Return to The Art of Burning Bridges Chapter Five

The Art of Burning Bridges

Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
Rating: PG-13
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"Ashkak floating
there in the sky
so big so bright
so luminous so high...
Goddess of the Ashkak
Beneath your bluish bellows
your humble people have gathered nigh"

Tara hummed the tune of the traditional song she had learned as a child. All Shinty children were taught to sing songs in praise of the Ashkak, for it was believed that the Ashkak was the Mother of all creation and was seen as the most peaceful entity in the sky. Its round shape was a favorite of the Shinty artists as well. Most dwellings had carvings of the Ashkak in all it's nighttime radiance. They were perched on top of stone alters or hanging on hooks made from the hardened roots stuck through the walls of most homes.

The Ashkak's opposite was the Ord, which was considered to be the Father of creation, but since Shinty people were a woman centered clan they held very little esteem for the more aggressive male side that the Ord represented. The Ord was to be observed, but not many songs existed about it.

Both the Ashkak and the Ord went by other names as well. The Moon and the Sun. The origins of those names could only be dated as far back as 1000 years and were names used only by the Plains people. The Ashkak and the Ord were the traditional names given to the floating orbs by the Shinty and were the only names recognized by the Shinty folk. However, they still referred to the light given by the Ashkak as 'moonlight' and light given by the Ord as 'sunlight'. Tara often found this confusing. She suspected that it had something to do with the war, but everyone she asked, hadn't been any wiser on the subject than she.

As Tara made her way deeper into the wooded hills, sharp stones threatened the underside of her feet, but the bottoms of her feet were strong and callused from being without covering nearly all her life. She had a pair of tongos, which were similar to the coverings she had seen on Willow's feet, but the tongos were made of natural material gathered from the forest floor. The bottoms were made from the particularly tough hide of the Mussox. Tara rarely wore them though, unless her people were moving from one camp to another because that would mean traveling a great distance on foot.

Tara caught the faint scent of a campfire. She could tell by the sulfuric tinge in the smell that it would be nothing but embers now. She chastised the woman under hear breath, even though she knew there was no possible way for Willow to hear her words. At least she had known enough to start a fire, even if she had been foolish enough to let it burn out.

One more piece of the 'Willow' puzzle was falling into place in Tara's mind, for now she knew that Willow couldn't possibly belong to any forest clan. Everyone who had grown up among the dangers of the woods knew that a burning fire might be the only thing to stand between them and certain death.

Most of the night creatures had sensitive eyes and spent their days hiding amongst the cracks and crags in caves or deep in the hollows of dead Hammock trees. And They would avoid a burning fire at all cost. The parasitic spider was among the worst. Just the thought of it's crawly legs made Tara shiver. The people of the forest feared this spider above all other creatures, even above the legendary Gammbot and that was why all Shinty and wood folk alike kept a candle burning throughout the night, otherwise, no one would get adequate sleep for fear that the spider would enter their dwellings and bite them in the night.

Tara was still thinking about the spider when she felt her foot catch on something sticking up from the ground. The first thought that had came to her mind was that she had tripped over a root protruding through the dirt, but Tara changed her mind when the rough texture of a Hammock tree wasn't what caught her fall. Tara landed heavily onto something with form, something pliable that was molding itself to her body from underneath.

Willow was still half asleep when she felt something above her. The thoughts she been thinking of Tara were still fresh in her mind, though the dream from earlier in the evening still haunted her. She had woken up, covered in sweat, and calling out to parents that were no longer there. But the thoughts of Tara had come to her soon after, calming her in a way she had never felt before. And now, in some part of her mind Willow thought the feel of this heavy warmth above her was just another aspect of her imagination...

Willow's mind refused to react. She would lie there and indulge in this dream for a few minutes longer. Besides the weight wasn't unpleasant, it was warm and pressed into her in just the right way. Willow's thoughts were on Tara again as her hand came up to wrap around the hallucination above her. But when her hand met with the tangible warmth, it hit her. There was no imaginary person that could feel that real. Willow's eyes snapped open, but she couldn't make out what it was above her.

Tara's mind clouded for a moment as she tried to figure out what it was she had found. She was startled when she felt something wrap around her waist from beneath her. She froze, her natural instincts kicking in. Tara lashed out, striking the creature hard against a part of it's body she couldn't see.

"Oww!" Willow cried out when she felt something strike her injured arm. Willow tried to scoot away from the dangerous creature, but she was being held down by the weight of it's body on top of her. Willow fought not to panic and forced herself to calm down. According to all the training she had completed, she knew that they best thing to do would be not to resist, because that would only serve to activate even more aggression from the wild animal. So she forced herself to lay still and when she did so too did the weight on top of her. The more she lay there, the more familiar things seemed to become...."Tara?" Willow chanced, but her speech was so quiet it was almost inaudible. She held her breath in anticipation.

Tara heard her name whispered and recognized the voice immediately "Willow.....?" she said, wanting to be sure.

"I'm sorry...." Willow spoke softly though she didn't really know what she was apologizing for, it had been the blonde after all, that had accosted her in the night hadn't it? Willow's eyes locked with Tara's momentarily, but the blonde was already retreating.

"No....It's I that should be sorry...every time we are in close proximity to each other disastrous things seem happen and you end up hurt." Tara said, indicating Willow's arm, which was, at the moment being held against the redhead's body. "First your arm...and now this..." Tara felt incredibly clumsy and increasingly awkward. She stood, brushing off the imaginary debris that clung to her shirt. She felt badly about striking Willow and had to remind herself that if she had known it was Willow she wouldn't have been so rough.

Willow also stood, and watched Tara standing very seriously in front of her. Willow couldn't help a smile, it really wasn't as bad as Tara was making it out to be. "Nothing dire happened last night at the fire." She reminded the blonde, who had taken a few steps away from her.

"True...but we were not there long, remember? You left before you finished your drink." Tara let a small teasing smile escape across her lips. She was feeling a little better about the whole situation. Willow didn't seem to be angry with her, in fact the sound of her voice was almost warm and friendly.

Willow hadn't missed the tease in Tara's words "Well, I didn't want to push my luck. At any moment I could have tripped across a flaming log, and landed face first amid the red-hot embers." She smiled broadly then, for the first time in many years. But her good humor was cut short by the sudden change of expression on Tara's face.

"Don't move." Tara commanded, seeing the telltale movement out of the corner of her eye. She knew enough to recognize it for what it was.

Willow stilled at the sharp edge in Tara's voice. Her muscles growing ridged all at once, her body steeled itself against the unknown danger. Willow looked at Tara, trying to judge by her response the kind of danger they might be in. There was nothing there, however, but a fierce look in the woman's blue eyes; a kind of glowing that Willow had only seen present itself in the eyes of the night time creatures. The way their pupils enlarged to let in the most amount of light possible... Tara's eyes looked like that now.

Tara kept her eyes focused on the spider as it inched its way steadily closer to Willow's leg. She would have to move quickly or the spider would lunge at Willow or herself before Tara could properly deflect its attack.

A hunter by nature, the spider had been known to stalk its prey for several miles before moving in to make its kill. If bitten, there was only a small window of time before paralysis would set in, effectively shutting off all bodily functions in the process. She would have to be quick; Willow's and possibly her life too, depended on it.

Tara channeled the warrior within herself and in one swift movement she had pushed Willow to the ground away from the spider and at the same time grabbed for a low hanging bough on the nearest Hammock tree. It snapped off easily and Tara was able to knock the spider through the air just as it charged her.

"Did you kill it?!" Willow heard the sickening thump of the creature landing against the blunt branch.

"I don't know, they can be tricky sometimes. If I was only successful in wounding it, it might come back for us. But most likely it will retire somewhere to rehabilitate itself. We should leave though, just in case."

Tara's heart was beating so hard in her chest that she was almost certain she would pass out. But the adrenaline coursing through her body kept her on her feet.

"Where will we go?"

"Back to the encampment. Follow me." Tara didn't wait for Willow to answer her, she was feeling extremely exhausted and the long walk ahead of them didn't seem to appealing at the moment.

"What was that thing?" Willow asked, feeling the need to know overpowering her.

"You d-don't want to know."

Tara had meant to leave the explanation at that for tonight, but Willow had proved to be persistent. Tara had told her everything about the spider and as the walk progressed Tara silently wondered if she had given the redhead too much information. Next to her she could see Willow out of the corner of her eye. She could tell that the woman was trying to appear brave, but every so often Tara would see Willow glance behind herself as if she half expected the spider to reincarnate itself and jump out at her. Tara smiled despite her own fiercely beating heart. She may have been frightened, but she'd have a great tale to tell at the next night's meal.

"Thank you, for back there. How did you know?" Willow said as they neared familiar surroundings.

"I didn't." Tara didn't turn to face the redhead.

"You just decided to take a leisurely stroll, deep in the woods, in the middle of the night...with the possible spiders?" Willow stopped walking.

"I went looking for you." Tara admitted. She couldn't bring her eyes up to meet Willow, who had stopped walking and had turned to her.

"Why ever did you do a thing like that?" Willow hadn't meant to sound ungrateful, but Tara's admission had caught her off guard.

"I was worried..." Tara felt suddenly shy.

"You were worried? About me?" Willow, was beyond stunned, she didn't know what to say.

Tara expelled a heavy breath; she turned away from Willow and began walking in the other direction. Tara told herself that she no longer cared if Willow followed, though she couldn't deny that she was relieved when she heard Willow’s boots fall into step with her from behind.

Continue to The Art of Burning Bridges Chapter Seven

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