A Night With No Stars

by Ryx

"How did you find me, after all?" Llyn asked as she shifted her weight slightly, stretching out a little more comfortably across the fire from her rescuer. Muri glanced up from the remains of his meal, a rabbit that Llyn had somehow scared up with amazing swiftness for one so inept in the forest. He licked his whiskers as he pondered his reply, dropping the small leg bone into a hole he had dug toward the back of their shelter.

The rain continued unabated into the evening, which was when Muri finally came out of his healing trance. His side was whole once again, though he would be somewhat tender for a goodly number of days. His first comment, upon getting his tired eyes back into focus, was to beg for food. Healing left him drained, exhausted, and famished. Llyn took up his bow and darted out into the rain before he comprehended she had even moved. Only ten minutes later she had returned, two rabbits dangling from her strong hand, leaving Muri's quiver two arrows short.

He had to suppress a pained wince at that, considering they were rune worked stone tips and would be very difficult to replace. Yet they had bought him food, so he was not going to complain overmuch. His belly once more full, he was able to think a bit more rationally; less like a famished animal.

"I found one of your arrowheads on the trail." he explained with a single shouldered shrug while licking his muzzle, piling dirt over the bones and packing it down so that it would not attract animals for a time. One of the major disadvantages he had learned shortly after becoming a skunk was the fact that he no longer smelled like 'man'. Though they did avoid him because he was a skunk, most animals were never very startled by catching his scent on the breeze, not as they would have had he smelled like a human; or a Lutin for that matter.

"This one?" she held out her paw, palm upward. Resting in the damp mahogany hued fur of her hand was the steel arrowhead he had come across in the middle of nowhere, in a forest very seldom traveled. He nodded, stretching out on one side, facing her across the glow of the flames, letting them warm his mostly dry fur. "It's not one of my arrows, the Lutins took them all." Muri quirked up an eyebrow as he propped his chin in his palm. "This is a special arrowhead, made by one of the others on my patrol."

"They were perhaps following you, hoping to help you escape as I did?" "Perhaps, though she had been commanded to fly back to Metamor with all possible haste." Llyn looked down at the arrow, rolling it from side to side in her palm, "I figured I was pretty well dead at that point, surrounded by Lutins and their ilk. Our patrol leader was already sliced to ribbons, I would have been next." she shrugged, rubbing the back of her head where some lucky beast had gotten in a sneaky blow, "But they swarmed me instead, and gave me over to a bunch of oddly clad northern mages."

"The ones who were not at their wagon?"

"Aye." Llyn picked a bit of rabbit from her teeth with the tip of the arrow. Not attached to a haft, the arrow would not have any poison on it, especially after this many days. "They said something about purifying the circle or somesuch."

"Lilith's henge." Muri nodded, a scowl marring the chiseled planes of his muzzle, whiskers folding back, "They probably meant to sacrifice you to the dark witch of the wood, to gain some boon." Llyn chuckled and glanced out at the shimmering, orange-tinged wall of falling water.

"Fair weather, perhaps?" she smiled. Muri shook his head.

"Wrong god." he responded, following her gaze. Eventually, he knew, he would have to douse the fire, before it was visible even despite the concealment of the foul weather. A wind had picked up while he was meditating, thrashing the forest about noisily in the night. The corpsebrush around the stone overhang was dense enough to cut a majority of the wind, which also kept rainwater from being blown in. It was going to be a long, chilly, uncomfortable night he mused. "They probably were wanting the service of her creatures, or to be left alone by them."

"Why me, then?"

"You were the enemy, and I rather doubt you are a follower of Lilith." he shrugged his higher shoulder, laying his tail over his legs to get the heat into it. Of all his fur, his tail was the thickest, and held the most water on such abysmally wet days. He lacked Llyn's natural fur oils which kept her skin dry in the rain. "The place you were was her place, a darkness in the forest. I call it the Murk."

"Apt name." she nodded, twitching her whiskers, her ears turning about, listening to the sounds beyond their shelter. The corpsebrush would give them fair warning of any attack, but still her instincts bade her to keep alert.

"Well, so far as I have ever learned, Lilith's altars are circles of stones, in the deepest, darkest heart of those dark places in the forest. Places not dedicated to the following of the stars or seasons, but dedicated to the letting of blood." he shuddered, fluffing the fur of his tail, "To gods older than those we know, to a darkness deeper than that of the Murk alone."

"Those devilish beings, darda?"

"Daedra, yes... but those creatures are only pawns to the higher deities of the pantheon." Muri nodded, not looking much toward her, or even at the fire, his gaze distant. Llyn nodded quietly, saying a quiet 'oh', these were not things she knew. "What are your faiths?" he asked, eyes once again alert, the fire gleaming in his dark eyed gaze.

"I am a follower of the Way." she responded quietly, her hand reflexively going to her breast, where the symbol of her faith normally hung. It was not there, of course, having been left behind before her patrol. No sense in wearing a dangly, glimmering bit of silver whilst trying to sneak through bushes.

Muri quirked an eyebrow, a brief expression of distaste crossing his muzzle, "Inquisitioners." he muttered, with some spite, glancing away. A hand came up in a forestalling gesture toward her as her own mouth fell open, shocked, ready for a quick retort to that. "Not you." he continued, his voice more apologetic, "Folks in the southern kingdoms, Prydain mostly." he shifted his position a bit reaching behind himself to break off a scratching tip of branch poking him in the small of his back in time with strong gusts of wind. "They make forays into the border villages and crow your 'Way'," he hissed the last word, "and those they find wanting, who do not follow your path, they burn."

Llyn gasped and leaned back, amazed. She had spent many years at the keep, despite the fact that her first ten years had been spent further south, toward the coast south of Prydain. Only disease and famine had driven her family away from their ancestral home, ending at the Keep some eleven years ago when the last of the plague finally claimed her mother, the last of her family.

Muri nodded, "I was a witness to the aftereffects of this, after an attempt to convert the whole of the barony where my father had taken tenancy." he shivered, stirring aimless patterns into the dirt with the broken end of twig. He glanced up, "That memory rather soured me on the ideas of a single god having supremacy over all of his subjects." he snored a small chuckle, "As if the Lone god can even keep up."

"He does a well enough job so far as I am concerned." she replied, trying to keep her voice neutral, hiding the affront at his experiences. The Ecclesia did not burn wayward souls, nor those who professed their faith to other gods, no matter what rumor claimed. She knew that his faith had darker rituals than he professed hers to have, the sacrifice by blood for one, to which she had been destined.

"And, in the end, that is all that matters." he nodded in return, and smiled, "Better to accept, rather than argue the semantics."

She nodded, though she did not much follow with that. The Lightbringer gods, to her mind, were not appropriate to the betterment of the world. They followed overt spiritualism over faith, fostered belief in magic over the work of the hand. They were probably appropriate for those such as this skunk, who lived in the old ways, off the land, and toyed with the unnatural powers; magic. Such as he were doomed to be lost, in the end, which she felt a brief pang of regret for. He was a good looking fellow, if temperamental.

"You should sleep." he said as he sat up, brushing the dirt from his fur, "Tomorrow will most likely be as harrowing as today was, and more so, if these Lutins do not thin out."

Llyn nodded, resting her head upon the makeshift pillow of his pack and letting her weariness creep up on her. "Wake me when it's time for my watch." she yawned quietly. She knew quite well what the next day would bring, they were within the lines of Lutin patrols, and would soon encounter their main host if they continued north.

Muri nodded quietly at her last comment, letting her slip into sleep. With a wave of one hand he banished the fire, letting the cool darkness claim their shelter. The rain continued, hissing through the trees with the accompanying howl of the wind. He placed up several minor wards out as far as he could sense, then slipped into a light trance, letting himself once more sink into the shimmering white radiance of the life energies of the forest around them.