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z-Amber Wren

[First Age] Blowing off Steam

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Between the conversation in the Prologue and the Raid

Amber slipped away from the ranch house. A pistol was tucked in the holster she’d purloined for it, but her real prize was the rifle slung over her shoulder. It was a Remington Model 7, one of the better short-ranged hunting rifles in the US. Amber had decided she was going to make it hers the moment she’d entered the den with the intent of arming herself. She couldn’t take the rifle on the mission with her, but when they left the ranch, it’d be coming with her.

The thought of turning thief bothered her only a little. Her morals had always been heavily skewed by practicality, and lately she’d had a lot of practical issues to deal with. Having no identity was the major one; losing her entire support network and having it replaced with amnesiacs who were in worse shape than she was constituted the other major issue. In the face of such odds, her morals bent themselves wildly to allow her the things she needed to survive.

What bothered her the most was the need for such bending. It pissed her off to have her life ripped away, to have nothing left but the Special K Social Retard Group. It pissed her off something fierce and there was not a damned thing she could do about it. All she really had were her wits, her skills and her anger.

And the voices.

Growling to herself, she ignored the sensation of being watched. It was worse out here in the woods, which made her uneasy. She felt like she was being trailed by something. She paused and sniffed softly, catching the smell of the woods, something she knew was rabbit, another scent that was deer, something from a human – probably mostly upwind since all she caught was a barest hint – and wolves.

How is this possible? How can I smell these things, much less know them? The world had given her another sense, but she really wanted to give it back - all the weirdness in exchange for her life sounded more than fair. If wishes were horses...

Her uncle's favorite saying jarred her out of her slump, and Amber snorted to herself. Enough time had been wasted wishing that things were different. Shifting on the balls of her feet, Amber looked around and saw nothing. Scowling, she eased away through the trees, unconsciously following the trail of the deer.

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Moses felt like he was wound tight. Walking into danger like this was going to be a new experience...he was always wary with new experiences. He remembered the first time he tried to channel. Empty yourself Moses, think of a void and then envision a flame. Once you see the flame inside the void, after feeding all your thought and emotion into that flame, reach out and grab it.

He did just that and immediately felt a raging torrent of life. A sweet, yet violent tempest that bucked liked wild bronco threatening to incinerate him, while at the same time he felt more alive than he ever had. All this life, he had to put it somewhere...it was then that the curtains behind them made a WHOOSHING sound as they burst into flame...

A shiver went up his spine. He had much better control now, but he quickly learned not to just go rushing in to things without knowing all the facts. Even though they had a well thought out plan, he still couldn't help feeling nervous at the things that might happen.

Finally his eyes came back into focus staring down at the counter and the sandwich he made for himself. As he mindlessly consumed it he began to observe the forest outside the ranch house. It looked strangely calming, and inviting as if it could offer a peace he had once known before.

Maybe a short walk is just what I need he thought to himself. As he reached the edge of the forest a nostalgic wave swept over him. Taking a deep breath of the cool moist air he felt a blossom of joy grow within him. Walking through the woods he observed the trees, and the plants growing interspersed between while asking himself questions such as "How long would it take one of these great trees to grow?" or "What kind of uses do each of these plants have?"

With a giddy feeling, as if he was doing something he had always meant to be doing his attention suddenly came into sharp focus when he noticed a broken branch. The break was pointing away from him. Looking down he saw the moss on a rock had been scuffed as well, with the slightest impression of the toe of a shoe in the ground. He suddenly realized that someone had walked this way before, and probably not too long ago.

His curiosity got the better of him as he wondered who else would want to be out here. With a shrug he decided to try and follow the path. It might be fun to see if he could catch whoever was ahead of him. Before he even thought about he he was crouched and silently sneaking through the woods, looking for the next signs that would lead him on.

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Amber felt her tension ebb away as the woods closed around her. They gave her a sense of comfort as she snaked through the underbrush, her focus on the impossibly clear scent before her-

You’re being followed.

Leaping Fawn’s voice made Amber jump, nearly out of her skin. “Jesus!” she whispered, her eyes darting around. “What?”

You’re being hunted, Raven Feather repeated and the growl in her voice was unmistakable.

“Shit, shit…” Amber looked around again, hating that she was about to give into the madness. Fine… so who’s following me?

Two-legged. Taller than you. Male.

And? The confusion that followed her question forced her to clarify. What else about him?

There was no good response from the wolves, or her insane brain, whichever it was. Whatever she was talking to couldn’t seem to differentiate between humans. Suddenly, a sense of smell flooded her brain, making her press a hand to her head as she swayed. But she knew that smell – Moses.

“Is that…” Is that the scent of the man trailing me? The voices… wolves… whatever answered in the affirmative. I know him. He’s… She paused, not sure what to say. He’s not an enemy. He’s just… heading the same way I am.

Leaping Fawn asked, What should we do?

I’m going to alter course… lemme know if he moves with me.

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Moses felt a surge of adrenalin as he stalked through the woods. This was so much fun, almost as if he were playing a game. Once he realized there was someone ahead of him he decided to take it slow and easy. It wasn't like he was in any hurry, and although he had the feeling he had done this before he kept double checking the signs to make sure he was following an unnatural disturbance.

Bent grasses, scuff marks, even a simple overturned rock that was still moist was good evidence. Soon he saw a pattern emerging, which made the effort even easier. It appeared as if the human was following the meandering track of a deer. After a while it became more obvious. Sometimes he would go almost 100 feet without any human traces, but he would catch impressions of hoof prints that led him onward.

At one point he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It felt like he was surrounded by eyes boring into him, which sent a shiver up his spine. What if, instead of me tracking him, he was sneaking up on me? he thought, but the next moment he was already chuckling to himself, That would be a delightful surprise. There would be something magnificent in a situation so ironic.

Several minutes later he thought he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eyes, but when he turned to look there was nothing there, and the undergrowth was still only slightly rustling from the whispering breeze. "This game is making me paranoid," he said to himself "thinking I'm being watched and patches of gray fur leaping about outside my vision...maybe next the father I can't remember will be hiding behind the next tree."

The thoughts were so ridiculous he couldn't help but burst out in a fit of laughter. Stopping suddenly in embarrassment he realized that he must look like quite the fool. Fortunately he hadn't done that around the others, or they may think he was quite mad....not that they didn't already.

As his mirth slowly receded Moses easily moved further into the wilderness when he suddenly stopped, perplexed. The trail went cold. He realized that he had only seen the deer tracks for quite some time. Slowly back tracking he found a sign that he had missed. His quarry changed direction, but it didn't make sense. He knew that the person was following the deer, the way they followed the meandering path before was too sure to be mere coincidence.

I wonder why he changed direction, he sighed to himself. He sat down at the "crossroad" to puzzle out this change. It had been several miles since he started chasing the man and deer tracks. Just when he thought they were getting close to the deer so he could take a peek, the hunted hunter suddenly veered off. Maybe he felt those prying eyes too, as if he was being watched... He rubbed his chin in thought. I suppose that would be normal since I am really following him, but I haven't even gotten a peek yet. I didn't think I had gotten so close, but maybe I make more noise than I thought?

Moses was bitterly disappointed with himself. Somehow he had given himself away. For a while the fantasy he built up in his mind, that he could sneak up unheard on an unsuspecting person, really went to his head. Ah well, I guess the game is up. There is no use sneaking now, but maybe whoever it is can tell me what I did wrong.

Moses shifted uncomfortably as he removed a fist sized rock from underneath his rump. It has some curious sparkles so he decided to bring it with him. Now that he made up his mind he stood up to full height and leisurely began to follow the diverging path while lightly humming a tune to himself.

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Moses only walked another ten minutes before he found the source of his trail. The crazy golden-eyed woman waited for him on a fallen tree. It was about five feet off the ground at her perch, and even sitting, she loomed over him. Her purloined rifle was resting across her legs as she stared at him with that bestial gaze.

“Why are you following me?” she asked, and her tone wasn’t exactly friendly.

In her head, the wolves – or her own cracked psyche – continued to talk. We can take him! Storm Drinker’s exuberant cry made her flinch a little.

No, she argued. He is… not an enemy. It’d be a stretch to call him a friend, and she knew it. She also sensed that the wolves wouldn’t react well to bullshit, even if she got them to buy it. I want to hear why he was following me. He’s addled in the head, so his reason may be dumb, but not malicious.

And then she saw it – or rather, her. Leaping Fawn had appeared behind Moses, creeping out of the underbrush as if she’d materialized from the plants. Amber stared as reality kicked her brain in the teeth and showed her, without question, that she wasn’t crazy.

Everything else had gone mad.

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