Rianna sat still as her mother applied the paste in liberal amounts on her skin. The vinat didn't have tents, instead they coated themselves in this toxic paste that protected their skin and fur from the sun's negative effects. They coated it in certain patterns along their skin, letting some skin stay under the sun and darken, also making the fur lighten. It gave each warrior a unique pattern to call their own. Rianna's mother had tried to draw such a pattern on her, but the next night, the skin that had been exposed to the sun was one huge blister.

Both Rianna and her daughter were in utter agony for two days straight. The patterns were well defined, but the agony wasn't worth it. It had been many moons since then, and after some experimenting, Rianna's mother decided to coat the pattern in the paste thickly with a thin layer over the exposed skin. This left the exposed skin a tight red color, but was only uncomfortable, not entirely painful.

Her mother swept Rianna's hair out of her way and worked on the pattern on the back of her neck.

"You need a man," her mother said definitively.

Rianna stiffened. Her ban from talking had long since been lifted, but questioning a woman of higher standing was seen as disrespectful. Instead of asking why she needed a man, she said,

"I will start assessing the available men."

"He will take over the patterns once you mate."

She wanted to be rid of this menial task, Rianna understood. She had to do it for Shy. The queen had created the patterns because she said they had meaning, but it was Rianna's responsibility to take care of her unmated daughter. The queen had tried to explain the patterns, but the details included words that Rianna could not understand. She could communicate fluidly in the language of the pumeans, but there were things she couldn't translate in her original language.

Shy wasn't any help in that regard. Shy wasn't helpful in many a regard. While she was easily the best fighter in the tribe, she only fought if she was bribed into it with the promise of being left alone for an entire night. She would listen to Rianna's lessons but not come and participate unless bribed. Full tribe activities were held once a moon, and Shy was never to be found for nights before and after.

Because Rianna's mother was a queen, she moved from tribe to tribe, bringing only her man, and Rianna and her daughter. Every tribe they went to had a mother who was a daughter to the queen. One day, Rianna would start taking her own daughters and turning them into mothers, but Shy was incapable of taking care of more than herself. She would make a terrible mother.

The queen had tried to get Shy to reveal how she became Rianna's daughter, but the little girl had ran off and not come back for a full five nights. It was clear she wouldn't talk to the queen. She rarely even talked to Rianna.

So it was with great surprise that Rianna found herself conversing with her daughter as she covered the swirled patterns on her legs.


Rianna blinked in surprise and looked to the little girl's tri-colored eye. She blocked the excess thoughts from pushing too hard against hers and smiled reassuringly.

"Yes, Shy?"

"When your man gets here…" Shy trailed off, looking away.

"I don't have a man, my daughter."

"You do," the girl whispered. "Ask him to make me normal."

"Make you normal? What do you mean?"

Shy fidgeted, and Rianna pinched the skin near the area she was working to remind her to remain still.


The few times they did speak together, Rianna had to be sure to be patient with her daughter. It took her a long time to gather courage to make a sentence. The few times Rianna had looked into her mind, she had only seen one emotion, blinding insecurity. The poor girl didn't think much of herself at all. Every thought revolved around the best way to get away from people. How the girl managed to stay with her, Rianna had no idea.

"This isn't normal," Shy whispered, running a finger up the small horns on her nose.

"Why not?"

Shy bit her lip and ducked her head, her hair doing nothing to hide her eyes clenched shut. Rianna knew that look to mean that the girl was about to run, so she gently pet her head to calm her.

"You don't have to tell me. If a man does come for me, I promise to ask him to make you normal."

Shy nodded and made her way to her bed, already set up on the packed dirt. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, and Rianna gazed at the spectacular sight for a few minutes before she laid out on her own mat. One of the members of the tribe they were currently in was on watch and would call the switch in the middle of the day, right before she handed the watch to another warrior. Rianna stretched out on her stomach, burying her face in the crook of her elbow. She would have her face exposed later, when she lay on her back. Until then, she enjoyed the shadow covering her eyes.

Hunter wasn't sure how much longer he could hold on. He was clinging to Finch's back like a backpack, and his limbs were getting shaky from keeping him on for two days straight. The curious wister had been running faster than Hunter could keep track of for two sunrises and didn't look to be slowing any time soon. If he did let go, he was sure Finch wouldn't stop for him. He would be left behind, and they were just crossing the mountains.

"Finch!" he called.

Of course, the wister didn't respond or even look over his shoulder.

"I need to rest! You probably do too!" he yelled over the air speeding past his head.

Finch made no response. Sir Hunter sighed and winced before he let go with one hand and grabbed Finch's longest horn. Finch tripped, sending Hunter flying off his back. He landed on his face and groaned as he stood up, fixing his nose. His obsession stopped and looked around, so Hunter did as well, to find himself among a camp of Minuans, based on their armor.

Finch shrugged, still wearing his dress with the suspenders holding his swords wrapped around his waist instead of over his shoulders. He had ripped the petticoats off and most of the skirt so as not to hinder his running, but he still looked ridiculous, leveling his Dalnor gaze at the Minuans.

The leader gulped and bowed. "Your majesty. Our queen sent us to find her sister, your queen. We numbered near a thousand at the outset of our journey, and this is all we have left."

Hunter looked around at the seven men with their heads bowed, their faces haggard. Finch flitted around them before going to the stream they were drinking from and getting on his knees to drink. Hunter followed his example quickly.

"What do we have to deal with?" Hunter asked as he stood, wiping at his mouth.

The poor men looked panicked.

"Ferocious beasts!" one piped up.

"Yeah! They look like women, but they're devils! They killed a good half of our men!"

"And the heat is worse than death!"

"They fell left and right!"

"We barely even survived to get back here!"

Finch nodded at their now hysterical shouting. He held five fingers, and Hunter quickly jumped on his back, barely able to hold on as he took off again. He buried his face behind Finch's shoulder to protect his eyes from the biting, hot wind that sped past. He would just have to deal with his pain; he had sustained worse before. It was either hold onto his obsession or most likely go Dalnor. Hold onto Finch it was.

Rianna groaned as the yowl of awakening stretched across the tribe, the other warriors around her stirring as well. She stretched, opening her eyes when she felt an odd, furry weight on her stomach. She looked down to see what it was and promptly screamed in surprise.

A head lay on her stomach, black hair spread haphazardly and covering the area between her chest wrappings and loincloth. She couldn't see the face, and the person was definitely bigger than her, his or her body sprawled out at an angle on the compact sand. He or she wore a torn, dark colored piece of clothing that Rianna somehow knew was a dress. This told her that it was a female, but the hair on the arm stretched across her leg suggested male. The hand connected to the arm was wrapped firmly around her ankle, the grip unrelenting even though she knew he or she was asleep based on the calm breaths puffing across her stomach.

The whole tribe jumped and stared at her, trying to see what was wrong. Their eyes fixed on the person sprawled over her, the furless skin marking him or her as the same species as Rianna. The queen approached, eyes narrowed.

"What is that, daughter?"

She blinked up at her mother and then looked at the person again. She pushed the head off of her, the contact with solid ground not waking the person.

"I do not know."

"Step away," her mother ordered.

She stood and tried to step away, but the grip around her ankle stayed firm. She bent down to loosen it and found the fingers as likely to let go as the metal holding her orvak on. She looked up at her mother.

"It won't let go."

"That is a male. Does your daughter know him?"

Rianna looked around for her daughter, who was never around in the morning.

"Shy!" she called loudly.

The man did not stir, now snoring loudly with his face pressed against her bedroll. Shy was suddenly there, staring intently down at him. Her usually placid—if not fearful—visage seemed to lift in a smile.

"He's your man," Shy said softly.

Rianna stared at the pile of head fur before crouching and sweeping it to the side, revealing a skeletal, pale face with dark bruises under the eyes. She swept her hand over horns that protruded from his brow.

She stood and shrugged. "I do not know him. Daughter, would you remove his grip from my ankle?"

Shy shook her head, surprising Rianna.

She narrowed her eyes. "Shy, remove him."

Again, the young girl shook her head, even though everyone was looking at her. She started shifting her weight back and forth, a sign that she knew she was the center of attention and was about to bolt. She was close enough that Ri could reach for her and tilt her chin up so she could see into her mind. She rarely went into her daughter's mind. The shy little girl didn't like her thoughts being invaded. In defense, her mind started to shut down, but not before Rianna caught a few thoughts.

I need to get his attention but not most of it. He needs to focus on her…

And then Shy fainted. Ri tried to catch her, but the grip around her ankle kept her from being able to position herself correctly. The girl ended up falling straight back and landing heavily for her slight stature. Rianna huffed and looked at her mother, who was highly amused on the inside.

"Go about your duties, my daughters," the queen admonished.

The others looked away and started their night. Rianna kept her eyes on her mother, knowing that her mind was open even when their eyes weren't locked. He mother looked at the man for a minute before kneeling down and grabbing his arm. She gripped him roughly somewhere on his forearm, and his hand loosened. Rianna quickly pulled out, but the second she did, he was up, brushing the queen off as if she were nothing.

Rianna found herself eye to eye with something she could not understand. His mind was tattered, pieces flying around with the only commonality being an image in the middle. Said image was someone she assumed looked like her, with no fur but some red fur on the top of her head, but this person was wearing an outfit that looked more like what he currently wore than what she did.

His entire body was in horrendous pain, so much that she flinched away from him. His senses were off-kilter and even more detailed than Shy's, giving her a headache almost as soon as she made eye contact. She tried to look away, but his eyes held her, his mind sucking her in and leaving no way out.

Out of her periphery, she saw his arms slowly lift, and she felt heavy hands settle on her shoulders. His mind seemed to calm, the pain lessoning, before it shut completely off. He slumped over, his weight landing on her. She stumbled back, fighting to catch the man taller than her, his head slumped over on her shoulder. She managed to steady both herself and him, and then she looked over his back at her mother.

I do not know what to do.

She nodded. "I saw his mind. I do not know either. Put him down."

Rianna shoved him to the side, confident that she couldn't hurt him any more than he already was, but she didn't account for his grip on both her shoulders, and once his weight was going to the ground, she was right behind him. She yelped as they both toppled over.

Thankfully, in his sleep the man righted them both, taking the fall so she landed on his chest. She tried to get up but found herself anchored where she was as one arm had moved to encircle her waist. She tried to wiggle out, but he held onto her as tightly as he had her ankle moments before. She finally just relaxed and turned her head to the side.

"I am stuck, Mother."

There was silence for a minute, and then Rianna felt her mother's eyes on her, with it the weight of her mind.

He will not let you go. I will not try once more to free you; you must free yourself. Join me if you can.

Seconds later, her mother was gone. Ri had not yet put her blades in her orvak, so she couldn't attack the man holding her. She wiggled and fought, but no matter how creative she got in her escape attempts, the arm around her waist neither tightened nor loosened. After several minutes, all she had managed to do was rip the clothing he wore further than it had been before and mess up her own chest wrap to the point of it coming loose. She stopped and sighed, resting her forehead on his shoulder. She breathed in deeply, wrinkling her nose at the stench of his sweat.

A little bit later, Shy woke back up. She hovered over her mother, who could only glare up at her with one eye. She spoke in the language only she and her daughter knew,

"Tell me what you know because it's obvious you know something."

The girl fidgeted and looked anywhere but at her mother and the man holding her.

"He's your king," Shy said softly.

"I don't remember him!"

Shy didn't reply, and Rianna tried to hit the man as hard as she could. It did nothing.

"How can he be my king, not just my man, but also my king, if I don't remember him?"

"I will try to explain…" the girl trailed off. Rianna waited, knowing she needed time to gather courage. "If he takes my wist."

Rianna sighed, "Alright. Do you know how long he's going to hold me like this?"


"Okay then. Go about your day as usual, and bring me food."

Shy left, and Rianna decided she might as well get comfortable seeing as she wasn't going to be moving anytime soon. He was all skin and bone, so he wasn't a very comfortable bed roll. It wasn't too dissimilar from sleeping on rocky ground. She rested her head at the center of his chest and felt his heartbeat through her ear. She had to admit that was at least comforting.

She rested her chin on his chest and looked at his face so she could see his mind. His mind was odd, even in sleep, and for a moment, she thought she had seen these scattered images that passed for his dream before. Watching that for too long gave her a headache, so she went back to relaxing.

The sun rose, and so passed the first night of Rianna having a man.

A/N: ... I will never finish this, and if I do, somehow, it will be a pleasant surprise to all of us. Thank you for reading. I hate being one of those people who leave a story unfinished. I'm sorry.