Adventuring through twisted time.

Into the dark of night, she ran. 

Over everything else, running was the one constant thing she seemed to be the most skilled at. Although many people would argue that. Libelle and her other ladies all knew this night was coming, it was just a matter of when it would. Ostana had told them she would go sometime soon but couldn't bear to tell them when because the moment they said their teary eyed goodbyes her resolve for leaving would crumble. She needed to leave though. Every woman here had some sort of life before coming to work at the brothel and it caused them to know themselves away from work.

Ostana didn't know herself outside of Ruby or before that Oz. She never truly got the chance to get to know just Ostana and what it meant to be her. Getting away would be good for her and she had some help finding a place that no one would recognise her as Ruby but even more importantly as Oz. Having access to the Gypsies through Libelle was truly a blessing at times. It allowed for her to know of this place she was off to, to begin with, but even more so because of them, she had her own home in this town so she wouldn't have to rely on looking for an inn. 

She let out her wolf once she reached the woods. Letting her run free as she tried and failed to recall the last time she allowed her to do so. Her wolf limped for a while at first from the muscle memory of her paw being broken though it had long been healed. Had it been that long since she shifted? Since the last time, she was injured? After frolicking through the forest for a few hours she made her way to its edge and found the clothes a Gypsy left hidden for her. She'd have to travel the rest of the way as a human but her wolf got her quite far already. 

She froze at the sight of her crimson cloak. Hesitant to put it on when the cool morning air began to nip at her back. She wasn't cold but she knew that if she didn't wear it people would find it concerning that she was underdressed for the cold weather. So although the color of the cloak clearly stood out she put it on to blend in. Her wolf had run all night and now as she walked the sun had come but did little to none with warming the world and in fact, it had even begun to snow. The description of This town reminded her of home almost with its consistent cold weather and battle ready and weary people. The only difference was her home was native to the Lupines and while she couldn't be sure who or what was native to this land she knew it wasn't wolves by the smell alone. 

What she could smell however this far out was blood. Fresh from a kill and it made the wolf within her stir but there was more to it. There was the smell of death beyond just the fresh kills it was like something she'd only smelled once before from one of her clients. The closer she got to the scent the slower her tracks became until she altogether stopped. These scents were growing stronger as she continued on her path and she wasn't going to just foolishly walk right into whatever it was. She sniffed around and froze again as now yet another scent was caught but this one took over all her senses. It intoxicated her and lulled her ever closer into the unknown. She forced her legs to stop moving forward when she realised she was moving. 

She was dazed for a moment until she heard a scream and like a ton of breaks, her senses came tumbling back down to Earth. Her wolf stirred again but this time because she was nervous for the bearer of that blood curling scream. What if they bore that scent? Even if they didn't they were clearly in trouble and by the sounds of things whatever was happening was sure to be an attack and not a fight and Ostana in good conscience couldn't just stand idly by and let that happen when there was a good chance she could help. So she took off and followed her nose and the sounds, accessing the situation before launching out to attack. 

A young woman surrounded by men and running for her life. These weren't the ones that smelled like death and there wasn't any blood about. She corked a brow as she watched from the shade of the trees, watching as this woman ran towards the very scents she had followed here. A trap? Was she luring them to their deaths like a black widow? She quietly hummed to herself in thought but in a matter of seconds was out and standing between these men and this woman. Who had fallen, due to being shot in the leg with an arrow. Ostana let out an unnatural growl which made the men flatter slightly. Watching them become even more unsettled as she suddenly sensed she wasn't alone as that scent of death and fresh blood grew closer to her back. Soon everyone attacked but Ostana stood her ground to continue to guard the woman. Kneeling to remove the arrow and staunch the bleeding. 

"Just going to stand there big guy?" She snaps towards Vestein. Showing him nothing. No emotion or attraction or all the things she should be, as his scent completely invaded her senses because he was her mate. 

But that was just it. She didn't want one. 

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✧ In The Dark of The Night ✧
“I blame being a sanguine, speed is all I know.” He gave an easy chuckle pass his lips as he shrugged. He at least manages to pull her out of whatever funk she was in by meeting her brother. He listened though the more she talked about her family giving a gentle nod of his head towards her. “Well that makes sense, family is complicated. No matter the blood or the water kind. It makes sense that you wouldn’t want me to fight them for you. You don’t strike me as the kind of woman who sits out of the battle. You have a warrior heart.”

His eyes noticed her frown and he resisted the urge to reach out and smooth that frown away from her features. He reached out for a moment to place his hand over hers just to try and bring comfort to her. “Whoever broke your heart I hope you know you don’t deserve that. I understand what you are saying. I just don’t think I can live a life without you being a part of it. I have never felt like this before. I have never cared about anyone else’s happiness like I have cared about yours.”

He was being honest, how he wished they had met before her heart was broken he understood that they each had a life before meeting. “But until the bond is broken I can’t see me giving up even if it's .01 percent of a chance.” He teased before his face changed then. Leaving his hand on hers to keep him grounded he felt his teeth grind together. He was quiet for a moment trying not to fully speak without thinking. He wanted to tell her her father didn’t deserve the break she was giving him when she could have his head on a pike.

“Your father clearly doesn’t understand what it means to be a true father. He clearly looked at children as pawns to do his bidding or get him money.” The growl came from his gut before her hand wrapped around the one he had placed on hers. Breathing in and out before focusing on her and forcing the rage back in his mind. “I am sure there is so much more you are leaving out to keep me here but I am a man of my word. I will not go after him without your say so unless he ever shows up and puts you in harm's way. I will come from the shadows like a nightmare.”

His eyes showed how serious he was for a briefest of moments before he finally forced his shoulders to relax. “Are you done eating?” He wondered as he raised his mug to his lips finishing the alcohol that brought a nice burn down to his gut. He would have to hunt later tonight to fill the rage quota he was feeling right now.

There was far too much talk of emotion and commitment coming from him. She pulled her hand away and looked away. She was trying. Fighting her every instinct to run. Flee once more like she always had. Change her scent again so now even he couldn't find her. The idea lodged its way into her mind and sat there as the prominent thought. Her heart was racing. She couldn't deny the way she felt tied to him. Or how that tie pulled her to him. But he was a stranger. A vampire and a Viking where her loyalties lay on the opposite side of his. The idea of running turned into a rock that sank into the pit of her stomach and sat there. Destroying what was left of her appetite. 

There was no way this didn't end in bloodshed.

All of her walls went up. Even the ones she thought were long destroyed by her time with Libelle and at The Dragon Lady. The coldness in her eyes immediately wiped out all the vulnerability once there. And so, the hard jewel hardened again. Out of fear. And heartbreak. The bonds of loyalty for those she loved before him. This tie was new. It could be broken and they would heal. Move on. Find others… So why couldn't she say those words of rejection? They got stuck in her throat instead. She scorned herself for her weakness. And would be fighting until she could do it. Reject him. She had to for both of their souls. “Even in harm's way. He is my fight.” Her stern words were heavy in the air. As she finished off her drink and rose. Draping the dark cloak over her shoulders once again and almost forgot she'd left her regular Red one at her new home. She missed it now as she thought. The comfort it gave her. The sense of belonging and being wanted beyond just for one night. It then made her heart hurt. A pain she knew was coming by now. Because it always came when she remembered or thought of certain things. 

She walked with Vestein in contemplative silence. Finding solace in the fact that The moon was out. She let out a sigh. More audibly than she had wanted it to be. She hadn't even begun to heal her heart. Which foolishly fell in love without her permission. And now she was here. With him. She felt trapped. Even though she wasn't. Even though all she had to do was say those words and she'd be free. But she couldn't. She couldn't hurt herself more than she was already. And she couldn't bear to hurt him. She hated this. She hated that she felt any form of guilt for him. That she felt anything for him at all. It's just the mate bond. She grit her teeth as they walked towards this spot he knows to bathe.

A bad idea. Going to this spot with him. She wasn't winning any of her battles with herself today. And it made her angry. Though her face remained stoic. Unreadable. As did her demeanor. At some point, she stopped walking and stared up at the moon. “I was serious about going slow.” She at last managed to speak through her emotions. “I need it. I need time. Or I'm afraid to say we won't work.” She looked at him with the Moonlight still dancing in her gaze. Then she looked away and that coldness about her returned as she looked around. “I considered running.” WHY DID SHE TELL HIM? “I still am.”

“And If you can't slow down for me. I'll be sure you never find me.”

“Just like the rest of them can't.”

✧ In The Dark of The Night ✧
The rhythm of her heart reverberated so loudly that he could have fashioned it into a battle anthem to rally his troops. Observing her, he couldn't shake the sense of her discontent with their mate bond. He remembered the jubilation that had accompanied the bonding of mates among his tribe, and he couldn't help but feel foolish for expecting similar fortune. This seemed to align with the battles he had encountered in his life thus far. Yet, even if she attempted to reject him, he resolved not to give up. Perhaps he should have adopted a more aloof demeanor and employed subtle gestures to win her over. Dwelling on it seemed futile, though; he had already laid all his cards on the table.

He waited, bracing himself for her rejection, sensing her icy exterior. But it didn't come. "All I offer is my assistance, should you desire it," he finally spoke, the silence once again descending between them. He had never felt so awkward, yet he found solace in the fact that he hadn't resorted to forcefully demonstrating what their bond could entail. He realized that there were reasons why she hesitated, reasons linked to the pain she must have experienced — pains of the heart he couldn't fully comprehend. While the sensation was euphoric for him, he understood that it wasn't the same for her. He despised the unease he was causing her when all he yearned to do was ease her burdens. Thus, when she halted, so did he, captivated as the moonlight cast an ethereal glow upon her face.

It was a moment of breathtaking beauty, embodying the kindness that had characterized her demeanor since their first encounter. "Slow," he murmured, his gaze shifting to the moon. "I can proceed slowly; I don't want you to feel compelled to flee," he added gently, the thought of her retreating stirring a profound ache within him. After a lingering moment, he redirected his gaze to the path ahead. "Let me guide you to the springs, and then I'll leave you to your solitude in battle. The springs are too magnificent to remain unshared." His expression transformed, assuming a viking-like intensity, shedding the lovesick puppy facade he had worn since meeting her.

His hands rested casually against his belt as he resumed walking, matching her pace. Although he possessed the ability to expedite their journey through shadows, he dismissed the notion as foolish and opted for a leisurely stroll. Soon, the sound of rushing water filled the air, and he led her to the spring he frequented — the warmest of them all, reminiscent of summer nights spent beneath the stars. "Enjoy your bath, and if you require anything, just call out, and I'll come," he offered with a half-smile before turning to occupy his idle hands. He refused to impose his presence upon her but wondered if this retreat was merely him evading intimacy. How had she managed to elude her family so effectively? She remained an enigma to him, a mystery that threatened to consume his thoughts, especially if she persisted in keeping him at arm's length.

She'd loved a million times over and it only got her hurt in the end.

Ruby’s palms pulsed and ached at the memories of her first love. Her father. Her brothers. Her husband… ex-husband. The ache crept up to her wrist. And the ghost pain quickly caused her to clutch her arm to her chest. Bringing her memories to Libelle who was forced to re-break Ruby's arm after the jagged bone healed in the wrong position. But the thoughts of Belle hurt even more. And she scorned herself for falling when she knew she shouldn't have. She returned her arm to her side just as quickly as she'd hugged it to herself. The last thing she needed was for him to ask her about her actions. Or pick up on it and see it as a weakness. 

Ruby hummed a faint growl of frustration at her last thought. She didn't know him. Nor did she trust him. But she knew from the moment she realized he was her mate that he would never hurt her. Suddenly the memory of his kiss bled into her mind. And once again she growled. This time more notably as she forced the thoughts from her mind with harsh huff. But she froze in her tracks when his icy demeanor prickled across her skin. She should've expected it. Anticipated it better. It was after all how she had just treated him. 

It was what she asked for.

But it hurt. She hated it. Yet still, she accepted it after her quick pause. Following him as she processed his pain mixed with hers. Which was the worst part of this bond. She was already navigating the hurt in her own heart. Having to navigate his now too was going to be rough. There had to be a way to regulate this. To tailor or block each other's emotions. Ruby would go insane if she couldn't. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Clearing her mind as they walked. Letting her mind go blank. 

She hadn't realized they'd arrived until she opened her eyes. Stopping in her tracks a moment after him. She took in the beauty and serenity of the rushing water. Enjoying the sound as her eyes softened at the gorgeous sight. Which was ruined the moment he excused himself. Because it brought her crashing right back into her reality. She dropped her head and nodded. Acknowledging what he'd said silently. “Shit.” The words whispered from her lips. Expressing exactly how she felt. 

Minutes passed. And eventually, she caught him. Slowly wrapping her arms around his waist. Pressing her chest to his back as she wrapped him in a soft and cautious hug. 

She stayed there with him for a moment. Not wanting him to turn around. “I'm sorry.” The words were easier because he wasn't facing her. And in the next second, she retreated. Back to her corner of the falls where she'd left her bathing items. She waited a moment or two to be sure he wouldn't sneak back her way. She glanced over her shoulder as she dropped her dress. Smirking as it seemed he did keep his distance. Gently she floated into the water. And loosed a charming breathy chuckle at her shock of the water's warmth. She enjoyed it. Basking in the warmth and Moonlight reflected in the water. 

Eventually, she made her way to the falls. Allowing herself to be fully immersed in it. Pushing her dark hair back and away from her face. She wished it could wash away her heartaches. Her pains. Instead it just swept away the dirt. Sweat and lingering tear stains stuck to her skin. Ruby couldn't tell how long she'd stayed in the warm water but her fingertips were wrinkled by the time she got out. After dressing she sat on a rock and combed the kinks out of her hair. Quietly waiting as Vestein returned. “I can wait for you if you still need or want to bathe.” 

✧ In The Dark of The Night ✧
Vestein watched Ruby from a distance, his icy demeanor a thin shield over the turmoil within. He sensed her pain and hesitation, the conflicting emotions tearing at her heart. When she finally approached him, her arms wrapping around his waist in a cautious embrace, he felt a fleeting warmth cut through the chill that had settled in his chest. Her whispered apology lingered in the air, and he remained motionless, letting her retreat without a word.

He respected her space, understanding the need for time to navigate the storm within. Finding one's mate was rare, and accepting the bond came with its own struggles. While he had never let himself open to another beyond the coins he dropped for a night of comfort, it was clear she had endured more than he could fathom. As she moved towards the falls, Vestein took a deep breath, his gaze following her until she was no longer visible. The sound of the rushing water mingled with the soft rustle of leaves, a serene contrast to the chaos of their emotions.

Vestein eventually made his way back to the clearing after hearing the rustle of her clothing as she dressed, his steps measured and deliberate. He found Ruby sitting on a rock, her hair damp and freshly combed. The sight of her, a picture of quiet resilience, stirred something within him. Her offer to wait for him to bathe caught him off guard, and he paused, considering his response.

"Thank you," he finally said, his voice softer than usual. "I appreciate it. But there's something more important right now."

He moved closer, stopping just a few feet away from her. The distance between them felt vast, yet charged with unspoken understanding. "I know this bond is new and overwhelming. Navigating each other's pain isn't easy, and I can't pretend to fully understand what you're going through. But I'm here, and I'm willing to learn how to make this work. I will do as you wish for me, even if I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.” He looked towards the falling water for a long moment. “As your mate, I just wish you to be happy.”

Wanting to give her the time she needed to think, Vestein leapt into the water fully clothed. The cool embrace of the water was a stark contrast to the warmth of her touch. Once submerged, he stripped off his soaked clothes and tossed them onto a nearby rock, only a few feet from her. Sinking under the water, he allowed the silence to envelop him, a momentary escape from the complexity of their intertwined fates.

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