Author's Note: Sorry I've slacked off. I've come back though, and I plan to keep on track. Having a lot of personal problems (end of course exams are icky . ) but I'll try and keep up. Summer holiday won't start until early June, but after that I'll probably have a new chapter up at least two or three times a week. Just letting you know. And by the way, yes this will have a bit of romance on the side. Nothing mushy though, or I wouldn't be able to stand myself. And not the main plot either.

As always, only the plot and Sheik are mine. Also, now Toki, Drago, and Cyrus are mine, names, appearances, attitudes, and all, mostly because they are all based on friends.

Many thanks to DT Maxwell, who has reviewed yet again and so now has brownies AND cookies n.n

And thanks as well to Renegade Talonz and lefiresoren! I give you brownies.

I like cookies. And brownies. I wonder what I'll give away next chapter? n.n

Chapter Three: Strange-Fated Rescue

She didn't know why she had chosen to go with them. It was still a wonder to her that even now she ran beside three complete strangers, and all because of a name. Aiony brought her head around from the horizon to once more scrutinize the three that were bringing her to the gathering of Plainsdwellers.

Ahead and to her right was the obvious leader, a steel-grey who called himself Cyrus. He was the eldest and most experienced, and she could sense a sort of reverence for the older male from the other two. She knew the feathers knotted in their banners to mean a great achievement, and Cyrus had several. To her he had been kind and gentlemanly, as one would speak to a frightened youth, though not as though she were a child. He seemed the median between the other two, the one who settled all conflict. It was for that reason Aiony was glad he was there.

Alongside her was a powerful looking beast. He fairly towered over the other two, and certainly made her feel small and weak. He was built light, and had an agileness and a way of moving that reminded her of a Pard; they had the same relaxed power of a predator-in-wait. She tried her hardest to describe him to herself; a relaxed way of moving that held a tenseness underneath, as though at any time he could turn from at-ease to fully-fledged and on the offense. He frightened her, if not for his coat, hued of dried blood and slashed with dark ebony, then for his fierce, unsettling gaze; when the group had come upon her, he had stared her down with predator's eyes until she could have screamed with unease. He was called Drago.

On Drago's other side was a brute Aiony simply couldn't stand. It had been clear from the beginning they wouldn't get along. Even from their fair distance she could sense his emanating disgust. He seemed to have a hatred for all dwellers of the Hills, though she could not name why. He was of medium build and decent muscle, a dull forest-green in color, and arrogant in his skill. Both he and Drago had teased her, though while she found she could retaliate against the crimson unicorn, Toki's remarks had a biting note to them. She knew he did not jest, like the other.

Her father had always told her of how the Plainsdwellers were an at-ease people, who did not value violence unless at utmost need. If this were true, then these three were not from the region; each boasted his skill as a warrior, a Pard-killer; even Cyrus, in his own quiet way.

She had raised her head from her curled position the morning before to find aunicorn looking down at her, two others behind. She now knew it had been Toki. She had leapt up, lowering her dull horn in defense of herself.

"What do you want?" she'd said, trembling, though with fear or anger she did not know; probably both.

"Simple. To know why an arrogant little filly would crawl out of her precious Hills,"the dull green male had abold voice, drawling and spiteful.

"Easy, Toki," came a warning voice from behind him. Cyrus.

It had been a long argument, lasting half the morning, most of which was now dim and fuzzy in her memory. It had been their purpose in travelling that had caused her to follow. Cyrus had said that his brother Calydor had called together all those on the Plain, for an evening of dancing and storytelling, and exchanging news. She knew Calydor was her sire's sire. The star-painted stallion was the missing link in her mind; she then knew why she halfway recognized the steely unicorn, why Cyrus put her at ease so: they were brothers. Calydor meant Ses, and Ses meant comfort. She knew her granddam would put her brother to sense, and if not, that Ses would watch over her until she could return and seek the origins of his madness.

That day had been long, seemingly endless. The three travelled slow, supposedly for her sake. The pace seemed to crawl, with nothing to mark the landscape differently. They would mount a rise, and there was nothing but hilltops as far as Aiony could see. She had eventually begun to concentrate only on what lay directly ahead: focusing only on climbing the hill, then picking her way down, and back up, and down, and up, and down, endlessly, endlessly, enough to drive anyone insane. She had made the journey before, but not when one of your travelling companions emanated hatred and scorn like the sun radiates light and heat. Especially earlier in the day, when Toki had especially disapproved of her; it had been nearly enough to seem like wading through thick mud in the wintertime. But last night, as she folded her limbs for sleep a safe distance from the three, already beginning to doze, she had the distinct impression that Cyrus was rounding on the verdant-hued one. But she had been tired, and still in a shocked daze from the day before, and so did not dwell on it much, but succumbed to sleep.

Certainly Toki was not now so openly spiteful, but still she could feel his disapproving gaze upon her from time to time across his companion's back. The morning had proved to them her worth, and so now they cantered where before they had stuck to a walk. Stumbling toward a small pool, she had caught Toki at unawares. He had rounded upon her, his spiral horn sharp and dangerous, for he was a learned warrior, and she but newly acquiring her skill. But she had managed to block his offense, and drive him back; she supposed she had gained a notch or two in their view after that little skirmish.

Aiony glanced ahead, noticing Cyrus slowing. They drew to a stop at the base of the next hill, to rest through the heat of midday. They drank deep from a small stream, and stood resting in the cool trough.

"Tired yet, Araën?" Drago asked, turning to her with a smirk. Araën meant two-sided, or traitor. He had started calling her that because of her strange coloring.

"She's a Hilldweller, of course she must," Toki replied dryly.

"She's certainly tired of you two arrogant beasts at least, I'll warrant."

Aiony had to smile back at Cyrus; he was apt to make situations such as these more light-hearted. Emboldened, she scrunched her upper lip at Toki, similar to sticking out one's tongue. Almost immediately his temper flared. Aiony lowered her small spike of a horn to meet the impending charge.

"Hey, hey! Toki, stop it. You've been acting like a weanling for the past two days, what's the matter with you? Come now, we'll be at the gathering by the day's end, we needn't murder each other yet."

Toki backed off under the storm-colored Cyrus's stern gaze. He stalked off, and the rest lay down in the trough between two hills. Aiony, however, wandered over the hilltop the the small pool. She bent to drink, and the cool water was soothing on her parched throat. A few drops fell from her lightly feathered chin, disturbing the surface. She stared agape as blurred images appeared in succession, almost faster than she could comprehend. The reflection of her brother's face, twisted and malicious; two foals, twins, one white, the other dual toned; a black unicorn and his mate angry, frightened; a tiny red foal, lost in the dark; winged pards. Another ripple, and beside her own wide-eyed face an angry green one.

With a squeal she scrambled away from the bank, slipping in the mud as Toki advanced on her. "You disgraceful little wench! Haven't had enough yet, have you? Why don't you just leave, little Araën, find a pard and feed her babes? Nobody wants you, not your precious Hills obviously, and there's no place on the Plains for you either!"

She aimed her horn at his neck, the adrenaline screaming at her to fight for her life, but as she launched herself at him she slipped and saw his split hooves rise and aim for her face. She squinted her eyes closed, wincing beneath the menacing tyrant, and heard only a dull thud and scrambling.

"Leave her alone, Toki."

She dared to open one eye, and saw the glaring, retreating form of her mortal enemy. Gently a set of flat teeth clamped onto her crest and helped pull her to her feet. She glanced behind her, expecting to see Cyrus, but instead it was Drago.

"You shouldn't let him push you around like that, Araën. He's not really all that dangerous," he said, glancing at the sky, "Come on, we should get moving."

She followed him in a daze. Descending the hilltop, they found Cyrus waiting. It took her until after they had started moving to realize Toki wasn't with them.

"He went on by himself. We'll see him at the gathering." Drago answered when she asked. "Why, do you miss him?" he teased. She stuck her chin out, making it plain she most certainly did not.

Not surprisingly, the rest of the journey passed in peace.

Your thoughts? A lot? Not enough for as long as I made you wait? Definitely not enough, I think. Good news: the next chapter is already underway! More good news: my creative writing class is doing fanfictions! What does this mean for you? It means that I chose this story. And that means I have to finish it to pass the class. So you can look forward to having this finished! .n

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