A figure strode forward deliberately towards the looming outline of a large tree. Its elongated limbs seemed to kneel down to the ground, in reverence of oncoming travelers. The dark, while splashed over every creak and crack of the tree, could not hide the awkward scratch that smoke and fire had left.
The lithe yet strong body walked up to the rugged bark, examining it slowly. A quick movement of one hand into a side pouch and soon powder was sprinkled over the large burnt marking.
A dim shine on the tree's skin and the scratch ceased to exist.
A low grumbling could be heard from within the tree. But the intruder took no heed to the groan; it retreated, feet crinkling against the leaves of the ground.
Voices, many voices, bubbled to in and out over the sea of worried faces. Thea stood there, at the helm of her throne, waiting for the noise to calm down. But the voices would not cease. Cries, moans, softer whimpers sounded out over and over again. The eyes, though, spoke louder than the voiced words. Her people, her daughters, were in pain.
Imagine a forest floor filled with every kind of floral and fauna. Then imagine the rain to come down in torrents upon every leaf. Now hear the pat-pats multiplying by every leaf, with every new drop.
The noise was deafening.
Tar'airah had entered with her companions, and despite the looks of disgust and disdain from several of her sisters, she ventured forward to the front of the room. Thea caught the girl's eyes and noticed a simmering spark beneath the natural gloom that seemed to always coat Tar'airah's aura. She scrunched her brow in curiosity, but decided to push it aside. More important issues were at hand. The time had come to speak to her people.
She raised her hands in command for silence.
"Daughters, I have heard from many of you, and the sky as well," she added with a smirk, "Of heightened terror. But why so frightened? What ails your ears, so as to frighten you all to coming here? We have had rain since hour of each of our births." The voices rose up again in protest.
"The trees were burned!"
"The sky is furious! It rails against us!"
"This is no rain! The airflames are back!"
"Calm! Calm!" Thea shouted sternly, "Peace, daughters. Your captain and protector, Caranthia," as she said this, the bold looking brunette stepped forward behind the throne into Thea's outstretched palm," has personally ventured forward to the Trees. She tells me that a fire had started, but not by the sky," Thea soothed, "it was merely a floor fire. Possibly by a traveling foreigner."
The women seemed unconvinced. An anonymous spoke up, asking the question burning in the back of each woman's mind.
"Then why did the sky scream and flash?"
"Rainstorms are common here. We all know that," Thea reasoned, "The protective spirits placed on our perimeters do not prevent the storms from coming within a foot of the boundaries; it was bound for one storm to approach us so close, eventually."
The faces were skeptical.
"Please, the spirits have not, nor ever will fail us," Thea said slowly and calmly, "Unless we no longer need them; that is the only way our borders can be intruded upon. And as Caranthia informs me from past rendezvous with the locals that time is yet here," she shuddered at this, and then recuperated to say, "You all have been under my care, most since birth," the old woman said quietly, "I have kept you under my wing for so long - I would not let that protection die so easily. And neither, I believe," Thea said patting the shoulder of her captain, proudly, "would Caranthia."
The brunette smiled smugly, allowing the awe of her people wash over her like a drug. But one in the crowd was not doing their duty to admire - as usual, ignorant of what was needed, and too proud to do what was expected - the same face she's had to look at, unwillingly, since birth.
Tar'airah stood there, frowning up at the captain of amazon warriors.
"Now, I've heard that one girl had been near the trees at the time of the fire. Is this true, Caranthia?" Thea asked bringing her out of her reverie.
"What? Yes, Akhia."
Buf'aneah and Fa'aithlia walked up behind Tar'airah upon hearing the name.
"Bring her forth."
"Madame, she is in shock, I do no-"
"Bring her forward," Thea said sternly, "for the women's sake," she waved her hands at the crowd.
"Right," Caranthia said through clenched teeth, and swiftly turned. Soon she was hidden among the curtains of Thea's back room quarters. A few moments passed and silence encompassed the room. Buf'aneah and Fa'aithlia stood there, interested at what the girl could possibly say that was different from what they first heard. But before either could comment, the brunette returned triumphantly, Akhia in tow.
"Tell them," Caranthia said patting the shoulder of the little girl, "tell them what you really saw." Most of the women in the tent did not even notice the slight accent Caranthia placed on the word ‘really,' nor the slight twitch in her eye as she asked the girl to tell her story.
Most, except for three sets of eyes, located at the front.
"I-I-I..." the girl said slowly, voice cracking under the pressure.
Caranthia knelt down next to the little girl and lovingly caressed the teary face of the girl, "It's okay, you're safe here; you can tell us."
"I-I saw..." the girl faltered again, but with the encouraging look of Caranthia's, she continued, "a fire." The amazon's eyes seemed to light up instantaneously, but she remained still, as the girl continued, "o-on the forest f-floor."
"There, was that so hard?" Caranthia said rising as Akhia looked up fearfully, "See? Akhia herself has realized her mistake, and I'm sure met no harm in her wild assumptions," she chuckled, patting the girl's back roughly, "the fear of a little girl has been known to start more than one fire in the past."
"I-I-I didn't star-"
"It's okay, Akhia, we do not judge you," Caranthia said soothingly. She turned to the crowd again, "we are all family here."
Akhia however, seemed to want to make herself as little as possible with the looks she received from the older women. Caranthia did not notice though, and continued smiling at her masterful handling of the situation.
Thea nodded, approving and then faced her daughters once more.
"Go home, go back to your lives, for they await you eagerly," the old woman said encouragingly, "sleep easily with your families, your children and do not fret. For remember, you have the best of the best guarding us."
The crowd slowly, but surely dissipated.
Thea retreated behind her throne, back to her bed quarters, most likely to discuss further precautions with Caranthia. But the brunette in question lingered at the helm for a moment, glaring still, at Tar'airah, who seemed as convinced of her safety as a water buffalo would be in the middle of a lion's den.
But with a tugging on her arm, Caranthia looked over to a girl that had approached her from behind.
"Tar'airah, let's go, Thea told us to," Buf'aneah called from the entrance of the larger tent.
Tar'airah turned, but out of the corner of her eye she noticed a short flash of gold pass between the hands of Caranthia and the girl. A small whisper from the brunette, a charming smile and the young amazon was off in the direction of the rest of the women at a fast pace.
"Come on, Tar'" Fa'aithlia came up behind, "What's the problem?" Tar'airah turned to look at her friend to answer, but was cut off before able to start.
"She's probably frightened," came a sharp voice, "Like the weakling that she is."
"Back off, Caranthia, we're all frightened," Buf'aneah said walking in front of Tar'airah, "Not one among us is at fault for tonight."
"Yes, well, I have no quarrel with her - for now - as long as she knows this is no excuse," the brunette replied.
"Excuse?" Fa'aithlia asked.
"Yes, an excuse. This will not make you exempt from the Sacrament," she said coldly, "you can not take this... mishap... as a chance to escape your duty to your tribe."
"She wasn't planning on-"
"I don't want to hear it. Your sisters have had a hard enough time as it is, and stopping the rituals will not make it any easier for them to return to normal once more. For once," Caranthia spat at Tar'airah whose eyes were cast down, jaw set in a firm line, "put your tribe before yourself."
With that the fiery brunette walked past, roughly bumping into the blond.
"Man, if power trips don't make her more of a bitch, I don't know what does," Fa'aithlia said angrily.
"Fa'aith," Buf'aneah said warningly.
"What? She has no right to attack Tar'airah any time she feels the need to reload on anger."
"Yes, but we can't really do anything about it right now can we? Tar,'" Buf' said turning to her old friend, "if you don't want to continue tonight's ritual, we'll let it slide and Caranthia doesn't have to know."
"What?" This confused Buf'aneah. One moment her friend was scared stiff of hurting a fly, the next she wanted to perform the death rituals?
She needs me.
"Lead me back to the cell," she breathed, "I will continue the ritual," she said slowly.
"Okaay," Buf'aneah sounded out, "if you want to."
"Tar' you don't have to prove anything to Ms. Psycho."
"I'm not proving anything," Tar'airah almost shouted.
"Okay, Tar'," Fa'aithlia said hands in the air, "no need to get upset, we'll take you back there," she looked at Buf'aneah who nodded in concerned agreement.
"Then, let's go," Tar'airah said marching forward. The two guards had to speed up to follow after the retreating blonde.
The tree stood ominously. The low grumble had risen to a slow creaking of the old limbs, and as the slight form of a girl approached its roots, the tree seemed to awaken with a new bout of groans.
Another click, and a flame came up from the two rocks a pair of hands held.
The flame fell to the forest floor, and as soon as it burned a few leaves, small feet stamped it out. A wisp of smoke rose to the air - nothing too noticeable - and the small form ran quickly away, a shimmer of gold clasped in a hand.