When solid ground grows soft with emerald moss and rivulets of black mud, and coffee-colored water pours slowly around the trunks of densely carpeted trees, this marks the beginning of Laod Mor: the swamp of Blossom Forest. Time itself seems to slow to a soporific crawl . . . the humid jungle air grows stagnant, thick with the scent of rich flooded earth and an abundance of green things that can be found nowhere else—except perhaps Caidir Olc. In some areas of the swamp, water rises so high the only way to cross it is to crawl across fallen logs or massive roots arching from their liquid beds; in other places a wolf might wade easily through the mire—or find a fortunate stretch of mostly dry earth. Pieces of the great river, Glaesfaet Sceawere, also slice through from time to time: small falls that feed into surprisingly clear pools, only to terminate into tar-like pits. Of course, Laod Mor’s beauty shines brightest at night. Here, fireflies gather at all times of the year . . . suffusing the shadowy place with millions of twinkling lights.

Those looking to hunt here of course find a myriad of water prey, including caiman, turtles, fish, crayfish, otters, and toads.


behind darkness, beneath candles [arcus irae/tempests]

❝thє shσrtєst dístαncє вєtwєєn twσ pσínts . . .❞

Losa felt as if she’d been dropped into the eye of a hurricane—the air closest to her fur disturbingly still while all around her the world rushed and spun dangerously fast, too rapid to follow and impossible to merge into. The energies of several Arcus Irae younglings greeted her soul with their sweet, darling music, bright notes of joy with warm undertones of familiarity and safety . . . only to sour and jangle upon seeing the Tempests in their midst. The princess sensed this swift distress as one would hear a loud mistake glaring from an otherwise flawless symphony; instinctively she straightened her shoulders and plastered on her royal countenance, a cool expression of benevolence and maturity, as if she knew all secrets and would soon sooth the others with her wisdom. Another quick kiss upon Scamander’s brow meant to acknowledge his excitement and his luck in finding his Ofer; a low, gentle call to Fairuz and Vera as they charged in, their eyes glimmering with tears; one professional nod toward Lady Adara, her mismatched gaze still moving between the little rainbows. Zawyne, brilliant ball of sunshine that she was, bounded around comforting her fellows each in turn, her high soprano voice burbling like birdsong over the plash of the river. Losa did not trust herself to utter more than a few vague syllables as she hovered over the future Lorer; her sibling appeared to have the right idea—as usual. “Listen to Zawyne, little ones. We would not have called you here if it had been dangerous—”

Pointless utterances. The chaotic winds buffeted her, and Scamander dipped away toward the tree line, Lady Adara immediately following him to ensure his security. The pink ballerina’s heart squeezed in sympathy—how she would have loved to follow the lad’s example and race for privacy—but no sooner had the violet boy vanished than delicate Vera whimpered and bolted as well, in the opposite direction as Scamander. The scraggly obsidian brute with dragon-scaled limbs who’d entered with her chased her into the forest like a lovesick dog. Losa bit out a frustrated sound, her pastel hackles fluttering along her shoulders. Grudgingly, she glanced at Aindreas, celestial pools meeting his blazing blues. “You must think we’re a mess. It doesn’t matter that the magic in your veins is newly awakened . . . the children have suffered too much. Perhaps it was a mistake to call them here with our Ofers present.” Why did she bother speaking to him? Why did Losa feel as if she trusted him—beyond him simply being her soul-bound guardian? Something still squirmed within her when his glowing portals lit her face, but a deeper part of her spirit wanted to lean on him. She desired his opinions, whatever he suggested to fix this mess. “It appears that Lady Adara will look after young Scamander. I think it best if I go to her on my own, to avoid another panic . . .”

“Zawyne, Fairuz, would you dear ones stay with Aindreas? I don’t want to crowd Miss Vera.” Frosty warning glances speared toward the other males present—who already seemed to have lost interest, backing away like cowards—before following in the footsteps of the strange thundercloud male. Her petite paws moved briskly, carefully over the terra, painfully aware that she added more distance between herself and her precious Zaffy. Aindreas will take care of her. He had BETTER take care of her.

Grasses gave way to springy mosses and stagnant pools of water dark with black silt, the smell of warming vegetation and rot wafting past Losa’s elegant muzzle. She trailed after Vera’s terrified aura, trying to project a cloud of love and protection in her wake to draw the young Arcus Irae out of hiding. “Vera, honey? I know you are frightened . . . please come back! We just found each other again. We’ll be safe this time. I promise.” Her steps began to sink into velvety mire. Vera had certainly run farther than Losa expected—she should have stopped her from sprinting off, should have followed faster, should have thought things through before just expecting the children to stick together and accept the Tempest. Of course they were horrified! How could they not be? Even Losa had snapped at Aindreas, and the cremero clearly wanted nothing more than to watch over her and cheerful Zawyne. These were new Ofers, creatures born of an untouched magic just beginning to seep into this land. Perhaps it would take time . . . but surely everything would work out for the best. There had to be a reason they’d successfully escaped their homeland and arrived here.

“Vera? Please answer me, I’m worried—”

Anguish. Terror. Suffering, fading hope, grief. Emotions and pain that punched Losa and the gut and nearly brought the cotton candy dancer to the ground.

“VERA!” The princess shrieked around a wrenching pull in her abdomen, a flash that rushed by her vision as the callow rainbow’s final moments exploded into her awareness. She found herself folded into a brittle crouch, every hair quivering, tears already pouring from her eyes. The other Arcus Irae would have felt the shift in energies immediately, even if they did not feel Vera’s death as acutely as Losa from this distance. A sob broke from her lips, and Losa forced her limbs to keep moving forward. She would not reach Vera in time. There was nothing she could do. But she still needed to see her, see what had happened, needed to ingrain this heartbreaking reality into her mind forever in case she ever made the mistake of trying to help anyone ever again. You have to accept your responsibility in this tragedy. This is your fault. You were supposed to defend them. You were supposed to act as their leader . . . !

Losa slipped and nearly fell as she increased her desperate pace. Blind in her agony, the sunrise damsel nearly careened straight into the brute who’d accompanied Vera in the first place; she had to skid hard in the mud, spattering slick blackness all up her limbs. Glassy oceans of amethyst and lapis lazuli froze upon the bloody, foreboding visage, the hard blue-green orbs set under an angrily furrowed brow. His scent was hot with the fever of rage, heavy with a sadness Losa did not understand. Her maw opened and closed several times around words she could not form, her vocal cords tight as violin strings in her throat. She shook like a leaf, and yet she felt carved of stone, unable to move toward or away from the scarlet-stained soldier and the tiny, colorful bundle draped brokenly over his back.

“Wh . . . what h-happened . . . ?” Lyrics almost inaudible, fragile as spun glass.

❝ís thє línє frσm mє tσ чσu!❞

⦊⦊ the undercover princess | sister to Zawyne | heartbroken | without a nest | xathira ⦉⦉


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