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The Story of the Elf With Storms for Hair

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Ever since her birth, she had been born with music in her veins. When she took her first breath, a cry that was brash and loud and nothing ladylike - exactly who she was - it was clear she wasn't just going to fit in. Which to her parents was a curse, but to her, it was a blessing, one she didn't know would help her so much in her life. She was a small child, a child full of rhythm without even a clue what music was, she was a child who would tap on her desk, the chairs, the floors, not monotone taps, but hits that made a noise and made kids jump at their uneven sounds. While other young elves enjoyed math from their early ages, walking in straight lines pointing with rulers, she was the student getting chastised for spinning and dancing through the halls by teachers with postures stiff as a pillar. She was a musician who never was allowed music in a town where math and science were worshipped.

The town she lived in, a blindingly clean, white, precise, and accurate city surrounded by thick woods, was unlike any other elven town she had ever heard of. The cities she read about in history books - the cities that got criticized for their many rich-colored buildings in all different shapes and sizes, cities that seemed more alive on the pages of a worn book than anything she'd ever seen as a young child - were nothing like her own. These older worlds seemed like something out of a dream she'd had sick in bed, something that never existed but felt so real when her eyes would close. No no, her city was successful and had no worries, a city full of mathematicians, political figures, scientists solving the many mysteries of their world, inventors fiddling with contraptions for items to work by themselves, even the lower level elves finding their places as teachers and simple 'rich people.' Everyone knew what they excelled in early on in life but when the emerald-eyed girl who spun in the hallways was asked about her future, she'd just shrug with a smile and be on her merry way, much to her family's demise. The girl's parents loved their daughter, they truly did, but the way they showed it was never the best. Her mother was a distant woman who stayed up in her study, her smile only bright when she threw her monthly parties for the other wealthy adults in the town, only talking about her 'eccentric' daughter when other people bragged about their young scholar children, and only seeming present when she felt sorry for her daughter, something that didn't happen often. Her father was quite the opposite, but in a way that was anything other than kind. He was a tall elf with jet-black hair and even darker obsidian eyes and a forceful voice, one that she learned at the mere age of 12 years old wasn't a voice used for praise. He was the father who only wanted the best for your future, even if she wasn't happy, and his way of showing it was through overbearing reminders and talks about the future - talks that often ended in yelling from both sides. Yelling that would get loud enough to be heard even by her distant mother in the study, yelling that was anything but weak. The young elf would shout and make points, sounding nothing like the sweet melodies that she hummed at school, but aggressive movements that rolled and ended abruptly as well as lasted as an echo when they were quiet.

She learned early on that her parents weren't people she could rely on, no one in the towns of greys and whites was, except for one. Whereas most wore small polite smiles with dull stony eyes and held textbooks, she had a friend who was different, like her. The first time she saw him, she was in the forest, spinning and dancing in the woods with the birds and the bugs to music only she could hear, and she was dizzy sure, but when she first saw him he looked like a deer. He wasn't paper pale like everyone else or like the schoolwork she was handed before leaving school hours earlier, he was tan like an oak log in the sun with unruly, spongy, curly copper hair, looking almost as twinkly as his bright silver eyes, eyes that were magnified by the small glasses resting on his nose. She might have seen him once or twice in the market with her mother, but as the 8-year-old took in his appearance, she could tell he wasn't like everyone else. Just like her. Where other kids would have seen her twirling and ran the other way, afraid she was crazy or harmful, he looked at her with such curiosity and awe, taking in the silver shining girl and wondering who she was. Not her name or age or even why she was spinning but who she was, what her story was. So she ran over to him, taking his hands in hers and turning again, her flowing fanning skirt hitting his twiggy skinny legs peeking out from the black shorts he wore and glasses bouncing on his nose every time they stumbled. She decided then and there that she would show him not what she was - a musician forbidden from expressing the song in her heart in a small eight-year-old's body, a kid who scared other kids away with her big ideas and loud sing-songy teasing - but who she was. She was Victoria, an elf who would make it big one day, no matter how long it took, and he could see it as soon as she took his hands.

When they stopped twirling, the two fell in the tall soft grass and giggled for what seemed like ages, watching as the clouds began to dance like they had minutes earlier, minds dizzy and the world below their feet never stilling. Then the two sat up with big childlike smiles and squinty eyes and talked. He told her his name, Theodore, and she told him hers, beginning a friendship that lasted decades. It was a promise, that even though they both were so different from the world around them, they would have each other no matter what. A childlike promise for two childlike elves, but a promise nonetheless. The two would spend hours away in the forest, talking about their big imaginations and even bigger emotions, Victoria explaining the world of her taps and whistles - something she learned at age 10 and didn't stop doing for a good six months - and Theodore talked about the stories behind his writing, a small wood elf with stories of worlds far away he had only heard of from the elders who still worked in the library. If any other kid was with them, they would have seemed insane, but their mindless chatter of larger-than-life ideas was melodic to the trees and squirrels who listened. The years they hung out were full of sneaky escapades where they felt like spies in the emotionless lives of the elves passing, getting yelled as from stealing pastries from the morning market and Victoria running away laughing, Theodore right behind her apologizing profusely whilst calling after his best friend holding back his own quiet giggling, their friendship was one that never seemed to rest, but that was ok. Even if they were only looking at clouds, Victoria trying to find the pitch of her humming so that it sounded nice to the tanned elf's ears as he scribbled descriptions of the clouds he saw, it was a never-ending friendship of light and happiness.

One day, a cloudy July afternoon, the two sat in the shaded trees eating lunch, Theo writing in his notebook. They were about 60 now, both still young and continuing their separate paths in schooling, spending less and less time with one another and more time where they interned. The copper-haired elf had begun interning at the newspaper shop by the library, both places he was whenever he wasn't with the other, and Victoria? She just cycled around, trying every last place and never having succeeding marks, trying one month to pursue a chemistry internship that left her with burns on her hands and a heavy fine for ruining the lab, the next month working in the library - with Theo's help - but messing up the precise book system every time she tried, even if it was messed up only a sliver. So instead, today the two sat on a log watching as the rain drizzled around them, the refreshing clear water falling into her mass of thick silver hair making her mood even sourer. Her foot couldn't find the energy to tap and there was no way she could whistle on a day like this. Suddenly, she turned to the other, thinking back to the fight she had had with her father the night before, and poked him, getting his attention. It was only a simple dispute about curfew and her getting back too late, but it was long past the moon had risen and she just didn't want to deal with the words she had grown accustomed to simply agreeing with to not cause a fight. A simple dispute that had risen to much higher heights than she wanted, so she fought back, fought back harsh and clear and tired, ending in the middle of the argument by furiously wiping her hot tears off her cheeks and running to her room, curling up on her cot and going to sleep. A simple fight that resonated with her more than she'd ever allowed herself to admit.

"Do you think I'll find my place? I know I don't seem to think about it and such, but, but I mean just seeing you so happy and successful, and having to deal with my dad's pressure, it just kind of feels like, like I'm not gonna find a place here," She explained, stumbling over some of her words in a way she only did when she felt lost, something she couldn't help but feeling now, sitting on a log eating a bland sandwich with her best friend. Theo blinked slowly, thinking over his words before tugging at his sleeves and looking out at the forest around them, opening his mouth and closing it again.

"You'll find it, no doubt about it. Vicky, you have more talent and spirit than anyone in this place, and I know you'll find your place," He began and she opened her mouth about to interject before getting cut off by the hand in front of her face.

"But, I don't think that place will be here. Which is weird to say, y'know? It seems impossible to want to leave, but I think, I think the place where you will settle won't be this town. It'll be someplace better for you," He finished, eyebrows furrowed continuing to look out at the forest, as though he had said something he never thought he'd say out loud and was waiting for some sort of backlash, backlash he didn't receive. Victoria instead went silent, looking out at the trees, just like her friend did beside her. The words had to bounce about her mind for a moment before fulling taking in what he had said, but when the thoughts settled, it made sense, even if it sounded preposterous. Living somewhere that wasn't pristine crisp white edges without a smudge, somewhere that wasn't endless intelligence and infinitesimal emotion, living in a world she'd only ever heard about in Theo's writing and her fever dreams. It sounded so nice, so refreshing, but it also sounded like an echo, something that could've happened, but it was just out of reach, something unattainable. Then again, finding a friend seemed like an echo at first too, but now as she looked over to her silver-eyed friend sitting with her in the rain like there wasn't anything he'd rather do, she smiled. He was right, he almost always was, she'd find her place, but even if she didn't that was a problem for future Victoria. Present Victoria had other plans, plans that surely meant she'd come home soaked in rainwater and leave puddles in the stone-floored hallway of her home, so she got up, stretched, and clapped loudly, startling the boy.

"Enough sulking though, I was thinking, wanna go splash in the puddles outside your neighbor's house?" She asked, a smile coming back onto her previously melancholy face. Theo simply sighed and began packing up too, scratching his neck knowing he couldn't say no but still wanting to nonetheless, even if only a little. The kid in him nodded along excitedly, but he wasn't a 10-year-old, he was in his 60s now. Still, like he always did, he took her outstretched hand and the two ran into town, getting soaked with rain but laughing and shouting joyfully the whole time, even when the tan elf's neighbor shooed them away with a broom and Victoria had to run back to her house. She might not know her place in their dull clean-cut city, but she still could smile in the rhythms of the rain.

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Five short years later, it seemed like that place for her was found. Her life had grown slightly less loud, fewer early morning adventures with Theo, fewer afternoon lunches and cloud watching with made-up stories on their shapes and Victoria studying the howling of the wind, less of her friend and less of her energy. She was proud of him, she really was, finally getting the job as a journalist he wanted, but it was a job which began to take up more and more of his life, Theo trying and winning in the world they lived in. The world he lived in. She thought back to the discussion she had had nearly five years earlier, the conversation they had in the rain, the cautious words of the wood elf saying 'I know you'll find your place, but, I don't think that place will be here.' It hit her a little different here as she thought about how drastically unique their city was, simply walking in a more unexplored - more dangerous - part of their woods.

When she was with Theo, their exploring was often put on halt by his smart remarks that 'this path had some big animal prints, is it safe?' or 'that's rough terrain and neither of us have the right shoes or supplies Vicky,' but on her own, with a bag across her body and shoes ready to hike, she took those paths that the other wouldn't have wanted. No one was in control of her life other than her, and being bitter over her friend's success was a fool's mindset. She may not be 'flourishing' in her career in her town, but she knew for a fact that she was going to make it big someday, no matter what it took, or at least she told herself that while she walked. When she climbed one of the rock formations blocking her way though, cursing to herself - her words interrupting the quiet of the woods, she spotted something that made her stop and all her thoughts clear nearly immediately. It was the smallest streak of a brilliant red catching her attention like a comet in a starless sky. Then it was gone, and she was left in the silent dull the comet left in it's wake, it was as though the red were a note that was just right but when she tried to hum it again it was gone, a note she tried over and over but it only ever came out flat. So, she did what only made sense, the elf tried to follow after it, eyes bright and alert, mistaking robins in the trees for the comet and swearing in the unintentional rests it had left when it zipped away. Once she found it, a girl it looked, she stopped entirely. From under the trees the comet - what happened to just be the young woman's red hair - was darker, having a blue hue if you looked at it the right way, rich mahogany from any other angle, always changing. It was mesmerizing, watching her from behind the tree that seemed to hum in agreement to her thoughts, the quiet breathing of the both of them and the forest itself creating much better a symphony than any of her whistled tunes had.

She looked like she belonged in these woods, hair long and straight, rippling in sheets as it moved in the dappled light the trees had given - blessing anyone who saw - and hand steadily on her bag, not expecting an attack but ready for one. No one disturbed her, no birds chirped angrily at the world around her, no beetles buzzed, no trees cracked and croaked, simply letting the wind blow through without a care. It was gorgeous. Then she stepped into the light of a small clearing and Victoria saw not a comet, but a Phoenix. The girl turned and looked over her shoulder quickly, nose sharp, pointed, and expression saying 'I am what they mean when they say looks can kill' in a way that the elf with silver hair could only look at in awe. And her hair, it looked like a flame dancing in a dark evening, making the world around it bright and warm, and although she was intense, she still had an aura that quietly reminded the other that kindness was something she knew too, even if her dark skin flecked with golden marks and midnight black eyes said otherwise, eyes that seemed to be looking at her directly.

"Are you following me?" She demanded, the fire of her being now showing in her spitfire words and starless eyes, causing the girl in the shade of the trees to feel her mouth go dry. She was following the firey girl technically, but it was out of curiosity not as an intent to harm, not that her silence helped explain that. Slowly the girl in the protection of the forest stepped out of her safety and put her hands up in surrender, eying the stick in the Phoenix's hand pointed threateningly at her.

"I- I'm sorry, I didn't mean any harm, I was just, uh, hiking and saw your hair," She explained, growing quieter at the end, a shake in her voice she hadn't heard in months, one that was nervous and somewhat scared. The Phoenix's scowl seemed to deepen and Victoria seemed to hold her breath, her arms folding in front of her instead of pointing at her with what seemed like a blade but had hair at the tip rather than metal. The tip was covered in fine bristles that seemed colored with a thicker type of liquid that was bright and pigmented, probably harmless, but it was still threatening nonetheless.

"So that's what they teach you in the city nowadays? To follow people creepily when you see something strange?" The redhead prodded, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear, her blatant annoyance not quieting down in the slightest. Victoria shook her head furiously, not entirely taking in the words until a little later, but understanding that what she had said was a mistake.

"I'm sorry to bother you, I'll just, I'll just excuse myself and be leaving, alright goodbye," The teenager apologized again, fiddling with her thick curls nervously before turning and leaving, face hot with embarrassment as she jogged away. As she left she could hear the Phoenix girl scoff behind her and mutter 'thank you' and there may have been a smile in her voice too, but she didn't dare look back.

***

It was near dusk now, the city quieting down and the birds halting their chatter, but Victoria still felt energized, her entire being warm and sizzling as she waited for the wood elf who still was at work. She was sipping a tea - which looking at it now might not have been the smartest drink to choose - while tapping her fingers to a nervous jitter-bug rhythm on the table, not loud enough to startle others like her whistling would have but still noisy enough. Something was strange with the Phoenix girl, the way she had a blade with feathery-tipped ends, why her eyes that looked like voids held such annoyance but still reflected guarded curiosity of the other - not in a 'why are you strange' gaze but a 'who are you' like she knew something the other didn't - why she had spoke of the town the pale elf lived in like it was a curse that she had only recently broken free of. Questions that led to more questions, one after the other with no stop until someone stopped them, someone named Theo, someone who was late.

"Hey! My apologies for being late, Boss needed me to organize a filing cabinet that was covered in dust. What did you want to-" He started as if summoned by her thoughts, noticing his best friend of five decades nervous tapping and cutting right to the chase, but not quick enough it seems.

"Is there anyone in town who looks like a phoenix? Like bright red hair, dark skin, golden marks on her face, midnight black eyes, very short temper, anyone you can think of?" She interrupted, her tapping getting louder and louder as she squinted in thought. The other teen raised his eyebrow confused at the sudden outburst, but then sighed and ran his hand through his hair, taking in the words she had said.

"Not that I know of, why?" Theo asked timidly, as though not to mess up his words. "Did something happen today, Vicky?" He asked after a moment of silence, placing a soft hand on her ticking tapping one hoping to pull her out of the spiral he knows she's in. It worked, and after a minute of awkward silence, she sighed, fingers stopping and glare at her tea softening as she shook her head, visibly deflating.

"Nothing bad, just saw someone in the woods I haven't seen before, that's all," She replied softly, and the other hummed in agreement, a habit he had picked up while knowing her for so long, and Victoria nodded, more to herself than anything.

"You seem more shaken than usual, you sure you want to go back home to your dad?" He asked after a minute of their silence, a quiet that seemed... tense, even though it never did when the two were together. She seemed to think it over before shaking her head at the invitation he had hidden in his words, only wanting her to feel safe and welcome. She told him thank you, but she should probably get back before curfew, not admitting outright that his previous statement was right per se, but showing it in other ways, which he respected, although a confused wrinkle in his forehead was still persistent. He would ask her about it later, she knew, but first, she'd need an actual response - something she was still working on.

As she walked down the roads, she tried to find that answer, trying to figure out her thoughts rather than think of her home. What was she so shaken up about? Was it just because she had never seen the Phoenix girl before? Was it because she looked so free in the way she spoke and held herself, even though she only looked like a young adult, someone only a few decades older than her? Was it something as shallow as jealousy of the other's looks? Or was it because something in the back of her mind reminded her of when she first saw Theo, how she looked at the kid maybe a year younger and knew he was different like her, something she didn't see at first but now made sense with the redhead too. She was different too, but not in big words in small pencil writing, or whistles and taps, but something to do with the thick color on her bag and knowledge in her dark eyes. There were so many unknowns, unlike the life she lived in every day, in a place where you could ask any science question, historic question, or math equation and get an answer and a small smile, the girl in the woods did the exact opposite, she was the question and her sharp points and intense colors gave no answers. When the silver-haired elf walked into her home and past the kitchen to meet her father at the dinner table, she realized something; she'd have to find the answers herself if she wanted any.

She sat down politely, taking a letter in the stack of unopened papers on the table and silently reading them over, causing her father to pause and raise a well-groomed eyebrow, and even though his dark eyes showed something more thankful than kind, it was enough. He set down his letters and removed his rectangular glasses, nothing smooth and round like Theos, looking toward his daughter.

"Victoria, how... unusual, for you to join me. I don't want to ruin it, but is everything alright?" He asked quietly and she sighed in response, a calm sigh. She tended to forget that when they weren't screaming at each other about the future, when they got to sit down both exhausted - one more physically than mentally but that hardly mattered - and living off of the boiled tea leaves in their systems, their interactions were nice. It was relaxed and she nodded in response, not necessarily lying, but still keeping her ponders to herself. He shot her a small, almost doubtful smile himself, and went back to reading his letter he had put down. It was pleasant, and when she went to her room to sleep thirty minutes later, she didn't even think of her conflicting thoughts.

That is, until the next morning, waking up to a 'Victoria! You should be up! Theo's here and it isn't ladylike to not greet your guest!" most of which she tuned out, but when she heard her wood elf friend's name she rolled out of bed, threw on a pair of pants and a sleeveless top before sliding down the hallways in her socks - tripping and almost landing on her face mind you, but sliding nonetheless - as she tumbled to see her friend, breathing a little heavier than she did on normal mornings. When the two turned to greet her, their previous conversation came to a still, both looking at her. Theo was smiling into his hand to prevent his laughter to fill the tense quiet room, but Victoria could tell he was struggling, and with a tired glare from his friend the sound erupted, to which she could only sigh and smile too, rubbing the last of the sleep from her eyes and running a hand over her grinning face.

"Har har, laugh all you want you a-" She started, stopping mid-word as she caught a glimpse of her father's disapproving glare, "Nevermind. What are you here for Theo, I thought you had work?" The silver-haired elf finished, changing the subject from her rugged appearance to her friend's sudden reappearance. He scratched his neck at that and mumbled something under his breath, earning a raised eyebrow from Victoria, one that made his sigh and clear his throat, a loud interruption in their echoing dining room.

"I took off today so we could go look for the, uh," he paused gaze flickering between her and her father, "the bird you saw yesterday, the bright red one." The copper-haired elf finished and Victoria smiled as though she had just found a new whistling tune. While Theo may not necessarily believe she saw something, he still was there for her if she wanted to continue to look, even taking a day off just to be with his best friend, a fact that made her mood ten times better. Thanking him for what felt like the fifteenth time this week, she ran off to grab some bread for breakfast, tucked an apple into Theo's bag as she walked by, startling him slightly as he spoke politely with the man of the house, and slipping on her shoes, almost reaching freedom before her father stopped her.

"Before you leave, go get something to cover your shoulders, and for the love of the gods above go brush your hair," He ordered, eyes void of any emotion looking down at her as she held his stare, challenging him before giving in, grumbling to herself as she went back to her room to grab a thin silk scarf that covered her shoulders and taming her mass of hair back into a high ponytail, finding a piece of fabric to keep it in place rather than the angry metal pins her mother insisted she wear when they went out. Any other day of the week she would have argued that it was her life, she could wear what she wanted, that she didn't have to make 'a good impression for the family' everywhere she went, she could simply exist, but they needed to hike for a while to reach the rocks she had found the day before and wasting any time wasn't good for either situation. Not to forget that Theo would be in the middle of everything and while she ranted about their fights, she didn't want him to have to experience one first hand. So she just did as she was asked and then left with her friend, leaving the house and going into the woods.

Once the left sights of the town they grew up in, they regrouped at their lunch spot in the shade, Victoria taking off the scarf and taking the bag the other wore across his body, shoving the scarf in and taking the apple out, nodding her appreciation as she took a bite of the red fruit. Red, intense, and bright, much like the person they were looking for, and with this in mind, they set off to find the rock formation she had climbed the day earlier.

When the sun was at its peak in the sky, they got there, Theo growing more and more concerned and the silver-haired elf becoming more and more alert the more they climbed. He was right, it was dangerous, but even with his complaints, she kept them going, and when they got to the spot she recognized... she saw nothing. No comet of red and orange streaking through the trees, no birds stopped their noise to bask in her presence, no trees hummed and complimented her as she walked, there was nothing. She explained this to Theo as she encouraged the two to keep moving, going deeper into the shade of the trees to the exact clearing she had seen the Phoenix girl the day earlier, and all she got was an eyebrow raise and comforting pat on the shoulder when they found only a crumbling fountain she hadn't noticed originally. It was a well that looked a million years old, one that was covered in moss, it's floor dry and growing weeds between the cracked cobblestone, a well that made Victoria realize how foolish this trip had been. She was curious, sure, but it was none of her business to be snooping in someone's life, she wasn't a journalist like her friend who needed to get a quote, she wasn't a historian coming to excavate a sight, she wasn't an architect looking for inspiration for her own fountain in the town square, she was a girl who tapped and whistled and hummed. Someone who didn't have any reason to interrupt this girl's life. And with that thought train filling her mind, she sighed somewhat heavily, and even though the tan elf looked slightly worried, he still followed her as she walked back into the woods, away from the well and back home to the city.

Even though the previous day discouraged her from continuing to look for the Phoenix girl, the next morning when most were having brunch in their fancy sitting areas, Victoria found herself on a rock formation with nothing but her bag and the clothes on her back. Although she didn't think she'd be back, here she was, sitting doing nothing, looking for someone who didn't want to be found. Then that morning turned to afternoon, and in the stiff quiet of the sunlit stone she remained on, she decided to go back home. The next day was the same, and the next, and the day after that, she would just go to the spot in the woods near brunch time and sit. Some days she'd bring letters she needed to reply to and write for the morning, other days bringing study material for a new internship, some just sitting, humming, and whistling, waiting for a reaction and being extremely bored, but still, after days of doing this, the trip had become comforting. A strange trip to explain to someone if they asked, but a comforting trip nonetheless, a trip she had begun to enjoy making every morning.

On the eighth day, however, as she sat on the ground, legs hanging over the edge of the rock and writing a message to a possible employer, she heard a sigh and turned suddenly to see the Phoenix girl standing behind her, hair in a loose messy braid over her shoulder shaded by the trees. It was unexpected, but still, it made the silver-haired girl smile, one which she didn't return, but rather she walked off further into the forest, beckoning Victoria to follow. The silence was tense as they walked, it was as if they both wanted to say things but just couldn't say them, both with similar questions, but neither with answers. Neither wanting to speak but having more words than the biggest book. When they reached the well in the clearing, the Phoenix girl simply nodded, the quiet a little more bearable.

"See you tomorrow," Was all she said before walking to the other side of the fountain and disappearing right before her eyes. Her voice wasn't that of the spitfire from only over a week earlier, it held more of a tentative request of sorts hidden behind a nonchalant front, asking for some company on her walks, even if it was awkward. And she agreed, the next day doing the same, a quiet walk in the shade of the trees, a serene hike where birds spoke sweetly, one that wasn't as tense as it was the day before. Sure, they still didn't talk, but they didn't need to, and that was ok, they just walked and took in the world around them. It was a mystifying world the Phoenix girl lived in, and it was one Victoria could only look in on and bask at with its soft howling breezes, its birds speaking kindly to one another, it's tall oaks shading and protecting those within it, bright and colorful, nothing like the city the pale elf lived in. She grew to love the walks over the next week, a week of slow change, a week that grew to be soft whistling with the birds as they walked and slower footfalls as they enjoyed each other's presence. At a pace slower than molasses, the Phoenix girl warmed up to her too. While she'd glared at the moon elf's shenanigans and twirls, her eyes always got betrayed by the smallest of smiles her lips wore. The spitfire would never admit it in a thousand lifetimes - that was something Victoria knew - but she understood that the other elf didn't mind her company.

On a particularly cloudy morning they walked together, at the time when they would usually split ways, the Phoenix girl stood by the fountain and got a piece of paper out. It was folded in half and looked not like the forms she filled out for jobs - pristine, clean, sharp-edged, and white - but rather a piece of paper well-worn with edges that warped and frayed in the corners, a paper that seemed even a little yellow in the light. The girl with the eyes prettier than any polished piece of onyx held it out, as though it was for her, and Victoria had to stop for a second, processing the information. It was just a piece of paper, but the way it was presented made it seem so much more of a treasure, even though she hadn't a clue what it was when unfolded.

"Here, take it. It's called a watercolor painting, and it's for you." She explained, not so much offering it out but telling her the facts hard and true, somehow making a gift seem like a test, a challenge. A challenge to trust something she didn't know nor understand, an explanation that was full of words she had never heard in her small 65 years of life. Water and color seemed to be one word meaning something entirely different than what it meant apart, and 'painting' was something she may have read in a prohibited book, something negative and not used anymore, something presented as foolish, but the idea that something as forbidden and chastized as the word 'painting' was a small piece of folded paper held in front of her now was startling. It didn't seem like it should be a test, but taking the paper felt like one and she only hoped she could pass as she took it in her own hands. It was heavier than the paper she was used to, just another thing new to her as the Phoenix girl left, nodding with the faintest of a smile as Victoria took the paper before disappearing like she always did.

Only after she was gone did the silver-haired elf sit down and unfold the paper, her jaw falling open at the sight of it. The paper showed her as if she were looking into a mirror, it showed the side of her face, eyes closed and the sky behind her so she knew it wasn't a mirror, but it was as if a moment was captured and put on the page. A moment where she could feel the breeze and could hear the melody of a bird's chirp as it reached her pointed ears. And the color, the color, felt so alive as if she could reach into the image and touch it, the only thing stopping her was the warped paper and surroundings buzzing about her. It was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen, the look of the color making her almost look like a ghost yet still so refined and detailed even to the individual eyelashes and texture of her hair, curls looking silver as a coin in the Phoenix girl's skill. A painting. That was what it was called, the paper in her hands made by an elf who was both a question and an answer, asking her if she really wanted to live how she did, even if she never said it out loud. She was someone who questioned the world and broke the rules, broke the rules in incredible ways, through - what did she call it? Watercolor, that's right - watercolor, breaking the rules of their town and that of nature itself, picking a moment that would have flown away in the wind and pinning it down on paper. That's why she was different, the elf with hair of fire didn't whistle, tap, or hum, she didn't use words to form the brightest images in the minds of all who read or listen, instead she captured moments, took them and put them onto paper with paint. Forbidden, chastized, astonishing watercolor paint and paper, but she didn't have to hide it with internships or school detentions, she lived and breathed the word freedom. A word Victoria thought she owned, one she thought she could smile and say 'that's my word!' but as she looked at the watercolor and began to walk back home, a smile on her face, she knew it wasn't her's. It was a word that was someone else's, a word that belonged to a girl who painted, and lived, and breathed the woods.

"Thanks," she whispered, and the only things that answered were the buzzing of the bees and walking of a deer, it's feet pattering rhythmically on the forest floor.

Chapter Text

When she reached her house, watercolor safely tucked in her bag and jacket on in the autumn air, she immediately went to her room, closing the door and locking it behind her. The room was generally dark, but she didn't even want to ignite a lantern for light, she just wanted to collapse on her bed and think. Think about the life she lived, in the posh house and the jobs she tried and failed, think about what the city she lived in had held back all this time, think about watercolor and paint, think about the Phoenix girl, think about Theo, think about herself, rethink the things she thought she knew and things she didn't. She just wanted to think, and she was about to up until she noticed someone else sitting on her bed, her blue-silver hair tied up in a tight bun per usual with matching blue-tinted eyebags beneath her worn, sleep-deprived eyes. But still, she kept a petite controlled smile gracing her small lips, surprising her daughter half to death - hand over her heart and leaning on the door she was against - with her sudden appearance, an appearance the girl hadn't seen in nearly two weeks. An appearance that was now sitting at the side of her bed nervously.

"Mother! You scared me," The girl started, laughing nervously and trailing off toward the end, sitting on the bench in front of her vanity directly across from the other. Her mom's smile grew the most miniature bit more genuine at that and she got up silently, coming up beside the girl and gesturing for her to turn to the mirror, reaching for the hairbrush sitting on the wood.

"My apologies dear didn't mean to scare you," She replied shortly, not making eye contact in the mirror, not that either of them was trying to. "May I?" She asked hesitantly, holding up the comb in her hand and looking over at her daughter who just nodded in response, feeling her mother carefully undo the bun twisted up in her hair, taking out the pins and untying the fabric holding the loose curls back from falling into her forest-green eyes. The air was thick, feeling like air did on a summer afternoon even though it was late autumn, making Victoria feel as though she had to look anywhere but at her mother. Whether it was at out the curtain-clad windows at green grass with chirping crickets or to the bag hanging on her door holding something forbidden inside on a heavy piece of yellow-edged paper, she didn't look at the other. Anywhere but at the woman with the hairbrush behind her, anywhere but at her mother who only ever really saught her daughter out when she needed something, a fact that she knew.

It wasn't that the silver-haired girl didn't like her mother's presence, the times when she would come and act like she was a small child again and brush her hair, let her ramble about her problems, or come and read with her, not even batting an eye at her daughter's humming and tapping, but she always knew it wouldn't end well. It never did. She'd go from quietly brushing her hair to planning a reception she was required to show up to, or the woman would go from rubbing her daughter's back comfortingly - the younger elf allowed herself to simply be held - to talking about work, whether her own or Victoria's, it didn't matter. She was the best ruining the moment entirely, going from existing in the other's world of whistles and rhythms to suddenly telling her to stop being herself 'for her own good.' If the two were ever having a moment, she'd just go and ruin it, maybe not always on purpose, but always without fail. There were only three times she could remember when their moment together hadn't been demolished, which was pitiful in comparison to the times that had. The most prominent time was when she was young, maybe 15, after a particularly nasty fight with her father, her mother had come and eaten dinner with her in her room, a room that used to be covered in textbooks and paper-white papers, overwhelming her at every corner, only finding sympathy in the arms of the woman with long wavy blue hair. Her mother was the most ruined at that time, she knew that looking back, but while Victoria sat and made jokes through her sniffles she felt the most connected with the woman than she ever had. The other times were small and were forced, but she still considered them moments that weren't destroyed.

"Victoria, are you even listening to me?" She asked, pausing in untangling the mass of curls to look the girl directly in the eyes through the mirror, the faintest flicker of annoyance on her face. It was small, but it showed in her weary gold-flecked eyes and made her heart sink, sink in a way that only a mother's disappointed sigh could make it. She shyly shook her head, looking down at her thighs instead of up at her mother, then there was another one of those heavy sighs. Not a relieved one, but one that filled the already thick-aired room with even more weighted breath, one that she felt deep within her. While Victoria didn't always feel that her mother was well, her mother, it still hurt to see the disappointment and annoyance in her face that she had caused, one that was only brought because she couldn't get her head out of the clouds.

"Well, what I was saying was there's a dinner party we're hosting in three days, and I would appreciate it if you come," The woman started, not forming it as a request and rather a statement. Of course, there's a dinner party. Another mother-daughter moment ruined. She thought with a sigh before turning around to her mother, beginning to open her mouth before her mother stopped her with a single look. "And I know you don't really care per se, but there's a scholar who's son wants to meet you, he seems kind." She finished, trying to keep a neutral front by placing the brush back on the table and sitting on the bed to her right, waiting for the reaction that was soon to come. A reaction that came only a few seconds later.

"Are you serious?! You do this every single time, you ruin every moment that we have, you know that?" The silver-haired girl exclaimed, voice loud, accusatory, and so painfully honest that the words nearly broke, something that was rarer than rain in a desert. Her mother did this every time, and every time she hoped it would change, but no. Of course not she thought bitterly, pushing away any of the sadness trying to surface and replacing it with the loud whistling anger she in her mind.

"Every. Single. Time. And I'm done, see you in three days for your party." Victoria spat, emphasizing her words with staccato hand motions and an expression that was final. An expression that met her mother's grim, hollow eyes before turning on her heel, grabbing her bad and leaving the room, leaving the woman with the long blue hair and tired sighs alone with the slam of a door.

***

As she knocked on Theo's door and waited for a response she could feel the pounding frustration in her head seep out and the previous sorrow flow back in, filling every crevice of her mind like a rushing river and threatening to spill, the smallest beginning of tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. It made her eyes look so crystalline and big - the smallest flecks of gold in her irises bright and visible - that when Theo's mother, Mrs. Oakenheel saw her, she knew immediately that the younger elf needed a hug. A hug in the doorway as Victoria took shakey breathes and told herself she'd be okay, it'd be okay. It was an embrace that was warm and comforting, one that once she pulled away all she could do was wipe her eyes and give a smile.

"Thank you, Mrs. Oakenheel, I'm alright now I think," She reassured the woman with a small watery laugh who simply returned the soft smile, giving her a silent nod and gesturing her inside as if the moon elf were her own. The Oakenheels had always been like that with her, welcoming and warm as if she were their own daughter along with Theo and his three little siblings, something that had kept her afloat throughout her whole life. If she couldn't stay at her home and just wanted someone to talk to or get a comforting embrace from, the Oakenheels let her come into their home and exist alongside them, giving her food and a cot to sleep on. They were like a second family to her, something she would be forever grateful for.

Mrs. Oakenheel, a wood elf who's appearance was just as warm and free as she was, someone who wore the simplest of clothes and the most comforting smiles, was by far her favorite of her best friend's family. Out of all those living in their nearly empathyless city, she was a blessing, she was a simple librarian with more compassion than any elf Victoria had ever met. Most regarded her as 'strange like her son' for caring so deeply about those around her, but the English Major taught her family kindness and charity, something that gave the girl hope for the future of their town.

"Is Theo home yet? I know I'm a little earlier than I usually come over," She asked as the two walked toward the kitchen where the woman had seemed to be making a stew for lunch, her voice steady and a small grin finding it's way to her face that actually stayed for the second time all day. The other shook her head and explained while stirring lunch that her eldest son was still at work until dusk and in the meantime, it would be a great help to keep the children entertained until the boy got home. For anyone else, this would have easy, but knowing the kids - one a mathematician at age 10, one who loved anything science at age 7, and one who loved ELA at age 15 - this was going to be harder, especially in the mental 'funk' she was in after the encounter with her mother. Still, the silver-haired elf went to the living room where two of the younger kids were fiddling with their thumbs - becoming borderline rambunctious - and upon seeing Victoria walking into the room, they flew to her in an instant. Mostly filled with questions and bumbling words, but when she ushered them to sit on the floor in a small circle they calmed down and became fidgety in a different way, waiting for math facts or maybe some new plants she saw in the woods, something that was interesting and new compared to their boredom. The science-loving 7-year-old Maple was especially looking forward to hearing about the plants she had probably documented in a notebook in her bag, but instead, she began telling a story. A story that their older brother had told her when they were cloud-watching one day, a story about an elf who could turn into a bird and got to fly, a story about freedom and something none of them knew about really. It was a story that ended sweetly and a story that ended with all three siblings leaning against Victoria - even Marcus who was often more prickly than his younger sisters who had come into the living room more than halfway through the story. The 15-year-old was the only one not asleep, instead up messing with his little sister's hair, the other girl drooling on the moon elf's shirt as she slept against her. It wasn't out of the ordinary but with the kids close to her, it was extremely therapeutic to just exist in a family where everyone appreciated her, even if she didn't realize just how therapeutic it was.

"You okay?" Marcus asked after the story was finished, interrupting the quiet snoring and comforting even breathes of the silver-haired girl on his right. She tensed but sighed instead of making a fuss about it, something that wasn't missed by the wood elf.

"Not really, but it's alright, I'm figuring things out." She replied truthfully, but still, she didn't want to worry the younger elf, so rather, she just wrapped her arm around his shoulders and pulled him close as she did with his sisters an hour or two earlier. He didn't believe it in the slightest, but he snuggled in close while grumbling and complied, deciding to ramble about something himself, letting Victoria take a moment to just relax.

It went on that way for a while, existing in a place that was warm, quiet, and away from all the drama of her home life, the soft chatter and the humming of running water from the kitchen filling her senses and lulled her to sleep just like the kids around her. It wasn't a hard sleep, but still, she stayed put, and sooner than later the afternoon turned into dusk, Theo coming home just when his mother said he would. The quiet snickering of the eldest elf sibling woke Victoria up from her nap, and she let out a groggy 'what?!' trying to defend her and the kids all curled up on the floor. Between the fingers she had running down her face, she could see the other putting his hands up in surrender, placing his bag on the table near the door and coming to lean on one of the chairs a playful smile on his face as he nudged his glasses.

"Even got Marcus out here I see, not too easy is it." He laughed quietly gesturing to the teen curled up against her side, his glasses like Theo's but more square looking as if they'd tetter right off the tip of his nose. The moon elf's face grew a satisfied smirk as she began to unravel herself from the kids, ever so slowly.

"Not really, he came downstairs all on his own to hear my story," She boasted, the two continuing to bicker over the pettiest of things until they got outside, leaving his siblings resting on the floor, a blanket placed around them. They both knew the 15-year-old would be embarrassed when he woke up - and no doubt teased for years about it - so it was just another reason to take the discussion outside. It was bound to be a serious one, this was something Theo knew, seeing as most days the twirling moon elf would visit for dinners or right after, to help with cleanup, make sure the kids got to sleep alright, or to simply take a breather, but today was different. The girl wasn't whistling and most certainly not twirling, instead, she was quiet and serious, not to forget she had arrived even before lunch was even served, a rare occurrence all in itself. Something had happened this morning, and Victoria wanted to talk about it, she just needed some encouragement.

"You doing alright?" The tanned elf asked, bumping his sweater-clad shoulder against the slightly shorter's arm. She gave a small laugh, but it seemed hollow as if it wasn't genuine in the slightest.

"Your brother asked me the same thing earlier, you two can read me pretty well, huh?' She asked, avoiding the question as they walked through the more rural part of town. It was chilly, but she was too caught up in her thoughts to notice it, even with the goosebumps covering her pale arms. The nap and sitting with the kids had surely helped her with her mess of a situation with her mother, but now that it was just the two of them, it was all that was in her head, words repeating over and over like a melancholy tune. Theo looked at her again, this time stopping her completely with a soft hand on her shoulder, silently asking his question again.

"Let's go to the woods, it's family drama, I need to sit down," Was all the moon elf replied with, wrapping her arms around herself as they strolled, talking about the woods the same way many people gestured to liquor, a statement that would have made her best friend laugh in any other situation. The walk was anxious, an atmosphere that had become more and more frequent, something that made the pit of Theo's stomach churn, but now wasn't the time for that. It wasn't that she hadn't opened up about family stuff before, or that it was dreary out - the sky itself was a beautiful purple and pink glowing in the sky only interrupted by thin clouds - it was just that Victoria needed someone, but didn't know how to put it into words, or didn't want to find the words. When the two finally reached the woods, they walked right past their normal lunch spot and rather went to the spot she would go to in the mornings before walking with the Phoenix girl. It had become so natural for her to walk that way, she only really realized after the wood elf looked around in confusion and wonder at all the new sights and a small bit of her unease let loose. She was somewhere comfortable, somewhere she could see the sky for miles, one of the few places she felt infinite, like a melody she had just gotten right, but that didn't suddenly just fix the situation, just made it a little better. In three days her mother was hosting a dinner party where she was going to be dressed up pretty and showed off like a bracelet on the blue-haired woman's wrist, shown off to a random scholar's son and anyone who talked about their kids, only changing the beautiful descriptors to the words 'eccentric' and 'interesting.' Interesting in ways that weren't positive, not in any way to the people in this academic town. No one besides her best friend sitting beside her, finally deciding to just take a deep breath and talk to Theo, letting someone share the burden even if only a little. Besides, being the elf he was, she was sure to receive some form of logical reassurance, which was always nice when her mind tended to spin.

When the two got up to leave the woods, the moonlight now their only path, the previous silence abandoned as the elves began to chatter, the silver-haired elf saw something. It wasn't something that stopped their playful banter, but it wasn't forgotten. It was the smallest glimpse of red, a different red albeit, one drenched in the moonlight almost seeming like a ruby, and even though it was surprising, it made the corners of her mouth twitch upward in a smile. Just earlier, Victoria had spilled her fears and anger in the form of reluctant salty tears and one too many apologies between her sentences, the other simply listening, acknowledging at the right moments, and helping her endless worries with factual statements and logical solutions when needed, but now the two walked away from that mess, comforted with a plan for the party and though she still sniffled from time to time, she was more than happy to be out here with Theo. For now, worries could be put aside and underlying fear about the bag she left in the living room with a painting inside could be forgotten, for now, it was just Victoria and Theo. Just like it always had been, and like it always would be.

Chapter Text

The sun was shining rather brightly, right through her window and onto her sleeping face (well, it was more of a 'putting off getting up' type of sleeping face, but a sleeping face nonetheless), hot and impatient. It was as if the sun knew the party she was dreading was starting in a few hours and was telling her to get up and get it over with, and in her tired state she thought the sun reminded her of her dad sometimes, a thought that made her nose wrinkle in disgust. She just wanted to stay in bed, stay in her room, just avoid the whole ordeal overall, but she knew the day would be worse if she didn't get moving, so with an annoyed huff, she begrudgingly got up. The girl with the silver hair left her bed, checking the watercolor she had hidden in the dark corner of her vanity, and taming her hair in the best way she could, knowing her mother would probably come and do it herself - to make sure they matched, she thought bitterly - before going to get breakfast. The morning was like any other. A boring morning that got ten times better when her wood elf friend arrived at her door with a light grimace and a small smile. Theo had decided to come over around noon while her father was overseeing the cooks, a bag with his formal clothes and a stack of work half-finished in hand, and Victoria used it gratefully as an excuse to drag them off where the tanner elf actually did his work, the other rambling about her worries about the night to come and the people there. Having him as her plus one to the event was honestly a blessing, because not only did it mean she wouldn't have to be alone all night with the rich adults that were bound to be everywhere, but it also gave her an excuse to drag herself away if she got uncomfortable. The two had made a plan of ways to get each other out of these types of situations a few nights earlier, pulling the other away with preplanned excuses that would never work if the adults knew who they were, calling the other's name from the other side of the room, things like that. It seemed rather juvenile, but she was beyond grateful for the help, knowing it would come in handy, no matter how childish it may seem. When regarded as the town's 'unconventional kid,' any escape from the pitiful looks covered by polite smiles, the asking about her future when they know well that she was struggling, using terms that she'd never know but the scholars around would, any reason to leave was relieving.

It was around sunset, maybe an hour or two before the guests would start arriving when the two got ready. Most of it was on their own, the changing into matching outfits, taking quick showers while the other fixed their hair, simple things, but when the woman Victoria knew as her mother showed up the mood took a turn immediately. It wasn't teasing while cleaning the other's glasses, nor was it making jokes and voice impressions about the rich historians that were bound to show up (courtesy of the silver-haired girl), it was almost as though someone had just blown out the candle and they had to fend for themselves in the dark. Theo had decided that while the older elf put her daughter's hair up in an intricate updo that matched her own - even though the two's hair types were noticeably different levels of curls - he would finish his previously discarded paperwork instead of trying to make small talk. It was near silent except for the scratches of his graphite tipped pencil doing general notes and the sounds of the metal tipped quill making marks at other moments. It was silent, silent in the worst way, silent in a way they planned to avoid for the rest of the night if they could help it.

"There." Victoria's mother sighed after some time, causing the copper-haired elf to jump ever so slightly, breaking him out of his light nap, causing the other to momentarily snicker in his direction through the reflection in the mirror. Her mother took a step back to admire her work for a moment, giving it a satisfied smile before turning back to Theo, asking him if he wanted her to tame his curls too, or to help roll up his sleeves to look more professional, all things that made him scratch the back of his neck in embarrassment and shake his head politely. Her words were more forceful than he expected, but if he worded his response precisely it wasn't anything too hard to get away from.

"I'm alright Mrs. Nailo, thank you though," He reassured her when she began to insist it was nothing at all and she simply sighed, shaking her head fondly while her daughter behind her glared in her direction. It wasn't jealousy he saw, he saw that enough to know, but it was a wistfulness she held in her unblinking stare. It was a look that was easy to read even through her wall of annoyance; her mother was paying more attention to Theo than she had toward her daughter in probably days, and it filled her with feeble wishes for that smile to be pointed at her. It hurt to see that on his best friend's face, but he pushed that down, for now, seeing as Mrs. Nailo looked as though she was about to say something.

"Just call me Adrie dear, save the formalities for the dinner party," She replied, squeezing his shoulder kindly before turning to daughter and giving her a quick kiss on the head - no words - before leaving the room, her long formal dress fanning behind her. When she left, the moon elf sitting at her vanity took a deep breath or two, accepting the side hug her friend offered, before getting up and gesturing toward the door quietly, as if afraid her voice would betray the schooled expression she wore. The things left unsaid didn't go unnoticed by the wood elf, but they stayed unspoken as the two walked toward the dining hall.

***

As much as the silver-haired girl hated the dinner parties she was forced to go to, her parents knew how to fix the room up for the occasion. The hollow chamber of the dining room was fixed so that every chair had a dish and glass, baskets of bread with plates of fruit placed down the center of the dark oak wood table, all illuminated by the fully lit chandelier. The fireplace was bright and warm on the left side, the door to the kitchen on the right giving out smells that made Victoria's stomach growl and made the tanned elf beside her breath in and sigh loudly with a smile. Being the only two in the room so far, they took to helping the humble elves sweeping and doing last-minute cleaning, cleaning which they 'didn't need to help with' but they did without question.

When the guests began to arrive, it was a whole different story, but it wasn't as horrid as her mind made it out to be. Sure, the two had to halt their competitive cleaning, but many of the adults were talking with one another and getting reacquainted, not talking them specifically, at least not yet. Most regarded the two in their steadfast conversation as a couple, which wasn't intended but helped with the situation and made Theo laugh when she mentioned it, so either way, it wasn't too bad so far. That was until her mother came out of the kitchen with her husband, hand delicately on his arm held out to her, and gave a speech before announcing dinner would be served shortly. The dinner wasn't the problem, but rather that her mother - businesswoman she was with her controlled sparkling laughter and bright fake smiles - was now mingling with her guests, something that meant Victoria had to be ready to be called over at any moment. The tanned elf never complained though, talking politely with the adults nearby as the girl was dragged away from her other half, although never far.

The worst time, however, was after the mouthwatering dinner full of awkward small talk between the pair and the academics, after the condescending questions that Theo himself had to stop after one or two hit her a little too hard, nearly having to excuse the two with his dagger glares before the moon elf told him she was alright, it was after all of that. It was when one of the few people her age at the party was introduced to her by her mother, a short scholar's son who kissed her hand upon meeting her and kept conversation even after her mother left. When they first began to talk, she could only describe him as a mystery, which was a strange concept. He was a history teacher for the college of their town, a place Theo knew but she didn't, with bronze skin and dark black hair, a direct contrast to his gold eyes and gold markings along his exposed arms, very handsome sure, but his personality was strange to her. He was very quiet but looked as though he had much he wanted to say, and timid, something far different from his looks. The elf by the name Bryn looked as though he should be a confident arrogant jerk, at a loss of better words, but he was shy and nervous, it made the moon elf tilt her head in confusion. He wasn't different like herself, or like Theo, nor was he like the Phoenix girl, but he seemed as out of place as she was, it was odd. So after speaking with her friend telling him where they'd be, the silver-haired girl led the other to the living room - a space that was quieter and more reserved for guests with closer relationships to her mother and father - where the two could actually talk. She didn't have any interest in the other in the romantic sense, but he still was a mystery and she wouldn't mind trying to find out more about the other.

Their conversations were awkward on both ends, the silver-haired elf attempting to be friendly and polite, while the other tried to do the same, his nervousness never leaving. After a while, she snapped - asking a few questions harshly after their circling small-talk, each with a reaction and answer that seemed somewhat scattered, but still genuine. She desperately wanted to go back to chattering with Theo about everything and trying to spin people they walked by, but instead, she stayed with Bryn, not wanting him to feel left out, helping him see who she was. Then during another quiet minute ticking by, she stood up, rolling her eyes and offered her hand, a playful smile gracing her lips, getting a look that seemed in awe of her, something that made her confidence only grow.

"You know how to spin?" The girl asked, the challenge and exhilaration reaching her eyes, light from the nearby candlelight making her silver hair a shining halo. He looked mortified at the words but shook it off with a raised eyebrow taking that look's place, replying that he hadn't since he was a child, but took her hand nonetheless and stood up from their seats. Even if he looked as uncomfortable as a child with his hand in the sweets jar, he still rose to the challenge with a worried smile making Victoria laugh. Giving little warning for the other to get ready, she discretely slipped off her uncomfortable shoes and took his hands in hers, watching as he looked horrified while dragging him onto the marble floor where no one mingled. The two's twirling was one of the most embarrassing, awkward, and fun things that happened to her all day, the spins blowing and messing up her hair in every which direction, the airy laughter interrupting her seemingly-feverish humming from both the dancers. What made it even better wasn't just the fact that Bryn nearly tripped on every turn and laughed with her at the wildness of it all, but rather because soon after it started, her favorite wood elf reappeared and joined in, clapping along, even if it caused chaos in the room. Even taking the dizzy jet-haired elf's place when his world spun out of control, moving with his best friend in a way that was surrounded by a familiar grace, lost in their own world of inside jokes and light conversations even as the scholars and suspicious spectators alike began to grow. It was chaos but in the best way, it was the symphony of drowning sound in the middle of a thunderstorm, it was the birds having arguments while the bugs tried to hiss and buzz, it was overwhelming and blissful, right up until they had to stop, noticing her father's irritated look in the doorframe. Her head still spun and Theo's did too, but as the two went back to where Bryn was sat, hand over his heart and formerly neat hair looking almost as dizzy as they did, they all didn't give the old man in the doorway a second glance. The three simply collapsed into relaxed conversations after that, one about spinning, and laughter, and how fantastically unusual the best friends were, all talking with melodic smiles and teasing grins. It was nice. So nice that no one seemed to bother them, leaving them to become their own small bubble amid the chaos that was the adult elves debating in the dining hall. Leaving them so inside their own heads that Victoria only got pulled out by seeing something in the living room that shined brightly out of place. It was a girl who looked starkly different in contrast to the elves around, a girl standing near the doorway, a girl with beautiful dark skin, sparkling midnight eyes to complimented her golden markings on her strong jaw wearing a deep red - almost pink - dress. A girl with sparkling red hair that rolled over her shoulders and back like sheets of deep red fire. A girl who looked like a phoenix, staring right at her, just like she had all those days earlier in the forest.

"Vicky? You alright?" Theo asked at his friend who looked as though she had lost all capacity to speak, reaching for her arm before following her line of sight and snorting quietly to himself. Hearing that and Bryn's concerned questioning snapped her mind into focus, immediately getting up, excusing herself and leaving the couch the three had occupied - even if the teen with black hair protested in confusion - swiftly walking to where the Phoenix girl was. As the two faced each other, the silence enveloping them in a blanket, a million questions swirled in Victoria's head - the only thing escaping her lips being a barely breathed 'hi.' Why was she here? How did she get here? How did she know where the dinner party was? How did her simple one-colored dress brushing the light-colored floors compliment her so well? Why was she here? A sky full of questions like stars and none answered as she looked into the other's swirling starless eyes, simply existing in front of the other. Then as if broken from a trance the corner's of the Phoenix girl's lips curled into the smallest of a teasing smile, matching her quiet greeting with the whispered 'hello'.

"You want to dance?" The Phoenix girl offered a few moments later, a sense of challenge lacing her words, a gold streaked hand held out for the other to take. An offer that only received a confused glance that made the redhead have to hold back a laugh, the prominent thought that 'she looks like an owl' overtaking her mind. "Twirl, spin, that type of thing," She clarified, her normal defensive spitfire attitude now replaced with the faintest hint of embarrassment shown in the fidgetting of her sandal-clad feet and twitching of her fingers. To that, Victoria smiled wide, nodding and happily taking the other's offered hand, leading them to the now nearly empty tile floors of the room, right in the center. Their twirling was different, it was surprisingly calm, fewer extravagant twirls and big dizzying spins, but rather calm steps in circles in the quiet room, both on their own rhythm but coexisting at the same time. After a few minutes though, the silver-haired elf's eyebrow's furrowed and she looked as though she were struggling to find words, and the redhead being the elf she was motioned for the other to speed up, which earned her an eyeroll and a small smile.

"I was just thinking that's all, don't rush me," The girl huffed, causing a crystalline laugh to echo in the halls, a laugh Victoria wanted to remember for years to come. "Honest question though, why are you here?" She continued, this time jumping straight to the point of her question, the two slowing to a stop. At this inquiry, the Phoenix girl hummed thoughtfully, a sound that took the moon elf by surprise, but one that made her hum too, as if continuing to poke the question into the other's mind. She paused as if looking for words before she spoke again, a pause that felt like a lifetime, still with her hands on the other's arms in the middle of the living room.

"The watercolor was a question, one that I need an answer to." She stated with a voice that was firm and louder than the atmosphere they had created. The way she said it was as though it was a test, not some crptic message, a simple statement that made the girl hold other's emerald gaze, looking at her with a challenge to say something back. She knew it was from the moment the yellowing paper was presented to her, and with her thoughts confirmed and words echoing through the nearly empty room, a feeling began to pool in her chest. It wasn't negative, no it was hot and aching, but for something positive, even if it hurt to feel. The girl she had met maybe a month earlier was asking her if she was satisfied with the life she lived, satisfied with never finding her place, and challenging - no inviting - her to take the offer, to change the life she knew. Change it because they both knew she was different, not different in ways that made life a little harder but manageable like Theo, but so different that it filled every ounce of her body and never let her rest. She had taps and twirls and rhythms that her whole being begged her to let out to the world, not just to the tanned boy with glasses, not just to teachers to annoy them in secondary school, she was different in ways like the Phoenix girl with a third of the freedom. And now that she had gotten a glimpse of that freedom, she wanted to taste it, she wanted the freedom to herself and she wanted to live. So she nodded in response to the other's unspoken question, to the other's offer, because she was going to find out whatever drummed in her heart, whatever twirled, no danced in the steps she took. She was going to get that feeling, and if that smile stayed on the redhead's face then that was just another positive in her book.

"Good. See you tomorrow morning then, also bring your best spinning shoes, you're gonna need them." She replied with stars in her eyes, making the three singular freckles on her dark skin seem to glow. Then she twirled off with a wave and said four words before disappearing into the crowd she came from. Four words that made the silver-haired elf want to whistle until her breath was gone and made her want to spin until she saw the stars as bright as her own silver hair against the navy blue dress she spun in. The four words, "my name is Phann," that echoed in her mind as she walked briskly back to the couch the two guys were still situated and extremely confused. They asked her questions upon questions, but as she sunk into the uncomfortable chair with a satisfied smile, she simply brushed them off. She was going to find her answers tomorrow, so none of their prodding mattered.

***

When she awoke the next morning, the sun was different when it shone through her window. It wasn't searing heat that poked and forced her to wake up, the sun itself seemed tired and understanding, offering warmth and a yawn as if saying 'oh you're getting up too? Well, good morning,' as she quietly began to get ready for the day. The sun itself had only risen a few inches when she jogged outside, a few silver pieces jingling as she jogged away from her responsibilities and over to the pastry stand for breakfast, spinning on her heel and continuing straight into the woods as soon as she paid. The curly-haired girl's entire atmosphere was filled with the best type of anticipation, a few logical thoughts questioning if this was the right idea, but her excitement allowing her to keep forward, keep her moving forward with her bag and dancing shoes, the sweet aftertaste of a sugary pastry still on her tongue.

All of the woods seemed to await her arrival too, the trees looked greener, the birds chirped sweet tunes, the wind was warm in contrast to the crisp autumn air, bringing smells of chimney smoke and morning dew. At the peak of the rocks, she felt as though the world was finally going right, going right in such a way that made the morning sky look like a watercolor and made her twirls feel like home. At the peak of the rocks, she saw the Phoenix girl, Phann, watch her spin with upturned lips and tired eyes that held fond eye rolls before telling her good morning as they walked, the daybreak sunlight following right behind them. The walk was peaceful, a familiar journey with a brand new atmosphere, one where questions got answered as soon as they were asked, one where the redhead fiddled with her loose strands of hair that leaked from her messy bun, a thin stick she now knew as a paintbrush in the center of the updo. It was an atmosphere that reminded her of the beautiful chaos of the Oakenheel household in the mornings, full of yawns that tried to be covered, full of walls easy to break through with jokes and dumb impressions, stomachs that growled even though they already ate, reminding her of food she'd sneak into her bag on the way out the door. All of it brilliant disorder on a fall morning.

Once they stopped at the corroded fountain at the end of their walk, the brilliant chaos got clouded by nervous buzzing the moon elf felt filling her head and spreading all the way to her tapping toes. What was going to happen? This spot was where the other always disappeared, so why would today be any other way? Why did she come wearing dancing shoes when she didn't even know what dancing really was? The girl wasn't someone who whistled as she walked or patted tabletops when she talked, the sun elf was someone who captured moments on paper, something Victoria knew she couldn't do, so what was she doing at sunrise in the middle of the woods? Finding your freedom her mind supplied helpfully, nudging her to come back into focus where the Phoenix girl stood, gesturing for her to follow when most days all she did was wave goodbye.

What Victoria expected was nothing like what she saw when following the painter to the back of the fountain. It was a stairway, a stairway worn and carved in the crumbling cobblestone around it, some steps covered in moss, some looking new and bright, but a flight of stairs nonetheless. It was strange the whole thing, a path down below that fountain that was precisely blocked if you looked at it from any other angle, but when Phann began to go down into the dark shaded hole like it was nothing, she couldn't help but follow.

Most of the elves she knew would never do something so brash and without thought, but the only thing that filled her mind as the two went down the staircase was that she thought she heard a melody. It nearly made her trip as she walked, hearing something that sounded like the faintest of echoes but so much richer and with so many tones that it felt as though it grabbed her heart and pulled her towards it, and she was delighted to be dragged forward. It was faint, not growing any louder as they walked, staying just a whisper right up until the two stood in front of an old mahogany door - it's cracks and creaks streaked with beautiful blues, golds, and ruby reds - she knew that sound was on the other side. It was so close, so close but the redhead wouldn't open the door, not yet, as though she knew the anticipation was nearly killing her. Then the door opened. The door opened and what hit her felt like a tidal wave, an endless wave of different smells, voices, colors, and god the sounds, the melodic, somber, rich, and meaningful sounds of history, unlike anything she'd ever heard. She barely even realized the two had entered the room, simply breathing in the noise as if it were her lifeline, something that didn't go unnoticed by the girl next to her. She was so caught up looking for the echoes that she barely felt someone bump her shoulder and step forward, but it was there.

"Morning!" Phann called into the underground room, watching as the other took in the smooth stone brick walls, warm orange glow from lanterns, and home-y feeling the place provided, a small involuntary smile gracing her awestruck features as she looked around. The echo she had heard earlier was nowhere to be found, but as she looked around she realized other things. The place itself - a central room with seemingly three split-offs in the sides not blocked by any doors - had high ceilings that seemed like unreachable stairs, lights on either side of the doorway and in the corners between the vastly different niches, intricate rugs of blue, gold, and reds laid on the floors, tying the room together. It was bright, not in a harsh sunlight form, but rather it was a place that reminded her of Theo's mother's hugs. Warm, comforting, and welcoming, even if everything felt new and overwhelming. The three branches themselves that split away from the doorway were so drastically different they didn't seem like they should coexist, but at the same time - they did. They did and they were beautiful. The left was the most chaotic, with carpet-like fabrics covered in colors and full of detail hanging from the walls and ceilings, with paintings that reminded her of her hidden watercolor but more intense, everything full of color and bright. The right was the much dimmer space, but it wasn't void of character. The room held multiple small wooden chests with ornate carvings and strings of metal sitting next to a tall half-heart shaped wooden structure with strings going from the top to bottom, a smaller version just beside it, it felt like an area that was loved. It was an area where Victoria just knew something bigger was happening. The last space, directly across from the doorway, was an area much smaller, covered wall to wall in bookshelves, two desks and an old door being the only things interrupting the steady flow of colorful paperbacks, books that looked ancient and had strong smells that mixed in with the sharp aromas of the painter's corner.

When the sun elf called her greetings, it felt like the overwhelming ocean that previously hit her had a whole new wave, a wave full of surfers coming to say hello. The first elf who came into view appeared from the left niche, somehow more chaotic than the workspace she was previously at. She was short for elves but had bright ever-changing eyes, dark auburn hair so disorderly she would have been seen as an insane person in town, a smile bigger than any she'd ever seen and brighter than any lamp. Not to forget that she moved and fidgeted and bumped things in a way that reminded her of her own ticks and movements, just without the rhythm and ten times the speed, the emotions in her flittering eyes like dragonflies dancing from one blade of grass to another on a summer's afternoon. The redhead seemed to notice her gaze on the short elf and introduced her as Lia, 'Guardian of the Physical Arts' a title that the other brushed away with a flurry of hand movements. Her tanned freckled hands were flying here and there, Victoria now noticing how they were speckled with bright pigments of white, green, and bright gold. Paint.

"Too formal Phoe-Phoe, geez don't scare her away," The bright woman replied, her nose scrunched in disgust at the title, causing the moon elf to giggle behind her hand and shoot her friend a look meaning 'Phoe-Phoe?' with a smile, only getting a weak glare in reply. The three kept a conversation, more Victoria and Lia with their fast pace and fast thoughts, quick enough to near shock the redhead, but after a few minutes, she joined in too. It was full of bright twinkling laughs and lots of moving around the paint-covered woman's space to the left of the underground home, not that either was complaining. After what felt like hours but was probably only a few minutes, another elf showed up, looking around the same age as the artist and reminding her of a much tamer version of her father. He was nearly the opposite of his guardian counterpart, wearing deep reds and browns against pale skin and ice-white hair, a light red - no crimson the moon elf noted - filling his defined features, looking both warm from the glow of the room and looking warm through the fond look he gave the chatty elf. He seemed... tired, in a way. Not in a negative way, but as though he'd rather be lazing around and just enjoying the serene energy he put off. Then he simply sighed, stepping away from what seemed like a stairway downward and coming over to them, making Lia pause in her bouncing with a kiss to her temple and a few words to the moon elf.

"Welcome, my name is Varis - Guardian of Writing." He said before going back toward his area covered in books, taking a seat in his simplistic chair in front of his desk, taking a book at random without looking and beginning to read, a blissful smile stretching over his features. Victoria raised an eyebrow at her friend and pulling on her black long-sleeve to quietly grab her attention.

"He doesn't say a lot, does he?" She asked in a low voice, watching cluelessly as her friend and the older elf had a silent conversation that ended in Lia smiling reassuringly, something she had seen the Oakenheel family use before revealing often troubling information. A silent conversation between midnight eyes and eyes that changed with the angle she looked, one that didn't go unnoticed. She started to apologize but was cut off by a warning hand from the redhead.

"He does, you just don't know him well. Something happened with a student so he's a little down, but when you get him going he goes on for hours," Lia explained, twirling a ring on her left hand and looking toward the elf in question, earning a solemn nod - even if the silver-haired girl didn't understand some parts - and turning to the person who brought her here originally, a reserved conversation picking up between the two. As they talked, Victoria couldn't help but notice the artist had left to go work on something, muttering soft words under her breath while getting clay and putting it up onto the table. It seemed strange that she could shift so fast, but then again, so could she, so she didn't mention it. The two talked about plans for the day, projects with paper and charcoal pencils, echoing sounds that it seemed only Victoria noticed, but only a few things stuck with her.

"You're special, that's why you're here y'know," Phann stated after a while of lying on the main rug of the room, taking her break from art projects to enjoy company with the other. Victoria's eyebrows furrowed slightly at the statement, but she still hummed in acknowledgment from her spot lying beside her, eyes closed and hands making a cushion behind her head.

"I don't know, it's not like I paint or do those other art things, I don't capture moments or write stories, all I do is whistle and tap at the wrong times and annoy people. I don't see what's so special about that." Was all the moon elf replied with, still keeping her eyes closed even as she felt the redhead's eyes bearing into her. The statements made sense to her, knowing sure she was different, maybe a little insane, but special wasn't the word for it. Special was used for smart mathematicians who proved something, or scientists who found a new plant that could be used in medicine, or readers who could memorize whole books and their meanings. Special was a word used for people who could capture memories with paints and paper, not for teenagers who didn't know their place and spun around with their friends to escape their parents. Not for someone like Victoria, someone who whistled and hummed, spending hours finding new pitches and tunes just to get a person's reaction, and somewhere along the line of her 65 years of life she'd accepted that. Never outright, but she had stopped fighting back when someone commented on how 'eccentric' or 'strange' she was, she knew that someone like her wasn't going to get far in her town. And as she laid on a carpet in an underground room surrounded by artists, both loud and quiet, both bouncy like her and reserved like Phann, she knew the out of place feeling wouldn't go away. That feeling wouldn't leave her anytime soon, that is... until it did.

"Yeah, of course you aren't like us, idiot, that's obvious. That's why you're special, 'cause you are different." The redhead chided, the other's eyes opening and fixing the other with a squint at the scoff in her voice, a scoff that somehow wasn't aggressive or offensive. It was stating a fact that Victoria just wasn't quite understanding, something that she was close to getting, but hadn't gotten yet. "Stop looking at me all confused I'm not done. What I'm saying is, you're special because you hum and spin, not because of the things you don't do. You have music inside of you, music that you want to let loose and have people see." She finished and the moon elf was even more confused. Music? What did that even mean? It seemed important, but the sincerity in the other's words flew over her head - the only thing sticking and replaying being those words, "You have music inside you." Before she had time to further contemplate the other's words, however, something else happened. Someone walked through the mahogany door. Someone who seemed as old as her grandparents she had heard stories about, someone who walked in humming with his eyes closed, sachel across this torso and deep blue robe swishing as he walked. Someone who noticed their gazes and opened his eyes, deep green irises showing surprise before a small smile grew and he stopped, turning toward the silver-haired girl.

"Oh! Good morning, I'm Ivellios - Guardian of Music," He said with his kind ever-present smile, offering a hand to help her up, a hand she took without saying anything. She knew she should say something, both he and Phann probably expected her to, and she knew it wasn't polite to simply stand there, but all she could hear was that word again.

Music.

And something told her she'd be hearing that word more often than she ever could imagine.