nearly crying with laughter at this point.



“Hm. Hm. Very friendly.”



After Salvadir composed himself, he called for cushions to be brought to the hall outside of his study. Motta continued to get the same strange but dismissive looks from the staff that he had received throughout their entire trek through the lands of the Fusari - They had certainly seen stranger things than Motta, all the way out here. Salvadir was, honestly, the first person they had encountered who actually knew what Motta was.



“Tell me, Motta.” The professor asked after they were all comfortable. “What became of your people?Do you have your history?” Motta placed his hands on his knees, and sat with his back straight. Aloise watched him sadly, but with a smile. They had talked about this a great deal. Motta had no one left to share his oral tradition with. He was the last of the Lokrah. There was no one to pass it down to. So, Aloise had agreed to search with him until they found someone who would listen.



And now they had.



“I am the last of the Lokrah. Hm.” Motta stated formerly, and the excited gleam in Salvadir’s eye tempered to solemn, if rapt, attention. “I am a storyteller. Hm. And I have been trusted with our heritage. Hmm… Professor Salvadir.” He placed both of his hands together, and extended them towards the Fusari. “Would you do me the honor of hearing the history of my people?”



“I would be honored.” The professor replied formally, and in awe. Aloise grinned, then, and listened to the two talk for hours to come. The professor was a very patient listener, which was good, because Motta was a very slow speaker. The professor hung on to Motta’s every word, writing everything he said down. Eventually, as Motta’s voice was getting hoarse, and both the professor and Aloise had learned more than they could remember reliably, Salvadir called for a break.



“My friend,” He said to Motta. “Allow me to offer you a place here, at this university. My students would benefit greatly from your wisdom, and eventually, all the world.” Motta thought this over for a solid minute.



“Hmm. I would like that.” He said, as they all stood. The professor extended his hand, which was promptly engulfed by Motta’s.



“The entire legacy of your people… It is a terrible burden you bear, Motta.” He murmured solemnly. Motta nodded.



“Hmm. Yes.” He looked at Aloise, who was so happy for him that she felt she would burst. He smiled slowly, but wide, like the rising sun. “But it is lighter with friends.”



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