Gavin shuffled along, one hand holding a lantern, the other holding up the lavender tablecloth that he had hastily wrapped around his waist.
"I know it was somewhere around here," he muttered to himself as he searched for where he had turned into a raccoon in the first place, and thus where his clothes would be.
He was somewhat but not entirely upset that Nyetha hadn't had the presense of mind to pick up his clothes for him when they left the scene. But, he couldn't blame the girl... entirely. He supposed scooping up someone's pants was not exactly the foremost thing on anyone's mind this evening. Well, at least anyone that already was wearing clothes. It was certainly the current foremost thing on his mind.
Gavin noticed some crates that had been disturbed, even broken a bit. Ah hah/, he thought, This must be where Yabelo fell down. /That, or the villagers think broken crates make nice decor. Now the problem was how to get back up to the roof. Normally it wouldn't be, but he was wearing a tablecloth, which made things... complicated, to say the least.
He saw a line of bricks that looked scalable behind the crates. He moved a couple out of the way and approached the wall. Looking at his lantern, he shrugged, set it down, on the cobbles, and decided that there was enough moonlight to scrounge around on top of the roof for his clothes.
He looked around. No one seemed to be in the area. He brought his hand back to the knot in his tablecloth.
And then he noticed an odd glint out of the corner of his eye, an almost-but-not-quite sparkle that flickered as the lantern flickered. He turned his head further towards the object in the shadows, and moved yet another crate aside.
For about a minute he just stared, completely forgetting that he was in the middle of a village street at night, bent over, and wearing nothing but a tablecloth.
A grin gradually spread wide across his lips. His eyes joyful, he slowly bent down and picked the object up.
And then: "Heeheee!"
And after that: "Heeeeeeeeee!"
And then: "Wooo! Hahaha! Yahooooo! Geeeeeeeeaaaaahh. Woopeee! Hahhh..."
And finally: "Mmmmm. Yay!"
Gavin took the Tanuki Amulet and put it around his neck. He then scrambled up the wall and onto the rooftops, doing a little dance across the tiles to where his clothes were.
The four girls trudged into the village square, where they saw Tetsusou resting. With a heave and a ho, they deposited the unconscious Xayle beside him.
"I wonder how long he's going to be out of it..." Keyafael spoke quietly, as if her words were a fragile thing that she was afraid of handling the wrong way.
"I dunno, but I've had a pretty long day, and I know I feel pretty out of it." Feather said, flopping down beside them in exhaustion.
"You all need rest. You're all too young to be going without this much sleep." Raelle folded her arms as she leaned against a pillar.
"You don't seem that much older than me, Raelle. How old are you?" Feather's brow furrowed in confusion.
"Eheheheheh... don't worry about something silly like that." Raelle's mind fluttered through a mental list of ways to change the topic of conversation away from her age. "I mean, I get frozen away in a stone sleep when I'm not out on a mission for Tanuki-sama, so I get lots of extra sleep that the ordinary person doesn't. I can stay up for days at a time, if I want!"
"I am fairly weary myself." Nyetha sat, her large black eyes drooping.
"If you're tired, sleep. I'll keep a lookout for you all and make sure nothing happens. I promise." Raelle smiled.
Nyetha and Feather nodded, and wasted no time in getting into a comfortable position to rest. Keyafael might have refused under other circumstances, but she was just too tired for her usual wariness, and dozed off as well. Besides, the wolf had always protected her, and she trusted that it wouldn't let any harm come to her now.
Raelle morphed into her raccoon form and climbed atop the pillar she was leaning on to keep a better lookout for trouble. Looking out in all directions into the darkness, she saw the sleeping villagers, faces in the dirt, defenseless. She sighed, wondering what would become of it. Yabelo was still a threat, and this Corvos guy was still somewhere. And here she was, stuck in the middle. Why? All she wanted was the Tanuki amulet back. Was that so much to ask? Why did she have to go through this crazy fight with a bunch of people she didn't even know just to get a simple amulet back.
Raelle shook her head and scolded herself. She was serving Tanuki-sama, and this amulet was a sacred thing. If she could get it back, she would be in good graces with Tanuki-sama again, and maybe he might forget the destruction of the tree of Shinte-Gleska.
His eyes appeared in her memory again. Those piercing blue eyes. When your guard duty at the Tree of Shinte-Gleska is over, I won't ever see you again, will I?
"No.... please, Tanuki-sama... forgive me..."
What is so important about that tree that you have to turn your back on me, Raelle? Please, look at me.
"Utaryn's eyes were.... the way he looked at me... I couldn't...."
You are too beautiful to be locked away in service to Tanuki. Please, Raelle, don't you see how beautiful you are?
Raelle felt the crown of branches in her hands again, heard the crackle of the burning tree. The failure. She writhed with the feeling of it, her anger at herself. She wanted it to stop. She just wanted to forget all of it, move on, regain Tanuki-sama's trust... she needed to..
...pay more attention to keeping her balance on the pillar.
"Ack!" Xayle woke up to a ball of fur landing square in the middle of his stomach. "Hey, what's this little critter doing here? Are you looking for food, little guy?" It was probably a good thing that Xayle couldn't interpret raccoon facial expressions. Raelle eventually stopped glaring at him, turning her head toward the sound of someone walking toward them.
"Ah-hah! I was wondering where you guys had gone off to!" Gavin's grin was wide and bright, and it annoyed Raelle even more. She crawled off of Xayle's belly and transformed into human form again.
"What's with the big dopey grin, anyway?" Raelle said, fixing her hair. Her hair always got messed up when she transformed back from a raccoon. Downright aggrivating. Almost as aggrivating as whatever Gavin was babbling about. Yeah yeah, glint in a box, whatever. It was probably another one of his stupid treasure hunts for something. Gavin'd probably steal the ring off a villager's finger if he thought it was worth something. Greedy litt--
Raelle's thoughts stopped short as she focused on the amulet dangling in front of her face. She looked at it, her eyes growing wider. She looked at Gavin, his dopey grin still in place.
"Holy... freaking... Shiuaa..." Raelle stuttered. "That's...."
"You'd better believe it." Gavin placed it in Raelle's hands.
And there it was. The Tanuki Amulet. The real Tanuki Amulet. Returned. She had done it. It was finally over.
She looked back up at Gavin.
Well, almost over.
Raelle pulled out her morning star. "Thank you, Gavin. Now there's no reason to keep you alive anymore." The wereraccooness adopted a battle stance.
"What the...?! Is this how you show appreciation for getting your amulet back for you?!" Gavin dodged as Raelle swung the spiked ball at him.
"I'm greatly appreciative. Now all I have to do is kill you, and my mission will be over." Raelle took another swing.
"But..." Dodge, weave dodge. "...you're supposed..." Dodge, spin. "....to be..." Scuttle scuttle. Dodge, sidestep. "....happy!"
Xayle watched with wide eyes, confused by the whole scenario. Finally he found his vocal chords and muttered, "What the heck is going on here?!"
"I don't know, but she looks like she's serious this time!" Gavin said, ducking under a swing meant to take off his head. He knew he couldn't keep dodging forever.
"Just shut up and die already!" Raelle growled, swinging at him again.
With a deftly fast movement, Gavin grabbed the handle of his whip, flung it out and tangled Raelle up in it, and spun her out yo-yo style, leaving her stumbling. He used the opening and made a run for it into the outside woods, trying hard to overcome his own vertigo. Raelle recovered, and dashed after him.
"I don't understand it at all." Xayle muttered, shaking his head.
Cneko would have been really excited had it not been for her travelling companions.
She had no idea what this strange energy could indicate, but the little catgirl inside her was begging to find out. And she'd be just fine on her own... or at least with other protectors than Talon and Gaw.
The silence between the two was beginning to get more disruptive than any amount of bickering. Talon hardly even watched where he was going; he was too busy staring daggers at Gaw to pay attention to that. Because of this, quite a few trees became implanted with his face during their trip. The half-orc felt rather uncomfortable with all the glares that Talon was giving him, but he did his best to hide it. They continued on like this, Cneko following the "scent" of the energy, and Gaw trying to give directions the best he could.
Eventually, the trio reached the site where the energy was radiating from. "I think this is the place," said Gaw. Cneko rushed forward, eager to find the source of the energy. She didn't get very far before Talon tried to stop her with a "HOLD IT!!!".
Cneko tried to stop, but the forest floor was slick, and she lost her balance, falling face first onto the ground with a shriek. She made a nice WHUMP sound upon impact, and Talon visibly winced. Irritated, the catgirl picked herself up and glared at Talon, and while she brushed herself off, she simply said "What?!"
"Erm..." Suddenly Talon didn't feel threatened by Gaw anymore. He had other problems now and he knew it. "I just thought that it wouldn't be such a good idea to rush out and-"
"And get ambushed, right?" Gaw said that with a chuckle. "Honestly, kid, being protective has it's limits-"
With that, Talon blew up. "PROTECTIVE?! What's that supposed to mean?!" He knew he shouldn't lose his temper, especially in front of Cneko, but at this moment he didn't really care.
Gaw smiled a wry little smile and simply said, "I just want to know why you're getting so uppity all of the sudden. What is it, you have a crush on her or something?"
The half-orc was treated to a view of the reddest face he had ever seen in his life. Deeply embarrased, Talon couldn't find the words he wanted to say, instead sounding like "I-I-I... Of course not! That's... gross! Or something."
Gaw grinned. "You're a bad liar, you know that?"
"I'm NOT lying! It's true!"
"Yeah. Sure it's not."
The two kept on bickering, but Cneko didn't really notice. She did notice the wisps of energy coming from the ground, the source of the weird energy, and was about to get a closer look when she heard Gavin scream.
Talon and Gaw heard it too, even above their own voices. They also heard Raelle, and she didn't sound very happy. The threesome assumed that it was just her and Gavin going at each other again, but then they heard another noise, that of something heavy slamming into wood. Then they heard a tree fall over.
It was soon decided that this was serious.
Gaw quickly rushed off to where the commotion was coming from, with Talon not too far behind. Cneko came with, even though she wanted to stay with the wisps. She'd soon be back.
"Raelle! What the hell's wrong with you?!" Gavin was getting desperate. He was already tiring out, but the 'coon girl didn't even seem to have broken a sweat. If anything, she was getting faster.
Ducking off to the side, he managed to avoid an overhead attack by Raelle, but she quickly came around with a sweeping horizontal attack, completely catching Gavin off-guard. He lost his balance as he tried to duck under it, and before he knew it he was lying on the ground, looking up at a girl ready to swing her ball-n'-chain down on him. She swung, but Gavin rolled out of the way just in time. He jackknifed to his feet and began to run off again, with Raelle in close pursuit.
He was sure that he wouldn't make it much farther without being overtaken. He was sure that Raelle was gaining ground on him. He was just about to concede defeat when he heard a familiar voice scream "GET DOWN!"
Before Gavin could think twice, Xayle had already tackled him to the ground as Raelle's flail passed harmlessly above them. Xayle then jumped up and drew his blade, standing in between Raelle and her target. Worry and confusion filled his mind, but he pushed all doubts away. "You have to stop this," he said, his voice firm but shaky. "This has gone far enough!"
Xayle was breathing heavily, his white hair moving slightly with the light night breeze. The shadows the pale moon cast around his face made the whiteness stand out even more, and indeed, any onlookers' vision would be drawn to the white spiked locks. His sword gleamed in the reflection of the light, as well, as he held it extended, his focus fixed on the violent were-raccooness.
Raelle narrowed her eyes. "This is between me and Gavin. Step aside."
"Not until you tell me why you just suddenly went ballistic." Xayle stood his ground.
"I have almost completed my mission to Tanuki-sama. I have almost attained my forgiveness. I will not let anyone stand between me and my goal now that I'm so close. I will tell you only once more. Get out of the way, or you will regret it."
"But why now? If you wanted to kill him, why didn't you do it while he was asleep or something?" Gaw questioned, stepping beside Xayle.
Cneko, noticing her protector wasn't looking and curious as a catgirt about the energy patterns, took the opportunity to slip away and continue her investigation, with only Shirt-san offering an explanation. "Well, looks like my job here is done. Back to the batcave now!"
Raelle, however, still stared intently ahead of her, as if to glare right through Xayle and Gaw and onto her victim lying on the ground behind them. "I needed him to show me where the Tanuki Amulet was. But now that I have it, I can go through with Tanuki-sama's punishment for stealing it in the first place."
"But why do you want me dead, Raelle?" Gavin stood up.
"I told you, it is the punishment Tanuki-sama has dealt for the thef-"
"No, why do you want me dead?" Gavin gestured to the morning star. "You're the one swinging that thing. It's your arm powering it. Why?"
"Because that is my duty as a priestess of Tanuki-sama. It is Tanuki-sama's will, and I will not disobey him." Her grip tightened on the handle of her weapon.
"Is this what you was born for? To follow your orders... to ignore your feelings...?"
"DON'T QUESTION ME!!!!" Raelle's temper flared exponentially, and she lunged at Gavin. Talon, who had just been standing and watching in shock, grabbed her arm and nearly jerked it out of its socket trying to pull her back. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks as the intensity with which she struggled increased. Gaw grabbed hold of her, too, as she thrashed about
"I WILL NOT LET YOU SWAY MY MIND AWAY AGAIN!!!!!!" the raccooness shrieked. Her eyes began to glow a bright green, and masses of fur spontaneously flourished on her arms as her muscles rippled and grew. Her face, normally humanoid, stretched and disfigured itself, into something like a muzzle. Claws grew from her fingertips, and her frame seemed to extend itself beyond its limits.
And when the transformation was complete, she was a gruesome monster. Huge, hairy, and ugly, she stood a good 9 feet. Her mouth, full of a conglomeration of teeth, hung open as she screamed. She threw back Gaw and Talon seemingly effortlessly with a swing of her long arms.
Gavin had backed himself against a tree, but now he stepped forward, patterns of light playing across his face as the moonlight trickled down through the leaves. "You're crazy!" he screamed at her. "INSANE. Not even a hurricane from the Crater Sea would sway your blasted mind. If I haven't earned the right for you to hear me, to hear what I say, then..." He faltered for a moment, "...go ahead and kill me!"
A tear departed from his eye and began its journey down his cheek. Its presense surprised him almost as much as Raelle's transformation. But some part of his mind pushed it aside, wouldn't let him think about that now.
"So what do you want? Want me to lie down?! Want me to fight back? Is that what you want? Is that what will satisfy your blasted sense of duty? Heck, with my curse it'll even help you kill me faster. So what do you want? What do you WANT?"
No one really noticed her pouch, which glowed with a strange aura, but the aura soon spread across her body. Emotions throbbed and flickered through her face. And slowly, ever so slowly, her form started to morph into her normal visage.
"I want him to go away. I want him to stop looking at me like that. I want the tree to be back again. I want to go back and stop it from ever happening...."
Her expression grew wearier as she spoke, and a steady stream of tears flowed.
"But it's too late. I've already let Tanuki-sama down. And I can't do it again... I just can't... I have to..."
Raelle sniffled and leaned down to pick up her morning star, grabbing hold of the handle
"Why can't I...? What the...?" Raelle struggled, but couldn't seem to lift the spiked ball off the ground. She gripped the handle with both hands, pulled it off the ground about an inch, and quickly dropped it again as if it were the weight of an elephant.
Cneko, occupied in an effort to locate the source of the energy and completely oblivious to what had happened, wandered into the scene and picked up the morning star. She turned it over in her hands a bit, then gave it back to Raelle, who toppled over with its weight.
"Nah, that's not the source of it, either." Cneko wandered away, looking some more.
Raelle, still on the ground, looked at her hands in astonishment. She looked at a nearby pebble and tried to lift it, but found it as difficult of a task as the morning star. But she had no more tears to cry; her eyes just swelled in puffiness as she slowly accepted her failure.
I can do nothing... I'm no different than before. A weakling.
She looked at Gaw, whose muscular body mocked her sudden weakness. She looked at Talon, whose weapon hung by his side, effortlessly. She looked at Xayle, who she had thought the absolute weakest of the group, stare at her with pity. She looked at Gavin, and saw that same stare. The stare that took away her strength before, that look that just wouldn't go away... that chased at the back of her memory with every move she made, and reminded her time and time again of her failure.
"Don't follow me anymore, any of you. Just leave me alone." Raelle's trembling voice grew silent as she transformed into a raccoon and scurried up a tree and off into the night.
Raelle had vanished into the darkness of the trees too quickly for Xayle or anyone to try to follow. Talon blinked, still trying to absorb what had just happened. And then he noticed...
"Hey, where'd Gavin go?" he asked. The shadows by the tree where Gavin had standed were now somewhat more vacant.
Gavin stumbled through the deeper blackness of the midnight forest. The full moon was a help, but only barely. Thorny vines scraped across his face as he stumbled along, trying to listen to the trees.
It was amazing how many sounds can be heard in the night woods when one puts forth the effort to listen. Was that a scrambling through the branches? Or was that an insect's wings flitting over his head? Was that a raccoon's claws on the bark of a tree trunk? Or was that an owl snapping up its evening dinner?
If he was a raccoon, he could follow her...
"I am the greatest treasure hunter in the entire world!" he shouted into the night. He was answered by the wind through the leaves.
"I can beat any man in battle with one arm tied behind my back!" he yelled. Something bit him on the back of his neck.
"I can beat a whole army of men in battle with one arm tied behind my back!" he screamed. Something wet moistened his chin.
"I AM BETTER THAN EVERYONE!" he cried.
"EVERYONE THAT EVER LIVED!"
"EVERYONE THAT WILL EVER LIVE!"
"... but I can't even help someone I call friend," he muttered to no one in particular, collapsing to his knees.
"Why..." he muttered as his head slid back and onto a fallen log. "Why can't I transform? Why not now, dangit?" Tears streamed down his cheeks. "Why....."
Weariness overtook him, and he slipped into an unrestful slumber.
But the forest had eyes, and he was not unobserved.
Raelle heard Gavin, of course. It was impossible not to, that loud idiot. And while something in her wanted to transform into her raccoon form again and wander over there, the rest of her was perfectly content to sulk right where she was, and that is what she did.
As she sat dangling her legs off the bow of the tree, she stared out at the dark leaves in front of her, with not much to see beyong them but more leaves and some branches. Her eyes drooped a bit from her weariness, as if even those required some great effort to keep open.
She wanted to be angry at someone, angry at Gavin for not being dead yet, angry at Xayle for leaping in front of him, angry at Cneko for mocking her unexplainable lack of strength so pointedly...
...but in the end, the only person she could be angry at was herself. For failing yet again. For letting down the great raccoon god Tanuki-sama, to whom she swore her life to as a priestess. Because indeed, if she couldn't even follow Tanuki-sama's will when that was her only goal in life...
"...what good am I?" she voiced quietly into the wind.
Unfortunately, her words weren't the only thing to go with the wind. One of her oriental-style shoes, not exactly secure on her foot, flew off with the push of a gust and fluttered down to the ground about seven meters below.
"Oh, for the love of Agwara." Raelle bapped herself in the head for her stupidity, but thankfully because of her weak condition, it didn't hurt that much. She begrudgingly morphed into a raccoon and started to climb down the tree to retrieve her gravity-prone footwear.
Her paws grappled the bark of the tree as she climbed, and before long, she had reached the ground and her shoe.
But something told her to keep running, and her lethargic stubborness didn't win out this time.
She wasn't sure where her feet were taking her, but all logic seemed to dim like the cold night's moonlight, as a cloud gradually floated over to cover it. It was just another thing she was powerless against, another thing she couldn't explain or control, another aggravation that just made her want to curl up into a ball and never face the world again. But she ran across the forest's blanket of underbrush anyway, her feet seemingly certain of their destination, and her mind feebly trying to keep up.
As Raelle trotted along through the forest, it became darker. Not dark enough to prevent her from being able to tell where she was going, given her raccoon vision, but dark enough that were any human to try to follow this way, they would have been walking blind.
Sounds became muted. The crickets didn't seem to stop chirping... the clicks of their anatomy rubbing together just seemed to grow quieter, until it faded away like a distant echo.
The breezes grew still. The other sounds of the forest almost ceased entirely.
Raelle kept walking until she found herself staring into a deeper blackness. It was as if the forest just stopped and this darkness started. She looked one way, and could make out tree trunks and leaves and twigs. She looked the other way and saw the same. She looked straight ahead and saw... nothing. At least her feet weren't moving of their own accord anymore.
A deepness, deep like the sounds of the earth, deep like the moaning of the wind on a warm stormy night, deep like the echos of the ocean abyss, said inside her head, It's ok, little one.
And then the darkness moved. Raelle took half a raccoon step back, and looked up. The darkness retreated, not far, but the movement, and the extreme dimness... she could make out something. It was not darkness. It was the size of a giant bear, but it was not a bear. It was round like a sequoia, but it had no branches, no roots. She thought she saw a head, but if it had a face, it was completely hidden within... growth, a beard? Hair? Something else entirely?
You have questions/, it said to her again in that deepest of voices. /I will understand you.
Who... who are you? she asked, as she would speak to another raccoon.
There was a deep rumbling that could have been a chuckle, or could have been some other sort of reaction. You would ask one such as me my name? The young ones are rash, these days. You may not have my name, little raccoon. But I am not offended. I doubt you thought about what you were asking. If you need to address me though, you may call me Shinkou.
Raelle's mind rattled sluggishly. First one thing and then the other, and now this... curiousity, fear, and bewilderment all played for top position within her emotions.
Curiousity won out. What are you?
I am what you see, young one.
That's not a very helpful answer.
I don't give answers easily. I said you could ask, but if you want to understand you will have to put forth a little effort yourself.
Ok... Shinkou, are you some sort of forest spirit?
I might be.
You might be? Are you mortal?
I might be. I haven't died yet. I consider that a good thing though, and do appreciate it when people don't go to any lengths to try to find out the answer to that question. Some say the world would be a brighter place without me, but I always come back.
By Tanuki, you're annoying, grumbled Raelle, half to herself.
A follower of Tanuki, are you? I thought I had sensed something familiar, recently.
This grabbed her attention. What do you know of Tanuki?
I know many things, dear raccooness. What I will tell you are not many things.
Are you a god?
Some could call me that. I would refute it.
Then how do you know of Tanuki?
He is one greater than myself. When you have been around as long as I, you tend to learn about things and people, and raccoon gods.
Worry began to creep up somewhere in the back of Raelle's mind. A worry having to do with just exactly what this entity might be capable of if she made him angry. But this worry was, at the same time, quite drowned out by several other things.
Have you... talked? to Tanuki-sama? she ventured.
I have heard him. He has heard me. You do not need to know more than that.
/You pompous.../, but she stopped herself.
You have zeal. Tanuki would probably appreciate that.
Raelle stumbled over her thoughts for a moment. You don't know anything about what Tanuki would appreciate.
She was met with a silence that went on for several minutes. Shinkou was waiting, and Raelle did not even know what to think, much less say.
Finally, Did you call me here?
I was curious. I have been resting here, in these woods. Ones such as myself sometimes get tired, and sleep. Our sleep is measured in generations of ones like you, however.
Another pause, as if Shinkou were waiting for something.
What were you curious about? Raelle asked.
I sensed some odd powers. Some old and dangerous, others foriegn and chaotic, and then just now I felt Tanuki's power. It had me... concerned. I did not wish a rude awakening, so I came out to investigate.
Oh... Raelle thought back to the previous two days, and actually reflected on the odd magic that must have been surrounding the village, and even her traveling companions... even herself.
/I... I don't know. I'm sorry/, she finally stated.
You do not need to be sorry. You've told me enough, young one. I think it is safe for me to go back to sleep now. I would, however, recommend you return that amulet to where it belongs.
Raelle was too surprised to reply, for a moment, and then before she could the darkness was gone. It seemed the night had lifted and morning had come, but when Raelle looked up it was just the full moon come out from behind the clouds, and showing clearly through a gap in the foliage above.
As the dark entity vanished, Raelle's sense of wonder and curiousity did, too, and she found herself very weary once again. Her mind didn't keep track of exactly what direction she came from, and though her nose could have probably scented her trail and gotten her back to her shoe and her tree, all she could manage were a few half-hearted sniffles into the air before that seemed like an incredible effort as well.
She flopped down on the forest floor and didn't stand again, her eyelids already starting their plunge to shutness. Her raccoon paws lolled about shoving some leaves around her to cushion her, and then they, too, retired for the remainder of the night. In another circumstance, the fact that raccoons were technically nocturnal creatures would have kept her up. Or the fact that the forest floor was easily accessible by wolves and badgers and anything else that wanted to try to pick her off in the middle of the night. Or the fact that she promised the people in the village that she'd watch over them. Or the fact that one of the last whiffs of scent she caught before her mind shut down was Gavin, and by the scent of it, he was close. But it had been a long day, and her mind, like the rest of her body, slipped gently into unawareness.
Gavin's body shuddered a little as a cold forest wind blew. He had wanted to find Raelle, find out why she suddenly became that gigantic monster that wanted to kill him. Okay, so she wanted to kill him before, but he had found her Amulet, right? Everything should have been okay after that. But now it was worse than before. His back leaned against the log as he slept alone on the forest floor. Maybe in the morning he would continue to look for Raelle, or maybe meet back with the group. And then there was the whole issue of how Yabelo was controlling the villagers of Tameshtal to destroy them all... something should probably be done about that, but Gavin wasn't sure he was up to it. It was an issue, though. But right now, his weary mind, emotions, and body needed rest, and so they rested. Little did his slumbering senses know that not 20 feet away, in the next clearing of trees, Raelle, in her raccoon form, had also dozed off, snuggled amidst some fallen leaves.
As Gavin rolled over in his sleep, his head slipped off the log and onto a pine cone.
"Ah!" he cried shortly, his eyes flipping open. He blinked twice, trying to clear the fog from his eyes. But it wasn't just his grogginess. Morning mist had risen up and had settled into a nice foot thick blanket on the forest floor.
He felt like he had slept for months, like Kit van Wrinkle or someone. Slowly he pulled himself into a sitting position, and noticed rather absent-mindedly that he was clutching an oriental-style shoe to his chest.
He hadn't remembered picking it up at all the previous night, but....
Memories of the previous night came back to him, penetrating his muddled morning mind like a dart through a spiderweb. Here he was, lost in the forest with a couple dozen trees no less than ten feet away from him in any direction. He had no idea where anyone else was, Talon, Feather, Cneko... He had no idea which direction the village was in.
But being lost was nothing new to Gavin. He'd been in worse predicaments, if his only problem was being lost.
Now, however, he felt like he had lost something far more valuable than his sense of direction, or some scavenged treasure. He fumbled around in the mist for his bag, finally laying hands on the strap and pulling the bulk to him. He laid the strap over his neck to rest on his shoulder, and stood up.
Though the sunlight was filtering through the thick branches above him, he couldn't quite make out its position to tell what the time of day was. He needed a better view of the sky, and he wasn't going to get one where he was standing now. He looked around for signs of some sort of clearing where the trees were a bit thinner, and saw one about 8 meters away.
Trudging through the mist, leaves, and branches, Gavin picked his way around the trees and into the clearing, staring up at the sky. It certainly wasn't noon yet, or the sun would be beating directly down through the small gap above him now. He looked around, shuffling his feet to turn himself. There, in the distance, he thought he caught the fierce glitter of the sun poking through a brief gap in the leaves formed as the wind blew. It was still morning, but it was getting late in the day.
Before his thoughts could turn to the question of what to do next, a sound at his feet drew his attention. He looked down into the groggy, blinking eyes of a raccoon face that he had learned to recognize just as easily as any human face.
They stared at each other, the man and the raccoon, for several minutes of silence, the mist swirling around and shrouding the small creature's body. She seemed to hardly be there at all, and yet she didn't move, or disappear. Those eyes just continued to stare, but Gavin could not read them.
He realized he was still holding the shoe. Ackwardly he held it out to her, and in a low, uncertain voice, "Um, I found your shoe."
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