He knew what he had signed onto all those years ago, Auril was not a kind goddess. It did vex him, however, that he should die in the midst of a blizzard. Frost and wind bit at his body and the blood that escaped his wounds took with it valuable heat.
Powers he had earned refused to come to him, Auril, it seemed, had no more use for him. After all he had failed her. He stumbled and felt one of his nearly closed wounds split open. He felt his life ebbing as his sight became naught but swirling ice and darkness.
He stumbled in the ever growing drifts of snow, his limbs becoming numb. He pushed on against his failing body until he felt some of the snow give way accompanied by a crash. He fell and tumbled into an unseen cave. His body, once numb, was ablaze in agony.
Truly broken, he lay on the frozen ground of the cave staring into the swirling fury of the blizzard above. He cursed himself for being so weak and closed his eyes.

Above, in the flurry something moved with purpose. It floated undisturbed by gale force winds until it stared down
Down into the icy hollow that was going to be the tomb of the wounded cleric. It stared long and hard at the body broken upon shards of ice before gliding down as what seemed an extension of the blizzard itself. It took on a shape that resembled a woman.
Her body slowly solidifying into clear ice with clothing made of snowflakes that shimmered in the dim light that reached down into the hollow. She walked over to the cleric, her form unimpeded by the fallen ice and snow, then reached down towards the cleric's face.
She traced the blued lips of the cleric and knelt down.

"You did not fail me." She spoke in the whisper of winds whistling through trees.

She caressed his cheek before planting a kiss on his forehead. Eyes closed she rummaged through the cleric's memory
Pain, sacrifice and something else, a dream unspoken and unknown even to the cleric. Her eyes opened slightly as she looked at her follower.
Gonna (hopefully) get back to work on this in a few hours or next morning
"You served me faithfully and without thanks while I was indisposed." She whispered next to the cleric's frostbitten ear.

The breath of life had almost entirely left the cleric's body. Auril grabbed one of the body's hands and pulled it up along with the body.
The image was ghastly, yet beautiful as the body was pulled from the debris. Auril willed the ice in the hollow to form to her will so that it would hold the body up.

"You will have your wish" She whispered
She raised a hand to the raging storm above the hollow and pulled its fury inside. With a small gesture she encircled the cleric in a sphere of ice. Her eyes stared into the sphere and a faint smile crept across the deity's face.
Some time later as the blizzard subsided a pair of abnormally large white wolves approached a small village. In their mouths was what appeared to be a person in heavy winter clothing. They held only the thick fabric, seemingly careful not to harm the person.
Carefully they dragged the person deeper into the still sleeping village and let go of the person theb turned them over before running back into the woods.
The cleric felt consciousness return to them. Their body was heavy, but did not feel cold or exhausted. They were horizontal and as they opened their eyes they saw a clouded morning sky. The cleric wondered if Auril had chosen to spare them?
What reason would their stern goddess have to spare a follower like them. Before they could think hard on the idea there was the voice of a man and the sound of footsteps approaching.

"Hey! Stranger, are you okay?"
The cleric cleared their throat and spoke.

"I'm fine, just a little-"

They stoppped mid sentence, their voice was soft, unlike the gruff tones they were used to. The man looking down at them smiled.

"Well Miss, why don't you come with me to see the elder? -
-you can explain how you got here and who you are after you've rested up a bit."

Miss? The rest of what the man had said became nothing but background noise. What did the man mean "Miss"? He was clearly a man, even if, no... no.
The cleric managed to stand with the help of the man who had found them. He didn't dare speak again, the voice was not his. The villager looked them over once he was sure they were steady. The back of their clothing was stained red with blood and had been shredded in places.
The villager said nothing of it while the pair of them walked through the barely cleared walkways of the village. The cleric knew this place, he had been here years ago.

"Miss, before we go into the elder's home I want to know if you traveled alone."
He shook his head, not wanting to hear his voice. A strand of long white hair fell out of their hood and hung over an eye. He had black hair before. The villager reached out a hand to push it out of their sight.

"No!" Shrieked the cleric and slapped his hand away
Why had he reacted that way? It was just hair. It was just a voice. It didn't matter. He was alive, whatever had changed, they were alive.

"I'm sorry, just I don't know what's going on. I..."

He noticed for the first time how much taller the man was than him. It was odd.
The man frowned.

"Let's just get you inside."

He led them up the wooden stairs and into the wooden cabin that was the village elder's home. The inside was warm and decorated with furniture made of local wood and game. It was much as it was years ago.
He knew the elder, if she was still alive, was a blind old woman with old ties to the local fae and to Auril. Perhaps she would know what to make of his predicament. He was very sure he'd died out in the blizzard, but he had woken up here and in a different body, in a... w, no.
The villager told him to take a seat while he went to fetch the Elder. The cleric did and settled into the old chair he had used all those years ago. He recalled how it creaked under the combined weight of him and his chain armor, something it did not do now that he was so small
A few minutes passed and no sign of the villager or the elder. It was beginning to get too warm for the cleric so he pulled the hood of his coat back. Long locks of white hair tumbled out and around his face. He took the heavy gloves off his hands revealing delicate fingers.
His scarred, rough hands were gone. He stared at his new hands until the sound of a cane caught his attention. The elder was still alive and the clouds had fully taken her eyes making them appear like fresh snow. The villager he had come in with was nowhere to be seen
The elder walked over to the chair he was sitting in.

"Erich says I have a new guest here, however all I can sense is Aleksi, faithful of Auril. What brings you back here?" She asked

She still knew him! Maybe she could help deal with what had happened, maybe-
She could make sense of this.

"Elder Gerd, how did you know it was me? I have changed much and even my voice is different." Said the cleric

"Aleksi, it is good to know you do not hide anymore. My eyes may be gone to the frost, but my sight is truer than ever."
"I never hid! I have always been forthright with others. I do not deceive, I don't-"

The elder held a finger up to Aleksi's lips.

"You had only lied to yourself."

The elder ran her bony hand over his face. He let her out of respect.

"Your face feels like the one i can see."
Something twisted up inside Aleksi, what did she mean by all this. He wasn't a woman, he never could have been. He knew what she meant. He knew what was different about his body and it was scary, but exciting and even comforting? How had she known? No one knew!
He joined the order to serve Auril and for her to freeze the desires in his heart. An impossible want, better suppressed through devotion. Now it was different. He had died and somehow come back like this and here of all places. Nothing made any sense.
The feelings swirled and churned inside him until it couldn't be contained anymore. Tears flowed down his cheeks and quiet sobs choked his throat. It didn't make sense. He had failed. He wasn't worth this. He didn't deserve this. He was useless. He was a failure.
The elder's cane fell to the floor as she closed in to embrace the crying Aleksi.

"It is okay, your goddess loves you. You bear her mark upon you, an honor so rare."

There was no way Auril cared for them. She was a cold goddess, perfect in her stoicism. Unmoved like a glacier
"Auril does not show affection often. What ever you did has earned you her favor. Calm yourself, girl."

Why did that feel right? Why? Why? Why wouldn't the tears stop? Something inside snapped, like an over wound spring. She cried and cried until her consciousness left her
She woke up under a heavy blanket in a soft bed. She had been here before, in another life. Even though her eyes still hurt she looked around the room and saw her winter gear piled on a table. The red from her old self's wounds staining it.
She sat up and saw that she'd been dressed in clean clothing. She examined herself and was both nervous and excited by what she found. For the first time everything was right. Her worries about everything else melted away as she gazed down at her body.
This was as much as I set out to do with this. I'd love some feedback and I might add more later, I'm really undecided. Thanks for reading!
Her reverie was interrupted by something she saw out of the corner of her eye. A glint of light off of something on the table. She turned to look at it. It was some form of jewelry on a pale blue cloth. She pushed the blanket off of herself and swung her legs off the bed.
Her toes barely touched the floor and while she remembered the bed having been tall, she knew it wasn't that tall. She slid off the bed, a motion that caused a new sensation on her chest.

"Th-that's how that feels..." She mumbled with a small smile
She walked over to the table and took in how differently everything felt. There was a slight roll to her hips when she walked and a consistent, but subtle wobbling of certain parts of her anatomy. Soon she was in front of the heavy wooden table looking down at a necklace.
No, not a necklace. Her mind pulled old memories up and recalled this item as the symbol of her oath to Auril. It was a finely made silver disc set with clear crystal in the shape of a six pointed snowflake and circled with her oath written in old celestial.
It was different now though, over time it had been pitted by the frost and the crystal had been fractured quite thoroughly. Now though, it was more exquisite than when she had first earned it. It's silver was reflective and the fractures inside the crystal had become ordered-
-patterns of dizzying complexity. The length of leather it once hung on had been replaced by sparkling silver chain.

She touched it and felt her skin turn to goose flesh. The feeling of her goddess' power was familiar, but it had never been this intense.
The heat of the room vanished. The covered window whined as icy wind pushed through it carrying small bits of snow. She did not fear. This was a message from her goddess, from Auril. Caught and guided by the swirling gale the snow settled on the table.
The gale passed, but the layer of snow remained covering much of the table. She stared as letters and words appeared to be written in the snow.

"My faithful child, you have earned your reward. Your oath made many years ago is fulfilled. You are free to live the life you desired
-however, if you wish to return to my service you may place that necklace around your neck."

She stared at the message in the snow. It was Auril that had given her this new life, her faith was rewarded. Her oath was fulfilled. She could merely live this life, here as a villager
Her hands trembled holding the necklace. What right did she have to do it though? In the long years she had served Auril she had seen both wonders and horrors in equal measure. She knew that many of those wonders were gone and that even more horrors had persisted.
She bit her lip. This was what she'd wanted for so long, but the burden of knowledge seemed to sour that dream of domestic idyll. There was a shifting in the snow.

"The decision will remain yours, my faithful. Our oath will be renewed when and if you wish."
She leaned over the message and read it over and over again. How was the goddess of winter so kind and warm? She was nothing like the furious storm the order had characterized her as.

The snow began to melt creating pools of water.
She stared at the rapidly melting snow. It was an offer, not a command. She wanted to let it lie and live here. There were others our there though, people she owed and who owed her. She closed her eyes. The weight of the decision was crushing.


Drops of water fell from the table.


A tear added to the melted snow. She wiped her eyes and looked into her reflection; a pretty face framed by silvery white hair and ice blue eyes red with tears.

"I'm sorry" She said to her relfection
"I'm sorry you can't do everything you wanted to, even though we're like we wanted to be."

She raised the necklace up ready to put it on.

"We can help others, being like this is more than enough."

She placed the necklace around her neck.

"Auril, I accept the oath and retur-
Crash! Wood splintered as the window was blown inward. She shielded her face as a flurry of wind and ice encircled her. It raged for a moment before slowing and settling into the shape of a woman. Auril stood a head taller than her and was currently directly behind her.
The goddess leaned down and whispered into her ear.

"The oath is renewed. You will serve me again as you had for years. I have a gift for you as well, turn and face me."

She obeyed and turned to see Auril clad not in the armor she was depicted in, but a flowing dress of snow.
Auril looked as though she was made of frosted glass.

"Before your gift, a price. Aleksi hardly fits you now, what is your name?"

She looked down at her feet. She had a name in mind, but the sheer presence of Auril kept her from speaking up.

"clair" She said almost silently
She felt a finger under her chin and a thumb against the front of it. Auril lifted her head up to look her in the eyes.

"Your name."

Her heart was nearly beating out of her chest. Her breaths were shallow and her cheeks burned. She'd never felt like this before

"I'm Clair!"
She had shouted at her goddess. She moved a hand towards her face only to remember that Auril was lifting her chin.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to shout, just I -"

Auril placed a finger over her lips.

"Clair. Do not apologize you have done nothing wrong."
Clair felt tears building behind her eyes, she slammed them shut and nodded.

"Your gift, Clair."

Auril bent down as she lifted Clair's chin up once more. The goddess kissed her follower. Clair squeaked as she realized what was happening, but quickly melted into the kiss.
Her arms wrapped around the goddess' waist as she leaned into the kiss. Auril wasn't cold to the touch at all. The kiss felt like it lasted for an eternity. Auril broke the kiss and looked at her dazed follower.

"I have breathed a portion of my power into you, Clair. Be well."
Auril hugged the dazed girl and guided her back to her bed before exiting as a gust of wind out the window.

Clair was a mess. She was like a glass of water someone continued to overfill. It was all too much for her. The embrace refused to leave her mind.
More later, probably tomorrow, maybe tonight. I hope everyone is enjoying reading this as much as I'm enjoying writing it.
To everyone reading along, I can't put into words how happy it makes me that people are enjoying what I make.
She tried to calm down and sleep, but what had just occurred refused to leave her thoughts. Auril, the goddess of winter, had embraced and even kissed her. Her breathing was shallow and she turned her head towards the window that Auril had come and gone from.
She gazed out into the light snow and watched as it fell on the broken windowsill. It kept on falling and melting from the heat of the room. The melted snow flowed down the wall and pooled on the floor. She stared at it as it grew and grew. Her breathing became quicker.
She closed her eyes and saw Auril as she was pulling her in for the kiss. Her head tilted up. Her lips parted and quivered.

Clair opened her eyes and was disappointed her goddess was not there. She turned her head back towards the window. The liquid was still there, pooling.
A small breeze blew in carrying an icy caress that passed over her body. She shuddered and gasped as it did, her flesh reacting to the difference in temperature. It was all too much, her need overtook her trepidation.
One hand grasped the pendant that was proof of her oath to Auril while the other moved with a will of its own. The stray hand touched and caressed her body. It found, for the very first time, everything where she expected it to be.
Her searching hand found warmth while the grasping one held onto the cold metal of her pendant. She squirmed and gasped, imagining not her own hands, but those of Auril. Inexplicably warm, comforting, powerful Auril.
Minutes passed in the throes of ecstasy before it hit her like an avalanche. It grew and grew until it was all she was. Her consciousness left her as it all crashed down.
It was some time later that she awoke once more. The window had been covered by a piece of leather. The melted snow had been mopped up. She was under the blanket and tucked in

It took her a moment to realize what had happened. Auril had merely set her atop the bed.
Someone had made sure she stayed warm. She checked the night clothes she had been given, they hadn't been changed leaving her chest exposed and pants pulled down. Her face grew bright red with embarrassment. Who was it that had taken care of her?
She shook her head, righted the clothing and got out of bed. That was a thought that could wait. The sound of her stomach was a much more immediate and comfortable concern to have. She donned the woolen robe that had been set out at the foot of the bed and left the room.
The elder's home was quite large and well kept. She searched her memories and recalled a pair of twins, one boy and one girl. They would be adults now, in their early twenties. As she walked down the hall, past their rooms and towards the kitchen she wondered if they'd know her-
-as she was now. She certainly wasn't the grizzled cleric they knew when they were younger. There was a twinge of sadness there. She remembered that they called her "Papa Aleksi" back then, while the name bothered hee the tone they said it with made her happy.
As she neared the kitchen she could hear the sound of something being chopped. A memory returned as she picked up the scent of what was cooking.

As Aleksi she had a meeting with the village elder concerning the local troubles.
Bandits, disputes between villagers and something that warranted a cleric of Auril; something was stealing away villagers in the night. She remembered speaking with the elder, the children asking question after question of her and the stew.
It was made with pork and the many tubers that grew nearby. Having traveled for days on iron rations it was something that really stuck in her mind and the scent of it was here now. She turned the corner into the kitchen and saw a young man chopping vegetables.
"Berthold?" She asked

The young man stopped chopping, set the knife down and turned around. He had the same dirty blond hair and soft brown eyes he had as a child. His face was matured, but held some optimistic mirth still.

"Oh, uh, you must be Elder's guest."
"Yes, I'm Al-"

She bit her lip

"I'm Clair"

The young man bowed slightly. He was only a little shorter than she had been before the change.

"Elder says that you are an old friend, but you appear so young. If you'll forgive my rudeness, how old are you, Miss Clair?"
"Forty-three." She stated bluntly

He looked at her as though she'd grown a second head.

"Clearly, you can't be that old. You barely look older than my sister."

"I am, how is Beatrix?"

The man blinked. Gears seemed to turn in his head.
"I get it, you're one of those diviner types. We don't see much of the arcane arts here."

She nodded and adjusted the robe so she could grab the pendant. The young man's eyes caught the shine from it.

"I, I recognize that."

"You what?"
"That pendant! Where did you get one? I once met a man who wore one just like it. Are you his daughter? Are you Aleksi's child?"

This was very rapidly getting entirely out of her control. The situation combined with the embarrassment and the hunger left with little wit.
"No, no... I am a..leksi... was, Aleksi. Am? Are?"

"You what?"

She didn't know how to deal with this.

"I, he died. Then Auril brought me back like this."

"You're joking, right? You're just his daughter here and he told you to mess with me. You couldn't be, could you?"
"When I found you in the wendigo's lair you were hidden under the remains of your uncle. You cried and cried, but 'Papa Aleksi' came and killed the monster then took you and your sister home to the Elder. You remember what I told you then right?"

Berthold's face scrunched up
"You said you were sorry you couldn't save everyone, but you were glad you saved us."

Tears streaked down his face as he moved towards her, looking for an embrace. She returned it, somehow, even at his size the young man felt small in her arms.
"Berthold, it's okay. I'm okay."

He hugged more tightly. She could her a cane hitting wood.

"You're so different now, you even died."

"It wasn't so bad. I, I wanted this."

"You used to be so strong and- is this what you wanted?"

The sound of the approaching cane was close
"Yes, it is. Now Berthold, the stew needs tending. I'm blind, boy, I can still smell when something is burning." Said the Elder.

Berthold broke the hug and wiped the tears away. He nodded at the Elder and bowed to Clair before pulling the stew off the fire.
"I know you have renewed your vows to Auril. Come, faithful of Auril, we have much to discuss."

Clair said a quick goodbye to Berthold and followed the surpsingly fast old woman.

"You remember the crisis from your first visit, yes?"

She nodded.
"It's gotten worse. No one in the village knows it yet, but two winters ago the beasts came back."

She thought back on those terrible creatures. Once ordinary humans, twisted by the depravity of their crimes. Gaunt things that knew only hunger.
"I burned out their nest when I was last here, how did this happen?"

Gone was the nervous woman seeing a child she once knew and in her place was the steely cleric of Auril.

"I do not know, their origin is blocked to even my sight." The elder responded
The two had walled into the Elder's room which was decorated with charms made of animal bone and local plants. It smelled like the forest in spring. Against one wall there was an altar made of piled river stones with a polished disc of clear quartz in the center.
The Elder walked over to the altar and beckoned Clair to follow. The old woman waved a gnarled hand over the quartz and it reflected a view of somewhere else. It was a wendigo den, there were bone piles of local game and a few human remains as well.
One of the creatures pulled a freshly killed elk into view and began eating. It was joined by several more. The five creatures fought briefly over the kill before they all stopped and turned to face the location the Elder was scrying from.
Clair spoke

"That is not normal, they shouldn't be able to sense magic like that"

The Elder shook her head.

"No it is not. They have even worn at the wards the local fae provided me. I no longer have anything to offer them that would not bring harm to the village."
"I prayed to Auril for a saviour two weeks ago. I offered my remaining sight and she took it."

Clair nodded. The old woman seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

"I'll need arms and armor... if I am even able to bear them."
I'm done for this session. I hope you liked it. I haven't written something this long in awhile. I'm a little worried it's gotten disjointed or characterization has been inconsistent.
As always I'd love feedback, positive or negative. Anything helps, really.
I keep remembering people I forgot to @


Please, if you want to be @'ed for updates and you haven't been, hit me up.
There was a ringing of a bell that echoed through the home. The Elder turned to Clair.

"Do not worry yourself over that now, young Berthold has finished the stew. I wonder if you will be as voracious as you once were."

The Elder laughed as she began hobbling out the room.
Clair looked back at the altar before following. She caught sight of a hastily hidden blade, slick with blood. Contracts and dealings with the Fae were not for the faint of heart or weak of will. She remembered a payment she once made to the guardians of the surrounding forest.
Blood, flesh and liquor were their favored gifts. When she was here as Aleksi she had the first two, but not the third. A removed gauntlet. A single cut. A swarm of sprites drinking and ripping at the wound. True to their word they had let her pass safely back then.
Would they ask for new payment this time?

She shook her head, causing her long white hair to obscure her vision. The worry about the Fae fell away as she saw her thin fingers part her hair from her face. The scent of the stew permeated the halls of the Elder's home-
-and brought with it a sense of peace and of a place she had wanted to call home. She kept pace with the surprisingly quick Elder and soon reached the modest dining room adjacent to the kitchen.

The room was lit by small magically charged stones that had become ubiquitous-
-even this far from the cities. On the walls between the lightstones were old tapestries, the heraldry of the old families of the village. In the center was the blackened iron pot resting atop a heavy oaken table. There were six chairs made of pine and wicker surrounding it
Berthold set down a ladle and moved to pull a chair out for Elder. Clair took a seat opposite to her.

"Alek-Clair, next time allow me to-"

The Elder tapped the young man's side with a boney finger.

"No, it's fine, really. I'm used to just taking a seat. You don't have to."
The Elder said something to him directly, just quiet enough that Clair couldnt hear. Berthold blushed after giving the Elder a slight glare.

"At least let me serve you dinner. Bea and the others should be here any moment."

The Elder smiled like a parent given a chance to brag about her children.

"Beatrix has become quite the social butterfly since you last saw her, unlike Berthold."

Berthold had grabbed the ladle and gestured accusingly.

"Due in no small part to taking care of the home!"
"The house spirits are very much capable of keeping the home together. It is you who insists on cooking and watching me commune with the Fae."

Clair looked at the man, he seemed flustered. Was he wanting to take up her mantle when she passed?
She moved to pull up the sleeve on her left arm to show her old scar from the time she fed the pixies. Her eyes found only pale, smooth skin. That's right, different body.

"The Fae are dangerous, Berthold. They don't like prying eyes either."
Before he could answer her there was an opening and closing of a door, followed by the sound of footsteps. Beatrix stepped into the room accompanied by Erich and a woman a similar age as Beatrix thst Clair did not know.

"Bea, Ren, Erich! I'm glad you made it on time, for once."
"Yes, yes, brother. I made it back just fine. The woods aren't as dangerous as the Elder would have you believe."

She took her coat off and set it on the back of a chair and then pulled a seat out.


The woman with auburn hair tied back in a ponytail sat down.
Bea took the seat next to Rene. The girl had grown into a very capable looking woman. Clair noticed the calluses from using a bow on her right hand as well as thin, almost imperceptible scars. Bea had moved her chair close enough to Rene to sling her left arm over her shoulder.
Rene for her part leaned towards the shorter Bea. The two seemed happy.

Erich had walked over to Berthold and began assisting by taking bowls of the stew to each of the guests. Erich placed a bowl in front of Clair and leaned down.
"What the hells happened in your room this morning?"

She felt herself flush red.

"Uh, nothing just had a tough time sleeping and-"

"No, the window, when I saw you, you were already tucked into bed."

She breathed a sigh of relief.
"I was... visited by... a messenger from Auril."

She fumbled and brought up her pendant to show him.

"Try not to have them break anything next time."

He said and gave the pair their bowls before grabbing his own. Berthold delivered one to the Elder and sat down with his.
"We can talk later, eat before it gets cold." Said the Elder

Clair looked at the stew in her bowl. It was as she remembered it; pork, tubers and a couple other vegetables stewed for hours. The tubers held the heat wonderfully.
The pork and mountain spices gave it a warm taste in addition to the heat of the stew itself. She ate with vigor she hadn't had for the past few years until she was full. She may have only had room for one bowl in this new body, but the warmth in her belly made her feel content.
She looked up to see that like her, Bea was finished, but the other woman was stealing bits of Rene's remaining stew. The Elder ate slowly and Berthold had refilled his and Erich's bowls.

Bea stopped stealing chunks of pork and looked over to Clair.
"There's something familiar about you. Who are you?"

Clair felt her stomach drop. Why was she feeling panic? This didn't happen with Berthold, it was just kind of awkward.

The Elder set her spoon down.

"She is Clair, faithful of Auril. You should remember her, she saved you."
Erich went to his sister and whispered in her ear, her face lit up and she pushed away from the table, nearly knocking her brother down. Clair felt very much like prey and moved towards the door only for Bea to collide with her. The woman hugged her tightly
"Aleksi!? I never thought I'd see you again! You've changed so much! Has everything been okay? Have you uh, eheh?"

Clair could only managed a dazed sound as Bea continued to speak.

"So you're like Rene then, right? She used to-"

Bea froze in place
"You don't want to finish that sentence. Clair, you can get out of her grip now, she won't be moving for a little."

Rene was standing and had her hands held in strange shapes. She was a spell weaver it seemed. Clair nodded and slipped out of the paralyzed Bea's grip.
"I love her, but she's a fool and doesn't understand tact."

Clair moved over to Rene who dropped her hands and let Bea go.

"Really wish you'd stop doing that Ren."

"Stop acting like an imbecile and maybe I will. Now, apologies to the poor girl."
Bea grit her teeth.

"I'm sorry Ale-" Rene glared at her "I'm sorry Clair."

"Good girl."

Bea seemed to light up when she heard this.

"I owe you for saving her life, it seems. I'll see you tomorrow, Clair. Bea, let's go. Elder, Berthold, thank you for the meal."
Bea eagerly grabbed her coat and followed after Rene.

"What just happened?"

The Elder was into another bowl of stew and Berthold was covering his face with his hands. Erich looked up and spoke.

"My sister and his sister are an item, been that was for a couple years."
Clair blinked. That's a thing you can do? What did Bea mean that she was like Rene?

"She's got magic?"

Erich ate another spoonful of stew.

"Yea, when he was a kid she was the only one in my family that got the gift."
Erich looked over to Clair.

"If I heard that all right, you're like my sister. That'd explain a lot about how you acted when we first met."

He sighed and stood up.

"I'd better head out. Thanks, Bert and good luck Clair."
"I'm sorry for how she acted, Clair. She does tall about your old self pretty often. I didn't think she'd take the news as well as she did. I'm going to clean up then make an offering."

Bertgrabbed the empty bowls and took them out of the room before returning for the pot
"You may want to see the offering." Said the Elder

Clair nodded, thanked her for the hospitality and followed Berthold. She knew that the family dealt with the Fae, but she didn't want to meet with any of those until she had to.
Bert carried the large iron pot outside into the snow and walked to the edge of the woods. He set the pot down and said a small chant under his breath then looked out into the darkening evening forest. Her hair stood on end.
She could feel eyes looking towards the two of them from the trees. The woods seemed to groan as time passed. She caught sight of the insect-like bodies of the pixies darting from branch to branch. Their chittering laughter filled the air.
The pixies stopped as they heard something and then dispersed into the trees. From the darkened woods stepped a huge white wolf. Clair swore its eyes glowed a soft blue. It padded towards the two of them and sniffed the air. It stood around 3 feet at the shoulder.
It walked over to Clair and nuzzled against her leg before turning it's attention to the pot. It grabbed the pot in its mouth and padded off into the woods.

"It seemed to like you, but let's get inside, Clair. Don't want to be out when the pixies return."
That's it for this session! As always I love feedback of any kind and if you want to be @'ed just say so, speaking of which @BatBumblebee @electrol1zard

Love you all.
Oh, when I write other ones would you like to be @'ed as well?
As the two returned to the house, Clair looked to Berthold and then down his arms. There were small circular scars on his forearms. They'd healed well, but they were still there and distinct from the scars one would get from regular life. Berthold caught her gaze and stopped.
"They're Pixie Kisses, or at least that's the name for them here."

She nodded. It was a fairly common name for it, there were others like her favorite one; sprite bites.

"We're any of their favors worth it?"

Berthold's face scrunched up.

"I didn't get these that way."
The two continued until they were just inside the warmth of the Elder's home.

"I got careless a year ago, Nana, the uh Elder... she was teaching me some of the old ways. I was to make a small exchange with the Fae."
Clair looked up at him. There were a couple ways a deal with pixies could go wrong; one could bring iron, besmirch their court or allow them trick you. She raised an eyebrow to him.

"So, are you going to tell me what went wrong?"
Berthold's face went a little red. He sighed heavily.

"I made a bad deal after realizing I'd worn my iron cleated shoes. I didn't want to risk scrutiny so I let them suggest a price, they wanted a pint."

She knew where this was going.

"A pint of what?"
"I'd assumed they meant mead, they like the sweet stuff. So I go to turn around and get a pint as I agree."

Clair frowned and interrupted him.

"They meant blood, Berthold."

"I know that now, look, I'm more experienced for it. It's okay."
"Yes, but..."

She bit her lip and looked at his arms. She hadn't tried any magic since the change and to see little, well now big Berthold hurt was eating at her.

"Berthold, let me see your scars. It'll be like back then."

Berthold smiled faintly and let her see his arms.
When getting a closer look she could see a good number of other scars and some burns, presumably from cooking. She removed the pendant from her neck and swept it over his flesh while reciting a small prayer and... nothing. She tried it again, still nothing.
"It's okay, they're just scars and your probably not used to your body yet. I've got to tend to the kitchen, we can try again later if you want, Clair."

He walked down the hall towards the kitchen. Why hadn't the spell worked,? She'd said the words and felt the magic well up-
-but as she swept the pendant over his arm the spellwork split apart and the magic slipped away. Had she changed so much that her old prayers and spells didn't work anymore. It was at this moment she deeply regretted not taking the time to discuss magic with Saaric the Weaver.
She stepped back outside and grabbed a twig from a nearby shrub. Maybe healing flesh was too much to start with after having come back from the dead. She snapped the twig in two and held both pieces in a hand.

"A simple act of mending a broken twig should be easy enough."
Again she said the words and pulled at the mystic energies of the world and then she would sweep the pendant over the twig. As she brought the pendant over it she saw it was already repaired.


She broke it and tried again, this time watching the hand holding the twig.
The twig was repaired as she finished pulling in the required magical energy. She blinked. It had always required her to use the pendant as a focus before. If she was able to still use magic why didn't hee attempts at healing Berthold's scars work?
"No, can't be."

She broke the twig once more and set the pieces on the ground before casting the spell again. Nothing happened, the twig remained broken. She repeated this test several times and found that the mending spell only worked if she physically touched the twig.
She placed the pendant around her neck, turned around and headed back inside. It was a relief to see that she was still able to work magic, though she resolved to speak to the Elder and Rene in the morning. Now, however, she had something she needed to do.
When she got to the kitchen she saw Berthold cleaning the ash from the fire.

"Nearly done?" She asked

He placed the collected ash into a clay pot and walked over.

"I figured it out, let me try again, please."

He nodded and gave her his arms.
She pulled the spell together and reached out gingerly towards his left arm. As her finger tips neared his skin small arcs of blue energy crackled between them. She touch her hand to his flesh and watched as the scars began to soften and eventually disappear entirely. She smiled-
-then looked up at Berthold. He smiled back at her.

"I may look different now, but I can still patch you back up, kid. Try not to hurt yourself again."

"I promise I won't Miss Clair."

Hearing her name like this felt good.
She felt like she was still a protector to him, even after all these years and that felt right.

"I'm glad you and your sister turned out so well, always knew you were good kids."

He hugged her. It was a small surprise and she let out a small gasp.
He was so tall that his head could rest on hers as they embraced. They stayed that way for awhile, like mother and son. After breaking the hug Clair asked him a question.

"I'm going to see Rene tomorrow, can you show me where she lives?"

"Sure thing, are you turning in?"
"Yes, I'll see you tomorrow, Berthold."

She smiled and turned away.

"Sleep well, good night."

Once she got to the room she'd been given she set to do right by the Elder. The debris from Auril's entrance was piled on the table near the window. She placed as much as she could-
-near the window itself and began to work. The pieces of splintered wood snapped and pulled back together and the glass flowed back into place as if it were water. The glass seemed a little thinner, but overall the window was fully repaired.
She moved over to the bed and laid down. Sleep came quickly and she soon found herself in a dream.

She was somewhere in the forest and she could feel eyes on her from all sides. She had no weapon, but was in chainmail worn over a gambeson. Snow was falling.
In her dream she called out.

"By the authority of Auril, goddess of Winter and the Fae Lord of this forest I have been granted passage. Disperse."

The glares from between the trees and within the shadows cast by their boughs only grew in menace. This was wrong.
A voice spoke to her that came from everywhere, even next to her own ears.

"We honor no such authority and care not for it, little priestess."

The surrounding shadows grew and squirmed as they crept over the white snow that stood between them.
"What, what are you?"

The quivering shades ceased and drew back slightly as a man stepped out of them. His entire being as obscured from her vision and appeared as seething smoke.

"Not what, but who?"

His voice dripped with hatred that only came with familiarity and bloodlust
He walked closer, the snow melting under his feet. She knew she once knew this man. Why couldn't she remember? His form loomed over her.

"You have changed so much, Aleksi."

Her blood went cold. The figure reached a hand into the air and pulled a blade out of a small distortion
"You really should have made sure I was dead, girl."

He thrust the blade into her gut. She screamed.

She had bolted upright in bed and the sound of her scream had woken her from the night terror. Moments later Berthold rushed in accompanied by the Elder.
That's it for now, might do more later today, more likely tomorrow. As always feedback is welcome and encouraged. I hope everyone enjoys my work. Love you all. = )
Oh, was @'ing earlier sending notifications for the whole thread? I'm not good at twitter mechanically.
She saw two figures enter the room and heard them speak, but everything was distorted. Her head spun as she tried to get her senses to focus. The larger blur reached towards her and she reflexively pulled at the ambient magic. A shard of ice crystallized in her hand and she-
Brandished it at the blur. It backed away. The smaller blur said something, she couldn't make it out.

"Stay away!" She shrieked

Her breathing was labored and she could feel herself drenched in sweat. A tense moment passed as she kept the jagged shard between her and the-

She slowed her breathing and tried to focus. Slowly, the panic receded and her senses returned. The blurs became distinct. Berthold was holding his hands up while the Elder looked on calmly.

"I, I'm sorry."

She dropped the shard and it rolled off the bed.
It shattered on the wooden floor the same moment that tears began to flow down her face. Berthold stepped closer, his face a mix of sympathy and residual wariness.

"It's okay, we're here. May I sit?"

She nodded and Berthold sat on the bed. It creaked slightly under his weight.

She nodded again, but she didn't want to mention the loss of perception.

"I uh, I get those sometimes too."

He placed a hand on her leg through the blanket.

"For a few years after you saved us, Bea and I, it was hard. I'd wake up crying, muttering to myself."
She looked over to him, her ice blue eyes red.

"I'm sorry."

Berthold looked her in the eyes.

"For what, A-Clair, sorry, still getting used to it. You were a wandering cleric, Bea and I were lucky you were there at all."
He was right, she couldn't have been there any sooner. She shook her head and wiped her eyes.

"Now, what the hells happened to you?"

She sighed.

"Someone from my past, I'm missing pieces, but he said I should have made sure he was dead."
There was a sudden sound of a wooden cane hitting something fleshy. The pair's attention snapped to where the Elder was and pinned under her cane was some sort of creature. Her face was contorted with effort as she pressed down on her cane.
The creature was almost pitch black and writhed under the tip of the cane. It's worm-like body flailing and twisting trying to escape. Both Berthold and Clair stood up and approached it; Berthold pulling a knife from his belt and Clair forming another ice shard.
Berthold tried stamping on it, but its body was rubbery and it just shrieked louder when he did. He knelt down and tried to stab it. His blade pierced into the thing, but it twisted and managed to bite into the side of his hand with its ring shaped mouth.
He let go of the blade and pulled away, knocking into the Elder in his panic. She swayed backwards and the thing managed to wriggled out from under the cane. It moved incredibly fast for how much of its black blood it was losing. It squirmed towards the door and old have made it-
If not for Clair throwing the shard of ice at it, impaling it on the floor. It shrieked and writhed for a moment before going still. Clair walked over to examine it.

It seemed to wither and dissolve until all that remained was a small lock of hair and a tooth.
"This is not good, Clair. Got tend to Berthold, he will need it."

She turned to Berthold, he was sitting against the wall, sweating. His eyes were moving erratically and he seemed to be mouthing words. He was holding the hand that was bitten close to his chest.

He looked up at her with panicked eyes. He was shaking and pulling himself up into the fetal position.

"Just stay quiet, gotta stay silent. Can't, let them find me."

She remembered this, he was saying this back in the wendigo lair. She pulled a spell together and reached out.
Her fingertips made contact with his forehead and the spell cast his face in cool blue light. His veins stood up and from the skin above them seeped a few drops of black fluid. Berthold quit shaking and passed out. Clair turned to the Elder, who had picked up the tooth and hair.
"What was that?"

"Phobophage, fear eater. Terrible creatures. They're not of this plane either, someone summoned it here. Then they sent it after you. Faithful of Auril, our troubles and yours continue to grow"
"Can they induce specific nightmares? I had a message in mine."

The Elder's face hardened. She nodded.

"A very competent spellweaver could. Do you have any idea who it was?"

She wracked her brain, she knew who this was, but almost everything specific was missing.
"Only thing I know for sure is that he was supposed to be dead."

The Elder tightened her grip on her cane making her knuckles go white.

"I will make sure he stays dead next time, no one hurts my little ones. For now though we have more pressing matters."
She eased up on her cane.

"Retrieve Rene and then go see the smith. I will tend to Berthold."

She hobbled over to the sleeping man and began looking him over, daubing the black venom from his body. Clair grabbed some clothing and quickly changed in another room.
Whoever the man that sent that thing was. He was going to have to die. She'd killed before, many times in fact. It came with her work. This would be the first time she'd take real, personal pleasure in the act.

She walked out of the house and into the morning air.
That's it for this session, thanks for reading!
Also pinning this thread to profile.
The village itself was much as she remembered it; well built wooden cabins, cold and mostly subdued. The people here were warm and even exuberant, just not outside. Leaving your home during the cold months was an ordeal for most.
The streets were covered in a fresh layer of snow from the previous night and were blindingly white in the morning sun. She stepped off of the porch and heard the familiar crunch of fresh snow under her boots. She turned and headed left-
-towards where she remembered the general store was. According to the Elder, Rene lived in the adjacent building with Bea. While she walked she noticed the people going about their work as efficiently as possible, pausing only to wave. She waved back and smiled.
It felt good, just being seen, so much different than before. It wasn't long until she reached the Rene's home.

It was decidedly different in style to the others of the village. She had expected something like this, students of the arcane arts tended towards to be... eccentric.
While made of the same stuff as the others; wood and stone, the materials were pulled and twisted into elaborate designs and fused together. The real feature was the door to the home. It had permanently glowing magical script with instructions for visitors.
It read.

"State your name and purpose of your visit after knocking three times.

If the door does not open, DO NOT attempt to forcibly enter."

She sighed, the thing was likely warded to hell and back. If she did try to force it, the damn thing might level the house and her.
She knocked on the door three times and spoke

"I am Clair Eldridge. Bea's brother has been hurt and the Elder requests Rene at once."

No response. A moment passed and she could hear something fall, a grunt if pain and an apology. There was some more clattering and a thud.
A small cry, more clattering and finally another impact, this time against the door. Shortly after the door swung inward and Bea poked her head out.

"Clair! Come in, come in! Just uh, don't mind the mess or my state of dress, eheh"
"Your brother's been hurt, don't you think that-"

She reached out an arm and waved it dismissively.

"If Bert was actually in danger, I'd know. Rene set up an enchantment on an old ring of mine. It's meant to glow whenever he's in trouble. Now, come in, I insist."
"Alright, but the Elder wants Rene to come over as soon as she can."

Bea nodded energetically her hair getting in front of her face. She moved it out of the way before turning back and fully opening the door.
The inside of the home was littered with books and scrolls. There was an a ritual circle set in floor and made of silver. The whole place was also filled with the faint scent of ozone. Truly this was a proper house of a spellweaver.
Apologies for short update, I'm about to pass out. I will likely add more when I wake back up. Love you
Bea led her through the clutter occasionally tripping on an errant book or arcane implement. Clair had been in too many living space/laboratory combos to be truly surprised at any of this, at least there weren't any stray homunculi here. She hoped
Bea reached a couch, bent down and began reaching at the seemingly empty air.

"Look, Rene, I know you're here somewhere. Shit, I was just there." She groaned "Fine, have it your way you little exhibitionist."

Bea raised a palm towards the couch and said Rene's name.
There was a tangible weight to it and it sounded subtly different than when it had been said in conversation.

"Rene, remove the illusion and cover yourself, she's a priest, damn it."

The air above the couch shimmered and Rene's body began to appear
Were in not for the small blanket that seemed to be sewing itself as it was revealed, she would have been nude. Rene adjusted herself while making sure to show off as much skin as possible without flashing anyone.

"Of course, Bea, especially when you say it like that..."
The red haired woman's golden eyes sparkled as she purred her response. Clair felt awkward over the whole exchange. A couple thing bothered her, one of which made concentrating harder than in should have been. She shook her head.

"Concentrate" She murmured
She tried to quiet her mind, but was drawn right back into the feeling as Bea leaned down towards Rene. She reached a hand out and ran it through Rene's red hair. Rene pushed against her hand, smiling. Clair couldn't help but notice how different the two were in semi-private.
"Good girl, Rene. Now, I need you to be serious, we can have fun later after this mess is sorted."

The shimmer left Rene's eyes and they narrowed.

"My true name, really?"

Bea shrugged. Rene scoffed as she stood up, the blanket weaving itself into a full robe.
She cocked her head to look at Clair directly.

"You, uh, didn't get the full pronunciation did you? Oh, and what's going on that merited interrupting our fun?"

Her just moments ago blissful expression had turned severe. Clair felt her skin turn to goose flesh.
"Bea's brother and I were attacked by a fear eater. Someone sent it after me. The Elder is taking care of him, but wants you there."

Rene spoke while idly fixing her hair.

"A Phobophage, then and summoned specifically for you? Interesting. Bea, get me the book-
-'Modern Malevolence: a Study on Hexes and Targeted Spite'. It should be in section J."

Bea looked at Rene, looked at the mess of a room and then back to Rene. She made an exaggerated shrug. Rene rolled her eyes.

"The pile next to the place we made an alembic break last week"
Bea nodded and went to go look for the book. Once she was far enough away, Rene stepped closer to Clair. She was a tall woman and Clair had to look up to not stare at Rene's chest.

"There's something I want to check. It won't hurt and nothing should happen."
Clair knew it was best to not deny a curious spellweaver, mostly because they'd do it anyway, better to be able to brace for it.

"Sure, but tell me what you're checking first."

"A couple things, specifically your morphic resonance. It's the uh, reason the usual polymorph-
-wears off and why altering oneself is fleeting and requires concentration."

Clair had heard of the concept before and hearing it now made her curious as well.

"Alright, go for it, Rene."

She reached a hand out and splayed her fingers wide before touching Clair's chest.
"Astounding, this, this is perfect. There's no rough edges, nothings been bent to fit the mold. Absolutely flawless. Whoever did this well, it's like painting a masterpiece in a single stroke. There isn't even any stress on your essence."

Rene pulled her hand back.
"Compared to this, my work, no even the work my master back the Spire did on themself are like the works of an amateur. Bea told me a goddess did this and I am very much inclined to believe it."

Before she could respond, Rene spoke again.

"Speak of the devil."
Bea walked by and held a book out towards Rene, there was some sort of food stain on the cover. She took the book and waved a hand over it making the stain vanish. Clair realized why the homes of people like Rene tended towards complete anarchy, especially if it can be fixed-
-so easily. She cracked it open and began flipping through the pages.

"This is the right book, thank you, babe. Ah ha, here!" She pressed a finger against one of the pages "While very useful at sending a message, the Phobophage has been mostly discarded by many-
-due to their vermin-like rate of reproduction and the relative ease of tracking their summoners."

"Can you track them?"

Rene raised an eyebrow.

"Of course, what do you take me for, some sort of hedge wizard?"
Clair shook her head, it was clear that Rene was a capable spellweaver, if as eccentric as any other. Having her... morphic resonance read was an odd experience as well, like someone was staring at her nude, but while fully clothed. The thought made her blush slightly.
"No, of course I dont think you're a novice, Rene. I would truly appreciate it if you could track the summoner."

She bowed slightly towards Rene, not just to show respect, but hide the growing blush. It was a similar feeling to the night she had renewed her vows to Auril.
What was that feeling? She had, she had explored herself after. She loved her goddess, but was she also in love with her? What of this feeling she got from Rene? She lost sight of her current goals in the swirling whirlwind of her thoughts.
She fidgeted as she held the bow far long than she needed to. Her heart was pounding as she tried to process her emotions.

"Clair... you don't have to keep your head down around me, it was only a joke, you didn't really insult me."

The taller woman reached down with a hand-
-and lifted Clair's head up from her chin. Clair gasped, Bea laughed and Rene's lips curled into a smile.

"So it's like that?"

Clair looked up into Rene's eyes, they seemed to glimmer like like gold dust in a stream. She felt weak in her knees and very small, but it wasn't bad.
What did she mean?

"Did I do something wrong?" Said Clair, her voice soft and breathy

Rene smiled at the flustered cleric.

"No, you didn't. Now, while this is fun, we have something more urgent to handle. I'm going to go see Berthold and the Elder, are you coming too?"
Clair blinked. What was all that? Yes, Berthold, he was hurt. She needed to get Rene and Bea. She took a moment to try and calm herself.

"No, he Elder wanted me to see the local smith. Is it still the same old man?"

"Well yes and no, his kid handles the Forge now." Said Bea
That would make sense, Clair had been here nearly two decades ago. She had been surprised to see him working a Forge at his age back then and couldn't imagine him twenty years older and still smithing.

"Bea, we should get going. Make sure to wear something for the cold."
Bea nodded to Rene and made her way to what was presumably her room. Rene turned to Clair and put a hand on her shoulder. The sensation made her concentration slip.

"Your winter goddess seems very kind, nothing like the last one I dealt with. Are you familiar with Esara?"
Of course she knew of Esara, she was the de facto leader of one of the southern warring states. Her armies had managed to conquer and hold a good portion of that continent with fire and steel.

"Yes, not personally, though."
"You are lucky that your goddess is a loving one, look at what Esara's attention manifests as."

Rene had pulled her hair back and waved a hand over her throat. All around her neck and on her wrists were long ropey scars. Around them the skin looked like healed over burns.
"Forgewire, the favored tool of the Esaran cleric. Stuff is supposed to be their goddess' hair. What it really is is a conduit for her flames. It digs into your flesh and burns. Did you know they hunted anyone whose magic came from anything but Esara?"
She had heard of it in passing. Men and women in gold and red with thin flames that danced through the air. Rene's description was far less poetic. As for the purges, she'd heard of them, but only as rumor. The old wounds on Rene were horrific.
"Rene, I didn't know. I could heal them for you, if you'd like."

Rene stared daggers at her.

"No, these stay. They're all I have left of my sister and my mother."

She looked down. She hadn't meant it like that. She felt the swell of magic she'd pulled in dissipate.
"It's okay, Clair. I'll just tweak my appearance again."

Rene waved a hand and the flesh seemed to smooth back to a healthy texture and color.

"See, if I use this type of magic it will just go back when I let the spell drop. The past stays. Look, I hear Bea finishing up."
Rene leaned down and hugged the distraught cleric. She hugged back feebly. She had insulted the memory of her family that were probably killed by the Esarans. She felt awful.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize, you may not be able to help me, but you saved the woman I love and her-
-brother. You've done well enough. I'll talk with you after you meet with old Marcus."

Clair couldn't speak. She nodded and broke the hug.
That's all for this update. I'm sorry about the slow pace recently, just had life stuff pop up. Things are okay here, just busy. As always I hope you enjoyed it and I would appreciate feedback. Love you all!
Bea and Rene escorted Clair to the exit of their home. As they did Bea would point out locations where they had various mishaps due to the clutter, some magical, but most of a decidedly more intimate nature. Rene laughed and added in her own parts to the stories.
Clair was astounded at how adeptly Rene was able to switch moods or maybe it had been Bea's influence. She listened to the pair describe an incident regarding a couple of mage hands and a scroll of shocking touch. Seeing them like this made her happy, but melancholy as well.
As they reached the warded front door Rene took a moment to look over the spell work. She made a series of gestures and spoke several lines in what sounded like draconic, but Clair couldn't focus on what she was doing. Her thoughts drifted back to her past once more.
She was a young man, due to take his coming of age ordeal in the woods near his home village of Frithaven. She remembered that she had dreaded the ordeal, not because of the danger but, of becoming a "man". At the time it felt like like a headsman's axe ready to fall.
"Come on, Rene needs to reseal the wards."

She blinked and looked out the now open door at Rene and Bea in their winter clothing. There was a small moment of panic as she looked down her body, everything was where it should be. She sighed in relief and stepped into outside.
Once they were all outside Rene snapped her fingers and the door pulled itself closed. The air was briefly full of energy then nothing but a faint hum around the door itself. Clair looked up at it and saw the writing had changed to "No Entry, don't even try"
The trio of them began off in the same direction for some time. Bea stopped and motioned to Clair as Rene continued on towards the Elder's house.

"You do remember where Marcus' place is right? I'm sure you do, but just look for the plume of smoke from the forge."
"Thanks Bea, I'll make sure to-"

Bea turned and waved in a single motion before bounding through the snow towards Rene.

"She's still the same kid after all these years."

She smiled and turned to check for the smoke.
She found the column of smoke quickly, but noted that the tree line seemed to loom higher than before. Between the branches she could make out small forms darting about, pixies. It seemed the village had deepened their ties with the fae. She headed off toward her destination.
The smith's was surprisingly far from the main cluster of home and sat on the edge of what would have been their festival grounds and marketplace during the warmer months. As she approached she could hear the rythmic clang of metal being worked.
She walked over to the building and knocked on its sturdy oaken door. There was a small pattern of footsteps just audible over the constant pounding. The door creaked open, then shut.

"Da, we got a lady visitor!" Yelled a child's voice

Did Marcus have a kid now?
The pounding stopped and was replaced by a brief hiss of something being quenched in oil. The smaller footsteps returned accompanied by heavy thuds. This time the door opened all the way revealing the massive, if grayed Marcus. His eyes looked Clair over and locked on her chest.
She felt very small, but it was different than the last time. There felt like there was an edge to this sensation. Marcus' gaze moved up to her eyes.

"Missy, where'd you get that pendant?" He asked

She felt relieved, why only came with the relief and a moment to think.
"I said, where'd you get that pendant? I knew a fella who had one just like it."

She didn't respond, Marcus' sheer presence was intimidating and the question itself was difficult and it didn't seem to get easier each time she'd answered it either.
"Wait, I got it! You're Aleksi's whelp? Didn't know the bastard had it in him!"

She laughed nervously.

"Sort of... ha..."

"What? Ah hells, we can talk more once you're inside, come in. Not right to leave a lady out in the cold."

He pulled the door fully open.
He gestured for her to come in. The smithy had plenty of practical items throughout and a handful of arms and armor on special displays. The small child that she'd heard was nowhere to be seen, but she could hear their footsteps in another room.
She stepped inside and Marcus led her to the forge. He sat on a stool and began to idly work the bellows. Clair continued to stand. He frowned.

"Vance! Quit hidin' and get the lady a stool! Er, sorry but that miss. Now you were saying you were sort of old Aleksi's kid?"
"Y-yes, you see..."

"Out with it lass!" He shouted

She shook, his voice was like thunder. She wanted to answer, but the words wouldn't come. What was different about telling Marcus? He seemed to notice her reaction and his face softened

"I'm sorry, take your time."
She felt something press up against the back of her leg.

"Here, miss. Da said you needed a stool." Said a small child

The kid was probably only 7 or 8 judging on their size. They had shaggy black hair and vibrant blue eyes. She sat on the stool.

"Thank you, Vance."
Vance smiled up at her and ran off back into another part of the smithy. She looked back over the Marcus, he was still pumping the bellows.

"I am Aleksi, I was Aleksi."

He stopped pumping and looked her dead in the eye.

"That. Is the best damned joke I've heard in years."
"It's not a joke! I was Aleksi! Auril brought me back like this I-"

"You already got me, girl, no need to keeping going and ruin a good laugh." He interrupted

"I'm not joking." She said sternly

Marcus face went stony.
"You're not, are you?" He said, standing up


She hung her head. She felt like she'd let Marcus down somehow. When she'd been here last she'd shared drinks with Marcus, she'd also relied on his steel to deal with the wendigo.

She flinched. She could feel his massive frame near her. Nothing happened for a long while and then one of his large hands came to rest on her shoulder. She shuddered. Shame was building up, overwhelming her. Marcus new her before and clearly he did not approve. It was scary.
"Aleksi, it's okay."

What did he mean it was okay? How was anything okay? Sure she was happy, but she felt like she'd let him down. She'd given up on being a strong hero in exchange for being herself. She shook as tears streamed down her face.
"Aleksi, look up at me, girl!" He shouted

She reluctantly inclined her head to face him. His face was as soft as the bearfed , wrinkled thing could be.

"I'm so sorry, I..."

"What are you apologizing for? You told me all about this when we drank that night."

She what?
Her tears continued to flow.

"You told me about wanting to be a woman, you were shit faced so I thought it was a joke. Guess you were telling the truth? So how'd this all happen?"

What, who else had she told? How many people knew? Why did that bother her?
"I did?"

He reached a hand to wipe her tears away. His skin was rough, but warm.

"You did and you bawled back then too. Remember I told you that you were ruining the joke back then too."

He stepped back and then settled on his stool again.
"So, you still working for that goddess, what's her name? Eril?"

"Auril, yes and she gave me this body."

He raised an eyebrow and returned to the bellows.

"Must've done something big for her to warrant that. I won't pry any more, you seem a bit overwrought."
"Thank you, Marcus."

"It's fine, Aleksi."

She winced a little. That wasn't her name.


"Clair then, it's fine. I assume you're hear for some smithing then?"

She was taken aback at how quickly he went back to business.

"Er, yes my sizing is different, eheh."
"Considerin' I should hope so. I'll handle the details. Chain?"

She nodded.

"Don't worry about the payment, I'm getting sick and tired of smithing nails and pans all damned day."

"Thank you."

"You're probably here to deal with some sort of trouble, like last time."
"Yes, the Elder informed me there was a new group of wendigo."

"Only a damned fool would charge an already proven saviour. We should talk on the origin of those wendigo. If I had to guess I'd say they're what's left of some fool hunters come up from Kasite"
The merchant confederation of Kasite was a nest of vipers. Business deals often had hidden costs and the nobility there were some of the most crooked she'd ever met.

"A hunting party? In this weather?"

"Yea, that's what I told them, but they insisted. Damned fools."
That's all for this update. As always feedback is appreciated and feel free to share this whole thing around. I hope you enjoyed it! <3
"How long ago did they disappear?"

Marcus stood up again. He walked over to a large drawer and began rummaging through it.

"The end of fall, about three months back. Ah, here it is."

He pulled out a fine longbow, or rather what was once a fine longbow.
It had been snapped in twain and had obvious weathering on it. Despite all the damage she could see fine carvings and golden wire set in them to add shine. There was also the faint thrum of an embedded enchantment. Marcus walked over to Clair and handed it to her.
"Here, take a look."

She took it and ran her hands over it. The wood was fine, but not where the magic resided, it was instead inside the crimson bowstring.

"I assume this was one of the hunter's?"

Marcus nodded.

"Yea, their leader had it when they first came through."
"Where did you find this?"

Marcus sat back down.

"I didn't, Vance did. Kid tells me a pretty lady dressed in leaves gave it to him."

Clair started to speak, but Marcus held up one of this huge hands.

"Already had old Leena check them for any attachment to the fae."

Marcus sighed.

"Kid's already part fae, that was their mum. The Spring Maiden and I, well we er."

For the first time she saw Marcus flustered. He had a blush on his weathered cheeks.

"That explains Vance's capricious nature."

She smiled back at him.
"Nah, kid's just shy. Their mum is very bold with people she likes."

This was more like their old talks when she was here years ago.

"So, how did you court the Spring Maiden? You've got a real fancy story for this one right?"

"Hah, well you see..."
"I was out in the woods, looking for a deer to prepare for the winter. Always easier when you've got some stores away, but that's not the point I'm trying to make here. Yea, before you ask, Clair, I left a cup of mead out for the pixies."

Marcus waved his hand dismissively.
"Little bastards love the stuff and I didn't need them warning my prey or biting me. So I found some tracks and followed them best I could to a clearing. Real beautiful place between the old oaks and right in the center is a lone doe."
"It was alone? No fawns or anything else?"

"Yea, that was the odd part. Now it wasn't sick or nothing either, so why it was out there alone by a mystery to me at the time. Now, I lines up a shot, pull back the bowstring and she looks at me."
"I was starting to have trouble hunting in the cold month so I mutter a small apology and go to loose the arrow. The doe, she rears back and catches the damned thing in her mouth!"

"I'm going to assume that you shot an arrow at the Spring Maiden."

Marcus laughed and nodded.
"Right, I sodding did! So I'm just standing there in the tall grass of the clearing looking at a doe that caught an arrow when I hear a wood creaking behind me. It was around this time that I started to grasp exactly what was going on."
"I turn around and it's damned wild knights! They've just stepped out from behind the trees and they're staring right at me, don't say nothing of course. They just hold their bone weapons and stare from inside the animal skulls that are their heads."
"I remember old Leena's teaching on dealing with them and I go to pull out my boot knife. Going to make a sacrifice of blood, see if I can get this to go away. I get ready to open my palm, but a hand grabs the blade of my knife."

"The maiden?"
"She grabs the blade and there's a faint sizzle of the iron touching her flesh. She's pulled herself against me and leans over my shoulder. She's got the arrow sticking out of her mouth like a pipe. She whispers 'use this'. I take it from her."
"I take the arrow and split my palm open. She pulls back and then walks around in front of me. She's beautiful in a way that human women just aren't, er, sorry, no offense meant."

Clair held a hand up. The Fae were known for their beauty, especially those of the courts.
"None taken."

Marcus looked relieved.

"I go to turn my palm down, feed the soil like Leena says and the Maiden grabs my hand and forces it up. She brings her head to the cut and lick up the blood herself. She pulls back and looks at me, her pale lips stained deeper red."
"She laughs and throws her arms around me before pulling me into a kiss. I had no idea what do to. I taste my blood on her tongue and the sweetness of honey mead. She nips and bites and my tongue as we kiss. When she pulls away she laughs and hands me the cup I'd left as offering
"I take it and thank her. She smiles and licks her lips. She says to me 'I like you, human, what is your name?' I answer that I'm Marcus, son of Holst and a blacksmith. She laughs again and bows slightly. She says 'I will see you again, Marcus.' Then she leaves with her knights."
"I go back empty handed, but damned grateful she didn't have her knights kill me."

"Sounds like you were very lucky, Marcus."

"That's not the end of it. The next evening an injured buck walks out of the forest and sits down in front of me. I can hear laughter in the trees."
"There are pixies flying between the branches. I look towards the deer that's resting peacefully in front of me. I ask for permission as I continue to scan the treeline. A small breeze blows past me carrying the answer. It's the Maiden's voice whispering in my ear 'of course'"
"I thank her and pull out my boot knife, but it's different than before. Well, here, look."

He pulled the knife out and handed it to Clair. It was made of carved bone and etched with fae script. She tested the edge and saw it cut effortlessly through the leather scrap.
Clair gingerly handed it back to Marcus.

"So I give her my blood and the next day she gives me a deer. We do exchanges like this for weeks until she asks me to accompany her to the clearing where we first met. It was the winter solstice. We had become something akin to friends"
"We arrived there as the sun was setting. There was a bed made of tamped down grass and she made her intent clear when she shed her dress made of leaves. We spent the longest night of the year together."

Clair blushed at the thought of it all.

"So Vance really is-"
"Yea, I still see his mum, but we only connect like that on days like the solstice. Honestly, I worry about her with things like the Wendigo out there. She has her knights and she's no pushover, but I worry all the same."
Ending update for today, feedback is appreciated. I hope you all enjoyed it! <3
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