The destruction of the Saeculo Antiquis Librarium had sent a nervous, uncertain young scholar monk into the North with no home, no direction, and no friends. He had tried to pick up where his life had left off, teaching others some of what he knew, acting as a doctor and herbalist, and so on. And for a while, it worked. But something was always missing – more than once he caught himself needing to pick Master Aiken’s brain for some lost tidbit of information, or wanting to bounce ideas off of the sisters, or telling himself “I can’t wait to show this one to Rizo.”
Unfortunately, there was another problem: whenever he found a village or settlement, he could remain incognito for a short time, but something would always happen to draw too much attention. Rumors of a distinctive young sage with impressive knowledge of the healing arts would spread after just a couple of weeks, and then he would inevitably be told of someone too injured or sick for herbs, or beyond regular thamaturgical healing. It wasn’t in him to turn down a patient, so he would have to resort to his Excellent Physician’s Technique. It didn’t matter whether a chief’s daughter or an entire village had grown attached to him; when his anima banner flared, it meant that they had seen what he truly was. And he could not risk the Wyld Hunt, Nagi, or anyone else bringing a fight and hurting people to get at him. So that meant moving on, alone.
Four months had passed in that manner. Four months since his world had been turned completely on its ear. And he was not doing well with the whole “alone” thing. You were never alone at the Librarium. That wasn’t to say you couldn’t have privacy, because you certainly could; there were plenty of places good for the taking when you needed to be alone with your thoughts. But trainees shared rooms up until they became full-fledged monks, and even most non-monastic residents also had roommates. And beyond that, each clan’s members tended to be very interconnected and closely knit, fulfilling all of the duties most other people associated with extended families, guilds, recreational organizations, and so on. The long and the short of it was, life at the Librarium was a constantly-social thing; no Loresmith joined the order expecting a life of cloistered research, but rather, a dynamic existence working alongside and for others. He had his fair share of troubles on the road, from distrustful settlements to his own still-jumbled visions to, on a couple of occasions, young Dragonbloods spoiling for a fight. But the hardest of all for him to deal with was the solitude.
Which was why, not long after being chased out of a village when he called on his Solar powers to save a pregnant woman and her newborn from dying during childbirth, Blazer felt the last of his resolve starting to ebb and drain away. Wrapped in the thick, hooded cloak he had taken to wearing to try and hide himself a little more effectively, he just stopped walking while making his way through a patch of tough evergreen trees. He was lost, which shouldn’t have been possible, but his head wasn’t clear. And he was tired – more tired than he could ever remember having been in his short life. He couldn’t even remember how long it had been since he had fled that village. Hours? Days? It all ran together. He turned to slump against a tree, leaning his back against it. Where was he even going, anyway?
He didn’t register the loud, guttural growls until they were nearly on top of him. Wolves, beasts big enough to swallow a man whole, stalked into the area around his tree, moving like great engines of death. There was an entire pack of them, and when he looked up, he could see hunger in their eyes. One little man was unlikely to sate their appetites, but when starved, animals could resort to desperate measures. Just like people. Blazer looked them over, and almost instinctively reached out his right hand, preparing to form his spirit bow. The wolf in his anima flashed in his mind as usual, but then it faded suddenly. The image had a mournful quality to it, and in that instant, Blazer felt as if, perhaps, it was time to give up. The Librarium had accomplished so much in its time, but that was only because there had been so many people working in it. What was he, a lone Loresmith, really supposed to do in this broken world? His ears heard the growls and snarls, but his mind refused to process them completely. He could have dispatched that wolfpack easily enough, but his heart was just not in it. Any of it. Why bother…the Wyld Hunt will find me, or Nagi, or who knows what else, eventually.
His hesitation was not complete, but it was enough to give the wolves time to make their moves. Surrounding him, one of them moved in for the kill; it seemed to sense his resignation, as it moved slowly but deliberately. But it never got more than a few paces. In a flash of motion almost too fast for Blazer’s eyes to catch, one moment the wolf was stalking towards him, and the next it was bowling end over end, giant claw marks suddenly torn in its side. He didn’t have time to react before a figure phased back into view, standing in a defensive position in front of him. It was a tall woman, strongly built, with the lighter tan of someone from the northern part of the East and a long mane of golden hair. The former two facts were obvious enough, as the clothing she wore did little to cover her from behind save for a thin strip of a skirt that seemed ready to creep up her hips even farther than it already rode, while her hair hung halfway down her back and was wild and unbound. She also had a long tail extending from just above her skirt line, one that ended in a tuft of dark brown fur.
“Ah, so you are still alive,” came her voice, playful and sensually low for a woman, “otherwise you wouldn’t be ogling so much. That’s good to know.” Turning just her head, she offered him a bright smile, but then turned back towards the wolves. “But we’ll talk later.”
“Who…who are you?” Blazer finally managed to sputter out.
“Why, isn’t it obvious?” the woman said as she opened both hands, her nails extending into claws. “The name’s Ardent Huntress, Orpheus. And I’m your Lunar.”
Huntress moved like her namesake, striking and dashing between the attacking wolves in a lethal, effortless dance. They were quick, but she was ten times quicker, leaving little more than tamped-down grass and splattered trails of blood in her wake. It only took a few moments, and then all that was left was the lifeless forms of the hapless predators, with Huntress standing amongst their fallen forms. Now that she was standing still once more, Blazer could actually get another good look at her. She was a little older than he, maybe in her mid twenties, though her eyes had a barely-perceptible cast to them that suggested she had seen more years than that. And even covered in haphazard patterns of blood, she was radiant, like something out of a dream. Or out of a bygone Age, he thought as he noticed the gleaming image of a full moon on her forehead, just above eyes that were the golden color of wheat.
As she shook both hands once, clearing her claws of the remnants of the battle before she withdrew them back into fingernails, she looked up – or down, rather, as he was still seated on the grass – at him, and shook her head a couple of times, a mixture of emotions on her smooth face as she placed one hand on her hip. “It’s been a lot of trouble finding you, you know. Creation’s no small place; most girls would have given up on you by now.” The mark on her forehead started to fade, and she began walking towards him. Even her walk was lithe and flowing, with an effortless, careless readiness about it.
Blazer’s mind was racing. She was a Lunar? That would explain the mark on her forehead. Something started tickling the back of his thoughts, but it vanished before he could latch onto it. He was finding it difficult to get anything sorted out mentally – he had been a wreck before the attack, and trying to pull it all together was proving to be much harder than he would have expected. Why couldn’t he remember her? Why didn’t he have even one memory of her? He had only learned a tidbit or two from Yukiri’s books thus far, and had had only the most trivial of introductions to what Lunars were. Was this anxiety, this uncertainty normal?
Normal or no, all of that faded as she neared him, and reached a hand down to help him up. When he took it, he was suddenly washed over by a torrent of sensations. There was warmth, relief, joy…part of it was her own projected feelings, from the intensity of the look in her eyes, but then he realized that he was feeling the same way. There was no point in questioning it any further – this was, in fact, his Lunar.
“Are you hurt at all?” she asked in that borderline sultry voice. “You’re staring at me like you took a few shots to the head.”
“I, uh, I’m fine. Thanks. It’s…um…it’s nice to meet you.” Stupid heart, wouldn’t stop pounding. How was he supposed to collect his thoughts with all of that noise in his ears?
“Oh dear, you really don’t remember me, do you?” Tapping full lips with one fingertip, Huntress gave a tiny pout, and shook her head once more. “I suppose it can’t be helped. Anyway, I’ll be glad to fill you in, but can we find a stream first?” She looked down at her blood-spattered clothi- well, her skin, anyway. “I need to do a little freshening up.”
A few minutes later, the two had relocated to one of the nearby streams Blazer knew of. Despite the briskness of the day, Huntress had not hesitated to take to the water while Blazer stayed on shore. Her golden hair caught the sun like thousands of tiny mirrors, and she was so methodical and relaxed in her bathing that it was easy to forget that it was blood and skin she was washing away. Blazer sat next to a tree on the bank, and couldn’t take his eyes off of her, but that didn’t keep him from delving into his thoughts. It all seemed so…surreal. He was woefully undereducated on Lunars, and things so far were lining up, but there was just something strange about it.
“You know you don’t have to just sit there, Orpheus.” She halfway turned in his direction, her hair dangling over one shoulder and not obscuring her breasts so much as accentuating them. “You could always join me.”
Swallowing the lump that had suddenly jumped into his throat, Blazer rubbed the back of his neck underneath his hair, and looked at the ground. “I’m not feeling up to it. It’s been kind of a rough, well…months, and I’m not really in a good state right now….”
When he looked back up, Huntress had left the water, and was slinking his way. She walked right by her clothing, and smiled warmly as she drew within just a few feet, frigid water trailing down her figure. “Oh come now. What’s the real reason? You’re not suddenly having trouble looking at a pretty girl, are you?”
“Please. I’m a doctor, Huntress. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a girl naked, and I hardly think it’ll be the last.” He said that, but his heart had picked up speed again.
“So then, you don’t mind if I do…this.” Shifting over onto her hands and knees, she crawled the remainder of the way to him, and then sat back on her heels once she was next to him.
That close to her, Blazer felt himself go hot under the collar. Worse than he already was, anyway. His eyes ran back over her, and locked on her face, which was only a couple of feet away from his. He had been correct in his first analysis of her age; she had a way about her that was more experienced and worldly than one might have guessed from her looks. But mostly he couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful she was. Her cheekbones were high, her nose was prominent without being too large, and right underneath the corner of her left eye was a wide silver crescent embedded into her skin. It formed a pleasant contrast with the topaz hue of her eyes, which were now securely trained on his own.
“Blazer…you’re staring,” she said with a playful laugh, obviously not minding in the least.
“And how could I not?” he replied, his hands locking together. “The rest of the world isn’t exactly putting up a lot of competition right now.”
Huntress made a sound that was very nearly a delighted purr, and leaned over to rub her cheek affectionately against his shoulder. Then just as the scent of her hair drifted up to his nose, she pulled back very slightly and lifted a hand, brushing it along his cheek and cupping it along his skin. “I missed you, you know; it took so long to find you. But find you, I did.”
Despite the water she had just left shortly before, her hand held a warmth that he felt right to his spine. So this was what the bond felt like; there was no mistaking the feeling in his heart. He still didn’t really remember much, but that hardly mattered. “Huntress, I…I don’t know what to say…I mean….”
“Then don’t say anything.” Reaching up with her other hand, Huntress gently pulled him close to her, and then tugged his head down so that it was resting against her breasts. “We have all the time in the world, Blazer. There’s no need to rush.”
It might have been the freshness of the Librarium massacre. It might have been his effective banishment from the few surviving Loresmiths. It might have been the constant dashing of his hopes to find a place where he could belong again. Whatever the case, something hit the breaking point in Blazer at that moment, and he let go of everything holding his emotions in check. At first just turning so that his cheek settled against Huntress’s chest, he found himself breaking out into tears, and then a moment later the full wave hit, and he was sobbing in both misery and relief, his arms sliding around her torso and locking there.
Huntress, for her part, just tucked her arms around him comfortingly, and let him cry his eyes out. Blazer thought he might have tried to say a few things in the meantime, but there was no chance any of it came out coherent. All his brain processed was the warmth of her form next to him, and the soothing feeling of her hands on his back. She didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, and at some point she brushed his hair away from the side of his face, and leaned her head down to whisper in his ear.
“It’s alright now, Blazer. Everything’s going to be alright….”
Blazer awoke some hours later feeling more relaxed than he had in a long while. Huntress was still there next to him, lying with his head against her lap. Her eyes were closed, but her tail tapped the ground next to them in a steady manner, and she stirred just a few moments after him, opening her eyes and giving him a lecherous smirk. “Awake, are we?”
“We are, I suppose.”
“You slept an awfully long while. Kept me waiting and everything.”
Feeling an embarrassed flush creep into his cheeks, Blazer rubbed his cheek against her stomach slightly. “That’s your fault. I see now where the ‘Ardent’ in your name comes from.”
She let out a quick laugh, reaching down to stroke her fingers along his brow. “You’re one to talk. I think we both just found out how much you missed me.”
Remaining quiet for a long moment, Blazer closed his eyes again, and reached up one hand to settle on her wrist gently. “You should know that…well…I still don’t really remember anything. At least, not clearly, anyway.”
Giving a shake of her head, Huntress leaned down and pressed her lips to his forehead. “It’s alright. I don’t expect it to all flood back in a rush. We were different people, after all…though I like to think that at least this much is familiar.” Leaning forward more, she settled her breasts against the side of his face, and had a good laugh at him when he nudged her away playfully. “But in all seriousness,” she said, sobering up again, “I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. Even if you never remember, well, that’s okay, too.”
After a few seconds of thought, he sat up, and took his hands to her waist, tugging her closer to him. At her quizzical look, he smiled, and leaned forward to rest his forehead against hers. “Honestly, I don’t even want to worry about that right now. I just want to enjoy this.” He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth before she pushed him over onto his back, tumbling forward on top of him, and kissed him deeply. And then he was once again surrounded by sun-colored hair.
Stepping through the shimmering portal that connected Creation and the realm known as Elsewhere, Blazer paused once through, the Tome of the Great Maker clutched at his side. He had gotten used to entering and leaving the sanctum, but he imagined it still looked bizarre and possibly unnerving to someone unfamiliar with the practice. Especially what with the whole “walking into a page out of a book” thing.
But if it bothered Ardent Huntress in the slightest, he couldn’t tell. For she practically bounced through, and took her eyes to the interior of the hidden space. The area was expansive; they had enough room for a large house and plenty of encompassing grounds, but all that currently sat on them was a small archery range, and his Library. It was nowhere near as grand a structure as its namesake, just a building of two stories that was still largely unadorned and unmarked, but in time that would change. He was still proud of it, what it stood for, and what it would someday become.
“So this is home now,” Huntress said with a surveying glance. “It’s a little bare, but I like it.”
“Yes, bare.” She bounded up towards the Library itself, and stood on one of the sweeping lawns, spreading her arms and turning in a circle. “All of this leftover room, and there’s nothing on it!” she called back to him.
Wrinkling his nose, Blazer started walking again. “Not yet, anyway. I’ve got plans for it, though.”
“Plans?” Stopping her rotating, Huntress attached herself to his side again, and leaned down to loom slightly over his shoulder as he walked. “What sort of plans?”
“Well…I want to plant some gardens, and maybe put in a fountain, when I have some time for it….”
Huntress’s topaz eyes lit up in interest, and she loomed closer. “Gardens, you say?”
“So, how long until this ‘time’ you speak of?”
Blazer scratched his head a bit. “Um…well…I guess we could start on it later today, if you wa-”
“Today it is, then!” Leaping away, her long sun-gold locks trailing in the wind behind her, Huntress laughed and loped in a wide arc across the grounds, before finding her way to the staircase that led up to the second floor of the Library. Once she reached it, she stopped and turned to look at him, her tail excitedly drifting back and forth behind her. “What are you waiting for, Blazer? Come on!”
Rolling his eyes a bit, he smiled in spite of himself, and kept up the same pace, nearing her again a few moments later. When he did, she smirked, and turned to lope up the stairs, disappearing inside of the archway at the top. Of course, she didn’t make it far; when he reached the top of the stairs himself, he saw her less than twenty feet away down the entry hallway, sitting back on her heels and pawing at the air with one hand.
“Something’s blocking me….” she said with a pouty voice. “Blazer, fix it.”
“Try not to run so far ahead all the time when you get in here,” he responded. “Library, add Ardent Huntress to the recognized and allowed lists.”
When the voice of the Library’s animating intelligence spoke from the air, Huntress looked around suspiciously, and then finally nodded to herself before turning towards Blazer again. “A little odd to be talking to a building, but you always were an odd one.”
“Says the cat prancing around the North in little more than ribbons. You do realize that no one will think you’re from around here dressed like that, right?”
“And yet, no one ever seems to mind,” she said as she stretched her back ostentatiously and stood up. “Though if my wardrobe is an issue, I could always solve that little problem.” Reaching behind her back, she untied the thin silk strip that kept her chest restrained, and twirled it around teasingly with one finger as she walked on into the Library, whistling and sashaying.
Following her on in, Blazer suddenly found it very hard to focus. He had some work to do, and he needed to get to it that much sooner if they were going to be getting anything planted, but Huntress’s none-too-subtle exhibitionism made everything take about twice as long as it should have. Even so, he could tell that she wasn’t oblivious to his work, and even when she was draping herself all over one of his work tables trying to distract him, he could see no small degree of comprehension behind that exaggerated flirtation.
Such as when he caught sight of her studying one of his clockwork automatons out of the corner of his eye. Flipping through one of his large experiment logs, he could tell she didn’t think he was watching, and so he just smiled to himself as she poked at the little idle clockwork figure, examining its limbs and construction, and finally letting it go on its way again. When she finally noticed him, she looked his way and tilted her head. “What is it?”
“Nothing. I was just thinking that it’s nice having you here.”
Smiling brightly, she leaned back on the table she had camped out on, took a long stretch, and then just settled on her back, one leg dangling off of the side of the table, her tail curling around her ankle slightly. “That’s good, because I’m not going anywhere. ‘Fraid you’re stuck with me, Orpheus.”
Shaking his head a bit, he laughed quietly under his breath, and closed the book he was looking through, choosing to instead just let his eyes settle on her. Yeah…I think I can get used to this quite easily.
Seated at a small table, Orpheus unlaced his hands from each other, settling one on the tabletop next to him and letting the other rest on his knee. He turned to look out of one of the huge, nearly ceiling-to-floor windows that dominated all four walls of the room, and contented himself with enjoying the view of the surrounding landscape from twenty stories up. He wasn’t nervous, exactly – nervousness was simply an irrational emotional response, one that convinced otherwise-reasonable people to fret over things not in their control. More like impatient. There were, after all, at least a dozen other things that he had on his plate: data to collect, simulations to run, etc. It was hard to keep his mind from running over and processing all of that, at times.
Tea helped, however. No matter how frantic and packed his schedule might be, if he made time for tea, then he could keep his head on straight. Today it was a blend that featured both Western berries and Eastern herbs, sending a pleasant, sharply-sweet aroma through the air above the teapot as it steeped. It was amazing how many in the Deliberative refused to make time for such simple pleasures. And they wondered at his cool, composed head. Yes, first tea, and then other things.
“Other things” didn’t keep him waiting much longer, as it turned out. Just as he was raising his teacup for that immensely-important first sip, he noticed a second presence in the room besides his own, and turned in his chair to greet the newcomer. She was a tall, lightly tanned figure, with golden eyes and sun-coated hair in a long mane. Her clothing was resplendent, crystalline blue robes with silver scrollwork along the shoulders and upper back, and more than a little translucent overall. As his eyes took her in, he smiled slightly, and nodded a polite greeting, indicating the chair across from him with a wave. “Ah, good, I see you were able to join me. Thank you for coming.”
“Was there ever a doubt?” the woman replied in an amused tone. “Every sane person knows that when Orpheus calls, you answer. If for no other reason than it’s bound to be eminently interesting.” Taking the seat across from him, she inhaled the scent of the tea deeply, and closed her eyes for a moment. “Tri-thorn and white savory. You do have complex tastes.”
“Complexity is just simplicity in a format most people find hard to recognize. Would you care for a cup?”
“I believe I would, thank you.” When Orpheus poured her a cup, the woman accepted it graciously, and took a careful sip, closing her eyes again and sighing pleasantly. “Ah…that’s delightful.”
“Forgive my rudeness, but I’ll skip the usual pleasantries and cut to the heart of the matter, as it were.” Orpheus said after drinking briefly from his own cup. “I would like a sample of organic material from you for a research project I’m undertaking.”
“A sample of ‘organic material,’ you say?” The woman grinned mischievously as she spoke up. “Aren’t you the charmer? I’ve only been here moments and you’re already propositioning me.”
“We both know that’s not what I’m referring to.”
She sighed, and blew a puff of air out of the side of her mouth. “Of course, of course. All work and no play, at least whenever I’m around.” Lifting her cup once again, she glanced back over at her host, only this time her eyes held a savvy edge they had lacked before then. “That’s quite a request. A very unusual one.”
“Certainly, it is. Which is why I’m prepared to give you a more precise explanation: I desire a sample of biological material from you, in a manner which will bring no harm to either you or myself, on which to perform a series of tests and experiments for the purposes of expanding my data archives.”
Looking at him for a long moment, she smirked a bit, and traced a finger of her free hand around the saucer underneath her cup. “You are a curious one, Copper Spider. I can see why the others find you so fascinating. Alright then, say I agree to provide you with what you ask. How would you compensate me for my cooperation, hm?”
“Actually, I’ll turn the question right back to you: what would you accept as compensation for your aid?”
“Ah, I expected as much. At first blush, I wish to say, ‘You should know how much you feel a lady is worth!’ but that would be silly. Of course you know. Rather, you wish to see what I feel my cooperation is worth, and thus either be reassured that your plan is reasonable, or have the extra moments to amend your offer without seeming desperate. Polite, yet shrewd.” When Orpheus did not respond, but simply took another sip from his cup and then looked expectantly at her, she continued. “It would be doing this unique situation a disservice if I did not come up with a special price. Therefore, I ask this: I wish to…anchor myself to you, Orpheus. Yours is an intriguing existence, and I would share in that intrigue in some significant fashion. Now, how can you make that work for me?”
Steepling his fingers in front of his face for a moment, Orpheus studied her carefully and thoroughly once again. The entire conversation was going according to his projections; in truth, he had known quite well what she would likely ask, and already had his answer worked out. “I’m afraid that with my work being as it is now, and other matters, I simply don’t have the room to accommodate you at present. However…should you provide me with what I ask, I will promise that you can attach yourself as a ‘person of interest’ to a future incarnation of myself.”
Crossing one of her legs over the other, she bobbed her dangling foot a few times as she watched him, her expression both amused and intrigued. “To say my interest is piqued would be quite the understatement. Could you truly accomplish such a thing? How am I to be assured that you will not simply be ‘too busy’ for one such as myself in the future, as well?”
“A fair question. The mind is a fascinating thing, you know. You would be surprised what little memory tricks you can uncover while studying it. For instance, the ability to gradually and selectively erase any knowledge of having met someone.”
“Or to, say, subtly influence one’s own proclivities to be better disposed towards a person?”
“Certainly within the realm of the possible. In exchange for a sample, I will ensure that one of my future incarnations has no knowledge of you, and is favorably inclined towards you upon encounter.”
Lifting her cup, the sun-haired woman polished off the last of her tea, and set it back on the saucer in front of her. “You’ve managed to spark my wonder, Orpheus. I admit that it’s a bizarre request, but it’s unique enough that I can’t help my curiosity.” Standing up from her chair, she ran a hand through her hair, and turned back to look his way. “I give you my word: you will have your sample, in exchange for connecting me with your future incarnation.” Bringing two fingers to her lips, she then reached across the table and pressed them to his lips in return.
Smirking slightly, Orpheus reached up to close his fingers gently around hers, and stood up. “Then we have an accord, Ardent Huntress.”