Mikhail, several months before the events in Echoes of Balance. Enjoy the bonus material!
“Is it typical for your sort to come back to one place this often?” The voice was as soft as the careful footsteps that had preceded it through the foliage.
Mikhail had been aware of the footsteps for awhile – they picked up about two miles into his walk through this particular forest, one he knew well, and they had paced him until boredom brought them closer. They didn’t worry him. As his rounds had showed, this patch of land was safe and desolate save for the usual inhabitants.
“Thought I’d check in,” he grunted, glancing over his shoulder to the figure carefully stepping over a patch of brambles. Though it had been something on four legs tracking him before, this person was quite human.
She was roughly Mikhail’s height, and though she was slight, the thick leathers that wrapped her torso and legs made her look sturdy, somehow. Her hair hung wild about her face, her cheeks pink tinted and wind whipped as if much of her life was spent outdoors. Though they had been in the forest for some time, her feet were bare.
“Everything is the same as it was last month. And the one before that, and the one before that,” the woman said calmly, crossing her arms over her chest. A few dark inked tattoos snaked about her arms: a few of them seemed to match the ones that were stamped into Mikhail’s own biceps.
He sighed, turning his gaze forward again. “Things seemed… unbalanced.”
“And you assumed that meant you would need to come here? These things you always speak of, they pointed you here?”
Mikhail rolled his eyes, turning to face her. “No, but – “
“But you were worried,” she cut in, her posture remaining rigid. “Were there signs? Are we in danger?”
He ran a hand through his shaggy hair, glancing down at the dirt. “What starts will spread.”
The woman tilted her head to the side. “So that’s a no, then.”
“It’s been a decade, Mikhail. Several decades, in fact. What happened was horrible, but she’s been gone. I know you miss her, but we’re not helpless. And you sticking around, waiting to save us? That’s not going to bring her back.”
He raised his gaze to meet her. “Are you telling me I’m not welcome?”
She sighed, taking a few steps to close the gap between them. “You always have friends amongst us, Mikhail. You know that. But you also have your own family, your own sister, your own kind, your responsibilities…” Anja let it trail off there.
Mikhail pressed a smile onto his lips. “Right as usual, Anja.”
“Go home, Mikhail,” she said, the corners of her lips twitching upwards. “Make it so we actually miss you before you show up again.”
He gave a nod. Anja tossed her hair and smiled in earnest before turning her back to him, stepping into the flora once more. He watched her retreat – watched her shadow melt into the trees – before he ever thought to move.
Go home, Mikhail. That would be easy if any Naimei knew where home was.
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