Stalking the Woods

Safi walks confident and quiet through the woods, climbing the ridges toward Katahdin.

A smooth baritone drifts upwwards through the trees, the song's melody lilting and infectious though no words can be made out. Perhaps it is in a foreign language.

Safi pauses, looking back over her shoulder. She is silent, poised like an animal scenting something alien. The paler shade of the leather shows through the darker foliage of the forest, catching the moonlight.

As the singer approaches, it is as though bits and pieces of a shattered moon are walking toward the young woman through the trees, until the ghostly fragments are assembled in the eye - pale hands, white face, hair like birch-bark or like ice. The clothes the man wears are indistinct in the dim light, some shade of red or purple, perhaps. The song concludes on a plaintive minor note as though begging for a resolution that is not to be. The man takes a few steps closer and then stops, one hand resting on the trunk of tree beside him. "Huntress," he says.

Safi watches him with eyes as guarded as a beast's. Her hair is a mass of tangles, pine needles and seeds and gleaming droplets of rain scattered through it. "That is not my name," she says in her oddly accented English. "What does it mean?"

Anderja considers. "It means," he says slowly, "That you hunt. That you are a woman who hunts."

"I am not hunt-ing, now," she answers. Her eyes remain bright, guarded, and she studies him as one might examine a fascinating but mysterious and possibly dangerous creature.

"Nor am I," Anderja says, taking a step forward.

The wild-woman holds her ground, though there is something that surfaces in her: the need to appear strong, facing the stranger. "You have magick," she says, almost making of it a challenge. "What is it? Moving things, only?"

Anderja's clear eyes gleam in the moonlight. "Oh, no," he says softly. "There is more. And your magic? What is it?"

She wasn't expecting the question; it shows in her face, in the brief confusion. Nearly everything that happens within her is plainly echoed in her posture, in her guileless face. "Life," she says quietly. "Life, and spirits, and ..." A tiny shake of her head. "I do not know how to say."

Anderja nods, and takes another step closer. "That's all right," he says. "Perhaps you can show me some time. Or not. As you choose."

Nostrils flare slightly as she takes a breath. "Where are you going?" she asks.

Anderja stops, looking puzzled. "I am talking with you?" the man says, making the statement into a question. "Have I frightened you? I would not have dreamed so powerful a lady--I apologize, indeed, if I have said or done something wrong."

Safi shakes her head minutely. "No. I on-ly, ask."

Anderja smiles slowly. "In that case, I answer," he says. "I go--toward you." His clear-water eyes are intent. "May I?" He takes another step toward her, and now, with those eyes holding steady, it's no longer just an approach to facilitate conversation.

The wariness returns, as if she scents danger, or sees it in the way he moves. There is something fierce in her eyes, a potential for violence--but there is also guarded curiosity. She tips her head a fraction, and a faint line appears between the dark brows. "What?"

"May I come to you?" Anderja says courteously. "May I stand at your side. May I walk with you, or sit still beside you? You.." He hesitates, and his smile grows wry. "You are very powerful. And very much /here/."

Safi averts her eyes, looking out into the woods as if to find something there. A subtle shift in mood turns her expression toward brooding. "Not -- full of power. Not enough." She looks back to him, with a flicker of worry. "I have a mate."

"Congratulations," the man says, his deep, flexible voice touched with perhaps the lightest note of irony. "But lady, what can you not have the power for?"

Confusion flickers across her face, and perhaps doubt, as she meets his gaze. "Many things. I cannot help Hayden be human again. I cannot see beyond the sky. I cannot do things that to Justinn, are simple. I cannot read." Her voice is matter-of-fact in all these things, as if to prove to him that she is not as powerful as he seems to believe.

Anderja nods. "Is Justin your mate?"

Safi shakes her head quickly, and for a moment looks unhappy. "No. No, he is my friend."

Anderja looks grave. "That made you sad. I'm sorry."

Safi looks away from him, briefly. "Men are strange," she murmurs, the darkness coming to her eyes. "I do not undair-stand, some time."

"Can I help?" Anderja asks.

Safi wraps both arms around herself, and lowers her eyes. "Why does--?" She swallows, then, and hitches her shoulders. "No, I-- I do not think I know to say."

"Go on," Anderja says gently. "You're doing fine. Why does...?"

"Human people have different ways," she says uncomfortably. "Jack wants me never to touch another. Like the animals that take one mate, and hold to them." A flush comes to her face, likely unconscious. "And there is... there are other ones, who think it is--wrong, to-- do this."

Anderja exhales softly. "Yes," he says sadly. "Humans...forget how to listen to their bodies and the bodies of others. They live too much inside their minds, behind their eyes..."

Safi lifts her head to look at him, her brow furrowing. "I... think I undair stand. So many words, always with them..." She makes a frustrated gesture. "Words! I do not know words."

Anderja nods soberly. "What does--" he taps his chest with his fingertips "- feel like, in you? What does it want?"

Safi blinks, and then regards him steadily. "I do not know," she says quietly.

Anderja nods. "No wonder you feel unhappy," he says.

Safi's brow furrows. "Not unhappy because of Jack," she says, a slump in her shoulders. "I am unhappy because--" That expression tightens. "Because I fail, in some-theeng."

"You cannot be happy," Anderja says, in that soft, velvet voice of his, "until you know what you want."

The too-bright green eyes meet his for a moment. "I only know," she says quietly, "that I must be here. With Katahdin." A hand gestures toward the upward slope, the rising shoulder that leads to the mountain.

"Yess..." Anderja says, the word almost hissing out between his teeth, like wind through the branchesof a tree. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "This mountain. This /place/."

Something sparks in her, and she almost seems to lean toward him. "She called you," the girl says softly. "For you, to come here...? Your brother, he say..."

One sidelong look, then Anderja turns his head away, as if to conceal the emotion that the girl's words draw from him. "I had to come," he says painfully. "I had to. There is nowhere--/nowhere/ like this."

She reaches out abruptly, a hand catching at his jaw to turn the man's face toward her. The green eyes watch him intently. "Tell me," she whispers.

There is a flash in Anderja's proud eyes, and then surrender. He yields, letting Safi draw in his gaze. "It has a soul," he whispers. "Do you--do you understand?"

Safi swallows. "Yes," she says faintly. "Yes. I-- hear her, from very far away." She hardly notices that her hand still rests against the angle of his jaw.

A shuddering breath runs through Anderja's body. "And you had to come," he whispers. Involuntarily, unaware, he draws closer to Safi, as though she is a fire in the heart of winter. "You couldn't be anywhere else."

Safi gives a tiny nod in answer. "She called, and I went... south. Days and days."

Anderja swallows. "You knew just where to go. It was like feeling sunlight against your face, like the mountain had a thread tied to your heart." His voice is hoarse, now.

She gives another tiny nod. "Yes," she whispers, staring at him wide-eyed.