“Grayson? Where’s Ares?” Striding back up to the clearing where she had left her cousin and her dragonling, Natalia’s eyes scoured the area briefly, looking for the creature while waiting for her companion to answer.
They had both been there when she set off into the wood for her jog – Grayson’s idea. It was less of a jog than a try-to-keep-quiet-while-running-through-the-woods type thing. The young woman needed to work on stealth, and he felt the best way to do that was to send her off into the woods without her shoes. Natalia hadn’t been overly pleased with the sound of the exercise at first, but once she was off and away into the brush, she realized precisely the purpose for it.
The first thing she did upon setting out was slow down. The reason for that had been painfully clear – literally. Slowing down her stride on the forest floor, filled with branches, rocks, and other rather unfortunate objects, allowed her to try and protect her feet, but additionally, it made her that much quieter. Perhaps because she was being purposeful in her movements? Natalia didn’t know but would remember to ask Grayson at a more appropriate time.
Shrugging at her question as Natalia bent down to put her shoes back on, her cousin didn’t look at all worried, but then again, that was his standard operating mode, being completely unfazed.
Sitting back against a nearby log, he waved his hand in the air vaguely. “Around here somewhere. I let him forage while you were gone, thinking he could find some goodies in the forest. Gave him a pile of apples from the tree over there.” Pointing, she saw he was referencing a small red apple tree to the south of them.
Apollo poked three of his six tiny heads out from her pocket, trilling happily, although Natalia didn’t realize what he was trilling at until she saw a half-eaten apple lying a few feet away. Walking over, she picked it up, considering what the clue told her. The dragonet waited for a few beats, looking up at her, before realizing Natalia was distracted and helped himself to pieces of the apple.
“But, only two of the heads like red apple, and the other two like green apple. It doesn’t make sense…” Natalia’s eyes spotted a trail of half-eaten apples leading back towards the outskirts of Almund, and then Grayson’s voice broke through her concentration. “Yes, but they all like pears, thanks to me. You are welcome! Solved that little issue, didn’t I?”
Her golden eyes went wide as she realized what he said, whirling and punching him in the chest with a closed fist, just like the man had taught her. “He’s going back to town to find pears, you moron! That’s why the apples aren’t eaten.”
Whatever reaction Grayson had to being punched by Natalia was lost in the moment as the young woman raced back to Almund. Where she trained wasn’t far away from the outskirts, and where she bought pears for Ares near that, but she was on foot, and the dragonling had a head start and could travel faster than she.
While she wasn’t keeping Ares hidden precisely, the young dragonling bearer had been careful about interactions with the townspeople, holding them to a minimum if she could. People had very pointed questions about his origins – questions she didn’t exactly know how to answer. There were many strange creatures throughout Idalos, and Natalia allowed people to think he was one of them instead of calling him what he was.
Beyond that, Ares had a bit of a temper. Sharing in Vielkrontier's disdain of all things weak, Ares could be a bit….tempermental. That was a good term for it. Natalia was working with him on it, but it was going to take time and patience. Dragonlings weren't like dogs, from what she could gather. In her dealings with him, she treated him much more like a wild stallion, using care and caution to express her wants, and thus far it seemed as though they had an understanding.
As she ran, Apollo poked all six heads out of her pocket this time, trilling up a storm. It was the same enthusiastic chirping that he emitted when she rode Renaissance. The dragonet loved activity, speed, and motion, and Natalia running seemed to fit the bill.
“Chirp chirp! Chirppppppppppp!”
Coming upon the outskirts of Almund, the young woman slowed her pace, glancing around for any signs of the dragonling. It was sparsely populated this far out, so that was something in her favor. He could fly, so there wouldn't necessarily be any footprints, not that she could sort those out anyway. Wilderness girl, she was not.
The only clue she had was the little fruit stand where she bought pears. Ares had been with her a few times near that area, so he knew where it was, but could he find his way there? Natalia didn't know. Learning about his abilities was an ongoing process, but if she didn't catch up to him fast, something could happen, and she would never forgive herself if he got hurt.
Across the path, a woman stood outside her home, appearing confused as she glanced at her laundry line. "I swear I put those bloomers out here to dry." Natalia overheard the comment as she passed, not thinking much of it since her focus was currently on finding Ares.
It wasn't until she came upon another home where a man was frantically searching for something outside. "Dammit, Elene! I thought you said that you made that apple pie, and it was outside cooling? I can't find it anywhere!" A few steps beyond the house, a metal pie plate lay in the road, only slightly munched, tooth holes in various places.
Picking up the pace, she cursed under her breath. Maybe she wasn't the right person to own a dragonling. Apollo wasn't any bother, but he wouldn't get much bigger than he was. Ares was comparable to Renaissance in size and much, much more significant if he unfolded his wings. Still, the responsibility was hers, and hopefully, she'd be able to figure out a way to reign him in.
Natalia stopped around the corner from the fruit stand, wanting to get her eyes on the situation first. The noises coming from the area were typical as far as she could tell - standard town fare. Recalling the layout of the stall in her head, the young woman quickly snuck behind the building to the rear of the market, making her body as flush to the building as she could, leaning just a bit around the corner, enough to spy the fruit stand.
Upon first blush looks, everything seemed alright. The husband and wife that ran the fruit stand were present, although it looked as though the wife was heading off someplace, leaving the man to tend things for the time being. As soon as the woman left, though, the man opted to sit back in his chair, lean his head down and take a little nap. Natalia understood the appeal considering there were no customers currently but rolled her eyes all the same.
Depending on how one looked at it, the good thing, or bad, was that Ares wasn't there. Leaning her head back against the building, Natalia considered where he would have gone. It wasn't like him to run off, but then again, she had only been a bearer for a short while. What did she know about dragonlings? It wasn't as if they came with instructions.
Something sounded in the distant brush, and while she didn't open her eyes to look, still focused on finding the dragonling, mulling over the options in her mind, Apollo popped up a few of his heads and began trilling happily. Looking down, Natalia furrowed her brow as she wondered what he was going on about.
The dragonet tried to climb out of her pocket, prompting her to scoop him up and gently release him to the ground. The diminutive six-headed creature ran straight in the direction of the rustling branches, but before he could get there, Ares darted out of the wood, headed straight for the fruit stand and sleeping attendant. Thankfully, he looked unharmed, and everything seemed alright, except for the stark white bloomers that one of the heads was wearing.
"You've got to be kidding me…" Natalia grumbled to herself, looking around and grateful that no one was in the immediate area. Racing to intercept the dragonling at the fruit stand, she found that she was too slow, and unwilling to yell at the creature for fear of waking up the man.
In his mad attempt to get at the pears, Ares' foot caught a basket of apples, which she spotted, and through a combination of quick thinking and sheer luck, managed to force back upright before the apples tumbled out of the basket.
The heads were successful in getting a pear each before Natalia got her body between the pear basket and Ares. Using her best calm, firm voice, she loudly whispered at the dragonling. "NO!" Rearing back a bit, Ares considered her, then sat, watching her like he did when she was attempting some training with him, but a few of the heads growled. It wasn't personal, just part of his personality she was still sorting out.
However, the growl got the stall owner's attention, who jumped up out of his seat when he realized that the creature and girl were there. "OHHHHHH! My, my. What do we have here?"
Natalia's back was to the man when he spoke, which was good for hiding the obvious irritation indicators on her face. Why, oh why, had he needed to wake up at that moment? A few more trills and they would have been back on their way out to the woods.
She needed a story, and fast. Turning around, Natalia smiled her most charming smile. "Oh! I'm so sorry for disturbing you. We were just out for a walk, doing a bit of training, and decided to stop in to look at some of your delicious wares." The man gave her a confused smile, but his attention was clearly on Ares, and that wasn't a good thing.
A happy trill sounded from the ground by the man's feet, and when both Natalia and the man looked down, they found Apollo happily munching on a green apple that had managed to escape the apple basket after all. The dragonet made more adorable bleeps and coos, looking up at the man in a relatively innocuous way, and to the young woman's amazement, managed to make the owner forget about Ares for a moment.
"Oh, now, who is this adorable creature?" Natalia braced herself as the man leaned over and gently picked up Apollo and the apple, chuckling as he handed both to her. Playing along, she smiled winningly, putting the dragonet back into her pocket with the fruit. "This is Apollo. He's an orphan I found in the wood and have been tending to." Now, it wasn't exactly a lie – Natalia didn't know where he came from, and there had been some woods in Yaralon. Maybe. But she knew that garnering sympathy was a good thing and she needed all the advantages she could get in the moment.
The man's gaze returned to Ares, but he seemed to be more thinking than concerned. "Say, is that one of those Sohr Kahl things? I see the Elements flying around on them sometimes." Natalia had no idea what a Sohr Kahl was, but if the man believed Ares could be that, who was she to argue? "Yes!" she replied, almost a bit too enthusiastically, happy that his mind had brought him to a reasonable conclusion all on it's own. "Good eye, Sir. That's exactly what he is. He's new to the ranks, so we are out doing a bit of training."
Glancing at Ares, she was reminded of the bloomers one of the heads was wearing. "Oh dear, and it looks like he got into a bit of trouble there." Grabbing a pear, Natalia tapped on the bloomer-clad head's neck and showed the fruit to it, causing the head to lower enough that the young woman could remove the clothing.
As she did, an idea sprang into her mind. The fruit stand featured pies as well, which by all indications, Ares was about ten trills from demolishing as he inched his way over to that section of the booth. Natalia, aware of this, kept her body consistently between him and what he showed interest in while speaking to the man. "While I'm here, I'd love to buy a large bag of pears and one of those apple pies, please."
A few bits later, they departed, heavy bag of pears over her shoulder and apple pie balancing precariously on one of her arms, trying to fend off the six adorable but hungry heads of Apollo. Ares walked behind her, exhibiting a behavior she could only translate as sulking.
On the way back through the outskirts, an apple pie was quietly placed on the windowsill of a particular house. As well, bloomers were strung back upon a specific laundry string, and occupants of neither home were all the wiser of the mysterious occurrences. At least Natalia hoped not.
Sighing as they finally made it back to the wood, she lowered the bag of pears to the ground, having grown tired and just a little irritable. Glancing up at the dragonling with a stern gaze, she had every intention of yelling at the creature for causing so much trouble. At the exact moment she began, though, one of the heads – hoppy head, to be precise – lowered and laid its head down on her shoulder, producing a sound Natalia had never heard before – purring. It was a weird sort of purr, but its meaning was unmistakable.
Startled, her irritation melted away almost immediately, causing her to sigh softly. Gently patting it, the response was mumbled but heartfelt. "Well, I'm glad that's cleared up."