Character Snippets for Desta's Character Creation

"Not that way."

The dark-haired village girl gasps and spins about, looking desperately around with obvious fear in her eyes. "What— what way?" she chokes out.

"The way you're going," Desta says impatiently, hanging from a tree branch for a second before dropping to the ground next to the other girl.

The villager jumps back with a yelp, and then sighs in relief when she sees the speaker is a girl her own age. Taking in the visitor for a couple seconds, though, her eyes widen in wonder. "You— you're the demon girl, aren't you?" she blurts out.

Desta scowls ferociously, and the other girl shrinks back. "Yeah, so what if I am?" she demands. "You're still gonna get lost if you go that way."

"Oh. Um. Thanks." The stranger swings her basket a couple times in a nervous motion while the two size each other up. "I'm Felda," she finally introduces herself after a few seconds. Then she blushes. "And I'm… I'm sorry about the demon girl thing. That's just what my mama says."

The blonde girl shrugs. "I'm Desta," she replies.

"Ow! Ow! Ow! What're you doing?"

"I'm just combing it, Desta. Honest. Don't you never comb your hair? It's like a rat's nest."

Desta jerks free, leaving a knot of hair in the comb, strands dangling down to Felda's knees. She twists around into a crouch and scowls at the other girl. "Course it gets combed," she retorts, putting a hand up to rub her head where the hair had pulled free. "Alima combs it every day."

Felda's mouth pulls to the side in a skeptical smile. "Every day?"

"Yeah. Every night before I go to bed. And it don't hurt like what you were doing."

Felda pulls the knot of hair out of the comb and holds it up so the breeze can carry it away. "You mean your hair gets tangled like that in less than a day? How can Alima comb it without hurting you? I hardly did anything." She lies down on the blanket, head propped up with one hand.

Desta shrugs, relaxing back to sit cross-legged on the ground. She takes a piece of bread from Felda's basket and looks out over the cultivated fields that roll away from where they sit at the forest's edge. "I dunno. She just does."

Felda giggles. "Haven't you ever… I mean… why don't you braid it?"

"Braid it?" Desta frowns. "What for? That'd take time."

"Not any longer than Alima untangling it every night," her friend points out, sitting back up. "It'll keep your hair neater, and make it wavy and pretty. Let me show you. I'll be careful. Promise…"

“It don’t look real… tasty…” Madan says, looking doubtfully at the leathery purple creature the size of a large dog that lay in a jumble of broken branches at the edge of a bush. He's a stout boy with the brown, rough, plain appearance the clearly marked him as peasant.

Two arrows jut from the creature's side, one broken from its fall. Madan pokes it lightly with a booted foot, and the feelers wave feebly, little grasping claws clicking together for a few brief seconds before the creature becomes still again. “My Da's startin' to wonder why I always bring back weird critters like this.”

Desta crouches nearby in the long grass of the clearing, staring into the forest and slowly shredding a strip of curling bark. “You don’t always get weird stuff. Just last week you got a deer. And don’t forget the mess of rabbits t’other day.”

“Them 'rabbits' had fangs, ya know.”

She snorts. “They looked enough like rabbits. And there’s no way to tell if you can eat ‘em till you try.” She falls silent while Madan pulls the unbroken arrow from the carcass, becoming still with a listening look coming over her face. Tossing aside the bark, she stands and picks up the purple thing by the legs with no regard for the claws. “Look, if you don’t want it, I’ll take it. I’ll bet Alima can cook it up. But we gotta go. There’s something… coming. I dunno what, but it’s bigger than this thing. Lots bigger.”

"How is it Alima lets you wander in the forest alone? My Mama says it's dangerous. Is it 'cause you're a demon girl?" Felda's voice is languid in the afternoon heat that presses down even through the deep shade of the lone tree where the two girls lounge.

Desta frowns at the last question, becoming still for a few seconds before sitting up to toss a bread crust into the pond for the ducks to enjoy. "Do I look like a demon?" she says, looking at Felda. "I've seen some 'o them demons, and they don't look nothing like us."

"How come they don't attack you then?"

The blonde girl shrugs, gaze drawn back to the dark line of the forest, barely visible over the swell of the field and the waving wheat. It felt strange to be away from the cool dimness of Arden. Felda had begged and wheedled, but only convinced Desta to leave the familiar sanctuary with the prospect of visiting the grand old tree that still stood by the edge of the pond.

"I dunno," she replies after a while, taking a handful of berries from the basket she had brought to the picnic. "Maybe it's 'cause I live there. Or I don't smell good. Or maybe Alima did something. Doesn't matter, anyway. I stay away from them."

Felda opens one eye to regard her friend's frowning face and decides to change the subject. "Those berries are real nice," she says. "Could you show me where to get some to take to Mama?"

Desta shakes her head and lies back, popping the little orange fruits in her mouth one at a time. "I could bring you some, if you want, but you can't get 'em yourself. It'd be too dangerous," she says as she chews.

"How come? How'd you get 'em then?"

"Huh. Well, I am a demon girl, ain't I?"

"We'll catch up again in a couple days, then?" Desta leans against a large tree at the edge of the woods, squinting up at a bird high above. Looked like a hawk.

"Nope. I'll be at the festival, remember? I told you before," Madan stops a few steps away in the sunlight and turns to look back, hitching his bag higher on his shoulder.

"Oh, yeah…" She frowns a little. "I forgot."

"No you didn't," Madan says. "You're just mad."

Desta looks at him instead of the bird. "Huh? Mad?"

"Yeah," he says. "Mad. 'Cause you're not going to the festival."

She snorts. "You're crazy. I don't care none about your festival." Pulling a dead leaf from the trunk of the tree, she begins folding it into halves, smaller and smaller, listening to the crackling noise it makes as she bends it. He doesn't answer right away, and they both stand in silence for a couple minutes, not looking at each other.

Shifting from one foot to the other, he finally says, "You could come, if you wanted."

Dropping the mangled leaf, Desta looks at him. "You know why I can't," she says.

"You're being silly," he answers. "Everyone'll be busy having fun. No one'll even notice you're there."

She shakes her head. "That's not how it works. But you go have fun, 'kay?" Turning, she moves back into the shelter of the forest.

"You can't hide in there forever, ya know," Madan calls after her.

"Who says?" her voice floats back.

Shaking his head with a sigh, he turns and walks along the narrow track back towards his village. His parents would be happy with his take today. But in spite of his bold words, he knew he still wouldn't tell them that he had help when he hunted. And he realized Desta knew that.

Desta huddles in the crook between the roots of a massive tree, gasping for breath and trying not to; every breath hurt, and big breaths hurt more. She peeks under her hand at a ragged, bloody gash. Alima always said not to panic, that panic didn't do anything useful. But it was hard not to panic when she'd never hurt this much or felt her own bloody ribs before. The tiny clearing is a mess of blood and ichor, and she needed to leave before the scavangers arrived. But first, she had to get her breath back and find the strength to stand. The cut on her side was the worst wound, but not the only one, and her heart was slow in calming after her first real brush with death.

Now that she could look back on it, it hadn't really been the best idea, this coming out here and taking on the demon herself. Back at the edge of the forest, fresh with learning of Felda's death, it had seemed the natural thing to do. Once she tracked the creature down, though… things got more complicated. She turns her mind away from those thoughts, trying to focus on something more useful, like how to get home to Alima. Night was falling, and though there was little chance she'd get lost, there was a long trip through the snowy cold ahead of her.

She looks at her hand again, already becoming a pale blur in the deepening darkness, and the idea trickles through a brain frozen by bloodlust and terror that she ought to heal up enough to move so she can head home. Closing her eyes and sitting back, she reaches in her mind to the place where the idea of her body hovered. It wasn't something she usually thought about consciously; it was something that was just sort of… there. Now she brought the idea to mind of what her body should look like, rather than the bruised and bloody form she currently had. As she feels the changes begin to move through her, she relaxes and calms even more. She'd never healed something so bad before, so she didn't work too quickly, but some part of her brain could recognize that this also would come easier with practice.

Opening her eyes again at last, she finds herself in the blackness of an overcast forest night. It was a time when she would not normally be out, the dangerous night of a hungry winter. Alima would be worried. Desta uses one of the roots nearby to lever herself to her feet. It takes a few seconds for a strange weakness to pass, but then her legs steady beneath her. Looking one last time at the clearing, she can see very little, and anyway, the tickle in her mind tells her it is time to leave.

As she wearily trudges home through the chill snowy night, the realization slowly dawns on her that she had just killed something for… what? Not for food like with Madan, or for its pelt as some of the village hunters did. She had killed it because… 'Cause it needed killin'. That was it. It had preyed on her friend, and would likely have preyed on others. She had done it. Herself. And she had survived.

Desta's boots click against cobbles as she walks the noisy streets of Kingsbridge. It's an unfamiliar and grating sound to her ears, but practicality dictated that boots were best when traveling the streets of the city. She frowns to herself, picking up the pace, the quicker to reach her destination. Julian had sent her to the city several times in the past weeks on the most trivial of errands, or so she would say. It was almost as though he was just making an excuse for her to go into the city. The thought brings a grimace, knowing that the Prince wanted her to be familiar and comfortable with more than just the comforting scape of Arden and the countryside. Necessary, perhaps, but still unpleasant.

A glut of people around a fruit stand slow traffic in the narrow side street, and Desta looks about for a way through, fighting back the familiar claustrophobia that the press of people evokes. Before she can move on her way, though, she feels a hand brush her body in a most… strange way. But though her brain is slow to process the sensation, her reactions are quicker. A hand shoots out automatically and catches the arm to which the groping hand is attached, and she turns with a scowl on her face.

In front of her is a chest, forcing her to look up where she finds the rough though reasonably attractive face of a man whose smile is completely unworried that she had caught him trying to lift her purse. She lets go of the arm, which he then raises so he can pat her cheek with a condescending smile. An involuntary step backwards away from his rough caress is hampered by the press of people still crowded in the street, and so she is forced to stand firm, swatting his hand away from her with a forceful swing of her arm.

"Keep that hand to yourself if you don't want to lose it," she states in a flat voice.

"Aw, don't be so uptight, sweetie. What'cha gonna do about it?"

"Give you this one chance to walk away," Desta replies. She stares up into his eyes with no emotion in her face.

"Ha! I don't— Oof!" The rest of his statement is interrupted by her attack, breath whooshing from his chest from a sharp punch to the stomach. Yet, even punctuated by a few surprised shrieks from bystanders moving quickly out of the way, the fight is notable only for its brevity. Taken by surprise at her speed, skill, and willingness to take the initiative, he didn't have much opportunity to counter. Within several seconds the young man is on the ground, groaning with pain from cracked ribs and a broken arm, blood trickling from his nose.

Desta waits a few seconds to make sure he stays down. She straightens her shirt then, and pulls a piece of silver from her pouch. She flips it his way, and it lands on his chest. "For a healer's services. Be more polite next time." Turning, she walks off with a click of her boots, the startled gawkers moving out the way as quickly as possible.

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