Fleur and Marble Pie - The Autumn Arc

Apr 6th, 2020
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  1. The first Arc in the Fleur and Marble series of loosely connected short stories. Focused around Autumn Blaze. Written for the Lesbo Thread on the /mlp/ board.
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  5. >The canopy high above was slowly changing colors, from a lush, bright green, to a mixture of oranges, browns, and reds.
  6. >Great maples and gentle oaks sprawled across the sky as if they were the setting sun, and bristly pines stood alone in their still-green foliage like great green beacons.
  7. >Marble’s vision was focused lower than that, lower than the knee-height shrubs and bushes, and to the native rocks and stones found in the area.
  8. >She crouched low over a river bank, scrawling notes about the reddish-brown soil and examining the flow of the river bank and the rounded stones hidden deep in depths.
  9. >This was her favorite part of her chosen major - the views, the in-depth, tranquil study of nature kept her mind at ease and let her relax.
  10. >Fleur helped her relax, surely, but there was simply no replacement for the closeness she felt to her lineage and the tranquility of the forest.
  11. >Marble hummed under her breath and brushed her hair over her ear.
  12. >Marble followed the river bank at a sedate pace.
  13. >She had all day for the assignment, and the sun was still high in the sky.
  14. >She adjusted the straps on her bag and slipped her pencil and field book into the easy-to-reach pocket on the side and pulled her map and compass out.
  15. >The river bank lead to a large pond a few miles out, but she hardly doubted she would go that far.
  16. >Marble really loved the vast, sprawling forest that bordered their school, teeming with nearly un-touched wildlife.
  17. >The dense foliage surrounding her gave way to a small clearing.
  18. >A soft bed of grass was laying under a leaning Oak tree, its great roots uplifted and exposed by a small hill.
  19. >Marble eyed the odd growing pattern and stepped through the clearing.
  20. >The tree looked almost hollowed out, and the rocks pressed up against it’s roots seemed almost…
  21. >Artificial?
  22. >Marble approached warily and pulled her rock hammer from the loop on her backpack.
  23. >She sidled up next to the tall spire of stone and gently chipped at it with her hammer.
  24. >It gave way surprisingly easy, exposing an unblemished view of the rock.
  25. >It looked nearly identical to the river stones she had been studying earlier, but this looked far too inland, and with they way they were set up…
  26. >Marble peaked over her shoulder into a set of flat, amber eyes.
  27. “Yah!”
  28. >She dropped her hammer and slammed her back into the stone pillars behind her, her eyes bulging out of her head and her heart hammering in her chest.
  29. >The person standing just behind her was upside down, hanging from a low-hanging Oak branch by her legs.
  30. >She- and Marble blushed as the girl’s leaf skirt flipped over her body- was staring at her with a flat, apathetic gaze.
  31. >The woman dropped to the forest floor and landed gracefully on her feet.
  32. >Marble cringed and wrapped her arms around her knees.
  33. >Her entire body shook with fear as this woman took a step toward her, her heart beating in her ears.
  34. >The woman leaned over her, her face as emotionless as her eyes.
  35. >Her blank, amber eyes glowed out from a nest of auburn hair topped on a lithe, tanned body covered with leaves in just the right places.
  36. “H-hi?”
  37. >The woman leaned a little further down, her head tilting quizzically as she studied Marble.
  38. >Marble looked away, preparing for the worst…
  39. >”Hi!”
  40. “Y-yah!”
  41. >Her heart skipped a beat as the woman’s bright, upbeat tone in an unfamiliar, thick accent made her jump.
  42. >”I’m Autumn Blaze. Who are you? Oh it’s been sooooo~ long since I’ve talked to anyone. Are there more of you here? Where do you come from? From that big building over there, I bet. Woah…”
  43. >Autumn’s eyes sparkled brightly as they locked onto the hammer laying on the forest floor at her feet.
  44. >She hefted it in her hands and moved it up and down in awe.
  45. >”What’s this thing? Is this what you used to put that mark in my home’s wall? It’s no biggie, there are always more rocks. I’m rambling again, right? Sorry to scare you.”
  46. >Marble was shaking from head to toe as Autumn continued to ramble, her face ashen as the tall, amazonian woman above her continued to mutter on about something or other.
  47. >”Hey, hey, are you okay?”
  48. >Autumn’s now quizzical, curious look was pressed up right against Marble.
  49. >Marble took a deep breath and tried to relax.
  50. >”Sorry, sorry, was that joke too much? I don’t really get to make jokes. It’s sorta just me out here.”
  51. >Autumn laughed nervously.
  52. “Mmhmm…”
  53. >”You don’t talk much do you?”
  54. “Er… N-nuh-uh…”
  55. >Autumn sighed and flopped to the forest floor.
  56. >”Of course the one person I run in to in the forest in for-ev-er doesn’t talk.”
  57. >Autumn sat up, her lip sticking out as she eyed Marble up and down.
  58. >”Sorry, that was rude. Er… Would you like to come inside?”
  59. “I-in?”
  60. >Autumn nodded, her face suddenly bright and her smile wide.
  61. >”Yeah, yeah! That thing behind you is where I live. It’s not real-super-fancy like the…”
  62. >She stopped short for a moment and her gaze went blank, but in a flash she was back to being bright and springy.
  63. >”Come on, come on!”
  64. >There was a small window that peaked out into the world beyond the cramped space.
  65. >The sunlight she had seen seemed to evaporate and already streaks of purple and orange were cresting the tree line.
  66. >”Oh. You have to go.”
  67. >Autumn’s face went blank for another second, but in a flash she was grinning from ear to ear and drained both mugs of tea.
  68. >”I’ll lead you back, okay, okay? Come on!”
  69. >Autumn grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her out of the small cave and into the waning sun.
  70. >Marble squeaked as she was nearly dragged through the forest, prickly pines and scraggly bushes pulling at her skin and hair and clothes.
  71. >She had to wonder how Autumn’s hair wasn’t being caught in every tight crevice in the foliage they squeezed through, but it seemed she knew her way around the forest.
  72. >Marble felt exhausted by the time Autumn finally stopped, and she was certain they walked a lot more than they had to.
  73. >Perhaps it was Autumn simply enjoying having someone to talk to, but Marble couldn’t really say.
  74. >That is, when she decided to talk.
  75. >Several times she had descended into blank silences and her face was flat and unmoving, and she moved almost mechanically, yet her footing was still sure.
  76. >”Hey, hey. This is where you wanted to go right? Right?”
  77. >Autumn pointed to the outer wall of the college.
  78. >Her smile grew a little strained as she took a step back into the depths of the forest.
  79. >”Sorry, sorry. It’s… Been a while.”
  80. >Her face fell flat again, and for a moment Marble could see Maud’s face in place of the tanned, red-headed woman before her.
  81. >Marble felt her heart lurch in her chest.
  82. “I…” She swallowed hard, “I go to the forest sometimes.”
  83. >Autumn looked deep into her eyes, and Marble tried her best to look away, but her oddly amber eyes were mesmerizing.
  84. >”Okay! Okay! See you soon, then?”
  85. >Marble nodded.
  86. >Autumn gave her one last cheek-splitting grin and seemed to disappear into the foliage.
  87. >Marble sighed and stepped out of the forest’s boundaries.
  88. >She cringed when she looked down at herself, covered in foliage and clothes streaked with green pigment.
  89. >She really needed a shower…
  91. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
  93. >”Going out for your walk so early? Usually you do not go for another few days…”
  94. >Marble blushed and avoided looking at Fleur’s inquisitive, piercing gaze.
  95. “Dr. Stonewall wanted me to collect a few more samples along the river bank before next class…”
  96. >She had just finished packing her day bag, filling it with her maps and notations books and all the tools she regularly used when traversing the wild surrounding the campus when Fleur’s needling gaze had crawled up her back.
  97. >Marble felt a growing, niggling fear at the half-truth she had told Fleur.
  98. >Stonewall didn’t need those samples for another week, at least, she just really wanted to see Autumn again.
  99. >Her heart clenched when she thought of the auburn haired woman.
  100. >Trapped in the forest, abandoned by her village and scorned by modern society.
  101. >In the few weeks since they had met they had talked more, and Marble was enthralled by the fascinating tales of the Kirin tribe and the legendary folklore of the Nirik.
  102. >”Have fun then, amour. Stay safe?”
  103. >Fleur came up to hug her gently.
  104. >Marble’s gut clenched and it set her teeth on edge as she was set awash in Fleur’s affection.
  105. >Of course while she was being an awful deceiver Fleur had to be a loving, caring companion…
  106. “Mhmm…”
  107. >She buried herself in Fleur’s arms and enjoyed the warmth that radiated off her, trying to ignore the ghost of shame that lingered behind her.
  108. >Fleur tilted her head up and kissed her gently, sweetly, and Marble melted.
  109. “...I have to go…”
  110. >It hurt to say it, but the shadow of guilt that pressed in on her was outweighed by the curiosity that lingered heavy on her mind and drove her into the forest.
  111. >She couldn’t bring Fleur, either, somehow it would feel wrong to take her so far into the forest, and subsequently so far into Autumn’s privacy.
  112. >Marble hesitantly returned the kiss before separating.
  113. “See you for dinner?”
  114. >”Oui. I’ll have something good for you to eat when you get back.”
  115. >Fleur’s lips quirked into a naughty grin and her eyes gained a mischievous gleam.
  116. >”There will also be food.”
  117. >Marble blushed.
  118. “O-okay. T-thanks.”
  119. >”My… Pleasure…” Fleur whispered lustfully, her gaze half-lidded and her full lips pouting hotly.
  120. >Marble felt her cheeks heat up even further, and she wondered if Fleur would ever stop making her feel like that.
  121. >She doubted it, but she also kind of liked it.
  122. “Hey, uh, Fleur?”
  123. >Fleur had turned away, but her inquisitive gaze was now peering over her shoulder at Marble, her head cocked to the side.
  124. >”Oui?”
  125. >Marble took a step towards her, crossing the distance in their small room.
  126. >She didn’t say anything as she hugged Fleur around the waist and buried her head into her shoulder.
  127. >Fleur’s arms came up in surprise before settling over her shoulders and hugging her back.
  128. >”Are you okay, amour?”
  129. “Yeah. Just wanted a hug.”
  130. >Marble hugged her a little tighter and enjoyed her equally warm embrace.
  131. >Marble finally separated after a long moment took a step towards the door.
  132. >Guilt niggled at her with every step she took, but she quashed it down as she finally took a step out the door.
  133. >”Be back soon, amour. Stay safe.”
  134. “Thanks, Fleur.”
  136. **
  138. >Marble had beat a hasty retreat out of the college campus and into the untamed wilds surrounding it.
  139. >Her usual path when she did one of these nature walks kept her along the river bank, but ever since she had Autumn it seemed like she was more in tuned with the forest.
  140. >As If the trees and animals and foliage around her began to whisper little niggling hints towards her goal, whatever that may be, spurring her on and keeping her focused.
  141. >Marble breathed in deeply and enjoyed the clear forest air tinged with pine.
  142. >A great weight that settled over her dissipated whenever she entered the forest, so clean, and pure, drawing her attention to the beauty of the forest.
  143. >”Hey!”
  144. >Marble hid her face under her hair as Autumn sprung from the foliage, stifling the squeak of surprise that tried to leave her.
  145. >She was used to her antics by now.
  146. “Hello, Autumn.”
  147. >”Hey Hey!” Autumn’s bright smile seemed to only grow wider, “Surprised you’re back so soon!”
  148. >Marble nudged a stone over with the tip of her shoe as she stared at the forest floor, an embarrassed blush on her cheeks.
  149. “I need to collect a few more samples of mineral deposits for my next class.”
  150. >Autumn’s head cocked to the side, “Mineral deposits? Like rocks, and stuff?”
  151. “Yeah.”
  152. >Autumn ran a hand through her bushy auburn hair and stared off into the distance contemplatively.
  153. >”Oh, oh! I’ve got the best place if you wanna see some cool, cool rocks!”
  154. “Really?”
  155. >”Yeah, yeah. It’s suuuper cool. Like, the coolest place in the whole word, it’s splendorous. Splendorous? Yeah, yeah, it’s splendorous and stupendous and it just like speaks to you, you know? It’s like the rocks just sorta call out to you and say ‘hey! I’m here! And I exist and I matter! And I’m not just some outcast screw-up…’”
  156. >Autumn’s face went blank for a moment and her eyes went dull and flat, before her grin stretched her face wide again and her eyes were shining with glee.
  157. >“Know what I mean?”
  158. “Er…”
  159. >”I knew you would. We’ve only been friends for a little while and you just sorta get me, you know? Even if you don’t talk a lot it’s nice having someone around that isn’t looking down on me, or tossing me aside like trash, or-”
  160. >Autumn’s face fell for a moment again before her beaming smile returned.
  161. “W-where is it then?”
  162. >”Oh, I can’t take you during the day! It’s soooo much prettier at night. Hey, hey, tomorrow night’s the full moon. It’ll be as gorgeous as it can possibly be!”
  163. >Marble bit her lip.
  164. >Her thoughts wandered to Fleur, and the repercussions associated with spending another night away from her.
  165. >Marble really didn’t want to, but the niggling curiosity drew her in.
  166. “O-okay. Tomorrow night?”
  167. >Autumn’s smile faded for a moment before returning in full force, “Yeah. See you then?”
  168. “Yeah.” Marble’s smile was thin but firm.
  169. >Autumn kept silent for only a moment before she sprung forward and grabbed Marble’s wrist.
  170. >”You wanted to go to the river right? For your project, or something?”
  171. >Marble nodded, and in a flash Autumn was pulling her forward into the dense forest foliage.
  172. >Quicker than she had ever been, Autumn had led her to the forest’s riverbank.
  173. >Marble blinked as her feet curled into the soft silt around her.
  174. >Autumn’s ability to cross the forest never ceased to amaze her.
  175. “Thank you.”
  176. >Autumn laughed, “No biggie, no biggie. I love the river, it’s gorgeous isn’t it? The way the light shimmers off the surface, and the way it gurgles in places like it’s laughing, you know? It’s so… Alive.”
  177. >Autumn’s gaze was locked on the river’s surface and her eyes were alight with glee.
  178. >”Look, the sun’s rays on the surface even look like little radiant diamonds.”
  179. >Autumn turned to Marble with a content smile on her face.
  180. >”Sorry, I’m rambling again, aren’t I?”
  181. >Marble shrugged.
  182. >Autumn hesitated for a moment before speaking softly, “I really appreciate having someone to talk to that’s willing to listen… It’s really nice, you know?”
  183. >Marble blushed.
  184. “I’m not really that fun to talk to…”
  185. >”Are you kidding? Talking to you is the most fun I’ve had, since, uh…”
  186. >Autumn’s face went blank, seemingly lost in some far-off place.
  187. >”Sorry,” Autumn blushed as she came back, “Sometimes I remember what is was like when I was still part of the Tribe.”
  188. “Tribe?”
  189. >Marble cocked her head to the side inquisitively.
  190. >”I haven’t told you, have I? It’s not really easy to talk about. You’ve heard of the Kirin right?”
  191. >Marble shook her head.
  192. >”Well, the Kirin are a local tribe of indigenous. I used to be a part of it, until I broke Kirin Customs. Haven’t been back since.”
  193. >Autumn crouched on the river bank and rested her chin on her crossed arms.
  194. >”I can’t say I regret leaving, but I do miss them sometimes.”
  195. >Autumn was silent for a moment, before she sprung up, a smile on her face.
  196. >”It doesn’t really matter now, though, right? We’re friends now, right?”
  197. “Right.”
  198. >Autumn grabbed her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, a small smile on her face.
  199. >Marble blushed.
  200. >That niggling feeling of guilt that had gone away returned with a vengeance.
  201. >She looked out onto the river’s steady flow, and across to the opposite bank.
  202. >It was lined with gorgeously pink and violet flowers that lilted listlessly over the water, curling around a root that was dipping out over and into the deeper parts of the river.
  203. >Her heart ached when her mind drifted back to Fleur.
  204. >She really shouldn’t be out here, not now, not with Autumn, alone…
  205. “I have to go, I think, it’s getting kinda late.”
  206. >”You didn’t get your rocks, though?”
  207. >Marble bit her lip and fiddled with the hem of her shirt.
  208. “Er, right. I can get them tomorrow?”
  209. >Autumn’s head tilted curiously, “Okay, if you say so. Need help getting back to your school?”
  210. “I think I can get there on my own.”
  211. >”Alright. Is everything okay?”
  212. “Mhmm.”
  213. >”Cause you’re acting kinda weirded out. I didn’t weird you out did I? I’m sorry, sometimes I just say things cause I haven’t had anyone around to say things too, I didn’t mean to be weird.”
  214. “N-no it’s not you!” Marble said quickly, “You’re not weird!”
  215. >Autumn shrugged and gave her a thin smile, “Don’t worry about it, Marble, I am weird. There’s a reason I don’t live with people anymore.”
  216. >Marble nudged a stone with the tip of her shoe as Autumn went back to kneeling next to the river bank.
  217. >She felt the little niggling feeling of shame creep up her back the more she thought about Autumn, and especially so when Fleur crossed her mind.
  218. >Marble crouched down next to Autumn and carefully plucked a small, pastel pink flower from its stem.
  219. >She spun it carefully in her fingers and brought it to her nose.
  220. >With her eyes closed she breathed in the scent of the flower.
  221. “I haven’t been out this far in a long time…” Marble said softly.
  222. >Autumn’s head perked up from where she was glumly watching a fish swim in a lazy circle around the gently babbling river.
  223. “Do you think you could help me find my way back?”
  224. >Autumn shot up to her feet with a wide smile and tugged Marble back up with her.
  225. >”Of course! Come on, let’s go!”
  226. >Autumn began to run, pulling Marble along behind her as they raced cleverly through the woods.
  227. >Marble stumbled along behind her, tripping over roots and smacking into low hanging branches that seemed to bend out of Autumn’s way.
  228. >Autumn stopped just a few trees deep into the forest, the visibly well-groomed lawn of the campus illuminated by the evening sun’s rays.
  229. >”Sorry, I don’t really get too close. Just kinda worried about being around a lot of people, you know?”
  230. >Marble panted as she tried to dust the dirt from her clothes and untangle the pine needles and broken branches from her hair.
  231. >”Oops, did I do that? Sorry, sorry!” Autumn said as she brushed Marble down with her firm, calloused hands.
  232. >Marble blushed hotly when Autumn brushed up against her chest and practically caressed her face when she began pulling loose needles and branches from her hair.
  233. >”Aaaand… Done!”
  234. >Autumn beamed when she pulled out the last branch tangled in her long hair.
  235. >She spun Marble back and forth, inspecting every inch of her for anything she missed.
  236. >Marble’s blush didn’t abate even as Autumn gently pushed her forward, bidding her a quick farewell and disappearing into the brush.
  237. >Her mind was stuck on Autumn’s firm hands over her body, so dissimilar to Fleur’s gentle touch, and she was blushing even as she pulled the door to her room open.
  238. >If her blush was bright before she opened the door, then it only deepened as her heart hammered in her chest.
  239. >Fleur…
  240. >Was dressed incredibly cute!
  241. >She looked up with a smudge of dirt on her otherwise flawless cheek, her face red from exertion as she scrubbed the bottom half of her wardrobe with a rag.
  242. >Her soft hands were hidden by rubber gloves and her hair was pulled back with a bandanna, save for a few loose locks of hair that spilled over her face.
  243. >She was wearing too-big clothes and hid her figure, but the collar of her shirt was wide enough to expose a bit of her shoulder.
  244. >Even dressed so conservatively Fleur still made her feel this way.
  245. >”Salut!”
  246. >Fleur shot to her feet and pressed a kiss to Marble’s cheek, giggling softly when she clapped a hand to her own cheek where she had kissed her.
  247. >”It looks good, yes? We’ve been neglecting to clean our room, so I thought I would surprise you.”
  248. >Marble looked around the room.
  249. >The empty food packaging was gone, the clothes that littered the floor were neatly folded and looked freshly-laundered.
  250. >She looked up to Fleur’s nervous face.
  251. >Fleur was biting her plush, pink lips and wringing her hands as she waited for Marble to speak.
  252. “It looks really nice, Fleur. Did you do my laundry?”
  253. >Fleur beamed, “Oui. I have a surprise, too.”
  254. >Fleur closed the door behind Marble and flicked the blinds on their window closed.
  255. >She crept up behind Marble and hugged her from behind.
  256. >”Close your eyes, amour.”
  257. >Marble did so as Fleur flicked the lights off.
  258. >”Open.”
  259. >Marble blinked her eyes as she took in the strings of fairy lights covering the room, bathing the otherwise darkened space with soft blue and pink lights.
  260. “Wow… That’s so pretty.”
  261. >Fleur laughed softly and hugged her a little tighter.
  262. >”Oui, it matches the occupants, yes?”
  263. >Marble blushed, “One of them,” she mumbled.
  264. >”I think not. You are very pretty.”
  265. >She loved and hated how Fleur got under her skin like she did, making her heart hammer in her chest and her stomach flip with every softly spoken word that slipped from her lips.
  266. >Marble jumped from Fleur’s grasp and stuck out her hand with the flower she had picked earlier grasped tightly in her grip.
  267. “H-here, this is for you!”
  268. >Her face was hidden by her hair as she practically shook in her sneakers.
  269. >The flower was partially crushed by her grip but Fleur accepted it gratefully anyway.
  270. >”I love it amour,” Fleur whispered as she strung it through her hair and leaned in for a kiss.
  271. >Marble kissed her back with a bashful expression.
  272. >”It’s getting late,” Fleur noted as they stood in each others’ embrace.
  273. “Mhmm…”
  274. >Marble sighed as she buried her face into Fleur’s shoulder.
  275. >”Would you like to get dinner?”
  276. >Marble didn’t want to move, but her stomach answered for her as it grumbled angrily.
  277. >”I shall take that as a yes,” Fleur said with a flowery laugh.
  278. >She tossed her gloves off and opened the door.
  279. >”After you, amour…”
  280. >Marble smiled and left the room, Fleur trailing behind her.
  282. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
  284. >The setting of the sun heralded Marble’s trek once more into the forest the very next day.
  285. >The autumn leaves and chilly fall breeze nipped at her nose and swept at her hair.
  286. >She adjusted the straps of her backpack and looked around the densely wooded forest.
  287. >The border between the school’s outer wall was pressing up almost directly to the forest with only a thin, long strip of a lawn acting as a buffer.
  288. >With only a few steps out the westernmost gate Marble found herself deep in the forest’s twisting, thick embrace.
  289. >The evening sky slowly growing dark as the sun set gave the forest an eerie feel that had Marble on edge.
  290. >Hairs stood up on the back of her neck and goosebumps ran along her arm.
  291. >Twisting and gnarled branches cast deeply wrought shadows on the long, untamed, and wild grass that clung to her boots, acting like grossly malformed limbs twisted in the dusk’s light.
  292. >Marble shuddered and her toes scrunched uncomfortably in her boots as she scrunched her shoulders up.
  293. >Every step made her growing apprehension well up further inside her chest, settling in her stomach like a static-filled balloon and making it hard to breath.
  294. >A thousand twisted, screaming faces stared down at her, mocking and cruel smiles twisted their crude wooden maws.
  295. >Marble squeaked and folded in on herself when a red, glowing set of eyes flashed just a foot in front of her.
  296. >Darkness had settled over the forest canopy like a thick, chilly blanket, and the still thick canopy blocked most of the view of the stars and the bright full moon.
  297. >Marble could barely see her hand in front of her face and couldn’t see the forest floor at all.
  298. >Autumn should have found her by now, right…?
  299. >The more she clung to the hope that Autumn was just around the corner, waiting to find her and lead her to wherever she had been talking about, the more desperate she got to find her.
  300. “Autumn?” Marble called into the darkness.
  301. >Leaves rustled just in front of her, just a slightly grey outline was all that visible in the night’s dim light.
  302. “A-autumn?”
  303. >Marble took an apprehensive step towards the bush.
  304. >With a snap her foot came down on a twig.
  305. >Marble jumped and squawked aloud as the rustling stopped.
  306. >Her breath stopped just as the rustling did, her eyes with with fright and veins running frigid.
  307. >Marble spun on her heel and took two great steps away from the bush as a large figure exploded from behind it.
  308. >The darkness made it impossible to run with any precision, and after another large, leaping step Marble found herself flat on her face.
  309. >She tried to suck in a breath to attempt to replace the one that had been knocked from her body but that, too, was forced out when the figure landed on her with a surprised giggle.
  310. >”Gotcha! Did I scare ya? Did I? Sorry, I didn’t scare you too bad did I?”
  311. >Marble relaxed into the cold damp earth with relief when Autumn’s jovial voice broke through the darkness as a pair of strong hands grabbed her and hoisted her to her feet.
  312. >”Err… Oops.”
  313. >She could only imagine Autumn blushing like a fool but grinning just the same as she tried to steady her trembling body.
  314. >”The forest’s a bit scary this late at night, and I just I just couldn’t help myself. Sorry…”
  315. >Marble could just see Autumn’s arm coming at her as she was pulled in for a hug.
  316. >With great relief Marble sunk into Autumn’s warm embrace.
  317. >Her eyes focused on nothing as she tried to calm her pounding heart.
  318. >With great enthusiasm Autumn pulled at Marble, her grin audible in her voice.
  319. >”Come on, we gotta hurry!”
  320. >Autumn pulled her along by the arm as they began to crash through the forest’s pitch black, twisting paths.
  322. **
  324. >”Hey it’s just in here, just a little further. Oh man, it’s absolutely *gorgeous* in here.”
  325. >Marble panted as Autumn finally came to a stop, her heart was pounding even harder now in her chest and her forehead was slick with sweat despite the rampant chill that froze the sweat to her skin.
  326. “W-wait…”
  327. >Autumn disappeared into a tunnel barely visible by a peaking shaft of moonlight and Marble stumbled after her, legs weak and wobbly.
  328. >How far had they run? Miles?
  329. >All sense of time was lost in the trek and the odd way Autumn moved through the forest, as if the forest itself was moving out of her way and guiding them to where she wanted to go.
  330. >Marble grabbed a root just visible in the darkness and took a step into the stooping cave entrance.
  331. >Another big step, and she was flat on her face with the root still in her grasp and another wrapping around her ankle.
  332. “Ow…”
  333. >”You’re clumsy, you know?”
  334. >Autumn couldn’t help but laugh as she helped Marble up once more.
  335. >”Now come on! We’re so close- oooh…”
  336. >They walked a few more feet, and Autumn’s awestruck voice whispered a small tune into the much larger cave that lay just in front of them.
  337. >Marble poked her head out from behind Autumn’s large mass of bushy hair.
  338. >With awestruck abandon Marble stepped out fully, her eyes glued to the vaulted ceiling, the intricate stalagmites and stalactites that looked almost like carved pillars, worn down by the steady drip-drip-drip of mineral-filled water.
  339. >A large crystal clear pool lay in front of them, the stalagmites sticking out like tiny, spear-like islands, but was most impressive were the gems.
  340. >A hole large enough to let a great shaft of moonlight in shimmered against a massive deposit of gems that glittered prettily.
  341. >They were sticking from the ceiling of the cave and reflecting the moon’s beam while hidden in the depths of the water.
  342. >It was…
  343. >”Breathtaking, isn’t it?”
  344. >Marble nodded as they stood in a companionable silence.
  345. >The silence lasted for only one more awe-struck moment before Autumn’s voice broke it.
  346. >”My tribe used this place for rituals, years Before...”, Autumn stopped, her face neutral for a moment, before continuing with enthusiasm, “Isn’t it amazing? It’s like an ancient relic, that even though it’s sort of beat up it’s still this wonderful, natural thing.”
  347. >Her hand came to rest on the wall of the cave nearest to them, her voice melancholic yet still slightly cheerful.
  348. >”And the the light reflecting off the water and all the gems… Simply the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.”
  349. >Marble tore her eyes away from the cavern and looked at Autumn as she stared forlornly at the cave wall.
  350. >Her thumb brushed over a cave painting, a grimace developing on her features.
  351. >The painting seemed to tell a story though Marble would be hard pressed to guess, though what seemed to stick out was a large circular mark right in the center, like the original paintings had been covered with it.
  352. “What’s that?”
  353. >”Oh. It’s sort of hard to explain, you probably wouldn’t want to hear about it.”
  354. >Marble tilted her head, and took a seat cross-legged on the damp floor, and gestured for Autumn to do the same so they were facing each other.
  355. >”You sure?”
  356. >Marble nodded her head, a thin smile on her face.
  357. >”It’s a brand,” Autumn said with a grimace, her own hand brushing over a spot on her arm covered by a thin vine, “Years ago my tribe had a schism. I don’t remember much about why, and no one could tell me before I left. My village was destroyed though, and all that remained were the few not killed off in the destruction.”
  358. >Autumn took in a shuddering breath.
  359. >”The ones that were still alive took a vow of silence, and a vow to always be vigilant of and wary of emotions, to stop any conflict like that from happening again. I was a little girl when it all happened and…”
  360. >Marble rested a hand on Autumn’s leg, and the woman gave her a watery smile in response.
  361. >”I followed the vow, and like the others, I took the brand.”
  362. >Autumn tugged the vine covering her arm down just a hair, enough to expose the top of the same circle-like symbol that now covered the cave painting.
  363. >”I… I couldn’t take it!” Autumn laughed, though it was clear to Marble she was anything but happy.
  364. >Her face was grief ridden and her eyes were watery, visible even in the low light.
  365. >”I couldn’t take not feeling, you know? I couldn’t just say nothing! There’s so much to say and so much to feel, it’s like… Am I crazy? I feel crazy. I just haven’t had anyone to…”
  366. >Autumn looked everywhere but at Marble as tears streamed down her face, her lips warbling as her voice came out choked and heavy.
  367. >Marble felt the sorrow and anxiety rolling off of Autumn in waves, yet she didn’t react.
  368. >She thought of Fleur’s bad days, when the thoughts of home would get too bad and she’d be stuck in bed all day.
  369. >Her mind wandered still to her own homesickness, of her mother’s soft voice and lullaby's and her father’s age-old wisdom and reliable gruffness.
  370. >Autumn shuddered as she forced a smile onto her face and wiped at her eyes.
  371. >”It doesn’t matter right? I just have to stick it out! Those grouchy, old, curmudgeonly…”
  372. >Her face went blank for a moment, seeming to be lost in thought.
  373. “E-er…”
  374. >”Oh! Sorry, must have zoned out.”
  375. >Her hands raked ashamedly through her wild tresses of auburn hair with a sheepish look on her face.
  376. “It’s okay to be sad.”
  377. >Marble bit her lip as she tried to put her feelings into word.
  378. >She racked her brain as Autumn starred at her, a creeping feeling of shame and anxiety crawling up and down her spine.
  379. >This wasn’t how this was supposed to go…
  380. “Feeling things doesn’t mean… Ah… Doesn’t always mean you feel happy?”
  381. >Marble stared down at her crossed legs and fidgeted with a tiny pebble.
  382. “Always feeling one thing would sorta be like not feeling anything…”
  383. >”I think I get it,” Autumn said, her head tilted inquisitively as she mulled over Marble’s words.
  384. >”It’s just hard, you know? I haven’t seen my tribe in a long, long time.”
  385. >Marble nodded.
  386. “I miss my family sometimes. We all have good days, and bad days.”
  387. >”I guess you’re right. I still have you, though, right?”
  388. >Autumn was leaned towards her, her eyes sparkling and her lips stretched into a wide smile.
  389. >She looked eager, yet Marble could see the way her face and body tensed.
  390. “Mhmm…”
  391. >Autumn’s smile only grew larger and she relaxed.
  392. >Her eyes slowly slid closed and she began to tilt her head towards Marble’s.
  393. >It was oddly intimate, how close they were, almost as if…
  394. >Marble blushed furiously and her eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as Autumn’s lips touched hers.
  395. >Mind blank and surprise thundering through her system, Marble couldn’t do anything but sit still and let Autumn’s warm and slightly wet lips linger on hers.
  396. >Autumn pulled away with a small, contented smile on her face and the lingering taste and feeling of Marble’s lips.
  397. >Her eyes were still closed and a light dusting of pink settled over her nose.
  398. >”…Wow, that was as nice as I always imagined it…” Autumn muttered as her hand touched her lips.
  399. >Marble’s mind slowly kick-started itself and her eyes fluttered as the buzzing feeling on her lips drew her into reality.
  400. >Autumn had kissed her!
  401. >Marble’s fingertips ghosted her lips and her eyes wandered up to Autumn’s blissful face, both of their cheeks sporting blushes.
  402. >”That felt like we need some more practice, do you want to try again?” Autumn asked huskily when she finally opened her eyes, peering at her with a predatory look through her bushy auburn hair.
  403. >Marble could smell the mint leaves on Autumn’s breath with how close the woman was leaned in to her, one arm resting for support just next to Marble’s hip.
  404. >Her breath caught in her throat as Autumn leaned in again after a long moment of silence.
  405. “W-wai-mmph!”
  406. >Autumn’s lips were on hers again, the unmistakable trace of mint on the tongue now pressing against Marble’s lips.
  407. >Marble felt her chest seize painfully, like she had been crushed under a boulder, when a flash of pink hair and an exotic accent filled her senses.
  408. >Fleur…
  409. >Guilt welled up inside her with a vengeance as Autumn pulled back once more, a hungry look on the woman’s face.
  410. “Wait!”
  411. >Marble stunned herself with her own loud, reverberating shout.
  412. >Autumn’s attention was drawn though as she sobered, her face twisting in confusion.
  413. >”Marble, what’s-”
  414. “I-I don’t want to kiss you!” Marble shouted.
  415. >Guilt that had been running through her mind and stirred her stomach uneasily was joined with an acidic shame at Autumn’s shocked look.
  416. >Neither of them said anything for what felt like hours.
  417. >Marble nervously chewed on her lip and snuck glances at Autumn, and Autumn stared blankly into the cave’s floor.
  418. >The same sort of blank look she got whenever she would trail off on some sort of tangent, as if thinking of some great tragedy.
  419. >The sight made an icy hand grip Marble’s heart and squeeze it tightly.
  420. >Visions of Autumn, so utterly happy and enthusiastic, filled her mind and hammered against her forehead.
  421. >As if to ask why Marble were so awkward and poorly articulated that she had hurt one of her two only friends.
  422. >She wasn’t sure what to say, if there were anything she really could say after such an admission.
  423. >Autumn broke the silence before she could, rising from the stone floor and offering Marble a hand up.
  424. >”Come on,” Autumn muttered softly, “I should get you back.”
  425. >Her face was still blank and her eyes now lacked the unrelenting passion they usually did.
  426. >The shame and vile guilt mixed in her stomach with fervor and burned at her cheeks.
  427. >Marble couldn’t help but take one last long look around the cave, glittering and gleaming and utterly gorgeous, yet tainted by her admission.
  428. >Had she ruined her relationship with Fleur and Autumn in a single night?
  429. >The thought sent a bolt of fear skittering up her spine as she followed Autumn through the damp cave’s small entrance.
  430. >Autumn led them both out of the cave and into the pitch black darkness of the forest.
  431. >Marble knew Autumn was leading her back to the school, but this time it felt different.
  432. >More like following a spectre than being led by a friend, Autumn seemed to ghost through the woods as Marble stumbled after her in a dead run.
  434. **
  436. >When the glittering lights of the school finally came into view Marble felt just a step away from collapsing.
  437. >She did, settling heavily against the roots of a tree while sucking in gulps of air that lit a fire in her chest.
  438. >Autumn had taken a seat next to her with her elbows tucking her knees under her chin, face still as blank as when they had left the cave.
  439. >Her soft and dull voice broke the silence when Marble’s breathing settled and her head stopped spinning.
  440. >”Why?”
  441. >The wince that struck Marble was filled with the same mixture of guilt and shame as before as it raced through her once more with a vengeance.
  442. >Marble fiddled with the grass under her fingers, digging her fingers into the soil.
  443. >When she looked up to the sky she could only see the moon through the canopy, as if they were still back in the cave.
  444. >Yet, as Marble looked around the clearing, this wasn’t nearly as welcoming.
  445. >A sense of foreboding filled the area.
  446. >She finally glanced over at Autumn.
  447. >Her mouth opened but no words would come out, her mind worked furiously but no thoughts would rise to the surface.
  448. >She thought of Fleur, and now Autumn, and another tinge of fear crawled up her spine and settled heavily on her shoulders.
  449. “I’m with someone.”
  450. >”Oh. I didn’t know.”
  451. “Mhm.”
  452. >Autumn hugged her knees to her chest tighter.
  453. >”I’m sorry.”
  454. >Her knife like eyes that stared into nothing narrowed a little further and her shoulders hunched inwards.
  455. “Don’t be, it was just a mistake.”
  456. >”Is that what it was?”
  457. >Marble bit her lip and looked across the clearing at Autumn.
  458. “I didn’t mean-”
  459. >”But that’s what you said.”
  460. >That was true, true enough for the niggling feeling of shame to crawl up her spine once more.
  461. “I like you,” Marble muttered, “Just… Not like that.”
  462. >”Why not?” Autumn snapped, jetting up to her feet with a snarl on her lips, “What’s so wrong with me?”
  463. ”Nothing!”
  464. >”Apparently not, because you, and my tribe, and- and everyone just treats me like trash! If I were dying right now you’d walk past me!”
  465. “W-what?”
  466. >Marble recoiled at the accusation.
  467. >”You’re lying, just like they did! You’re acting like I’m a mistake and that everything we did while we were together shouldn’t have happened - but what about me? I have feelings! I exist!”
  468. >Marble screwed up her courage and set her jaw as her eyes narrowed in Autumn’s direction.
  469. “What do you mean everything we did?”
  470. >”We had a connection, I thought!” Autumn snapped, “I thought we were really seeing each other as more than just friends, but I guess someone like you couldn’t be with someone like me.”
  471. “Someone like me?”
  472. >Marble felt the bubbling pit of shame and guilt slowly burn away into the ether, and be replaced by anger instead.
  473. >”Yeah. Someone like you. Someone I thought could understand me. I guess not,” Autumn scoffed.
  474. “I guess I don’t understand you. I thought you were different.”
  475. >”And I thought you didn’t think I was a mistake.”
  476. “I don’t,” Marble said softly, “I just think us being together is.”
  477. >”That might as well be the same thing!”
  478. >Marble set her jaw and mustered her courage, her voice shaky but firm.
  479. “I’m sorry about everything getting so messed up, but it’s not the same. I’m sorry.”
  480. >”Fine,” Autumn spat, “If that’s how it is…”
  481. >Her eyes were misty but they bubbled with an unseen rage, hidden far under the surface.
  482. >Her jaw moved like she wanted to say more, but with one final glance she disappeared into the brush.
  483. >Marble watched her go, that same vile mixture of shame and guilt warring in her heart as a tear slid down her cheek.
  484. >She wiped it away and picked up her pack from the forest floor.
  485. >Exhaustion swept through her sore body as she started the short trek to her dorm.
  486. >Was this the last time she would see Autumn?
  487. >The thought hurt more than she thought it would.
  488. >A deep, mournful block of ice swelled up in her chest and pressed at her throat.
  489. >Marble swallowed hard and pushed it out of her exhausted mind.
  491. **
  493. >Marble pushed open the door to her room, a shaft of light flooding the small space.
  494. >She was aware of how late it was, and the Fleur would be asleep by now, but she was surprised to see the woman on her mind seated at her desk.
  495. >”Salut,” Fleur said tiredly.
  496. >Deep bags hung from under her eyes as she greeted Marble with a thin smile.
  497. “You’re up late.”
  498. >Marble let her pack drop to the floor as she kicked her shoes off.
  499. >”I was working on a project,” Fleur explained, “And waiting for you.”
  500. “What are you working on?”
  501. >Marble stripped her jacket from around her thin shoulders and let it drop to the floor, and her pants followed soon after.
  502. >There wasn’t any need to be modest- not around Fleur.
  503. >The very concept seemed silly, now, after everything.
  504. >”I’m working on a new design for- Marble?”
  505. >Marble hadn’t paid her any mind as she collapsed into the chair Fleur was sitting in, straddling the woman’s hips and hugging her tightly.
  506. >Her head found itself buried in Fleur’s neck as she went limp against her.
  507. >”Are you okay, amour?”
  508. “Just tired.”
  509. >"Is there anything I can do?”
  510. >Marble hugged her a little tighter and nuzzled into Fleur a little more.
  511. “Just let me hug you for a while.”
  512. >The crushing exhaustion that lingered on the edge of Marble’s mind enveloped her fully, as did Fleur’s arms as they wound around her.
  513. >Even though she was in her panties and utterly vulnerable, Fleur kept her hands chaste and gentle.
  514. >Marble slipped into sleep, mind lost in the haze of tiredness and heart mournfully thumping in her chest.
  516. *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
  518. The End - to be continued in the Main Story and other Arcs
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