Clarke’s savior stared at her, the bow remaining trained on what she was sure was a vital area of her body. Clarke held up one hand in a placating gesture, refusing to let go of her staff with the other one.
Even from this distance, Clarke was unexpectedly drawn in to the vivid green of the other woman’s eyes, the only part of her face she could see clearly. It was enough to distract her, and when she finally blinked she shivered as if coming out of a fog.
That shade of green felt burned into her.
The spell seemingly broken, the woman released the tension on her bow and slowly lowered it until it no longer pointed at Clarke. Her arm remained tense, however, and her fingers remained on the bow string. Clarke was absolutely sure that this woman could still turn her into a pincushion before she even took a step.
Clarke let her staff drop towards her waist as well. “You… you saved me.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed and then she dropped down off the boulder and walked towards Clarke. Clarke’s hands tightened their grip on her staff, but the woman stopped just outside of lunging distance.
The green of her eyes was even more vivid from up close.
“The Azgeda attacked you,” the woman said, in perfect English. “Why?”
Even knowing that Lincoln spoke English, hearing it from this woman as well caught Clarke off guard. “I don’t know. They just came out of nowhere.” It was possibly the truth. Maybe they did just happen to be unlucky victims. “Why did you save me?”
The woman’s frown was visible in the furrowing of her brows. She looked down at the warrior behind Clarke. “They know better than to venture this far south.” After a moment of contemplation, she looked back to Clarke. “And you were not fighting back. Should I have let you die?”
Clarke shook her head. “No, I didn’t mean that, just…” Something about this woman left her completely off-balance. She studied what she could see of her face: the eyes, obviously, but also the elegant arch of her brows, the wisp of wavy brown hair escaping from the hood of her cloak. She wasn’t familiar from her dreams, but Clarke had the strangest sense that she should be. “Who are you?”
A glint of something wary passed through that gaze. “You still haven’t explained who you are,” she said instead of answering. “You’re trespassing in Trikru territory just as they were. You bear no clan markings. And yet, if you are Maunon, how do you stand here with no protection?”
Clarke looked down at herself in her jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and jacket. The woman was wearing a cloak, but underneath she could see some armor. Maybe she did need more protection. “I’m not Maunon,” Clarke said, her brain finally catching on to that part of the question. She recognized the term, although she wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. “I came from the sky.”
A sharp inhale was just barely audible, and Clarke found herself under even more scrutiny. “The sky,” she echoed. Her eyes trailed up and down Clarke’s body, and Clarke resisted the urge to clutch at her arm when her gaze lingered there. She was wearing a jacket; it wasn’t like she had x-ray vision and could see the tattoo there.
Finally, her gaze shifted to look out in the distance, in the direction that Clarke and the others had come from.
Had she seen the dropship? Clarke opened her mouth to ask when she suddenly remembered the situation.
“Oh no,” she said. “Octavia and Lincoln. He was fighting off three more when I left. Please, we need to go help them.”
Clarke hesitated. “My friends are still in danger. You saved me. You can help save them too.”
Those green eyes bored into her own but gave no indication that she was swayed by Clarke’s words.
There was no time. She wasn’t going to wait and try to convince this woman. Clarke turned.
“Stop!” The woman said, barely raising her voice. It was the tone that caused Clarke to pause: obviously used to being obeyed implicitly. She looked over her shoulder to see the woman’s bow up and ready again. “Don’t move.”
Clarke shook her head. “You can shoot me if you want, but I’m not going to just leave my friends to die.”
She turned again and ran, ignoring the way her side protested. The adrenaline was still pumping through her veins, allowing her to ignore it, but she could tell that she’d done something more than just agitate her previous wound. Of more pressing importance, however, was the fact that she wasn’t immediately shot once she’d turned her back again. Clarke figured that meant that the woman wasn’t going to kill her. At least not yet.
There were no footsteps that she could hear behind her, though, which meant that the woman also was not going to help. Clarke ignored the misplaced feeling of disappointment at the thought.
Hopefully she wasn’t too late.
Clarke followed the path she thought she’d taken. Broken branches littered the forest floor where her desperate flight had been less than graceful. She paused at a large tree, wondering if it was a familiar large tree or not. Looking desperately left and right, she couldn’t tell which way to go from here.
She wasn’t a tracker. All paths looked the same. Her breathing increased in panic, only to hitch suddenly when she heard something new.
She listened intently. It was a sound she’d heard in videos before. Not something easily mistaken.
Hoofbeats… going away.
There were no sounds of battle. No yelling. No clash of swords or spears.
No Octavia or Lincoln.
Clarke’s brow furrowed and she shook her head slowly. “They just… they scared them off. They scared them off.” She swallowed down the urge to call out, knowing that if there were still enemies around, alerting them to her location was not worth the peace of mind of hearing Octavia’s voice calling back to her.
Her eyes caught the flash of a bright feather out of place in the forest. There. The shaft of an arrow down the path. She gripped the staff in her hands tightly and darted out from the tree, keeping low to the ground in case any archers remained. Lincoln was already going to be upset with her for running back into potential danger when he’d explicitly told her to run away. She could at least try to be careful.
Rounding another curve, Clarke saw more arrows littering the ground. And a body. Clarke stumbled in her steps at the sight, looking around frantically. There was nothing else. No other bodies. No other people. One dead Azgeda warrior and no sign of Lincoln or Octavia. She hadn’t been gone that long. There wouldn’t have been time for… she didn’t even know. What had happened here?
She’d been standing in the open too long. Without warning, something hit her from behind. A solid body knocked her off her feet and behind the cover of a large tree, just in time to hear another whistle and thwack as an arrow embedded itself in the ground near where she’d been. She groaned, the impact not gentle at all, and found her mouth covered almost immediately with a firm hand to stifle the noise. When she craned her head back to look at her attacker, she was greeted with the sight of those green eyes again.
Something about them. Something…
Clarke’s body relaxed without conscious thought, surrendering to the weight and the pain.
“Why did I save you,” the woman grunted, releasing Clarke once it was clear she wouldn’t fight her, “if you were just going to run into someone else’s arrow?” She stood, crouching low against the tree they’d found cover behind. Clarke watched as the woman picked up her bow and quickly checked it before nocking an arrow. She studied the body near them.
“Don’t worry,” Clarke said shakily, drawing her attention once again. “You can still finish the job.” She smiled, hoping she didn’t look as nervous as she felt right now.
The woman blinked in honest surprise for one breathless moment and then glared at her. This made Clarke smile wider, more genuinely, until she shifted and found herself whimpering. The tackle had been effective in saving her life, but her injured side flared from even more pain than before, and Clarke almost didn’t want to look down and see whatever damage she’d done.
“Stay,” the woman said, then disappeared.
Clarke blinked at the spot where she’d been standing. How had she done that? She looked around but could see nothing other than the dead body she was sharing a forest with. Staring at that for too long made her nauseous, though, and Clarke closed her eyes. She forced herself closer to the tree that was providing her with cover, making herself as small as possible even as her side burned with pain. Leaning her head back against the bark of the tree, she tried to calm her ragged breathing and just listen.
It was surprisingly easy to remain still, despite the obvious danger. Despite all the anxiety over the warriors and the fact that Octavia and Lincoln were currently missing.
She… trusted this mysterious woman. Clarke blinked wearily at that realization. She still couldn’t place her, had no idea who she was, but somehow it remained true. If nothing else, she trusted that this woman would keep her safe from these Azgeda. Whatever happened after that would happen.
Clarke waited. She could barely hear the hoofbeats now. Whatever, whoever that was, they were getting away. Something twisted in Clarke’s stomach at the thought.
A scream suddenly sounded from somewhere behind her, followed by a thud. Clarke’s eyes opened wide and she jerked on instinct, causing herself to immediately hiss in pain again. She breathed through the feeling, forcing herself to listen for more sounds.
Nothing, again. Had that been her mysterious savior? She clutched her staff to her chest. It had sounded masculine. So not her, not yet. But that meant that there had been at least one other attacker still here. Were there more?
A twig snapped behind her. Clarke stopped breathing, bracing herself to be ready to stand, ready to defend. Another sound, behind and to the left. She lifted her staff.
At the first sight of a leg, Clarke swung, only for her makeshift staff to be caught easily by the heel of a boot and pressed into the ground. Clarke jerked at it on instinct and the boot pulled away enough for the staff to be rescued. Before she could make another attempt, a calm voice caused her to pause.
“Try not to hurt yourself any further.”
Clarke let her arms drop, slumping back into the solid trunk of the tree as she stared up at her mysterious savior once again. The hood of her cloak had come down, revealing wavy brown hair pulled back in an intricate pattern of braids. Those green eyes studied her for a long moment before looking back out at the forest around them, her bow down at her side.
“What happened?” Clarke asked.
“They left a lone scout. I don’t think they expected much resistance from you.” The woman walked a few paces away, studying the body once again, then the ground around it. “They did not expect my presence.”
“And Octavia? Lincoln?”
The woman looked back at her for a moment, not saying anything. Clarke frowned.
“Are they…?” She couldn’t finish the question.
“There’s no sign of anyone else.” Clarke didn’t even have time to relax before the woman continued, however, brow furrowed and obviously frustrated. “The marks on the ground make me believe they were captured. Knocked out and dragged, most likely.”
“We need to save them,” Clarke said immediately. That green gaze returned to study her. More specifically, the blood stain on her side that was slowly expanding. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not,” the woman said.
Clarke wanted to argue, but she clenched her jaw instead. “Okay, so I’m not. You could save them, though.”
The other woman looked out in the direction Clarke was assuming the Azgeda trail led. “There’s no way of knowing how many there are. And that’s not why I’m here.”
“Why are you here?” Clarke asked, pain and helplessness causing her voice to come out more accusatory than she’d meant it to. The woman’s shoulders immediately tensed. She turned slowly, eyes sharp and once more suspicious.
“Why are you here?” She took a step in Clarke’s direction, hand tightening on the grip of her bow. Clarke opened her mouth to repeat that she had fallen from the sky, but something in the gaze hardened again and Clarke waited. “Why are you here? In this part of the forest? You weren’t here by accident.” She paused, then looked in the direction that Clarke had come from, seeming to do some mental calculations. When she looked back at Clarke, her brows were furrowed again. “You are headed towards TonDC.”
There was no point in denying that much, at least. “Yes. Lincoln was taking us there.”
The woman’s jaw tensed as she continued to stare at Clarke. Clarke stared back, feeling stubborn. She had no control over her pain, no control over the fact that her best friend was missing, no control over the fact that this woman could just leave her here to die. Or kill her immediately. What she did have control over, however petty it was, was waiting for the question rather than volunteering information. After a long moment, she got her wish. “Why?”
“To meet with your Heda,” Clarke said. She watched as those green eyes immediately narrowed.
“Heda is not in TonDC.”
Clarke shifted a little against the tree, wincing. “Well, someone there was supposed to be able to…” She hesitated. How much could she really say? How much could this woman be trusted? Lincoln had said that the Heda had done a lot for his people, and that he would do almost anything for her. Did everyone feel that way? She looked out again at the dead man on the forest floor. “I have information that I need to share with someone in charge,” she said finally. “Someone who can verify it and hopefully get me an audience with your Heda.” Clarke paused, a thought occurring to her. She turned back to meet the woman’s eyes again, determined. “If you won’t save my friends, could you get me to TonDC? Hopefully I can… Maybe they’ll be willing to send people once I…”
Maybe the soulmate of their Heda would be important enough that she could get someone there to save her friends.
The expression on the woman’s face turned even more calculating and suspicious. Clarke waited, practically holding her breath, as the woman’s eyes swept over her once more. Studying her face. Her still-bleeding side. A glance to her right shoulder, still hidden by her jacket. Did she suspect? Was that a good or a bad thing?
“This… information. You expect a reward for it?”
Clarke frowned. “A reward? No.” Well… she was hoping that she could convince someone to help. Was that a reward? “I am hoping that it could help save my friends,” she admitted. “But I don’t want money or anything. I…” She licked her lips. “I can’t explain. Does it help you to know that Lincoln thought it was very important? He barely even wanted to wait out the night before we left.”
There was a long pause. Long enough that Clarke closed her eyes and tried to think about what she would do if this woman did not choose to take her. Could she get to TonDC on her own? Things still weren’t familiar to her. The forest was an endless expanse of trees and bushes that all looked alike. There were no landmarks, no trails. She still did not know how either Lincoln or this woman could navigate, could so easily understand which direction was which.
If she had no help, did she have any hope at all?
“Please,” Clarke said, her eyes still closed. She realized all at once that she couldn’t afford stubbornness or pride. Not when Octavia and Lincoln were out there, captured. Not when all of those kids still didn’t understand what they were getting into, when Bellamy was blind, when the Ark was still dying. She had to make this work. She finally opened her eyes again, blinking away the beginnings of tears. “Please, help me get there. I know you have no reason to trust me, but it is incredibly important that I get there.” What else could convince her? She could promise her a reward for the successful delivery of the Heda’s soulmate, but what did she actually know of her soulmate? She couldn’t speak for her or her people.
She still was wary of giving out that information, as well. Unless she couldn’t convince her any other way…
The woman remained still and silent for another long moment. Eventually, however, she looked out into the distance once more and then nodded. “I will take you to TonDC,” she said.
Clarke felt a few tears escape at the announcement, trailing down her cheeks in relief. “Thank you,” she all but whispered. “Thank you.”
Soon, the woman had stowed her bow and was crouching down next to her. Her expression had softened, and even with the bandana still over her face, Clarke appreciated how without the harsh edges she looked younger. How old was this woman, anyway? To be so skilled? To seem so in control? “I’ll need to look at your wound. Are you well enough to move?”
“I think so.” Clarke shifted, using both hands against the forest floor to try to push herself up. The sharp pain in her side immediately made her gasp, but she pushed through it anyway, rocking forward onto her knees. “Fuck,” she gasped. The adrenaline was definitely wearing off. “It… Just give me a second.”
“May I?” Hands hovered, waiting for permission. The pain caused a delay in processing, but eventually Clarke blinked and nodded.
“Oh, yeah.” She tried to straighten a little, giving more room to see her wound. “You don’t happen to be a doctor, do you?”
Gentle fingers pulled Clarke’s jacket away from her wound, then pulled up the shirt that had seen better days. Clarke hissed as the shirt stuck to the wound and closed her eyes, trying to hold back the instinct to curl up in pain. “I’ve had to learn a great number of skills,” the woman said, voice soft. Clarke felt her fingers probing at her side, then cried out at a particularly painful touch. “I’m not a healer, but I think you’ve at least sprained a rib. And…” The woman grasped at something, then tugged, and Clarke’s vision whited out for a moment. When she could see again, she was panting, and there was a bloody… thing being held out in front of her face. “You took a piece of the bush you fell in with you. There might still be more.”
Clarke stared, then laughed until tears were leaking out of her eyes again. “Of course.” Her side still hurt, but the sharpest pain seemed to have disappeared with the removal of the deceptively small thorny branch. “Explains why I’m bleeding so bad. I hope I…” She gasped softly as the hands explored again, trying to ignore that those fingers were literally digging inside her abdomen. “I hope I didn’t puncture anything.”
“I’m not sure you’d still be conscious if you had.” Seemingly satisfied, the woman pulled back again. “I have an extra cloak we can use to wrap your injuries. I think you’ll survive.” She stood and looked around again. They were both quiet, Clarke understanding that she was once again checking the safety of their surroundings. The woman nodded. “I’ll be right back. Do not move.”
“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Clarke muttered. She was tempted to close her eyes and rest but knew better. Steeling her reserves, she picked her staff back up and waited, doing her best to keep her attention on her surroundings instead of herself.
She came back with a horse.
Clarke stared up at the animal from her spot still on the ground. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it. It was just so tall. “Is this a normal size for a horse?” she asked. Her heart was racing at the thought of having to somehow get astride that thing.
The woman looked at her, and although she still couldn’t see her mouth, the corners of her eyes crinkled indulgently in what must be a small smile.
“Buka is one of my smaller horses,” she said, reaching out to pet the horse’s neck affectionately. “I chose her for her speed.”
“Small…” Clarke couldn’t help but mutter disbelievingly. She clutched her staff and planted it firmly on the ground, using it to help leverage herself up. Once she was standing, she found that the pain wasn’t actually as bad as she’d feared, especially not with the borrowed cloak wrapped firmly around her midsection. She wasn’t expecting this ride to be painless, but she hoped that the extra support and padding would be enough to keep everything as it should be. “Can I ask why you were in such a hurry?”
“You can ask,” the woman said mildly. She tugged gently on the horse’s straps, checking that everything was still as it was supposed to be. Clarke took it as a good sign that she didn’t even tense at the question this time. Hopefully that meant she was over the idea of her being a spy, or at least willing to ignore her less tactful inquiries. “But I will not answer. Will you tell me what you wish to share with Heda?”
Clarke pursed her lips. Fair enough. They could both be mysteries to each other. “Okay. I get it. How far are we from TonDC? Lincoln said that it was only a half-day’s walk when we left.”
“We are not far,” she replied. “Even accounting for your injury, we should be there before the sun hits its peak.”
How long was that in normal time measurements? Clarke looked up at the trees surrounding them and the light filtering through. It was still mid-morning, probably. So… a few hours? Please be safe, Clarke sent a thought to Octavia, wherever she was. Octavia was a survivor. She would find a way until Clarke could get a rescue team sent her way.
“Are you ready?”
Clarke nodded, taking a deep breath and moving closer to the woman. “The sooner we get there, the better,” she said, looking up at the horse which did not look any smaller now that she was standing up. She frowned. “I, um… We’re going to be kind of close, right? Do you think I could get your name? Mine is Clarke.”
The woman stilled briefly. There was suspicion in that gaze, but also a fair amount of uncertainty in general. Then she seemed to come to a decision, those previously semi-warm eyes having hardened again.
Something about her expression caused Clarke to immediately amend her request. “Wait. Don’t lie to me.”
She blinked. The hard lines in her face softened once more into confusion. “What?”
“You obviously have a thing about privacy and you don’t trust me, and that’s… fine.” It wasn’t fine, but it wasn’t any of Clarke’s business. She’d already saved her life and was going to get her to TonDC. She could allow this woman her mysteries. “My name really is Clarke, but if you don’t want me to know your name then just give me something to call you.”
There was something even more intense about the way the woman stared at her this time, sizing her up. Trying to figure out what her game was, probably. Clarke stared back. “You do not want me to lie to you. Not even about my name.” Her voice was calm, and the way she spoke was not a question. “How do you know I haven’t already lied to you?”
“I don’t,” Clarke said. She shrugged and shook her head. “But I really don’t think you have, even if you don’t want to tell me things. I’d rather not start with the lies now. Let’s just be honest about…” Clarke scrunched her nose as she tried to figure out how to word it. “The things we don’t say.”
They were quiet for a moment more, then the woman let out a soft huff that was suspiciously like a laugh. “You are a strange one, Clarke who fell from the sky.” Clarke allowed herself a slow smile, strangely enjoying the way the woman’s voice made her name sound more like ‘Klark’ with its hard ‘k’s. She also enjoyed the hint of approval in the statement. “Very well. Then for now you may call me… Costia.”
“Costia.” Clarke repeated the name slowly, softly. Her mind was unexpectedly filled with unrestrained laughs, soft curls, dark eyes. Affection. Warmth. Guilt. Emptiness. The scent of burlap and old blood. She blinked, disoriented. Was this a memory or had she lost too much blood herself? Had she hit her head? She didn’t think so. Costia. What was it about that name?
A hand steadied her, stopping her from swaying. The vision of dark eyes cleared to make way for those searching green ones again. Clarke watched her lips move but couldn’t hear the words.
“I… I’m fine…” She swallowed. There were words that wanted to come out. Are you sure that’s what you want me to call you? Clarke held them back, unsure where they came from, feeling vaguely sick in a way that she was pretty sure had nothing to do with her wounds. “Maybe I should sit down, though.”
“We should get you to a healer.” These words were audible, finally. Clarke nodded. “I will mount Buka first, then pull you up. You can rest on the way.” Clarke nodded again, the sick feeling slowly receding. The woman— Costia, for now— gently released her, watching her to make sure she wouldn’t suddenly fall. Then she smoothly mounted the horse, making it look easy despite the height. She held out a hand for Clarke.
Clarke didn’t allow herself to hesitate, taking the hand and doing her best to replicate the same actions. She was not graceful. She would not have made it up onto the horse if it weren’t for the sheer unexpected strength in that grip, in that arm, that pulled her up and settled her behind her. Clarke found herself clutching tightly at Costia’s waist, both from her continued lack of balance and the distance now between where she sat and the ground. Costia looked back at her, her gaze curious and concerned, but otherwise did not comment.
“Do not worry. I will get us there safely.”
Clarke closed her eyes against the unexpected vertigo of watching the ground start to move beneath her. Her side hurt, but not too badly. Her head still swam from the unexpected vision, or hallucination, whatever it was. Costia did not make her loosen her grip and Clarke rested her cheek against the softness of her savior’s cloak.