The natural cycles of weather and time are anything but natural in the Hedge, and so it is that upon exiting the caverns roughly half an hour after they began, the trio is presented with a vegetative warmth in comparison with the cool and ever darker darknesses of life beneath the soil. At least here, above ground, it is easier to see the trod, to avoid getting lost.
Moss underfoot cushions footsteps to near silence, the very thickness of the hedges' walls muffling sound so exquisitely well that hunters could be just a bend away. Paths twist and twine in all directions, and while parting the thorns will take its tithe in blood, leaving the maze is ever an option. Dense growth claws its way up toward the sky with stubborn, vegetative patience, its broken, yet well-measured lines hinting at something which used to be tamed, but has long since grown feral and strange. Needle-like spines protrude at times from otherwise innocent greenery to catch and pluck at the unwary.
As yet, while there are a few birds and lesser beasts whuffling about in the undergrowth, nothing seems to be paying overmuch attention to the three changelings. Point in fact, given Cian's presence and the overwhelming nature of said presence ON the Hedge around him, they seem to be going quite out of their way NOT to be seen paying attention.
Widget actually knows where she's going for once, keeping the group going through the maze on their way to the markets. She's excited to go, having been once before and kept on a very tight leash for the whole thing.
So excited that she brought her flamethrower, keeping the worms at bay with odd-smelling fire. Sure, now there was a battered empty jerrycan somewhere in those caverns and a trail of scorch marks, but it did the job.
The pocket dragon is sleeping now, Widget focusing on chewing on a shard of dried meat as she goes forth. She brought snacks for everyone! Always bring snacks on a journey, even into the Hedge. If anything, it gave you a chance to try and bribe whatever was going to eat you.
Cheating death, or at least cheating being touched and whatevered, Sloane has been fairly quiet for the journey through the cave, lingering a little longer than strictly needed here and there to study bits and pieces of unburned worms and things. But as soon as they are free of the danger, she turns her attention to the newest area, observing, "It's rather lovely around here, don't you think?"
The umbrella like flame that was used to protect the glowing changeling is willed down into a ball of flame that Cian holds in his hand. Ash swirls and dissipates into the air behind him evidence of the protection the fire provided in keeping the tiny creatures away. Grinning he turns his fiery gaze to Sloane and with a teasing waggle of his brows wills the flame into the shape of a dragon rearing up to blow its fiery breath weapon into the air as it fades from existence. "Well..." he says in a soft, warm voice to Widget and Sloane, "It seems we've made it out of that hell hole. I'm hoping from here on out things will be a bit brighter. Though watching you work with the flamethrower will be something I'll never forget."
There is a polite bow towards Widget to show Cian defers to her to lead the way. He's dressed in shimmering hedgespun armor that looks to be made from the scales of a dragon and in one hand he holds a hedgespun spear with a glowing spearhead. Tapping the spear base on the ground he nods and moves off with the group, "What do you think we'll find at market? We've never been to the market here so thank you again Wiget for leading the way.
Widget cocks her head at Cian's comment, looking around like she hadn't really noticed. She's fairly focused on getting to the markets, which is a rarity for her. If the thrill of greed and odd shinies hadn't taken hold she'd have wandered off chasing a bug a while ago. "Yes. Very green. Sharp. Yes."
Given what she is, she clashes with her surroundings. A grubby machine tromping through greenery, smelling of broken industrial equipment and leaving a trail of orange footsteps. The fact that she's armed to the teeth and armored up with modern gear doesn't help, even if someone as twitchy and weird as her toting a tactical shotgun is a little funny.
Smiling at the bow, Widget does it in turn, sherpa-pack of loot and supplies clinking and rustling as she does. "Thanks! Neat weapon. Very useful. Heard they use it for bees. Burn hives, keep swarms away. Why they're legal. In most states." She /sounds/ like she knows what she's talking about, but it's much more likely someone heard she managed to get a flamethrower and made it /very clear/ what police think about it. Eh. Still fun! "At the markets? ...Stuff? Good stuff. Yes."
There is a faintly puzzled expression cast towards Widget when she mentions those things are used to burn down hives. But she holds her tongue, and instead drifts over towards Cian, her attention still seeming to drift a little around them. Whenever it is time to move on, she'll move. But short of that she seems to be taking a very, very passive take on the entire situation. Far more with the observations than the interactions, for some reason.
Over time, the dense hedges bordering one end of the trail slowly loosen their stranglehold upon the path, trod broadening, then narrowing all over again on its mazy plunge through roots and overgrowth. Tangled vines hang, green and moss-kissed, from high branches overhead, improbable twists of trod ascending trunks and ropy roots alike toward many hollows tucked amidst the trees. The moist mineral tang of soil pervades the air, moldering leaf-fall adding its own bittersweet tannin here beneath the woodland giants.
In the distance, the faint sound of singing can be heard. Something sweet, almost melancholy, but ear-catching. More to the point, doing anything BUT listening to the song is difficult.
Cian's presence brightens and warms the area around the group as the vines slowly twist and move into knotted and Celtic art like shapes. Poking Sloane gently with the tip of one finger as they move through the maze he asks softly, "Tell me... What do you think we'll find there at the market? Anything of value? Maybe a baby dragon? A token summons hedge fruit? Treasure maps?!" Grinning he looks between the pair and laughs as he follows Widget's lead.
Singing? Singing. /Magic/ singing. Widget knows, having spent quite enough time with people who can do the same. It's that weird tunnel-feeling thing, prickling under the skin when attention wavers. Maybe bad? Probably bad. Widget tings the tank on her back, a small ringing noise sounding to draw attention. "Singing. Magic singing. Careful?"
"I doubt that there will be a baby dragon there, although if there was..." Sloane replies, her mind clicking over to just what uses a dragon might actually have. None are probably good for anything not fire-proof. The singing, though, she doesn't overtly pay attention. It's not that she isn't hearing it, because her feet very subtly shift to point her in the direction she thinks that it is coming from, but it's more like even with Widget's warning she doesn't even register it as something to be worried about.
The effect is subtle, but noticeable to the observant: slowly, gradually, Cian's artwork is not the most powerful influence on the Hedge anymore. The air is sweet and fresh, warm, comforting, and while there are certainly still shadows, the light seems far more prominent, sharp edges softened into an intimate and lovely frame for the way ahead. Even the thorns of the briars about the path seem smaller, less dangerous, and if the patterns aren't precisely Celtic in nature, the world is still a place of art and beauty.
The singing, too, is beautiful, and it is getting closer.
"They are good for playing catch with I'm sure." There is a wide grin that is given towards Sloane as Cian looks to Widget as she talks of the singing. He didn't seem to notice the sound consciously either even if subconciously its obvious he was moving in the direction of the sound. "I think we should see what it is... Its trying to draw us in, that could never be a bad thing... right?" Its then that he notices the change coming over the hedge around them and how his presence potentially is being overtaken by another. Frowning slightly he looks to the other two with him and then says softly, "I change my stance. Whatever this is could be very dangerous." A look is given in the direction they moved to head towards the market, "Should we hurry on or..." trailing off he lifts his spear and holds it in both hands.
Widget nudges Sloane, trying to get her a bit more focused. Her nerves were jittering, getting the feeling she's a very small fish in a very big and magic pond. "Keep going? Yes. Don't stop. Try not to listen. Just...keep going. Yes." THe ones that got into her mind always got her a bit nervous. Her Keeper did an excellent job of doing that, so it's not something she likes to keep happening. Well, sometimes. Depends on who was doing the messing with. And why.
So she gets a bit of wax from her bag, used for some ineffable mechanical purpose Widget probably wasn't even aware of. Silence might save them. Or at least her, because it was time to stop those notes. Sealing her ears, Widget keeps her head moving, eyes flitting doubletime. "Can't hear now. Yes." Might as well tell them, right? Widget is trying to whisper, but it comes out at normal volume.
Hopefully it was a nice singer. Then she could listen to the lovely-ack! No! Focus on the potential shinies!
"I'm sure that nothing could go wrong..." Sloane points out, shaking her head at the pair of them, "It's just a very lovely song." She assures them both, a hand reaching out to give Cian's arm a pat. And despite Widget trying to nudge her back into line, she just smiles dreamily and takes that very, very bad first step directly towards the approaching song.
"Perhaps they are wishing to just tell us something." Sloane adds as she begins to move, this time more purposefully towards the voice, "In fact.." She pauses, distracted momentarily, "One should always listen to the song of fate, and follow the threads where it leads, for one never knows what treasure might be found at the end of the journey."
The singing comes to a quick halt as its source steps around one of the high trees' protruding roots and sees the small troupe before her, her lips a perfect Cupid's bow parted in pleased surprise, her hair a shimmering blonde which can't quite make up its mind whether it would like to stay that way; sometimes it is golden brown, sometimes a soft red, sometimes black, or any shade between them. It is also long, which is a good thing, because the inhumanly lovely creature is clothed in little more than a crown of faerie flowers and her own waving tresses.
Her voice, when she speaks, is soft and sweet, a caress to the senses, drawing the ear as her beauty draws the eye. Her own are a lovely clear blue, or green, or brown, depending on the moment. "You are here!" The joy she feels upon their arrival is pure and unfeigned, that of a lover who has waited for her beloved to come home from a time away. Springing lightly forward, she attempts to clasp hands and kiss each and every one of them. Should it be allowed, her touch is as soft as her voice, and as inviting, as comforting, something about her presence lulling to the senses.
Cian let's his fiery gaze slide over to the gremlin as she pushes wax in her ears and informs the trio that she can't hear. Its comical, the way she tries to whisper but speaks loudly and the whole situation makes him smile. Looking back towards Sloane as she speaks he knows that tone, the use of words and that it is the /Oracle/ that is speaking. Holding the spear tightly he moves to keep close to her even as the beautiful creature comes into view.
It all starts to come together for the changeling as he watches the newcomers presence overpower his own. Shaking his head he grinds his teeth and blocks out the charm the woman tries to over come him with. Moving to block Sloane from the woman he shakes his head to show that touching either of them would be a bad idea. Standing as he is before Sloane he looks back to say, "Your bow, quiver... take them from my shoulder." With that said he looks back to the woman with his spear at the ready. "You were waiting for us?" he asks of her with one brow lifted questioningly.
Oh no, she's hot! That's not good! Widget is trying /really/ hard not to get distracted by what she's seeing, focusing on anything else. Annoyance at how everyone seems super-okay with a mysterious pretty woman greeting them in the Hedge? That'd do. How was /she/ the grounded one here? That was weird and she didn't like having to realize the many implications of that.
So she's got her flamethrower nozzle in her hand, pilot light hissing as she shuffles away from the group a bit and tries not to look like a blushing nervous dork. It's not working. She still looks spooked and twitchy, along with many other feels. The face she's making is...interesting.
Sloane seems very pleased to take the attention from the woman, missing Cian's words at first. But then something that Cian says, the way that he says it, causes Sloane to frown. The light, easy, go with the flow sense to her seems to freeze, then harden as she straightens up, her shoulders shifting back. It's a subtle change, and she steps closer to Cian with him blocking the woman from her. One hand reaches up to start pulling the bow and quiver out from where it's been tucked. "What were you waiting on us for?" Even her tone has changed, colder, less willing to just roll over and be pleased by everything.
Indeed! She is easily the most beautiful person Widget has ever seen, including all of the members of Fate's Harvest and beyond.
Regarding Cian and Widget's refusal of her affections with a flash of surprise and sudden hurt in those beautiful eyes, the woman withdraws from the loving tenderness she has bestowed upon the now-cold Sloane, then looks to them with a beseeching gaze: surely -they- would not be so unkind..?
"Am I no longer pleasing?" she asks, taking a step back in pained confusion, eyes searching their faces. "Oh!" Her brows lift, and her expression clears as though a thought had just occurred to her, relief chasing out sorrow. "You are traveling!" The announcement is made as though the realisation were the most logical reason in the world for them being so cold toward her. "Beloved, where are we going?" Submitting to their guidance with easy pleasure, she seems eager to enjoy their company, answering Sloane with a sweet, "I missed you so very, very much," and a smile that is almost shy, eyes dewy with tears as perfect as the rest of her.
Shaking the quiver and bow lose from his shoulder as Sloane shifts gears Cian keeps his eye on the lovely creature. That charm no longer tugs at his mind or feelings and with a clear mind he studies the naked woman with fiery eyes. Both hands tighten around the leather wrapped shaft of the spear he holds before loosening a bit as he asks, "How could we ever have forgotten meeting you before? Tell me... Who are you? Where did we meet before?" Lifting a brow he lets his gaze lift from the woman to look over there surroundings and then back towards her.
Widget can't hear any of this, so she's still in the proverbial corner looking very hair-trigger-y. It's clear from her face that this woman is quite pleasing indeed. /Scarily/ so. Normally she'd be caught with this without a second thought, doomed by a pretty face. This is really weird even for her, though. Something about this is /wrong/ and it's messing with her brain and sending the gears whirling.
If she's nice and they're not it's gonna be bad but if she's not nice and they are it'll be worse and what is she's not the only one or holding them up or what if she's actually really nice and they want her along but maybe not but she's /so pretty/ but- Are people drawing weapons?! Are they fighting?!
Twitch. Fidget. Twitch.
Yeah, she'll be fine. Just...just working some stuff out.
Drawing weapons is something of a tricky thing to explain, since Sloane slides that quiver onto her shoulder, adjusting it so that if needed she can reach for the arrow quickly. That bow is very much still in hand, though, but she's holding it in such a way that it might not be readily threatening. Yet.
"We are traveling." She agrees, her head tilting just a bit as she studies the woman, and even as much as she might be inclined towards reacting first, and thinking later, fighting the urge to just stare at the naked, beautiful woman is hard. Instead she takes a step forward, like she's fully ready to herd the woman along with them on their journey.
Their surroundings are almost saccharine in their pastoral gentleness, and even the creatures of the Hedge seem softer, sweeter. There are no visible threats in their vicinity when Cian checks.
As for his partner in conversation... Surprised again, a single perfect tear sliding over the curve of a cheek as prone to changing tones as everything else, pale or ruddy, mocha or olive, any ethnicity the world and its stories can offer, she gives Cian a quizzical look, concerned. "But...we have always known each other," she explains, soft voice hesitant and intent, as though repeating something he -should- know. Clear eyes warm with tender affection, worry fading, and, a smooth hand lifting toward Cian's jaw, she seems about to speak again when Widget's yell prompts a sudden withdrawal, the beautiful stranger flinching away to turn a sudden smile on the gremlin.
"Oh, yes!" she rejoices, rushing over and attempting, again, to take at least one of Widget's hands and press it to her cheek -- clearly, Widget wants to travel with her JUST as much as she wants to travel with Widget! Why else would she have yelled..? The too-lovely creature readily accepts Sloane's herding, only turning to look back at the other woman to ask again, "Beloved, where are we going? May I please you?" Eager, cheeks flushing with pleasure, she watches Sloane with perfect trust.
Cian gives Sloane /the look/ as the strange woman moves off to reach for Widget. Frowning he gives a nod towards Sloane as if to warn her to get ready for what is to follow. Turning he sets his feet and thrusts with a grunt at the back of the unsuspecting creature but doesn't plunge the glowing hot tip into her naked flesh.
If Cian has never broken someone's heart before, he should watch very closely. The beautiful stranger, elegant and swift with entirely unnatural grace, darts out of reach from the gleaming blade of his sharp spear when he makes as if to -strike- her, trust slipping away into horror and betrayal, those so-lovely eyes wounded with a hurt far deeper than any blade. "Oh!" Dismayed, gentle hands lifting to press against her chest as if to hold her pain inside, she bursts into tears and, sobbing in sudden despair, gives Widget and Sloane a last longing look before pitter-pattering into the unknown territory off the trod, fleeing from the lover who betrayed her.
Wh-what? Widget looks like she's about to burst into tears, trying to flinch back and lean in at the same time. Everything was confusing and she didn't know what to do and Damion and Jenny weren't here and she didn't know what to do and-
Hersnd attacking? Are...wh-what is going on?!
Sloane should probably be all kinds of confused by what Cian did, afterall stabbing naked gorgeous women is not usually done with spears. But instead she takes it clearly in stride and as soon as the woman begins to run she lifts a hand up to pluck an arrow out of the quiver to knock it.
She pauses, thinking, her head tilting and then she lifts the bow, aiming very carefully towards the fleeing back, drawing the string back before she releases that arrow with the steely calm of someone now entirely focused on the hunt. Maybe she just REALLY doesn't like being abandoned by pretty things.
While the heartfelt sobbing had been for emotional pain, physical is now added to the mixture, a sharp cry and more anguished weeping Sloane's reward.
The lovely stranger continues her flight away from the confrontation, however, and the Hedge itself, now that the trio can take the time to notice, has grown quiet and still during the brief attack, beasts and hobs aware enough to be wary of potential fallout.
No matter how long they wait, however, their betrayed beloved does not return.
After missing his mark with the spear Cian looks from the back of the fleeing fae to the tip of his spear. There is a look to the spear like the weapon betrayed him but instead of doing anything about it he looks to Sloane just as she puts arrow to bow and lands her shot without a problem. Grinning as the pained sound is heard and the woman continues to run off he seems pleased and forgives his spear for missing. "You know... She was dangerous to us right? Did you see what..." Trailing off he shakes his head and then smiles to Sloane proudly. Turning to Widget he motions for her to lead the way. "Let's get out of here before she returns or sends enemies against us."
Widget stands there, rather stunned. Cian smacks her brain into place, Widget finally unsticking the wax from her ears. "O-okay. Okay. Let's...Let's go." She starts onto the trail, eyes flitting about. Sticking a lot closer to the group, to boot. "Gonna ask. What she was." If it was a she. Maybe an it. Still dangerous.
"You know that she's still alive, and that means she's still a danger to us." Sloane points out, reaching for a second arrow, fully prepared to begin trekking after the woman instead of letting her run away. She scowls, one corner of her lip curling upwards before she glances at Widget, then Cian, that expression remaining fixed, like she's totally willing to leave with them. But she's totally not happy about it at the same time.
The remainder of the trip to the Market, thankfully, is largely uneventful. There IS a brief kerfuffle with a pack of marauding slimy creatures which look like the unfortunate offspring of a slug and a small weasel, one of which gets a nasty bite on Sloane, but the trio eventually reaches the outskirts of the market, hobs standing on duty before the entrance to the Hollow.