Fur vs Skin

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17.

Winter wakes the Wolf.

A few days passed by in a blur, the time finally arriving where I would join the other members of the pack in their activities, further emerging myself in this small community. As promised, Marcus finished explaining a few things that I would need to know when mingling with the others, some of the teachings being no more than simple gestures, words, and the dos and don’t’s for certain situations.

For instance, never look one of the elders in the eye for too long, for that it means you wish to challenge them. There were also a few other rules that I could slip away with not doing, the unforgettable thought that I was not actually a part of this pack.

The sun has risen high in the sky by the time we’ve left the cabin and ventured down the path leading to the pack, it’s golden rays bring a wave of warmth that has been trapped behind the icy clouds.

Our footsteps create a rhythm of noise, squeaking and crunching the snow beneath our weight as we wander. A sense of peace drenches my bones, the quietness of the forest surrounding me in its cocoon. The feeling was short-lived as we strode closer to the forest’s edge, the echoing of children’s laughter rings through the air and travels the short distance between our arrival along with muttered conversations.

We cross into the clearing, the image of the lively pack awaiting us. The atmosphere felt different from before, carefree and joyous compared to my first arrival as we venture toward the bonfire. Two small children shortly miss the stride of Arsen’s frame as they dodge around him, shouting out in their language before continuing on their way, their giggles traveling after them. The action surprises him as he watches the two scurry away to the other side of the clearing.

An emotion molds in his eyes as he regards their interaction with two other females. My eyebrows raise slightly with interest, pinpointing the sight as.. longing. Sealing his eyes for a second, the look cleared from his irises before they flickered toward me. Instead of turning away, I give him a closed-mouth smile in return, allowing that wave of heat to flood through me like a tidal wave.

“Amelia,” Marcus suddenly calls out to me.

Turning away from Arsen, I find Marcus’s brown eyes locked on my form. “Yes?”

“How do you feel about children?”

My lips tug upward as I shrug casually, “I don’t mind them. Why?”

“For your first day, we’re putting you somewhere simple enough for you to participate in for the time being,” he says, catching my eye for a moment, “and it involves children, so, I was just wondering how you felt.”

“It doesn’t matter to me, whatever you seem fit.”

Marcus grins, “Alright.”

A short period of silence falls between us just as we reach the bonfire, where the elders were settled. They appeared to be in a heated discussion upon our approach, ceasing their exchange once we were within earshot, or to easily put it, once I was near. Maarika greeted me with the same calculating gaze as she always has but they held a kinder edge to them than before and the nervousness that seized my heart relented in its intensity at the discovery.

Santha steps toward Maarika and greets her by pressing her cheek against the elders’, a small rumble vibrating from their chests as she does the same to Zainadine, the white-haired woman creating the same noise before they pulled away. I watch as Marcus mimicks Santha’s actions to the females before he draws away until they both bow to the remaining elders.

Quickly, I follow their actions, bending at the waist and motioning for Arsen to do the same: Marcus’s teaching resonates through my skull, as I show my respect. I could feel their eyes boring into my skin as I rise, casting my gaze to the surrounding scenery behind them, wary not to directly make contact.

“Hello Amelia,” Zainadine greets me, voice small and airy yet still thick with an accent.

Her call of my attention surprises me as I cut my gaze to her for a moment before giving her a closed-mouthed smile, “Hello elder Zainadine.”

“You can call me Zaina for short,” she tells me with a slight chuckle, “I know my name can be a handful.”

I nod, casting a glance in Marcus’s direction before speaking, “Of course.”

The breeze that rushes through the area blows her white tresses over her face causing her thin fingers to brush them behind her ear as she observes me with kind eyes.

“Are you excited for today?”

“Excited wouldn’t be the exact word,” I begin, shifting my weight in the snow before chuckling lowly to myself, “but, it’s a start.”

She gives me a smile of her own, the glint of her canines resulting in a small spike of my heartbeat. As if hearing the organ’s shift of movement, her gaze flickers to my chest: mild amusement swimming through her orbs.

“Please do not be frightened,” she assures me, “we mean well.”

As if noticing the brooding male beside her, the same one that has been watching me with dark calculating eyes, she shoots a glance towards Cade; giggling.

“Well, I’m not sure about him.”

His scoff resonates through my bones.

Though at her attempt to joke, I still crack a tiny smile, that didn’t stop the racing thoughts of the intentions he possessed. Noticing the end of the interaction between the elder and I, Santha excuses us to guide me to my first activity for the day. Bidding my momentary goodbye with a bow, both Arsen and I followed her to the east end of the clearing where a circle of females and children were sitting on rows of logs, weaving things with their hands.

One of the females lifted her head in time to notice our approach, her face morphing into familiar features as her name slicks to the tip of my tongue.

“Grey,” Santha exclaims my thoughts, her voice carrying through the wind and gathering the attention of others.

Her silver gaze flickers from Santha’s form after accessing her before they glided over to me, the hue within darkening at the sight of me. A part of me sighs deeply. Here we go.

We inch closer until we were standing behind the row of logs, positioned in a way where the children had their backs to us while Grey and the other females faced us directly; at the small commotion, most of the children turned and beamed at the sight of the dark-toned woman before me.

“Luna Santha!” most of them rang out.

She greets them with a soft tone, her eyes shining in such a way a mother would look upon their child. “Hello, my children.”

I half expected them to remove themselves from their seats and bombard her but, surprisingly, they stayed put and watched as Santha strode to the middle of the rows.

“I hope everyone is having fun, right?”

“Yes Luna,” they all synced, small faces concealed with excitement.

“That’s good.”

“Can you play with us Luna?” a small female child with auburn curls framing her face asks.

She sat closer to Santha at the edge of the log and compelled the woman with her doe eyes that I was sure she used to get away with anything as the rest of the children pitched in their shouts of agreement. Santha chuckles, lowering herself to her ankles while pushing her dress under her bottom, coming eye level with the girl.

“I wish I could sweetie, but I have grown-up duty to handle right now,” she grins when a pout forms on the girls’ lips.

The rest of them release a short, sync sadden “awe” into the air as Santha grants them with one last tug of her mouth: placing a gentle kiss on the crown of the little girl’s head before she rises. She then turns to the Grey and the other females beside her.

“Alright, children,” a girl with a pixie cut interjects, clapping her hands as she stands to her feet. “back to work.”

Without further argument, they pick up their things and continue feebly on their weaving, their attention flickering toward Arsen and me. Santha stalks forward to greet the woman for a small interaction, leaving us to the hungry gazes of the children as they access us with their curious gazes. Some tilt their noses to the air, nostrils flaring; while most seeming to have their eyes set on the tall brooding male beside me, his features in their usual look.

The other half peer at me with curiousness clouding their eyes. I take my own moment to regard them as well, taking in their clothing as they seemed to be made from large leaves, healthy and vibrant in color and held together by strings. The males only wore make-shift bottoms, no shirt, while the females wore skirt-like leaves and bikini tops. A short spark of concern shoots through me for the fact that they may freeze before it disperses, recalling the fact that the temperature runs differently with everyone; again making me feel out of place with my large coat, pants, and boots.

Arsen huffs beside me.

“Amelia.”

My gaze snaps to Santha a second later as she beckons me forward, inhaling deeply, I glide between the rows of logs with Arsen in tow and come to stand beside Santha.

“Amelia, this is Dyani,” she gestures to the pixie-cut female, who smiles in return, “she’ll be teaching you all that you need to learn for today and along with the others.”

I didn’t miss the stern glance she shot toward Grey, who burning holes in the side of my head.

“Hi, there! It’s finally nice to meet,” Dyani tells me, grinning from ear to ear, the whites of her teeth blending with her olive-toned skin.

“You’ve been the talk of the village for the past few weeks.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

Her smile stays, her attention shifting to Arsen, a rise of curious and knowing flickering through the depths of her golden orbs. Santha then places a hand on my shoulder, before sliding down to rub my back in small circles.

“I would stick around to talk with you girls but I’m needed back with the others.”

I turn my head to look at her, catching her reassuring gaze then nodding as if to tell her ‘I’ll be alright’. Taking that as her cue, she doesn’t wait a second long, stepping back and taking the path back to the small huddle of the elders and Marcus. The hand that once claimed my back was now gone and invited a cold rush down my spine, now alone.

“Don’t just stand there,” Dyani snickers, sliding over to make room, “come sit.”

I hesitate momentarily then silently encourage myself before I sit down at the end of the log, away from Grey. Besides her, the other two females acknowledge me silently and continue on their work, Grey making it a mission to ignore my presence now.

“Today we’re just doing something simple that the children can work on themselves,” Dyani starts off, showcasing her work, a half woven basket.

“We make baskets for the females that go out with the warriors to fetch firewood.”

“. . .Warriors?”

Dyani only grins at my question, her eyes twinkling with amusement yet not revealing what her thoughts held before she swivels around to reach behind the logs, where a supply of strings, leaves, and other things lied.

“Don’t worry about that. Right now, I’ll start you off with something small,” she responds, handing me a couple of strings and leaves.

Immediately, Dyani settles into the role of teaching me the way of creating art, completely different than when I’m holding my sketch pad and pencil. I watch as she demonstrates constructing a bowl, her fingers weaving the strings given effortlessly together, tightening and pulling it through hoops, and piercing holes through a large leaf that easily becomes the bottom portion of said bowl.

Gradually, I follow along, messing up more times than I should, my fingers not as skilled as hers, trembling in the cold and beginning to turn red at the tips— yet I still push forward. Somehow in the midst of it all, Arsen joins me, seeming more calm and familiar with the activity. I take note that he’s probably done this before when he was the same age as the children today.

An image of a short, dark-haired Arsen runs through my mind, easing me further into the quietness of the atmosphere that collected me in its clutches. A naive part of me felt as if I almost belonged.

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