"Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily."~
- Napoleon Bonaparte
Early Winter, Year 762 of the New Age
Blackwood, Southeast of the Proving Ground
The eerie deadness of a Blackwood winter had set in. The land had only suffered the first of many dustings, but its inhabitants knew that it wouldn’t be long before the forest floor was covered knee-deep in frozen powder. The pines loomed overhead, ever-watchful, casting shadows across the emptiness, for most fauna had retreated into hibernation or traveled northward already, and the energy that stirred in many flora had gone underground. In truth, plant life carried on vigorously in the winter, however out of sight. Under layers of soil, seeds were germinating, mycelium were spreading, and bulbs were taking root. Some of the late-blooming brush still sprouted forth though, creating an undergrowth, and in some places, there were even still barren patches of dirt and pine needles. Above this, however, snow had already began to thicken and weigh on the evergreen branches, pulling them downward, much in the manner of a human handling a bird, tucking its wings into its body so it wouldn’t flutter spasmodically and escape.
Footsteps pushed up ivory dust clouds, while long legs carried a dark creature well above the frigid ground. Tress barred the wind here, but the breath that exuded from the beast rustled dead leaves nearby. The fawnling craned its neck to check behind it. Her long tail curled away from the cold ground, it's ginger tassel draped over her back. She ambled south, away from the mountains that guarded this end of the territory. While the Ridgeback Range was an unforgiving place this time of year, its southern cousin, the Whitepeak Range, was slightly more hospitable. It would take over a month to make it all the way there, but she would be safe through the worst of the winter once she arrived.
Masozi shook herself and snorted. Her ears twitched, but picked up only a numbing silence. The day was young, but already she grew bored. The urge to find food drove her on, as her stomach beckoned to be filled. Luckily, she had fed well the past season, so her muscles were well intact and her flank glistened with health underneath the woolly outer coat she had began to grow.
Diyari was walking in the snow, unsure where exactly though. He just wanted to move his muscles, so he wouldn’t be cold that much. Winter didn’t belong into his favourite seasons, and not because of the cold or the lack of food. Rather the more and more hungry predators. Not like he would have been afraid of them (though he would skip out on a meeting with a bear if it was possible), he just rather wanted to avoid them, because even if a lonely wolf wasn’t really a threat, when they were hunting in a pack, well...Diyari prefered staying alive.
He was searching for food, but he couldn’t really find any. Luckily, he ate as much as possible during the past few months to be in a good condition and he grew a quite thick winter coat...but still, he was hungry. Finally, he managed to find some lichen, which weren’t the most delicious meal, but it was still something. And there wasn’t much of it… he was about to go somewhere else, he hoped there he could find more food...when he saw another fawnling. A doe.
As any other male member of Blackwood, he also really respected does. They, however, were...strange. Probably his mother had something to do with his attitude, but...does were strange. Beautiful and special, but strange and rare as a white fawnling in Blackwood. He walked towards her.
Masozi’s ears flicked, as approaching scents and sounds pointed to a stag traipsing towards her in the dim light. The figure soon came into view, and the femme tilted her head, eyeing him curiously. As he presented himself, emerging from the wilted brush, he stood tall before her. In fact, the brute nearly towered a head above herself, and his thick neck craned down as he met her eyes. The lustrous emeralds that gazed upon her were a stunning change to the classic brown that was so common among dark-furred fawnlings. All in all, it was an unexpectedly welcome encounter.
Masozi cleared her throat, dipping her head as she responded, “Good morning. It’s certainly nice to see a Blackwood face in these parts. I fear I’ve been entirely alone now for some weeks.” She spoke with confidence, even in the face of this imposing stranger. She was pleased to see a stag in good health, paying her the respect she deserved.
Her most recent run-in with a male was rather strange, and had put her in a gloomy place. Orderic had been polite, but it still disgusted her that one so pure in blood could wander north into Glenmore simply to graze. She had tried her best to make peace with it, but it hadn’t been easy. Masozi only hoped that some good would come out of it, in the case that Orderic ran into the sooty fae’s mother. Masozi desired nothing more than for the Blackwood witch to leave Luz with an upset stomach, that is if she was still alive. Rumors that the king of Glenmore had been deposed and fled had spread southward, and Masozi was overjoyed to hear of such glorious chaos in the wretched place where she was born.
Now, as she gazed upon this impressive male, a smile graced Masozi’s face. Perhaps, if she inquired, he would tell her what his calling was. By the looks of it, he was no witch. A warrior, maybe? It was all the doe could do not to hold back a nod of approval. That would mean she would finally be making truly useful acquaintances.
“Well, seems like you won’t, at least now, so don’t worry. Quite a familiar feeling to be honest though.” he smiled at her. “I’m Diyari.” It was great to see that the doe was confident, though she could easily could be shy, or basically, anything - every stag would respect her either way. “What’s your name?”
Now he finally used the time to really look at her. He noticed she had some fawn spots, which wasn’t very common in Blackwood, and rather reminded him of the fawnlings in Glenmore, where, as he heard, almost everyone had them (well, they could have. They weren’t threatened by any wolf.) but this didn’t make the doe less pretty. She also seemed muscular...was she a soldier? And there was something with her leg...a scar. She probably got it the same way he got his scars on his withers...it couldn’t really be anything else, because she seemed about as old as he.
“Coming of age ritual?” he asked, and pointed his head towards the doe’s leg. There was only curiosity in his voice, he didn’t looked down on her. Everyone in Blackwood had scars, it was almost compulsory, in fact the more scars someone had, the more respected they were.
“I’m Masozi,” the words played across the doe’s tongue like dead leaves in an autumn wind. The cruelty of her mother had begun with a name: Masozi . . . ‘tears’. Of course, the dame had stopped crying at an early age. The thought was banished from her eager mind. Though she cried out, she didn’t shed a tear when the wolf bit her—it would take more than that to persuade her to crumble. No, the only emotion Masozi allowed to fuel herself was wrath. She found it to be far more powerful than sorrow.
Masozi smiled, a bit coyly, at the male’s next words. She didn’t often pay any mind to stags, but the doe couldn’t help herself when Diyari mentioned the ritual. Her chest began to swell with pride as she responded, “Yes, no more than a moon cycle ago. I’m actually still making my way back from the Proving Grounds, where I discarded the bones.” With an inquisitive look, she asked, “What brings you so far north of the herd?”
“I’m glad to meet you, Masozi.” Diyari nodded with a smile, though...there was some...kind of sadness in the tone of how she said her name. Bad memories maybe? Or was she simply sad? Diyari didn’t know, but rather decided not to ask.
She seemed quite proud when she talked about her ritual, which wasn’t long ago. Oh, a doe at his age! It was quite uncommon.
“Nice!” he said approvingly. “I had mine two years ago. Nasty wolf...I got a scar on my withers. But, in the end, it was worse to him.”
“Well…” he had to think about it for a moment. Did he even have any specific reason? “I guess it’s not a big surprise if I say I was looking for food. And I’m also...kind of a loner.” he said. “But do not get me wrong, I do not mind your company at all!” he smiled. Yes, he was usually alone, but he didn’t mind meeting others. “And also wanted to move my muscles a bit. Kind of self training between two...real trainings. I’m only a scavenger now, but I’ll be a warrior someday,” he said with a smile, and wondered what Masozi might want to become. “What about you?”
As Diyari mentioned his experience with the Blackwood ritual, Masozi allowed a smile to grace her dark lips. Amusement swam behind her golden gaze—this boy was rather pleasant company. She wondered what his response to her question might indicate; surely, he was an honorable beast, fighting in the name of their Mother, whether it be with witchcraft or brawn.
The dark fae listened intently to the buck’s next words, nodding approvingly between sentences. Her expression brightened when Diyari admitted how welcome the doe’s company was. However, when he explained his position as a scavenger and aspiring warrior, Masozi’s face lit up completely. ‘A warrior, he says?!’ she pondered excitedly, flicking the end of her tail.
“You wish to become a warrior?” Masozi laughed playfully, “Well, before I tell you what I wish to be, shall we see where your training has gotten you thus far?” Her tail lashed, and her eyes glistened lustfully. The mere notion of a fight thrilled the young femme. Her muscles flexed eagerly, and with each new breath, the doe warmed her body up to the thought of using it once again to demonstrate her strength and tenacity. A game . . . yes, they should play a game. It would be a game of clout and craving. Ooh, the fun they could have!
Diyari was first a bit surprised about the doe’s offer, but then he smiled and nodded in consent. Oh yeah, he wanted to see how good...or bad, he was. She seemed quite confident, according to her laugh and that she was the one who asked for this. She seemed like she knew what she was doing. He should not underestimate her, however—you’d better not underestimate anyone in Blackwood; not even a bit...not if he wanted to. They were equal.
“Gladly.” he said. Maybe he shouldn’t have agreed with this, because he would be defeated...badly. But he really wanted to try out what he was able to outside the trainings. He knew he had a long way to go before he could become a warrior, maybe it would even take more time that he planned to.
And also, he wanted to knew more about Masozi, who now seemed an even more interesting doe. It would be good to practice with her. He took a deep breath, then stepped a few paces back, and tried to remember how he should start a fight. 'Or a practice.' he reminded himself, though basically they were the same, but still, they weren’t taking it that seriously. He had to show what he was capable of, though. He lowered his head,and kept one of his eyes on Masozi. Then he attacked, and as far as he could tell, it wasn’t too bad of a start. He moved fast, dodged when he needed to and then attacked. But he knew, he could not win this with only speed. Masozi was good; Diyari also, but it was only the beginning.
The femme wore a smile decorated with Panglossian overtones. She huffed willfully, and scraped an onyx hoof against the earth. The moment before a battle was riveting. Everything went quiet. Two pairs of eyes locked together, tracing every emotion that crossed the glossy pools of the other. Tension wove through the pines, creating a backbone for what was to come. Death teased the two where they stood in the cold air, though it dared not come near.
And then it was broken! The stag bolted forward, and Masozi watched coolly as he braced for impact. She was ready for him, and bounded to the side. ‘Ha!’ She thought with a smirk. She was just about to counter with a quick remark, when a stinging sensation rose from her flank. ‘What? No! Damnit! The brute was lighter on his feet than the doe had realized. A shimmer of viscous scarlet adorned her smoky pelt. Masozi gritted her teeth, cursing herself for underestimating the male.
‘Alright, well let’s see what my tines have to say about it!’ Though her rack was no more than a set of pointy nubs, Masozi had power behind her thrust. She whipped herself around to face the burnished drake, and lunged towards him. Masozi recalled her training, and the words Skoll spoke to her: ‘It is very important to always train one's stamina and strength, both are worth nothing without the other, you see.’ So, she mustered her strength as they sparred—not enough to tire herself out . . . but, perhaps it was enough to get the better of Diyari.
They continued fighting,and he had to admit, Masozi was good. She had to be experienced, but then why didn’t Diyari see her at the trainings? Who was her teacher?
It seemed that speed still helped him. He moved fast, dodged when she attacked. Still, he had to be careful not to exhaust himself.
He dodged again when the doe attacked, then lunged for her leaving a little scratch on her side. Ha! He smirked, but knew he couldn’t enjoy this little “victory” too much, because the fight wasn’t over yet! Alright, let’s see…
He knew his greatest asset was speed, but he started to feel that he couldn’t hold on for much longer. That was why he hadn’t been an actual warrior yet; he got tired relatively quickly, so he had to work more on his stamina! He had a lot to learn before he could become a warrior.
Masozi either wasn’t tired at all or just hid it away too well. Either way, she was holding out, and after she dodged Diyari’s attack, she jumped and knocked him down. He’d lost. Damn!
Masozi stood above the drake, panting. Blood oozed from the light gash on her hip. She would need to do a yarrow soak after this, but for now, she revelled in her victory. Another fight. Another win. She thought back to her scrap with a red-furred, Silverthorne trespasser called Rabbit. The Blackwood fae had chased her right across the border, into the Whitepeak mountain range.
Every time she found herself pitted against another, something deep inside her stirred. Some part of her awakened—lit her up, like a starry, night sky. Now, as she looked down at the defeated stag, she smiled. A laugh soon bubbled up from her throat. It was followed with a few foxy words, “Well, now that I have you beaten, I will tell you what I want to be.” She leaned down to help Diyari to his feet. Once he was back to standing, the dark doe said, blatantly, “I want to be a warrior. Then I want to be General.” She knew that she sounded like every fawn to ever be born and bred in Blackwood. However, she was not saying it in the manner of one of those “land among the stars” goals. Masozi would shoot for the moon, and she would either land on the moon with a force strong enough to knock it out of anyone else’s reach, or she would find some other way to become a prominent name in Blackwood’s history. And once she had done that . . . she would find Luz, and send her to the mercy of Úir.