Rilavashana SanParite called Bold Riley knew traveling alone would be would not be easy, but she had never expected it to be this hard.
He boots chaffed. Everything chafed actually. Sweating and stinking she struggled through the bog in the dwindling light. She had abandoned the saddle and the horse she had stolen from the sickening people in Quifen, feeling too much guilt to carry on with them. She was raised better than to take from those who had less. No matter how wronged she felt.
A root caught her foot underwater and Bold Riley went face first into the murky water. Coughing and spluttering she heaved herself upright again. The sun was sinking fast and this was unfamiliar territory. She didn’t care to sleep in this swamp but there was nothing for it. Overhead were the wide, spreading branches of a cyprus hung with soft moss. After a moments consideration Bold Riley tossed her pack up onto the lowest of them and climbed. Her fingers still scraped and raw from the last tree she had to climb.
But she didn’t want to think of that tree right now.
She settled herself against the trunk, into the bend of the low branch and dozed. Bold Riley woke briefly, a brief vision of two shining eyes in front of her, dozed off again. She dreamed of eyes. Hair that smelled like fresh leaves, soft fingers on her neck, and the things she couldn’t prevent.
When she woke again it was still dark and the eyes were closer. No dream then. Riley’s fingers twitched for her sword and the thing in front of her showed it’s teeth. She forced herself to relax. She nestled back against the moss and said simply, “Hello.”
“Hel-lo.” The thing croaked. Pale moon eyes blinked once.
“Is this your bog? It’s very nice.” She said quietly.
“Yes, mine. Mine for to hunt in.” The eyes got bigger and Riley could see pale fingers clutching the branch in front of her. The thing had impossibly long legs that jutted upwards past it’s head in it’s crouched position. It flinched backwards when Riley took her hand away from her sword and folded them across her stomach.
“And what are you hunting tonight, friend?”
It craned forward. “Soft things. Nice things.” A white hand with too many fingers reached out. “You things?”
“Ah.” Riley said. “That is a shame. I was speaking to my friends just now.”
“Yes, the stars.”
Bold Riley settled more comfortably against the cyprus trunk. “Yes, You know how the sky works don’t you friend?”
The wide glowing eyes flicked upwards and Riley continued.
“Lords and ladies and monsters and heroes, They all have a different name but they dance along interlocking wheels that make up the sky. The all throw dust and darkness out around them as they move and that’s the dark parts.” Riley yawned and shrugged. “I know them quite well and we speak often. Let me say one last goodbye and then you may devour me.”
The thing scuttled a bit to the side, blinked. “Later,” It said. “Later, I eat but now, tell me sky?”
And Riley did. She pointed to the brightest stars and told stories. Stories of strong armed women who marched across the sky boldly over the surface of the Coin but became ashamed widows when they progressed over the lip of the earth. Stories of lions with seven heads who chased a mouse no bigger than one claw. Lovers who crashed together at the apogee of the sky then split in surly disagreement at the lip of the world.
Bold Riley told the thing that hungered for her flesh tales of things that were one or the other. The set of her shoulders deceptively relaxed as she spoke about astronomy that she knew of of but was frequently embellished.
The sky lightened gradually and the thing that crouched on the branch lowered its pale lids over its glowing eyes. Riley told her half truths until hoarse. Finally the sun came over the swamp and Riley carefully drew her sword on the sleeping thing.
She paused though. It was bunched up like the cats she knew from the sunny streets of Ankala. She didn’t have the heart to draw blood from the sleeping.
So Rilavashana SanParite called Bold Riley took up her pack and dropped as quietly as possible down into the soft mud of the swamp and continued south.