Chapter 9

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  In the back room of Arthur's cottage, Reina slid out of her clothes from home, looking down at her body. Bruises and cuts covered her, and there was a visible tan line from the dirt and blood that coated her exposed skin.  She looked at the new clothing that was in her hands; Arthur had insisted that she dress like the people of this world so as not to draw more attention to herself than necessary, but she didn't know how new leather pants were going to help her when she was the only person in the world that she had seen so far who didn't have grayish or blue skin. Figuring it was probably best to just heed Arthur's advice, she sighed and began to dress herself again. The garb was confusing, with the only piece Reina recognized being a kind of leather overbust corset that was as dark as charcoal and spotted with blue specks that looked like they would be phosphorescent . There were what appeared to be a strange kind of waist-length openfront shrug sweater woven of some kind of fibers that were definitely fur but didn't look even remotely like wool- it was as soft as fox fur and easily as fluffy, but it was also that charcoal gray and light slue-tipped pattern and was laden with various leather straps and buckles, and there were what appeared to be silky white sleeves made of a much more supple kind of leather- perhaps leather that was curated differently to be white? Reina slid the white sleeves over her arms only to realize quite promptly that there were no pants. And there were still all kinds of things she had to put on- colored dyes for her skin, metallic-looking feathers and other strange things for her hair....it was madness, and she didn't know what to make of it. Did the forest women wander around half naked or something? Because Reina decided that if that was the case she was just going to make her own clothes from scratch!
  "Arthur, where are the pants for this thing? I figured out the corset and the coat, and even the stupid footwraps, but there are no pants!" Reina called, and she hears something fall to the ground in the other room as though Arthur had dropped something rather heavy. "No pants?" he said clearly, then silence. A moment later, he muttered, "coat," and started laughing. "Reina, I won't go in because you are clearly not fully dressed, but I feel obligated to inform you that I did not give you a coat. I gave you white leather travel leggings and a protective skirt. The women of the Forest of Blades wear only a thin leather loincloth over those leggings to cover their female areas, but I knew you would not approve of that. Since the leggings cover only up to your thighs, I figured you would want something more modest and gave you a winter skirt to wear over it. The straps help secure the skirt to your waist and upper thighs, like a harness with the buckles arranged at the sides of your legs to be tightened easily. I know it may seem difficult since I do not own a mirror, but you must dress yourself properly."
  Reina gawked at her own stupidity, and then shook her head to clear her mind. So the women here wore hardly anything, it seemed. Really, though, white footless thigh highs made of soft leather and a loincloth to cover the lady bits? The women of the forest were either really brave or absolutely insane! She quickly rearranged herself so that the leggings and skirt were on properly and tightly secured, then donned the blue cloak she had received as a gift from her fellow prisoner in the holding cell once more. "Arthur, since I cannot see myself, would you mind helping me with the colored dye and feathers and whatnot?" she called, and a moment later she felt Arthur's presence in the doorway behind her. Turning around, she saw him leaning in the doorway and skimming over her with his eyes, eyebrows raised in mild surprise. "What?" Reina asked, her face heating up. "I was almost certain you were going to get stuck again. Well done," he replied, and Reina's face fell a bit as his words stung her pride. "Well, you may as well sit then, if I am going to be making you look like a woman of the Forest. I'll be applying the colored dye to your face and shoulders to mimic the hunting and warpaint patterns that are common in this area first, and then I'll be plaiting things into your hair and making you look more...like you belong here. Is that acceptable to you?" Reina nodded and sat down cross-legged on the floor, and Arthur knelt before her and picked up the box of feathers and trinkets. "You'll have to take off the cloak for now so I can get to your hair and shoulders when I am painting you, but after a couple of minutes it will be dry enough to put the cloak back on. I have already packed everything we are going to need except for a weapon for you, but we'll get to that when we're done here. We've plenty of time left to make sure you blend in before we leave."
  Reina nodded in assent and removed her cloak, closing her eyes. Arthur gingerly wove his fingers through Reina's hair, forming a couple of dreadlocks and randomly-placed braids, and Reina found herself somewhat surprised. "How do you know how to braid so well? Do you braid your own hair often?" she asked, and she felt Arthur shrink away a little bit. "When I was younger, I was slave to a young woman. In fact, she is none other than the woman who captured you and put you into that prison. She had me perform many...favors...for her, among which one of her favorites was for me to arrange her hair in different ways while she watched in the mirror. I learned very quickly to avoid getting whipped, though that never really stopped her. I was very young, and very afraid, and so I learned as many things as I could as quickly as I could to try and make myself more useful."
  Reina reflected on Arthur's words as he finished stringing beads and feathers and cords into her hair and began to prepare the colored dyes. As she closed her eyes again, she felt the tentative pressure of Arthur's fingers on her face, and a moment later she felt the smooth chill of dye being applied to her face. He broke up the lines of her eyebrows with large dots at the tips of her eyebrows closest to her nose and using a blade to shave off the hair that wasn't dyed. Only slightly alarmed, Reina figured it would be better to just trust him than to worry about what she was going to look like with ovals for eyebrows. He lived here, after all. Next came a line down the center of her nose and a large splotch on the tip of her nose, most likely giving her what looked like an animal's nose. Two lines fanned out from the outer corner of her eyes like the most intense cat-eye eyeliner she had ever had put on, followed by underliner that started at the outer corner and traced down her cheeks in twin streams like the path tears would take. A line was drawn down the center of her chin starting directly on her lower lip, and it continued down her neck to the space between her collarbones.  Once that was done, Arthur gently patted cloudy spots over Reina's shoulders and upper arms, leaning back to admire his handiwork when the task was complete. Reina opened her eyes, peering up at Arthur from behind stray locks of hair, and the instant shock on his face was rewarding.
  "You look just like...." Arthur trailed off, his jaw working as though he was still talking, and Reina laughed. "What. You didn't mess up my paint did you? Because I would hate to stand out because you didn't paint me properly!" Arthur shook his head slowly, his eyes focused on Reina's, and furrowed his eyebrows together in thought. "You look like one of the original Forest people. That would be impossible, of course, because they were all killed off before I was even born, but if we were to tell curious passerby that you were a surviving member of that race I would venture to say they would believe us. Your hair is like the sun, and you have eyes that appear to see more than merely what is in front of you. Paired with the warpaint, you look very much like one of the fair forest people." Reina tilted her head, shrugging and sliding her cloak back on, keeping the hood down to ensure that her face would dry properly. She stood, reaching out and drawing Arthur to his feet as well. "Well, it's about time that we move on to finding me a weapon, right? Keep in mind that I have extremely poor long-range accuracy, so a sword or something would probably be best if possible."
  Arthur nodded absentmindedly, lost in thought, and he silently began to lead Reina through the house to another room she hadn't noticed before. She gasped as soon as she entered- blades everywhere. She had seen plenty of nice swords back at home when she was in a Role Play group in high school, but these were something else. Intricate and unpolished, they looked like what would happen if a sword made of glass were to be struck by lightning- tendrils of frosted metal all over the hilt and pommels, shimmering slightly translucent silver-colored metal that refracted light into rainbows around the room... Reina's jaw dropped. These would be worth a literal fortune back home. "Well, first we need to match the appropriate lengths for you, and then we'll go by weight and balance. I'll add a couple of tweaks to the closest contender if need be, though it could take a little longer than I would like. We have only three hours until sunset when we must be going. Here, quickly."
  The two spent at least a half an hour narrowing down the sword selection until Reina came up with three that were the right length. One was a relatively thin blade, and as soon as she picked it up Reina got a sinking feeling about it and put it down with a shake of her head. The next one was much heftier, thick in the blade and oddly light in the hilt, clearly more of a chopping weapon than a proper sword. Reina set it down as well and crossed her fingers before moving to the final sword. Holding her breath, she lifted it. The weight was just a bit heavy, but Reina figured that the longer she practiced with it the easier it would get to wield. It was an interesting shape, wider at the base and tapering down towards the end, only to have the last couple of inches end in a diamond shape. It was a bit less attractive than the other swords; the metal appeared to be older and the age showed through the blade, making it appear darker in color though it was still translucent. The rainbows it reflected around the room were slightly different as well, as if there were different shades of the usual colors. Almost neon, like the colors of glowsticks. In the crossguard and in the pommel there were polished lily petals arranged into half-spheres. They glinted eerily despite the fact that there wasn't any light shining directly on them, and it gave the sword a sort of unholy glow. Reina gripped the hilt nervously, giving the sword a test swing, and the blade whistled through the air in an oddly melodic tone.
  "This sword looks like it has an evil agenda," Reina commented, and Arthur nodded slightly. "Swords here are more or less alive in their own right. They are forged from materials torn directly from the soil, and because of that they retain a lot of the energy that is put into making them. It is said that a sword can hold a grudge, pick sides in a conflict and even choose its user. I think this sword rather quits you; I would say this is the one you should stick with. Look how perfectly it fits into your hand. How do you feel?" Reina looked down at the sword in her hand and swung again, marveling at the sound it made; clear and high like a bell. "I like it very much," she replied, "Let's get going."
  The two of them left the house just as the sun was beginning to set, laden with traveling bags and weapons sheathed at their hips. Arthur had given Reina a leather pouch full of black lily petals to keep at her right hip as well, in case she was ever too close to an enemy to use her sword properly. She patted it softly as they walked, noting how Arthur kept turning and looking wistfully back at his cottage. It hit her then how difficult it was for Arthur to do this. He said himself that until he came with Simeon to rescue her from the prison, he hadn't left the cottage for sixteen years. She wondered suddenly why he even left to help her; he clearly hadn't wanted to help her before. "Arthur, what made you change your mind? You could very easily have left me to my fate in the prison and not have had to leave your cottage, so why help me?" Arthur looked at Reina, his eyes guarded. "When Lord Simeon stands at your back with a sword at the ready it is generally better to listen to what he has to say and follow through accordingly," he said sheepishly, and Reina again felt her pride take a hit. He hadn't actually wanted to help her? What an upstanding citizen of...this place. "What is this place even called?" Reina asked, her voice taking on a grumpy tone as her mood soured. "Iszlandia, Country of Beauty," Arthur fired back. "A fairly large country. Our world has only one landmass and the rest of the planet is ocean. Or at least, none of our explorers either modern or historical has ever found another landmass, so we assume that we are the only people here. There used to be far more than there are currently, and there were more than two races too. But war happened because the Felins- Simeon's race- wanted control over the world's politics and things like taxes. Since they were the only existing race that wasn't particularly gifted in battle or magic use, they chose to kill off the other races so that they could assume control over whatever was left. First they went out and round up all of the Fae, who were diminutive blue magic users who lived in cliffside ruins near the ocean. Since they could use magic, the Felins started forcefully breeding with them, producing children like me. When they discovered that the children of such unions couldn't use magic, they just killed off all of the Fae and kept the children as slaves instead. That's what I am; a Felae slave child. In the ensuing distraction of the genocide, they also managed to kill off the Broggs, who were these pale skinned goblins. They were the original Forest people who looked very much like you. Then a bunch of crazy things happened between the Felins and the Mystics, the last race capable of using more powerful magics. But that's a story for a different time. We've been walking for several hours, so it's time we set up camp for the night and get in some practice with the swords."
  It took only about an hour to set up camp, even in the complete darkness of the forest, and Arthur soon had a fire going. It was small, but it was enough to warm Reina, who had started shivering as the chill of the night air had started to seep into her very bones.


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