He'd found her first. Not that there was anyone besides him looking, and not that he was looking for her in the first place – Dajh was out searching for food; berries or apples or something. But she was there, sleeping beneath a maple tree, some stranger from somewhere.
The red norn was gaunt – starving – and he nudged her with his foot. Wasn't she supposed to be breathing more than that?
"Hey," he said out loud, nudging a little harder. "You alive?" She inhaled sharply as he caught her in the stomach on accident, whimpering.
Finally the eyes opened, dull and unable to focus. After a moment they found his gathering basket, staring hard. Dajh gave it to her and she barely chewed raspberries, swallowing half his stock before he took it back.
She watched his lips move, having to let the question sink in, and nodded.
"My village isn't far, if you can walk."
Her hand raised and he helped her stand, seeing again how easily bones showed through her red fur.
His voice faded in and out as they walked, basket over his right arm and his left supporting her.
"So how long have you been out there? I've been on food duty every day this week, down that same path, and I never saw you. Unless you've been traveling, that would make sense, but where are your supplies…?"
Eventually she tuned him out, focusing all her strength on getting this foot ahead of that one.
I really did think you were going to die, he said behind her.
Shut up Shon.
At least then we'd be even.
Shut up Shon.
You'd rather listen to him? Fine.
The crystal around her neck beat against her chest, like a pebble thrown repeatedly at a window, ready and waiting for her to shatter.
It was when they got to the rope ladder that she fainted. Luckily Jorn saw them and and sprang to help, Trinna hovering on the bridge above them, "Don't hit her head!"
She was light enough Jorn could climb with her over his shoulder, laying her out flat on the deck."She isn't one of ours, is she?"
"No, I found her in the trees."
"Bring her to my house, I'll take care of her."
Jorn checked to make sure she was alive, then followed Trinna, Dajh left holding his basket.
"I'll check in later I guess," he called after them, disappointed.
Shon stood moodily by the window, glaring at her.
Could you stay conscious for more than ten minutes?
I thought you wanted me to die?
Well if you're going to live don't do it halfway.
She looked around. Where are we?
The woman's house.
And in a hammock, no less. Beat bug-infested forest loam.
Cooking smells drifted through to her room, enough to make her double over in pain, Shon witnessing her progressing starvation impassively.
You know you can't stuff yourself when it does get here. Your stomach will explode.
She was too busy fighting off the urge to vomit to answer. She needed food, but she wouldn't be able to eat it, she didn't deserve it. The thought of it made her ill.
Don't worry, she managed.
Oh that's right, I forgot. Can't wait to see how much longer this lasts.
The raspberries had awoken her insides from their silence, they started to demand food again, instead of suffering in silence like they should. She'd been weak. It wouldn't happen again.
There are quicker ways of ending it you know.
Too merciful for her.
A fall from a tree, angering a grazer herd, a bit of rope, poisonous berries, walking in on a grendel village, the list goes on.
She bit her lip, shutting her eyes. He wouldn't make her cry today.
But that's the point, isn't it.
Yes Shon, that's the point, she whispered.
Light feet came to her door, a purple head poking in. "Awake?"
Renn nodded, teeth gritted as hot apple mash assaulted her nose.
"You must have been lost a long time, being so thin. Made you this."
When Renn made no move to take it the purple norn set in on the table next to her, earthen bowl steaming. She tried not to breathe.
"Where do you live?"
Shon watched her for a reply.
"Nowhere," she muttered.
"You're welcome to stay here as long as you want."
She nodded again, and fell silent, closing her eyes to effectively end the conversation. The norn left.
Get that out of here.
Nope. I don't know if I'd rather watch you eat it or see it thrown.
Renn glared daggers at the little brown bowl, another temptation. It looked so good… She sprang at it, mash burning her mouth and throat, hardly caring, internal organs sluggish to recognize what to do with it.
She slammed the bowl down, spoon rattling, waking up from the trance. No!
The red norn staggered to the window, ramming the back of her throat and puking apples and raspberries into the bushes below. Limbs shaking, she leaned against the wall, not sure how much longer she'd last. No more than a week or two if she'd absorbed any of the food.
The exertion left her exhausted, eyes closing. The civet norn reclined in the hammock across the room as she passed out.
Dajh waited two days before visiting, Trinna warning him that the red norn wasn't doing well.
"She's not gaining any weight," she whispered to him in the front room, Dajh concerned. "Hasn't said much either, except that she doesn't want anything I give her."
"I'll talk to her," Dajh promised, going down the hall.
She was staring dully at the wall, not much different from when he'd found her. Pulling up a chair, he leaned forward, elbows propped up on his knees. "How's it going?"
The eyes briefly rested on him, then returned to the wall.
He carried on as if she hadn't snubbed him. "I can guess how you're going. I bet you're feeling awful, not eating anything." She didn't react, and he stood, standing right in front of her. "Now, I know Trinna makes the best food around here, so I won't call you picky. What's the matter?"
And he saw it, the littlest flicker of emotion behind the vacancy. All he needed.
"What's your name?"
Renn kept silent.
Aren't you going to tell him? Shon tested, watching the blue norn closely.
"I don't think I've ever told you mine. It's Dajh." He waited. "All right, we'll go to the next one. Were you really lost?"
She just had to keep quiet, he'd get frustrated and leave…
"I don't think you were."
"You were running."
It had been so quiet…
"Away from what?"
No. Block it out.
So dead silent...
It got harder to breathe, memory threatening to engulf her.
"Talk to me."
He brightened a little. "Hi there. Will you eat some of this?" She finally noticed the fruit on the table beside him, revulsion sliding over her on a greasy wave.
She fidgeted with the weave of the hammock. She was getting tired, everything made her tired now.
"You don't want to die, do you?"
That hit a nerve, the tears coming before she could battle them down. He was suddenly kneeled down in front of her, right in her face.
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
That only made it worse, Renn terrified she'd start bawling. "Go away."
"I'm not going anywhere."
Persistent, isn't he? Shon remarked, as always unfazed by her tears.
Help me, I'm going to lose it right in front of him.
For once the civet norn listened, putting a cold hand tight on her shoulder. Think of the hammock. Think of the little ropes going in and out of the weave. Someone made it, someone made this house, the wood came from the trees in the forest, the rope from the bark. How do you make a hammock Renn?
Strip the bark, soften it, she managed, calming a bit, weave it into ropes. Make more ropes, tie them, have a shape, find a place to hang it…
He released her shoulder, some of the old Shon showing through, and moved back to the wall.
Dajh had waited, her eyes screwed up tight, until eventually she'd relaxed. "Can you hear me?"
Her breathing shook some but she nodded.
"What's your name?"
"Thank you." He lightly touched the same spot on her shoulder, and left.
She watched him leave, shocked at the difference between the heat of the living norn's hand and the ice of the dead one's.
He was back again the next day. He pulled up the chair, sitting sideways, the window behind her to his right. For a long time neither of them talked, a bird trilling outside.
Without his eye contact Renn could look at him. Dark blue fur, lightening to tan near his hands and chest. Golden eyes. Taller and bigger than she was. Muscular. But completely calm, content to visually trace the grain of the wood that made up the walls of the room until she spoke.
What if she didn't? What if she was silent for an hour, would he stay?
Quit staring, Shon ordered.
What do you care?
Fates, he was angry now. Shon strode over to stand behind the blue norn from her perspective, eyes narrowed. You think he's going to stick around? For some sick little thing that won't talk? What will he think once he knows?
He won't find out.
You'll let it slip. We both know you will. End this now and save some trouble.
She hated when Shon got like this and chose to ignore him.
"Are you going to ask things today?" she said softly.
"I can, if you want to answer them."
"Depends on what it is, I think."
He smiled a little, "Sounds fair."
Shon talked behind her but she tuned him out.
"What's your favorite color?" she asked suddenly, as Shon got louder.
"Green." He glanced at her, Renn praying he couldn't hear Shon nearly shouting at her, her ears ringing. Things would get bad very quickly.
"What's the matter?"
He was going to hurt her anyway. "Do you believe in ghosts?"
Shut up! Mahso help you, I will –
Dajh looked interested, finally turning in his seat to face her. "What kind?"
"The only kind there is," she said, confused. "Dead people. That haven't gone to Mahso."
"I think places have a memory," Dajh allowed. "It remembers the people who were there, what they did, how they lived. I would hope that real people wouldn't get stuck to them."
"What about to people?"
Shon hit her, hard, on the cheek. Not another word, you understand? I will break your arm if you tell him anything else!
Renn bit her tongue to stem the tears that welled up, Dajh looking at her too closely. "You think you're being haunted?"
She shook her head, Shon unblinking to his right.
"Just wondering," she said quietly.
Damn right you were, Shon threatened.
"No, hang on, what do you mean?"
"I don't want to talk about it," she said. Maybe he would take it easier if she cut it off right there, he wouldn't really break her arm, there'd be too many questions…
"Okay," he relented, still curious.
"Dajh?" Trinna called from the other side of the house.
"Can you help me with this?"
"Okay." He glanced at Renn. "Be right back."
As soon as he was gone she saw Shon step forward. I didn't mean to, I wasn't thinking, Shon wait – !
He hauled her up out of the hammock, so much stronger than she was, holding her roughly by the shoulders. What did I say? We don't tell anyone. What did you do?
I didn't though, please, you're hurting me!
There was a thud as she was pushed against the wall. We're going to get through this, remember? And you spilling your guts to every norn with a set of ears isn't helping! He noticed she was biting her lip, Don't you cry, you stupid thing!
You're my best friend, she choked.
Don't pull that on me! he threatened, That was before you sold me out! Got it?
She nodded, his grip on her lessening. Now, I've got to leave for a while, can I trust you to behave?
Yes, she whispered.
I doubt it, he muttered. He faded away as Dajh came back down the hall.
"I'm really tired," she said as the blue norn entered.
"Oh. Okay, I'll see you tomorrow then."
She really didn't want him to go. But the whole story was on the tip of her tongue and she couldn't trust herself with it.
The house was alive as Dajh walked in.
"Where are my earrings?" Leia asked.
"I dunno. They didn't match my outfit."
"Smart-ears," she muttered, going back to search her room again.
Dad was cooking, talking to Renn always made the blue norn hungry as odd as that was, and he picked up his plate. "Do you have those Cabaroo skins still?"
"In the other room," the orange norn said, blending in partially with the cooking fire. "You going to eat anything or just hold that plate?"
"In a minute, can I have them?"
"Sure, just don't let this go cold." He called after him, "Tell Leia her earrings are on the table, she left them there again yesterday!"
Dajh found them buried underneath some blankets, mouse-grey fur as soft as he remembered. Perfect.
"Trinna, I need your help for a project."
"Well, technically, I need you to help me sew something."
"You never learned how to sew?" she teased.
"That's girl work," he said, making a face.
"No girl wouldn't love to marry a man that sews," Trinna said, taking the skins from him.
"I want to make a stuffed animal."
The purple norn caught on immediately, "Aww, that's nice of you Dajh."
"Yeah, well, they were just lying around."
"Won't take me more than a day if you help."
He spread them out on the table. "Okay. How do we do this?"
The sky was black, but below it, wood popped and leaves curled up into ashes as the fire ate them, invisible wind pushing the fire further and further into the forest, all the little creatures that inhabited it fleeing for their lives, fleeing the beast with the red tongue.
Renn watched, gripped with the animal's fear of the blaze, but soaring above it as an eagle, buoyed by the heat rippling off of the inferno. This fire stretched for miles.
She heard them first. The screams barely made it to her ears over the popping of the wood, but she glided east and landed on a roof, the little village not yet touched by the fire. Norns gathered their belongings, their children, each other, and fled, following the fleeing creatures of the wood.
The beast caught their scent, turning his attention to them instead of the forest that could wait, leaping from tree to tree, roaring his challenge, crashing on top of their houses in a red wave, Renn flapping up to follow the norns.
Glowing orange eyes chased after them, red tongue lolling, the trees singing as they burned and died beneath the beast, norns losing ground.
Run! she shouted; it would catch them, they couldn't slow down…
With a whoosh of heat below her as it dove, she was lifted high above the fire and the norns, unable to float back down without being singed, forced to watch the beast devour all of them, helpless with her eagle's wings and talons against the inferno.
Sated, the beast dispelled, flames swirling and fading as it left the bones of the forest and the norns for her eagle's beak to pick at.
Renn woke with a jolt.
She'd been having the dream over and over again. But she'd always been a villager, never the eagle.
What was the difference?
She glanced at the window, not surprised to see Shon had returned. He was leaning against the windowframe, watching the storm clouds gather.
When? she asked.
Later today, I think, he said. Lucky thing too, with the drought this summer the whole place could catch fire.
Renn resisted shivering at that. Her stomach complained instead, the norn ignoring it and instead focusing on what she would talk to Dajh about. Maybe she would tell him about the beast today.
Don't bore him, Shon said, barely paying attention to her.
You're so negative all the time.
That stopped him for a second. He looked at her, reading her face. You like him, don't you?
You know better than to lie to me.
I don't, she said, less convincing this time.
Fates, I'm too tired of you to even care. You'll figure it out on your own.
She shifted positions in the hammock, blood finding an easier path to her toes. Figure out what?
He inhaled deeply, the air heavy with the weight of the waiting rain. He's only in it for curiosity. Once you tell him everything, you'll sound as pathetic as when I found you, and he'll leave.
Then I won't tell him, she said simply. And you know what, you're getting on my nerves.
Without a look back, Renn got out of the hammock and walked out of the room, down the hall, and into the kitchen. Trinna was sleeping, but still on the high of telling off Shon, she browsed the cupboards for food. The thought of it sent her stomach complaining. Something simple, easy to digest, she coached, though the bread called at her. She grabbed apples and a knife, slicing it into tiny pieces then smooshing them with a spoon in a bowl. Cold, but still good.
The work and digesting exhausted her, Renn forced to go back to her room to sleep it off. Shon glared at her but she didn't care.
"Any better?" Dajh asked as he came in.
Trinna was grinning. "Come see what I found."
On the counter were the browned remnants of apple cores and peels, Trinna had waited to throw them out.
"Fantastic," he said, grinning too. "I'll go see her."
"Hey," she warned, "don't bring it up if she doesn't. We've got a good thing going, let her hide it if she wants."
Dajh nodded and went down the hall, poking his head in. She was asleep. Going to his chair, he was fine with waiting.
She breathed lightly, only napping, but her eyes darted behind the lids. The red coat was dull, starved like the rest of her. It darkened at her ears, hands and tail, a pretty contrast with the rest of her. He couldn't see the green eyes yet, but he would, and he waited.
It was another half hour, Dajh zoning out for most of it, staring off out the window. Dark clouds were moving east. A jirri bird had a nest in the next tree over. He never had an issue with time, he had plenty to think about to keep him busy. Or just watching things were good enough usually.
"You back again?" she asked groggily.
"I don't have to come by if you don't want me."
"No, I didn't mean it like that."
He tossed the stuffed animal over into the hammock. "Ta da."
She picked it up slowly, looking a little confused, but he could see a slight smile after a second. "It's beautiful. Wow, Dajh."
"Ahh, Trinna did most of it," he said modestly.
"No, seriously, I love it. Thank you." She fingered the satin fur of it for a bit, playing with the tiny ears. He'd decided on a gray bear, classic enough you couldn't really go wrong, but Trinna had made him cutsey it up some. And he'd actually learned to sew.
Then she did it again. That little flinch, like something bothered her.
Yeah it is, she said firmly. He wasn't going to mess with her bear.
"Where's that crystal from?" he asked suddenly, tearing her away from the animal and Shon.
"What?" Oh. Around her neck. "It's a ground one. I found it digging."
"Digging for what?" It was a clouded white, some of the rock still clinging to the base of it. A thin string tied it to her.
"Just, you know, bored, figured I might find treasure. I was like, eight, or something." The lies came easier, Shon's silence approval. She fidgeted with the bear some more, she hated lying to him.
"Guess you did," he agreed.
"Yeah." Not really. It was a memento, a reminder, of what she'd done.
You could have helped me back then, she pointed out to Shon.
It wouldn't have worked.
I know, she admitted. Part of her ached right now, thinking of how the old Shon would have been her Dajh, her friend.
Why can't you be nice to me ever? It was an accident. I'm sorry, I've said it a million times.
Sorry doesn't fix it.
Shows that I would if I could.
Not good enough.
"Oh. Sorry. Zoned out."
She seemed slightly lost, like there'd been an entire conversation away from him. "What were you thinking of?"
"The digging. I found a whole mess of them." It was automatic, it sickened her.
I don't want to do this anymore.
Don't whine at me.
Shon, I mean it. I can't lie forever.
You can do this on your own.
I was going to die on my own.
She looked at him, hard. He was a statue. He didn't care how she felt, if she cried. Shon was dead, inside and out.
What? "Sorry. Did it again."
"Are you tired?"
She shook her head, "No, I don't mean to do it."
The red norn glanced quickly to her right. "Remember I was asking you about ghosts?"
Finally, they could get somewhere. "I remember."
Stop, Shon said immediately, eyes narrowing.
"I have one."
Somehow she'd expected some poof, that he would disappear. But he stood there to her right, furious.
"What, like oooooh, kind of ghost?" He made the wiggly-fingered hand gestures to go with it.
"More like yelling at me kind of ghost." She saw him visibly fighting coming over and yanking her out of the hammock.
She was joking right? "What's he look like?"
"White, some black spots to him. He used to be my best friend."
"How'd he die?"
Enough! Shon ordered. That's it, or I won't care that he's three feet away.
"He was murdered."
"Does he need you to do something for him to, you know, pass over? Isn't that what you do with ghosts?" This was either the fattest lie he'd ever heard or a breakthrough.
"I don't know what he wants, he just sticks around."
She'd be in for it. Renn didn't care. It only hurt for a day, or two if it got really bad. She had to tell Dajh something or go insane.
A girl's voice on the other side of the door. "Dajh! Dad says come home!"
He glanced at it, torn. "Hang on!" He turned back to her. "What can I do? How can I help?"
Besides be her 24/7 body guard? "Not much. Go home, I'll be okay."
"I can see about staying over tonight – I mean, if you're okay with that, nothing like… you know."
It was dangerously tempting. "I've lived with him this long. Don't get in trouble over me." It wasn't like she was looking forward to being beaten senseless. Part of her squirmed thinking about it, and Shon was staring daggers at her.
Go on home Dajh, I'll leave her alive.
"Fates," she whispered; he didn't hear.
"Dajh!" Leia called again.
"All right!" he answered, getting up. "Come get me if you need me."
He left. She had no idea where he lived.
The civet norn didn't budge. She got up slowly from the hammock, every movement careful, like a mouse sneaking past a cat that was either asleep or had its eyes shut.
He just wants to help, she said at last, fingers twitching with the instinct to run.
Shon only bored holes into her.
Why don't you want me to get better? she demanded, but the panic was beneath it. I know you want me to die! I thought you were my friend.
Did I ever tell you not to eat? he spoke finally. Did I ever send him away? He waited for an answer.
No, she said quietly.
Last I checked, you were the one who wanted to kill yourself. I'm dead, all right? I've got time to waste.
He moved, Renn's skin crawling as she checked the door. There wasn't any use running, Shon would follow.
But here's your little therapist, wanting to drag everything up again. You lived, I died, move on. He picked up her toy, Renn biting her tongue. This is a bribe, understand?
No, he's being nice –
That's what a bribe is, idiot. He felt the fur, Renn unable to tell if he could truly feel the texture of it. Ghosts were new to her. Missed a stitch, he muttered.
It's perfect, she argued. Just don't hurt it.
Shon held up the bear for emphasis. Bury the past Renn. Bury it like you tried to bury me. He doesn't need to know anything else. Okay? Protect yourself, you don't want to go crazy.
I'm seeing ghosts, maybe I'm crazy already.
She didn't see it coming, the slap across the face knocking her backward. Ow!
He tossed the bear onto her hammock, Renn aware she wasn't backing away, and that that would make it worse.
Stop it! Leave me alone!
Look at you with an attitude. Little bitch.
She stared at him, how dark his eyes got when he was angry. Shon's eyes had been blue when he was alive. You're not Shon.
A solid punch to the stomach sent her reeling. She wheezed ineffectively, leaning against the wall. Her eyesight had sparks fizzing around.
What's that supposed to mean?
She couldn't answer, trying to recover.
Hmm? Come on, I'm waiting.
You're… not real, she gasped. It was a guess, and she wanted to know.
A kick to the ribs, Renn on the floor.
Couldn't hear you. Say it again.
She shook her head. He hauled her upright by the shoulders, lightly tapping her face with his palm to get her attention.
You were telling me something?
He really didn't look like Shon now. His eyes were all… shadowed. And he would never have hit her when he was alive.
Shon's dead. You're something else.
His hands tightened on her arms, enough she thought they were going to snap, the red norn gritting her teeth to keep from screaming. Stop, stop, stop – She pulled up both legs, held up by him, and kicked with her entire body weight into his chest.
It had to be the shock of it more than pain, Shon dropping her to the ground on her butt and stepping back. He looked genuinely surprised.
Renn's spine had a lightning bolt running along it every time she breathed, and blood was beginning to get back into her fingers. Her entire body trembled, she couldn't move, whatever happened next she wouldn't be so lucky.
Recovered, Shon hauled her up again, Renn unable to stand, dragged to the window. It'd begun to rain.
No! she shouted as he picked her up to dangle out of it. They had to be twenty feet up, she'd die.
You going to kick me again? he demanded, Renn scrambling to grab the sill. He leaned out farther, effortlessly holding her wrist. The rain pelted her, soft red fur quickly soaked through.
Fates Shon pull me in!
He jerked her, Renn screaming. No! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!
The two of them came back inside, Renn dropped in a heap.
I dare you to say I'm not real.
He faded away, Renn shaking so hard her teeth chattered.
"Renn? Are you okay? I heard you shout." Trinna.
"Just a spider, I'm fine!" she managed.
"All right, just checking." She left.
The red norn crawled over to the hammock, holding the little grey bear to her chest.
He knocked on the door. "Renn?"
"Come on in."
It was the first time he'd knocked, and he glanced around warily as he entered. "Where's he standing?"
"Shon's not here today."
"Where is he then?"
"He leaves sometimes." After he wore himself out whaling on her.
"Oh." Dajh relaxed slightly, taking his chair. "The rain stopped finally, do you want to get out of here for a while?"
"That'd be amazing." The four walls had begun to feel smaller.
They said goodbye to Trinna, who beamed seeing her progress, Renn feeling a bit like a project. She probably was.
Dajh led her through the maze of bridges connecting each platform, rattling off names of who lived where, thrilled at having her out. She looked healthier already, having the sun on her.
Renn mostly smiled and nodded, the names lost on her without faces. Each of the houses were different – where the door was placed, how many windows. It was a lot like home. They used a lighter wood here, more yellow than brown. The rope felt different too, because of the tree type they used. Thicker and rougher.
"There's Jorn's house, he brought you over to Trinna's."
"Orange guy, right?"
"Yep. And over here…"
She followed him around, feeling alone without Shon over her shoulder, but grateful he was gone. She couldn't be herself with him judging everything she said.
"Where do you live?"
"Over here, around the corner. You want to come in? Leia's out all day, and Dad can make us lunch maybe."
The house was empty, but Dajh seemed unphased, going straight to the kitchen and finding something light for both of them. The house was tidy, everything had a spot, and the blue norn was careful to put whatever he used back. Renn ate, looking around curiously from her chair.
"Anything like your house?"
"Well, mostly. The kitchen was at the back of mine, and… my room was over there, with the sitting room in front of the kitchen. Oh, and we had a porch."
"Dad's thinking about adding a porch in autumn."
"I like 'em."
She cleaned up, the routine so normal she had to stop a minute. Dajh didn't notice.
"I never ask you questions," she said finally, both of them leaning against the counter.
"I didn't know you had any."
"Ususally not. You're too good of a listener."
He smiled, shrugging. "Whenever you decide to talk to me."
"I talk to you all the time."
"Not about… certain things."
"Couldn't you just be my friend?"
He looked surprised. "I thought we were?"
"Yeah, we are, but… without being my therapist."
He laughed, "I guess I could be your therapist. Mostly, I'm just curious, you know? You don't find half-starved girls passed out in the forest every day."
He was in it for curiousity. Shon had warned about that.
"I had things going on," she said dismissively, moving away from the counter.
Well, obviously. He resisted asking about what those things were again. Instead, he watched as she moved around the kitchen, picking things up and putting them back exactly the way they were. Her ribs still showed, but her face had filled in some, cheek bones only slightly prominent now. He could see her hip bones too, but they would always show. Dajh blinked, reminded again of how pretty she was, even this thin. The green eyes were focused, examining a hand towel, tracing the embroidery. She had small hands.
"Who stitched this?" she asked, breaking him out of the trance.
"You don't mention her."
"She's been gone a while."
"Oh." She felt the little grazer sewn on one more time, then hung it back over the rod, making sure there were no wrinkles in the fabric. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it."
It was on the edge of her tongue, being able to relate.
Dajh noticed. "What?"
"Come on Renn, give me something. You're always just about to say something then you stomp it back down."
"Fine. My mom died too."
He felt guilty now, forcing that out of her. Seemed a lot of people she knew were dying.
"You want to walk some more?"
He pounced on it. "Yeah, let's go."
They went down the ladder this time, forest shady down there. You could still see some of the sky, clouds dark.
"It's going to rain again," he said.
"We'll be fine." She set off without him, not really sure where she was going, but not wanting to go back to that little room yet. The trees were tall enough it was mostly easy going.
He went to push a branch out of her way and she winced as he brushed across her arm, holding the spot protectively.
"What's the matter?"
She pulled away, "Nothing, don't – "
He grabbed her, parting the fur. A huge purple bruise, going completely around her upper arm… It looked like a hand. She couldn't meet his eyes as he checked the rest of her arm, then the other. Bruises all along them, in different colors.
"Those aren't nothing! Where did you get these?"
"He gets angry with me."
"Shon? Mahso above, when was this?"
"When I tell things," she whispered.
"What, like last night?"
She nodded, staring at the rock near her feet.
"This one?" It was the huge purple one he'd bumped.
"Aww Fates, Renn, I didn't know, I didn't mean – "
"I know. It's okay."
"No it's not!"
"It happens," she said firmly, pulling his hand off her.
"You don't get it, that's dangerous! He could really hurt you!"
Yeah, like dropping you out a window. "I can handle it."
Dajh just stared. Even after all this time, he still knew nothing about her. "Are you going to lie to me forever?"
"This is why I can't tell you anything!"
"Then we have to get rid of him."
"Why, because you have to know?"
"Because he's going to end up killing you!"
I wanted to die! she almost shouted back. But she didn't anymore. Mostly. "He wouldn't do that," she said finally, turning away.
"These aren't enough to convince you?"
"He needs me."
"Or you need him."
That one got her. "What?"
"He's your wall. He keeps you from bringing up whatever happened, if you trusted me enough to tell me. You don't like to think about it, do you?"
She shut her eyes briefly, battling down images. Dead people scattered, burning. "No, I don't."
The leaves pattered as the rain started again, Dajh not caring. "Why can't you trust me?"
"It doesn't have anything to do with that."
"Then what is it?" he demanded. "What big secret is so traumatic that you go starve yourself in the middle of nowhere and can't tell a soul?"
Her eyes burned, Renn blinking to fight off tears. "I killed a lot of people. Happy?"
She didn't wait for his reaction, rain falling harder, just walking fast through wet leaves and getting soaked the second day in a row.
Dajh's eyes were glued to the spot she was standing in. How could a tiny norn like her kill people? Wait, none of that even made sense.
"Renn!" he shouted, running to catch up to her.
She ignored him, crying, rain blending in with her tears as it poured. Stupid rain.
"Wait, please, I don't understand!"
She stopped, hands in fists. "I led them to my village, all right? I was out getting food and a scout followed me back and it's all my fault! They came and…" it was getting hard to breathe around the tears "…and they killed everyone." Hunted them down. Piled the bodies and set them on fire. The fire caught to the trees to the houses. Everything burned. The crystal had been churned up by feet, poking her foot as she wandered around the wreckage.
"How did you make it?" he whispered, barely audible over the storm.
"Shon hid me."
He had her instantly, arms around her, Renn ignoring the ache of the bruises. She sobbed. Shon was dead. Everyone was dead.
"I shouldn't be alive," she choked out.
"Shhh," he said softly, little red norn especially frail against him.
"Or he should be too, something, anything…"
"It'll be okay."
She held on to his torso tight, head buried in his shoulder, feeling safe.
Eventually they both got cold, the rain refusing to let up, going back up the ladder and to Trinna's.
Dajh wouldn't hear of any arguments to his staying over, refusing her hammock and setting up the simple camp of a few blankets on the floor. Shon wouldn't touch her again.
"It's not like you can even see him," Renn said above him. "Besides, I don't care what he does to me anymore."
He looked up, the red norn holding the bear he'd made to her. "I care. Goodnight."
See? Someone does, she thought to Shon, wherever he was. He didn't leave as soon as I told him. If anything, he stuck even closer to her.
Thank you Fates.
Shon didn't show the next morning.
"Maybe he's sulking," Dajh predicted at breakfast, and Renn didn't fail to notice the smugness of it.
Or the next morning.
Or the next.
"What if he's not coming?" she asked, leaning on the windowsill. She felt weak admitting it, but it was like a chunk of her had left with him. He'd been a giant part of her for so long, her whole life, what did she do without him beside her?
The blue norn came to stand next to her, face towards the trees but eyes on her. "Do you miss him?"
"He was my best friend."
She leaned into the arm put around her. "Let me fill in for him then."