Anne stared into the fire in the outpost. She was rather surprised that the Longfangs had allowed her to stay with them for a few more days, but Reyna had insisted. It was just last night that Morty had been cut down just outside of the gates, that Anne’s whole world had come crashing down. She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She wanted to throw her weapons into the fire and take off into the swamp to slaughter anything that reeked of corruption with her bare hands, but there was still work to be done.
Reaching for her bow, the former pirate rose and moved towards the outpost’s gate. She felt a hand on her shoulder as she neared the threshold, seeing a young Ulven male, no more than sixteen years old when she turned to see who had touched her. “Hey, you can’t go out there. We don’t know if the Whiteoak are gone yet, and you could get lost, and…”
Anne put her hand on the pup’s wrist, cutting him off. “I’ll be fine. Trust me,” she said with a wink, though her tired eyes betrayed her lack of sleep. Truth be told, the thought of rest had scared her since the night before. Bow in hand, Anne set off into the woods. The warm summer night’s breeze flowed through her hair and caught her skirts like a sail, almost pushing her forward. Her heart was still heavy from the day before, but getting up and moving again would be good for her.
As Anne crossed the tree line, the exhaustion slipped from her mind: she felt as though she heard every branch snap, every leaf rustle with the movement of woodland animals. With an arrow nocked she stalked through the woods to the north, seeking to return to the site of the Whiteoak camp which Stanrick had ordered burned to the ground. She moved quickly now, forgoing stealth for speed. Her trained eye caught a slight blue glint in the moonlight while scanning the woods for potential threats.
Drawing closer, she saw the source of the distraction: a small patch of finch leaves, a deep blue color that reminded Anne of the sea. Oh, how she missed the sea. So much of her time since she had come to Mardrun had been spent playing politics, managing the operations of New Oarsmeet, or trying to keep the Captain out of trouble. She hadn’t truly been to sea in probably two years, and had barely been on a ship in the past few months. She missed the salted spray on her skin as her ship broke the waves. She missed the slight twinge of fear she got standing up in the crow’s nest, looking down at how far up she was. More than anything, she missed the swaying of the deck. Solid ground did not suit her well.
Lost in her thoughts, Anne was nearly caught off guard by a dagger whizzing past her ear. She turned to face her attacker, seeing only a set of snarling fangs caught by the starlight. Careless, she thought, letting a Mordok sneak up on her like that. An arrow quickly found its way to her bowstring and was soon hurtling towards the Mordok, wedging itself deep in the tree behind which it had ben hiding before it took off running through the brush. Whispering a prayer to the Huntress, Anne drew a barrier of magical energy around her, allowing her to more intently focus on her prey. She lowered her stance, trying to move as silently as possible, following the beast’s trail. The quick response to the initial attack had caught the Mordok off guard and spooked it into running, making following the trail much simpler. Her bow drawn, and arrow ready, Anne was back. The only place she felt as at home as on a ship, Anne was hunting again, and it felt glorious.
For what seemed like an hour, she followed the trail of broken branches and trampled brush until she found her quarry. Confident in the fact that it had just outrun the being stalking it, the Mordok had squatted down beside a pool of water, eagerly lapping the water. The small splashes made by the careless creature drowned the soft creak of her bow as she drew, loosing an arrow with haste. This projectile struck no tree; the Mordok gave a pained howl as the arrow came to rest deep in its side. Knowing better than to try to run again, the Mordok charged its attacker, pulling a crude axe and a wicked-looking dagger from its belt. Anne tried to draw another arrow, but her foe was simply too close. She dropped her bow and pulled her father’s knife from its resting place at her side. Bracing for impact, she waited until the Mordok collided with her, trying to tackle her. Instead she rode it to the ground, using its own momentum against it. Confused by the change in direction, the Mordok shrieked in pain as the old dagger was thrust repeatedly between its ribs. Soon enough the creature stopped moving and Anne wiped the blood from the dagger off on a scrap of fabric the Mordok was wearing. She began to make her way back to the outpost, making a mental note to return to harvest the flowers the next morning. Little did Anne know that the outpost itself would remind her of the events which had transpired the day before, and soon enough her memories would return to haunt her once again.

She had tried to help. What more could she have possibly done? The Captain was beyond saving. Surely Lineth must have seen that, too.
Anne was on her way back to New Oarsmeet. She had stayed an extra few days in the Onsallas Outpost at Reyna’s urging, hoping to see her recover before she left. Anne would hear none of it, though, far too proud to admit that she still hadn’t slept four days later. Aris and Santiago had departed immediately, so Anne was left to make the trek back to her home alone, though she was glad for that. Each day she travelled, and each night she tried to rest. Her eyes would close, eager for the sweet release of sleep, though her mind could not be torn from its current focus.
Eager to return home, Anne continued walking when she could not sleep. She found her way back to New Oarsmeet in what seemed like less time than normal, though her perception of time was far from spot on by the time she stepped into her own territory once more. It was late afternoon when she came across the first tavern, and evening once she found her way to her office and her home. Her door shut and locked, Anne smothered her head with her pillow, hoping to finally be able to sleep, and no outside sound would disturb her.

I’ve made my choice.
Anne sat bolt upright, her hand instinctively reaching for the dagger beside her bed. Beads of cold sweat had collected on her brow, and her breathing was heavy. It had been two weeks since the events took place, and this had been the first sleep she had truly seen. Those words…the words she had hoped to never hear, rang in her ears as if Lineth was still in front of her. Hoping to find an escape from her thoughts, Anne quickly dressed herself and stepped out into the New Oarsmeet streets.
Pulling her cloak around her tightly despite the warmth and lack of breeze, Anne tried to appreciate the town before her. The drunken stupor in which many of the residents constantly lived was astounding, surely a coping mechanism for many. Hard winters, hungry nights, and far too much bloodshed in recent years had certainly taken its toll on morale, but between the hearty sea shanties bellowed from various taverns, the occasional tradesman sober enough to recognize the only remaining authority figure in the settlement, and the curious glances from children’s bedside windows, a stranger would have had no idea.
This town had been through so much in the last decade. An alliance born of the need to survive by naval sailors and pirates alike, Anne half expected the whole thing to fall apart to in-fighting within the month. Yet here it stood, ten years later. She prayed that the town wasn’t a mirror of herself, though: strong, even thriving on the surface, but hollow inside, just trying not to crumble in on itself.
Anne turned between two buildings as she saw two sailors drunkenly stumble around before her, not wishing to be disturbed. This was her first night back in New Oarsmeet since half of her crew had been taken from her, and she wished to be alone with her thoughts. No one could see her as she was: they needed strength now more than ever, and that was simply something she couldn’t be right now.
Leaning against the wooden wall of the building behind her, Anne couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the two drunks, or at least what was left of it.
“I…*hic*…I don’t know, Tony,” she could hear one of them slur. “It just don’t seem right.”
“It ain’t, Mick,” the other replied. “But that’s just how it is. ‘Course she’s gonna go back to ‘im, after all he’s put her through.”
“Still, you’d think she woulda jus’ run away, if nothin’ else.”
“Yeah, but I guess she’s made her choice.”
Something in Anne’s brain snapped. She saw red, then she saw nothing. She came to a few seconds later, standing in the middle of the street with an overwhelming pain in her wrist. Tony’s face was in the dirt, a small pool of blood starting to form underneath his head. Mick was shouting for help, trying to fumble for some kind of weapon in his drunken haze. Confused, Anne pleaded with Mick to calm down, that she could help his friend, but only if he would relax and find a healer or a cleric. Eventually Mick dropped his sword and ran off, still screaming, but his tone was more concerned than frightened. Anne reached for the necklace she used as a focus for the Huntress’ magic when bursts of pain shot through her right hand up to her elbow. Looking down, a nasty bruise was already beginning to form, but it was much less serious than the wounds she had apparently inflicted on Tony. With her left hand she dug out the necklace and began the incantation, pulling Tony’s dwindling life force back into his body and staving off death for the time being. When the spell was complete, Anne said a quick prayer, thanking the Huntress for finding her when she had. Enough things had gone wrong recently; murder of one of the citizens under her protection was not an issue she needed now. Applying pressure to Tony’s wound, Anne waiting until Mick returned with a man known for his skill with divine magic.
As the cleric was fixing the rest of Tony’s face, Mick took the time to remind Anne of what had just happened, since she remembered none of it. When Anne had snapped, she ran from behind the building, punching Tony several times in the face and stomach, drawing her dagger with her left hand. When Mick had tried to intervene and protect his now-unconscious friend, Anne dropped the dagger and threw a punch at Mick’s head, missing wide and striking the stone wall behind him. Mick remembered hearing an awful crunch, then a lot of screaming. “Mostly me own, I reckon,” he tried to joke, though the fear was still present in his eyes.
Anne apologized profusely for her actions and was about to walk away, but stopped short as her curiosity got the better of her. “How did you know? Did word honestly reach you down here so quickly?”
“What do ye mean, ma’am?” Mick was truly confused now.
“The slave girl. Lineth. Who told you?”
“With all due respect, ma’am, what are you drinking? It’s either too strong, or not strong enough. I didn’t say nothin’ about the slave girl. Heck, I ain’t seen her or the Captain in months! I was talkin’ about that sweet lass Molly Malone. She keeps runnin’ back to that psycho Rupert, even though everyone knows he’s a cheatin’ little bastard. We’ve all seen the bruises, too. But I guess she’s made her decision, and there ain’t nothin’ we can do now, ma’am.”
The realization brought on by those words hit Anne like a ton of bricks. Her shattered wrist was excruciating and should probably be looked at, but more importantly, she would need to get her emotions in check. She needed to be strong like the people of New Oarsmeet, for the people of New Oarsmeet, and she could not be strong as long as she was tired, nor could she be stable when such a simple phrase, even out of context, could anger her so badly. Tomorrow, she thought to herself. Tomorrow I will fix everything.
Tomorrow came and went.

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