a/n: dont be mad dont be mad dont be mad dont be mad :3

hi guys. i'm alive! ha ha ha ha sorry. i have nothing to say but life got in the way. like, years of it. over those years i've found myself drawn back to this story time and time again. i've picked it up and edited and added and then locked it up and avoided it and then picked it up again and on and on. thank you all for your reviews, for your encouragement, and your kind words.

i've thought a lot about these characters and this story. and i want to make a lot of changes. i don't want to make any serious promises, cause ultimately i do this for fun, but here i go, again :)

you're in for some surprises, but with the same characters you know and love :') find a lil world map i made at inkarnate (dotcom) / m / 57grMD-the-continuance


Fina Aunty was eighty-seven years old when she passed. She was an eccentric old woman, and the only living relative I had left who wanted anything to do with me. She was my guardian for the past eleven years, since Amma had died when I was eleven––exactly one week before I had gotten my first bleed. Fate's cruel that way sometimes.

Fina Aunty never made a lot of sense. She was very superstitious. She insisted on having an odd number of cups of tea every day. If she had two cups by evening, it was very important that she had a third cup before bed. She only wore green, unless it was raining—then she had to wear anything but green. She didn't eat meat.

Fina Aunty wasn't my real aunt. It wasn't hard to tell, either. Where I was all brown-skinned with long hair, she was thin and pale, her wrinkly skin appearing almost translucent at times. Her hair was black like mine, but shorter and curlier; it remained shiny even as the rest of her aged.

Fina Aunty was technically my nonexistent father's aunt. My father was a traveling merchant. He had just been passing through her village when he met my mother. Amma didn't know any of his relatives––she figured they all lived in Basel, where my father was apparently from––but on my tenth year, Fina Aunty showed up. My mother was too kind to turn her away, and Fina Aunty ended up being the only good thing my father had ever done for her.

Amma loved nature, and she loved hunting in the Var Woods. In school, the other children would always tell stories of the monsters that lived in the Var Woods—wicked sorcerers, depraved beasts, cunning elves. Rumors, of course, though the children of our village were banned from entering the Woods. The adults would frequently make trips to hunt. Amma had been out when an animal attacked their party. They didn't return.

Old age took Fina Aunty eleven years later. Her last words to me were significantly more interesting. In fact, over the last few weeks of her life, she was always giving me odd bits of unsolicited wisdom and telling me all about memories I was sure she'd never actually lived. She refused to see a healer, insisting she knew her time was coming and there was nothing the "foolish, tipsy-tapsy humans could do for her" as she neared her "four hundred and fifty-ninth birthday."

Every now and then when she said nonsense like that I really wondered how mushy her brain was becoming, but then she would go back to being her intelligent, lucid self and convince me she was just fine. I wasn't exactly sure what sickness ailed her, but I assumed maybe it came and went like that.

One night, Fina Aunty had woken me up, insisting she had to give me something.

"I made this for my child, but I never had one to give it to. It was your father's for quite some time, but I'm afraid he didn't want it. But promise me, Sonam, promise me you'll wear this," she had said, her voice an urgent whisper.

Baffled, I had accepted the small drawstring cloth bag she handed me and pulled it open to find a thin golden chain holding a beautiful gem. The smooth stone was a purple so deep it almost looked black from far away. It wasn't flashy by any means, a small imperfect oval, but it was beautiful. It looked valuable and out of place in our humble cottage.

"You said you made this?" I had asked, disbelievingly, and Fina Aunty only nodded.

"You know, I was hoping to die back home, but I just don't have the energy to make it back there in soon enough time," she reached over and locked the chain around my neck, "I've always dreamed that, well, one day, you'll get to meet the rest of your family."

Going to Basel to reconnect with my father's family was never on my list of future plans. "I would have no idea what to say to them."

Hello, it's me, the long-lost daughter that you probably didn't know you had?

"Oh right!" Fina Aunty stared at me, her hazel eyes sharp yet still, her memory awash. "You only speak Ethenan. Good catch, Sonam," she added, as she reached out again to rub the stone of my necklace between her thumb and pointer finger.

I sighed. She was forgetting a lot of things lately, but surely she must've remembered that everyone on the Continent spoke Ethenan.

"Why don't you get to bed now?" I had asked, having amused her long enough, and wanting to get back to the knitting I was doing.

"Of course, my dear. And remember, never trust a panther."

I'd nodded, my attention already shifting to the ripped dress in front of me, "Yep, Aunty. You already told me that last week."

She had gotten to the doorway by then, but still wasn't ready to leave, it seemed. "And if you see your father––"

"Tell him the cat's in the cage, right." That was also one of last week's lessons. I tried not to roll my eyes. She'd been bringing up my father a lot lately, like he was a character from a storybook."I've got it, Aunty. Goodnight. Love you."

"I love you, Sonam, my miraculous, marvelous, magical little girl."

I had smiled despite my slight annoyance, and returned to my work. It was mind-numbing, but the knitting I did was enough to help us survive and afford what we needed. Occasionally, Fina Aunty had clients of her own—she was a healer back in Basel, and sometimes she provided services to our villagers and travelers passing through if the healer in the larger neighboring town was unavailable—but she didn't like collecting money from anyone.

Four hours later, I was ready for bed. I'd make the rounds and deliver the mendings tomorrow. As I'd tucked myself in and moved to pull shut the curtains, my hands had stilled as a shooting star fell across the sky. It had happened so fast I almost thought I imagined it. I'd closed my eyes, anyways, and made a wish.

I had wished that Fina Aunty would stay with me as long as she could, and that I wouldn't be alone when she finally left.

Fina Aunty died in her sleep that night.

- . . . -

We lived on the outskirts of our small village, as close to the Var Woods as any builder would comfortably build, and only a few neighbors had even come to know that Fina Aunty had passed. She had made clear she wanted her ashes scattered in a body of water of some sort, and I was determined to find a fitting location in the Woods. Before then, though, I'd undertaken the increasingly insurmountable task of cleaning up Fina Aunty's small room.

Over the course of her years living here the woman had collected many trinkets, books, and all sorts of plants and herbs and animal products in glass jars that she claimed to use for specific remedies. Most of it was regrettably junk that I could find no conceivable use for, but some I could surely sell. My expenses were minimal, but sometimes putting food on the table was difficult. I was no hunter like my mother had been, and there was only so much I could make from my knitting practice.

The blacksmith's son and apprentice, Ty, had come to collect Fina Aunty's belongings to see what could be sold at the town market in a few days. We had grown up together and gone to school together, and though his family was much more well off than I, he had never treated me differently for being poor, for being an orphan, for living on the outskirts of the village. I was friendly with the other young women of my village, but Ty was the only good friend I truly felt I had, besides Fina Aunty.

"You should let me come with you, the Woods aren't safe these days," Ty offered, for the third time.

"When have the Woods ever been safe?" I teased. I wasn't too worried, I wasn't planning on going far enough in to encounter any hint of danger. I knew there was a river that passed by not too far in—I'd been there before with Fina Aunty. She loved sitting by the stream with her feet in the water.

I looked back down at the pile of her books we were sorting through. In the corner, I'd collected some of her more fanciful scarves and dresses. They could likely earn me some decent coin from the wealthier ladies of the town, and I had no use for them myself.

Ty shook his head, as if I wasn't understanding. "There have been whispers in town from Prysyth."

I quirked a brow. "Whispers?"

Prysyth was the land that stood in between Basel and Lennor. I'd never stepped foot there—I've never even traveled past our town. Prysyth was a bit smaller and poorer than both Basel and Lennor—their land wasn't as productive as ours, and they had no port cities to benefit from like Basel.

"Baselian soldiers causing trouble in border towns. Seizing merchandise, harassing civilians…"

I frowned. Baselians weren't known to be the friendliest sort, but what did that have to do with the Var Woods. I asked Ty as such.

"There are suspicions that Baselian soldiers are attempting to make it over the Mountains."

I stopped folding the scarf in my hands and looked at Ty incredulously. "The Evoran Mountains? Are they mad?"

Ty shrugged. "Hunters have reported seeing Baselian camps in the Woods."

The Woods stretched over nearly two-thirds of the Continent, beginning at the southeastern edge of Basel's territory, traveling along the entire lower perimeter of Prysyth, and all along the eastern border of Lennor, before giving way to the Evoran Mountains.

"Well, I won't be going anywhere near the Mountains. I'd be several days travel away from seeing any Baselian soldiers, if they're really there."

Ty frowned. "Can you at least take my knife?"

I laughed. What would I do with a knife? "Sure, why not." But I pocketed the blade he gave me—one of his own creation, wrapped in a beautiful leather case—and placed it in my fabric satchel along with the jar of Fina Aunty's remains.

Ty had always been a worrywart. But more often than not, I was grateful for his assistance.

"Is there anything else in here that looks like it could be sold?" I asked Ty, giving the room another once over. All that was left really was a pile of old journals. I grabbed the first one of the pile, but was peeved to see it was full of nonsensical scribble. Pages upon pages of strange symbols.

Ty had grabbed another journal and was flipping through it, seeing much of the same. "Curious one, that aunt of yours," but his tone was laced with fondness.

While flipping, a small sheet slipped out of the pages of the journal he was holding and landed by my feet.

I bent down to pick it up. It was blank on one side, and on the other there was a beautifully sketched portrait of a man and woman. It was done with a lead pencil with a clearly refined hand. The woman—the woman was my mother, plain as day. The sight of it brought a smile to my face, but it dissipated as my eyes traveled to the man. The sketch was all the same shade of gray, but very well-detailed—still, I had no idea who the man was. He had a sharp chin and a long, regal nose. He wore a jacket with long lapels and had long hair, down to his shoulders, unusual for the men of Lennor.

I had never met my father. My mother didn't talk about him often, but she'd always described him as kind and handsome and well-traveled. To be perfectly honest, I was never that interested in hearing about the man. He'd abandoned us, after all, but my mother never seemed to think of it that way. But if this was him, surely she would've shown the photo to me at some point, on one of those evenings she reminisced about him.

I looked over to see if Ty had even noticed the paper in my hands, but he was busy carrying the rest of Fina Aunty's books into a box.

Trying to ignore the strange, inkling feeling in my stomach the drawing had caused, I stuck it back into the folds of Fina Aunty's nonsensical journal and placed it into my satchel. I would figure out who the man was later.

I helped Ty load up some of the items I planned on selling into his cart, though he was much faster than me at the task. As I came out of the cottage with the final pile of scarves, he took them delicately from my hands. I'd expected him to turn around and place them in his cart and let go, but he didn't.

For a moment, he held onto my hand with his free one, and he seemed to squeeze it ever so gently.

"Sonam," he started, his tone gentle and cautious, "Listen."

I nodded, feeling a little queasy all of a sudden. "I'm listening."

"I don't want you to think that…well, that you're alone now." Ty's face, with his dark brown skin and round, dark eyes, was as serious as I'd ever seen it. "I don't want you to feel like you have to struggle, that you need to worry about taking care of yourself."

"My knitting will—"

He interrupted me, shaking his head. "Your knitting is fine. I'm not just talking about money, Sonam."

His hand felt warm against mine, and I itched to pull it away.

"I don't care what my father thinks about it. If—well, if the time comes, I—" A blush was creeping into his cheeks, and I swallowed. I knew what was coming. He was going to offer to marry me.

I knew why. I knew what he thought. Poor orphan Sonam, all alone at the edge of the village.

Ty was my friend, sure. A good friend. He always had been. And he was selfless. But his family was well-off and well-respected. He didn't need to do this. He didn't need to pity me so.

"I can take care of you, Sonam. I will."

I opened my mouth, trying to suck in a breath.

"It doesn't have to be now," he continued, letting go of my hand, not before rubbing his thumb across the outside of it. "But, I just want you to know. So you don't have to worry."

I inhaled through my nose and nodded. "Okay." It was all I could get out.

As he turned to go, he looked behind me, into the Woods. "Are you sure you don't want me to come w—"

I smiled, shaking off the awkwardness of the prior moment. "I need to do this alone. For her."

He nodded.

Feeling a little bad, I offered a cheery, "See you tomorrow morning, at the market?"

He smiled back, the late-afternoon suns bright against his teeth, before leaving.


It was really only far into the eastern end of the Woods where one would really expect any danger and rationally, I knew I had nothing to fear, but that knowledge did nothing to calm my nerves that evening. I was several days' worth of paces away from the mountains, but the knowledge of what lurked beyond the Continent was enough to give me goosebumps, every time I entered the Woods, no matter what I'd told Ty.

It was different now, alone, without Fina Aunty.

For some reason, whenever I was with her, I felt safe. So, so safe. Even though she was an older woman, smaller than myself. That was one of the things that was so special about her.

Whistling slightly to myself, I tried to stand up taller, as though how I acted on the outside could impact how I was feeling on the inside.

I carried with me only my fabric tote, holding the glass jar that contained what remained of Fina Aunty.

Fina Aunty wouldn't be afraid. She traversed through the Var Woods frequently. She traveled alone from Basel through Prysyth to Lennor just to find me and my mother. She was a brave woman, and I ought to be more like her.

The air was warm and dry. I could see the suns clearly through the thin canopy of trees. The Var Woods grew much thicker the closer you got to the Evoran side. People had cut down so many of the trees over time. Few wildlife remained.

Which is why I was especially upset at myself for not noticing the man that had snuck up behind me on the path.

I heard the sound of the arrow being drawn before I heard him speak.

"The bag," he barked.

I turned around quickly to see my assailant. He was a thin man, older, with beady eyes that were darting all over the path. One hand was holding his raggedy bow firm, the other pinched the arrow drawn between it. His skin was pale—too pale to be from Lennor, where the suns were no stranger to us and the people ranged from golden to brown, but he lacked the typical whitish blonde hair and prudish features of Baselians. Was he from Prysyth?

"The bag, bitch!"

I frowned, immediately losing any sense of sympathy left in me.

I tried and failed to stifle a giggle of hysteria as my fingers brushed over Ty's knife in my bag, just for a second, before I quickly grabbed the jar of ashes out and tossed the rest at the man. The knife would do me no good now, not when his finger was poised on the bow just a few feet from me.

The man eyed the jar quickly but thankfully seemed to regard it as useless.

I knew for a fact the only things in my bag were a handful of coins, some seeds, a needle, Fina Aunty's journal, and Ty's knife—easily the most valuable item in there.

I expected that to be the end of it––looking him over, it didn't seem like he wanted to kill me, he probably just really needed some money––but he glanced in my bag for two seconds before tossing it on the ground.

"Alright, never mind. The necklace."

Almost immediately my hand flew up to the gem that hung around my neck. The one Fina Aunty had given me. Oh no.

"The necklace, girl. Now." He ran a hand through his dirty hair in frustration.

It felt like a fist had clenched over my heart. This was the last thing Fina Aunty had given me. She'd wanted me to have this. It seemed so important to her…I didn't even know if it was valuable—it may not even have been a real gem.

When I still stood frozen, the man tossed his arrow to the ground and came toward me. "I don't need that to hurt you."

Before I could react, he roughly grabbed a fistful of my hair and pulled it aside so he could yank the chain off my neck.

My breath was coming in shallow pants, and I willed my legs to stay up. It was just a necklace. I had other things to remember Fina Aunty by. I had a whole cottage full of them. In fact, wispy strands of her hair were still all over the floors. Better he run off with this necklace than stick around and…I shook my head.

After a few seconds, he muttered a few curses under his breath before warning me not to move or scream. I nodded in acquiescence, letting his fingers drift back to the chain, right before he let out a bloodcurdling scream.

I heard more than saw him drop to the floor behind me, and I swiveled around in shock. He was convulsing on the ground, looking as though he'd been struck by some invisible force.

There wasn't an animal or person to be seen. We were still the only ones on the path. The man was clutching his fingertips to his chest, his face twisted in pain, and despite his earlier threats, I felt concerned for him.

"What–what is it?" I looked around widely, scanning the trees for any sign of the threat, but I saw nothing. The woods were quiet—not even a mouse could be heard.

"What the fuck was that?" He was looking right at me, as if I'd been the one to hurt him.

"Are–are you okay?" I began, reaching out to him before he shook his head, trying to scramble away from me. "Should I call for help––"

"What the fuck did you do?"

My eyes widened. Me?

I took another step toward him, "I didn't—"

"Shut up," he suddenly hissed, interrupting me.


"Psst!" he snapped, seemingly forgetting about the fact that he was robbing me and staring deep into the trees.

I followed his gaze and saw nothing.

He reached for his abandoned arrow and slid his bow back around to his front. Following his lead, I quickly grabbed my bag, sliding the jar inside and reaching down to finger the knife, encased in leather.

"What is—" I was interrupted again, not by him this time, but by the rustling of the trees.

Was it an animal? Could it be an…Evoran? This far west? Impossible, I chastised my naivety.

But I saw them before I heard them. The dark purple color stood out between the thin expanse of trees. The color of the Baselian army's stoles.

My would-be robber took off, and I looked between the direction he'd gone and the direction the soldiers were coming from helplessly.

Well, I assume a crook had every right to be wary of soldiers, but I didn't. Though Ty's concerns lingered in the back of my head.

"Halt!" they called out, though I hadn't moved an inch.

There were three of them, they carried large satchels on their backs, full of supplies it seemed. Ty was right. The rumors were right. They were camping out in the Var Woods, strangely enough. But this was Lennoran territory. Did they have any right to be here?

"What's your business in these woods, girl?" The tallest one in front barked. He was broad and muscular, not unlike his companions, but his face was dirty and drawn tight. They looked like they'd been here for a while.

"I-I'm just headed up to the stream," I realized I was panting still, the adrenaline having had no time to leave my veins. "I was nearly robbed just now, by an older man with a bow. He–he—" I was about to tell them he nearly took my necklace, before deciding against it. "He went that way." I pointed in the direction he'd gone.

They were soldiers, surely they would run after a crook, no?

But they didn't move.

"These woods are dangerous."

I frowned. "I'm just making a quick trip. I'm–I'm depositing my aunt's ashes in the stream. It was her wish."

The soldiers exchanged looks, and the one in front looked me up and down. I squirmed under their gaze. I had a feeling I was not free to go, despite Baselian soldiers having no jurisdiction over me in the Var Woods…

"You're Lennoran?"

I nodded, but I don't think it was a question. I felt all too much like a vulnerable child at the moment.

"We'll escort you to the stream, then. Come."

The two in front started walking, and the one in the back placed a gentle but strong hand on my elbow.

"Uh–I–That's not necessary—I know the way, and I live nearby, I've been in the Woods before and—"

"We'll escort you." The one in front called back, as they continued walking.

I eyed the man who had a grip on my arm. He looked younger than the others. Probably my age. I could tell that underneath the dirt and tiredness, he had a sweet, boyish face.

His eyes darted to mine, and his lips tightened, but he said nothing.

Ty wasn't going to believe this tale when I got back. The old man, now this. I shook my head, and tried to figure out what else I could say to get the soldiers to leave me alone. This wasn't quite how I pictured Fina Aunty's final rites.

The soldier holding my arm was being more forceful now, nearly dragging me backwards. I nearly tripped over a pebble in my path, and I shot him a dirty look as I felt his grip tighten painfully.

"Alright back there?"

"Aye," he called out, loudly.

The other two were decently far up ahead the path from us.

I felt him staring at me, all the while he kept tugging on my arm. I attempted finally to slip it out of his grip, when he pulled me close—much too close—to his side.


"You need to run." He hissed, in a low whisper, right against my ear.

I looked up at him, gaping, but his eyes were trained in front of us.

"Get off the path, go left."

My eyes widened as I felt a horrible feeling well up in my gut. "What do you—"

"Shh," he hissed again. "Run as fast as you can. On my count."

"What the gods are you…" I trailed off, as I watched him pull a dagger out of the sheath at his hip. I gasped, quietly, as he made a clean slice along his forearm.

"You're going to run that way," he pointed north, "and keep running."

"I don't underst–"

He pushed me roughly in the direction he'd pointed, and at the same time he yelled out, "Fuck! I'm down! Bitch grabbed my dagger! She's headed south!"

I blinked at him, incredulous, before he mouthed, "Go!" one more time, forcefully, and for some reason I listened to him, and took off running into the trees.

I heard the others' loud, angry voices, and was relieved to hear them take off in the opposite direction from me, but I kept on going.

I ran as fast as I could, despite my shaky breaths, ignoring the branches and twigs scraping at my face and my arms. I clutched my bag tightly to my chest, wishing so badly that Fina Aunty were here with me, or Ty, or someone…anyone. The trees were growing thicker, but I refused to slow down.

Certainly, those soldiers weren't planning on simply escorting me to the stream. No…Something more sinister had to be afoot. I cried out as a particularly sharp branch caught me in the side, tearing my dress.

The half-second I'd taken to look at the scratch while running was my downfall, literally. I felt the ground disappear below me as I tumbled over a tree branch. I braced my arms in front of me, hoping to catch my fall, but there was no ground to catch me.

I feel like moments like these are where people think everything seems to slow down, but nothing could've been more false. In a matter of no more than two seconds, I'd realized my fate. Below the side of the trunk was a ravine, nearly forty paces deep, with water rushing along the bottom of it, and I was falling right in.

I was going to land in a heap of broken bones. I would drown. I would die.

I wondered idly if the glass jar in my bag would break, and at least Fina Aunty's ashes would get sprinkled the way she'd wanted. I hugged the bag tight to my chest, unable to even form a cry or a scream for my breath was caught in my throat, feeling the cool gem of my necklace pressed against my skin.

Before I could think another thought, everything went black.

I didn't faint, I didn't feel an impact, I just suddenly felt…nothing. It was like every sensory interpreter in my body had gone to sleep. This lasted for a few seconds before the most interesting thing occurred.

An invisible force was pulling all my limbs in different directions. Every single bone in my body cracked in two. My fingernails were ripped from their beds. My head was going to implode. It did implode. I was dying. How long had this been going on for? It felt like hours, days. Or maybe it had only been a few seconds? I couldn't take it anymore. I had to be dying. I wanted to die. Oh gods, I was dying.