I love these dorks XD. Also, I have no idea how camping works...sorry if I get stuff wrong. I used the Ranger's Apprentice book series for a bit of research, so hopefully I wasn't too far off?
Also, I still hate the fact that this site limits the number of characters to four. -_-
After Fallon faceplants the forest floor by tripping over a tree root in the uncertain light of dusk, Willard decides to call it a day. "Let's find a place to set up camp for the night."
The others are too tired to give much of a response. It's a little hard to tell with Yuliy, who wouldn't have responded in words anyways, but the black-haired teenager looks tired too, and he was the one who grew up to a life of hunting and foraging in the wilderness.
"We can risk a fire tonight, right?" Philip asks hopefully as they find a decent sized clearing.
"It'd sure be nice to have some hot food," Fallon butts in as he drops his pack with an unceremonious thump.
Willard frowns, caution warring with a desire for comfort. "The whole point of going through the forest like this is for the element of surprise once we catch up to the vampires."
Dorothea rolls out her shoulders with a slight wince. "This path isn't well-travelled-"
"Hear, hear," Fallon grumbles, brushing some dirt off his jacket.
"-and we should be far away enough from the vampires that a little smoke won't be seen. It doesn't have to be a bonfire."
"I can cook," Yuliy volunteers rather quickly. Even his typically impassive tone and expression carry a faint note of hope.
"I even brought marshmallows," Philip chimes in. He's been in sort of a funk for the last few days because they had to pack light, and he couldn't bring his violin. Apparently, this is his way of compensating.
Fallon barks out a delighted laugh. "Great thinking!" He reaches out to ruffle Philip's hair, eliciting an indignant screech. Yuliy half expects the blonde to escape up a tree or something.
The professor is torn between telling Philip off and deciding that they should stick to a more cautious approach. But the poorly disguised hopefulness in everyone's expressions gets to him, and he wavers.
"It has to be a small fire," he relents, and the others cheer.
Yuliy's head snaps up at the sounds of Philip and Fallon yelling. Leaving the water canteens and the stainless steel pot by the stream, he grabs his weapon from the ground and races back uphill through the trees, adrenaline rushing through his veins. What if the vampires saw the smoke from the fire and found them? The professor was right, they shouldn't have-
He bursts into the clearing, head snapping side to side, eyes wild and searching for the enemy. "What's going on? Where are they?"
There are absolutely no vampires in sight-just a blonde and a redhead swearing up a storm, one annoyed professor, and one amused gunslinger.
"I think I burned my eyebrows off," Philip groans, rubbing his eyes from where he's sitting on the ground.
Willard pinches the bridge of his nose with a sigh, seemingly at wits' end. "What did I say about a small fire?" he asks in exasperation.
"It was an accident," Fallon chuckles, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck. "At least we didn't burn down the forest?"
Yuliy looks around, mouth opening and closing as he tries to make sense of this, and Dorothea decides to take pity on him. "They spilled the lighter fluid," she summarizes succinctly.
He takes a deep breath, trying to calm his pounding heart. "...I'm gonna go fetch the water."
When he gets back, water containers in hand along with some wild greens, the fire is going at a manageable blaze. The professor is looking at the maps again, Philip seems to be in a state of despair over his supposedly burnt eyebrows (Yuliy can't tell the difference, to be honest), Dorothea has gone hunting for wildlife to add to the meal, and Fallon is nowhere to be seen either.
He sets the pot of water over the fire and rummages around in his pack to get out some seasonings. Shuffling closer to the fire to make it easier to work (and for the warmth), he stirs together the ingredients in the pot, adding the fresh wild vegetables he picked up along the way. The savory smells make his stomach growl, and he sighs.
"I'm back!" Dorothea crows as she comes back through the trees, her gun in one hand and a brace of large, plump ducks in the other. "You want a hand cleaning these, Yuliy?"
Philip wanders over then, seeming cautious of the fire. "Isn't that a bit much for five people?"
Dorothea smirks dryly. "You mean four people plus Fallon?"
The blonde pauses, then half-shrugs with an 'I suppose' expression. "Point...My eyebrows don't look too bad, do they?"
Yuliy looks up for a moment as Dorothea rolls her eyes. The former says with a straight face, "I don't see any difference."
Philip glares at Yuliy, who blinks, not realizing how his statement might've been misconstrued. The black-haired boy is saved by Fallon, however, who bursts through the trees, startling both teenagers while exclaiming that they all have to come see this.
He leads them back through the trees with uncommon quiet and caution, continually making 'shh' gestures, which Yuliy finds somewhat ironic; usually, it's the other way around. Soon, they hear the sound of water flowing-the stream, probably.
A thud and a muffled curse sound from behind Yuliy. "Oi, Fallon, can you just tell us what we're looking for?" Philip complains in a low whisper.
The redhead creeps up behind a large tree and beckons for them to come look. They fan out, each Jaeger seeking different cover, to get a better view.
On the other side of the stream, trundling along in the last vestiges of the sunset, are three bulky shadows. Yuliy has to blink a few times before the forms step into a brighter spot, revealing themselves to be a mother bear and her two cubs.
He hears Dorothea breathe a quiet, "Aww." Even Philip has stopped complaining. The bears stop to drink at the stream, and one of the cubs splashes the other playfully before jumping away from a retaliatory attack. The mother huffs softly in amusement and gently separates the tussling cubs.
A dull ache throbs in Yuliy's chest, and he presses his hand to the spot absently. Muttering something about not wanting to leave the food unattended for too long, he slips away.
"Man, this is delicious!"
Yuliy smiles like any chef would at the praise of his cooking. "There's plenty to go around, so help yourselves."
The others don't need to be told twice. For all the bragging Philip does about his excellent table manners, there's not much evidence of it as he digs in. "How'd you learn to cook like this anyways?" he asks between enthusiastic mouthfuls.
His brief smile falters, and he stares down at his distorted reflection in his bowl. "We'd have to stay out overnight while hunting sometimes. My...I learned then." From Mikhail, who could work some serious culinary magic with limited ingredients.
The warm atmosphere wavers, and Yuliy resists shivering, despite the fact that he's probably sitting closest to the fire out of everyone. He can tell Willard is watching him out of the corner of his eye.
"...Maybe we can have the marshmallows later?" he suggests, in an attempt to break the vague air of discomfort.
It works, to his relief, and the lingering pressure dissipates. Fallon laments the lack of tea, sparking a debate between him and Dorothea about tea versus coffee. They try to drag Willard into it too, although the professor remains staunchly neutral.
"Didn't know you had a sweet tooth, Yuliy," Philip snickers, and he rolls his eyes.
After cleaning up, they find some sticks to roast marshmallows on. Yuliy takes it upon himself to keep the fire fed (partially as an excuse to stay near it), remaining upwind of the acrid smoke. He lets the chatter of his teammates fade into the background and yawns, his eyes growing heavy in the pleasant crackling heat of the flames.
Fire used to make him uncomfortable. Every time he looked at a flame, no matter how small, all he could see was Dogville, and the vampires razing it to the ground. It doesn't bother him so much now-not like the cold still does. He's come to associate heat and warmth with other things.
Like burnt eyebrows and charred marshmallows.
"I heard from some fellas in the town that there's a ghost haunting the stream."
The fire pops, shattering the sleepy air. Dorothea doesn't elaborate at first, staring thoughtfully into the flames licking at the sky, and Fallon gulps audibly.
"Gh-gh-ghost?" the redhead squeaks out, seemingly frozen in place.
"C-come on, it's probably just a rumor," Philip says hastily, shifting his position, eyes darting back and forth.
Dorothea ignores them. "Her name is Maria. Her long, dark locks and alluring nature caught the eye of a wealthy man, and they married and had two children."
Fallon is starting to scooch away from Dorothea, and Willard clears his throat. "Your marshmallow is burning."
He jumps with more alarm than the situation seems to warrant, and proceeds to try and blow out the flaming marshmallow.
"Unfortunately, their marriage hit a rough patch soon after the children were born," the gunslinger continues, prodding the fire idly with a twig. "The husband was home less and less often, leaving Maria to care for the children on her own. When he did come home, he lavished his children with affection, disregarding his faithful wife who maintained the house while he was gone."
"H-hey, stop crowding me!" Philip snaps irritably, trying to push Fallon back in Dorothea's direction. Both are looking slightly pale in the firelight, though.
"When Maria catches him with another woman, that's the last straw for her. Blinded by rage, she takes her children and drowns them in the river, determined to hurt her unfaithful husband however she can. Filled with regret immediately, she commits herself to the same fate as her children."
The wind picks up suddenly, whistling through the trees in an eerie cacophony, and the flames splutter and spark. Yuliy winces at the sudden gust of cold air, and he quickly tosses another log into the fire. Philip and Fallon are shivering too, but Yuliy's pretty sure it's not for the same reason.
"M-maybe we should go to sleep," Philip suggests, voice considerably higher pitched than it typically is.
Dorothea mows right over the suggestion, determined to finish her tale.
"When she arrived at the gates of the afterlife, she was consigned to purgatory-doomed to wander the earth. Her children had done nothing wrong, so they were taken to the afterlife, but she was made to suffer for eternity."
Her teal eyes glint in the light of the dancing flames, and she holds up a twig, a tiny flame burning on the tip of it. "They say she stays near rivers and streams, searching for her children. Locals call her 'La Llorona', for how she weeps while drifting along riverbanks. Sometimes, in her desperate search for her children-" Her voice rises to a dramatic crescendo as she points at Philip and Fallon with her twig. "-she'll kidnap other children and drag them to their deaths in the water!"
Philip and Fallon both shriek at the cry of some wild animal, now clinging to each other in fright. Willard is suppressing a smile, fingers toying with his pipe. Yuliy has his hands over his ears, cringing at the volume of his teammates' voices (not so much at the actual story).
"Don't scream, you'll disturb the wildlife," he murmurs, absently reaching for another log.
"Oh, shut up, Yuliy!"
Dorothea's eyes twinkle mischievously. "Better keep an eye out while you're on watch, Philip. You never know when La Llorona might decide to kidnap you. Maybe she likes kids who can play violin dramatically."
"I'll tell her to kidnap Yuliy!"
"You're shorter than me. She'll definitely target you," Yuliy muses aloud, decidedly straight-faced.
Fallon looks rather pale. "S-so, where did you hear that story anyways?"
"Oh, it's not just a story," Dorothea says, affecting a serious tone. "A woodcutter in town said he saw a pale silhouette wandering down by the stream, near where we saw the bears earlier. Didn't you feel like something was watching us when we-"
"I'm going to sleep now!" Fallon yelps, voice cracking as he hurries to grab his sleeping bag.
Dorothea snickers, reaching over to grab the marshmallows, and Yuliy glances at her. "'La Llorona' is Spanish, isn't it?"
All she does is wink slyly.
A few minutes later finds them all in their sleeping bags, arranged haphazardly around the dampened fire. With some amusement, Yuliy notes that Philip and Fallon are about as far away from Dorothea as possible. Philip, who's next to Yuliy, even seems to have forgotten his dislike of the werewolf. Maybe he's hoping La Llorona might take Yuliy instead of Philip if she happens to pay them a visit tonight.
"Nice night for stargazing," Dorothea comments as they get settled.
"We're far away enough from the city so that there's little light pollution," Willard agrees. "You can see several major constellations. There's Canis Major...if you connect the stars, it looks somewhat like a dog, leaping through the skies." He pauses. "The brightest star Sirius is the nose."
"Yuliy's always had a nose for trouble," Philip teases, but there's nothing aggressive or mocking in his tone. Yuliy rolls his eyes with a 'tch', smiling slightly. It's true-literally.
Willard continues in his impromptu astronomy lesson. "Next to it is Lepus, the hare. And just above it is Canis Minor. This one is sitting down. And those three stars in a line comprise Orion's belt. He was a hunter, and the Greek goddess Artemis's only-"
He's interrupted by a loud snore from Fallon. Half-frowning, Willard glances around, only to find that his entire team is fast asleep.
With a sigh, he pulls his coat tighter around himself. "I suppose I'm on first watch."
"Ay, mis hijos" - Oh, my children (Spanish).
La Llorona is not mine, it's a real story. Well, not real real. I didn't make it up, is what I meant. Thought it'd be fitting, since Dorothea is of Hispanic origins (I think).
Anyways, this seems to be a theme, so here's another omake :)
Fallon awakes to what he thinks are voices. Through a half-asleep, muzzy fog, he thinks he can hear Dorothea, speaking Spanish in her lilting home dialect.
And then...someone else responds.
A hand touches him on his shoulder, and he nearly jumps out of his skin.
"Your watch," Dorothea informs him, probably more cheerful than she should be in the middle of the night.
"Oh," he manages to say, sitting up and fumbling for his crossbow. "Were...Were you talking to someone just now?"
She blinks, brow furrowing in confusion. "No. Why?"
"N-no reason…I must've been dreaming," he says, more to himself than anything. "Get some rest."
He takes up his position as watch, one finger on the trigger of his crossbow, not too relaxed but not too alert-either one will lead to inattention.
"Ay, mis hijos…"
He stiffens, a shiver clawing its way up his spine at the creaky, somber voice. When his eyes and ears don't pick up anything else, he casts a suspicious look in Dorothea's direction. But she's fast asleep now, judging by her deep, even breathing.
He sucks in a breath, now keenly aware of every rustling leaf, every drifting breeze. It's just the wind, right? Definitely just the wind. There's no other logical explana-
"Mis hijos!" the same voice wails, and Fallon lets out a very manly squeak.
Suffice it to say, he doesn't get any sleep at all for the rest of the night.
Pfft. I amuse myself :)