Blue. As far as the eye could see. It wasn't the same blue everywhere. One place was light blue as the morning sky. Another shared the dark blue of the dusk sky. Yet another was solid blue a rich man's cloak. The color gradually changed from one point to another, so subtlety that there were no borders to be seen.
Din looked down to realize that she was standing on something that reminded of water, yet it carried her weight. She didn't know why, but she felt quite comfortable. Somehow, she knew she was safe here, wherever here was. It didn't seem like a very important question right now.
Something appeared in front of her. Actually, it looked like it had been there all the time, but it took some time for the eye to discern what it was from the background. It was a woman. Her features looked like the priestess in the other dream, but this woman was all various shades of blue. She didn't share the same blue color as the background, yet she was somehow very hard to notice. Once Din had spotted her, though, she was easy to see.
For some reason, Din got the feeling that she was really powerful. She seemed to have a good reason for her confident smile. When she spoke, it felt like the words appeared in Din's mind. There were no voice. Or rather, it was Din's own voice, speaking words in her mind like thoughts popping up.
"Your name is Faith, like the avatars before you," the words said. That was all. Din wanted to ask something, but never got the chance. She felt herself being gently pulled away. The woman and the blue background become one, and became smaller and smaller.
Din awoke. She was freezing slightly. It took her a few moments of confusion to figure out where she was. It was early morning, with the cold, clear air of fall. The ground was all covered with rime. The fire had gone out. Din sat up, and spotted Rob. It looked like he had fallen asleep while guarding, and now sat leaning against the cave wall by the opening. She felt sorry for him. He had been so tired last night, yet he had tried to stay awake all night.
Din got up and stretched. She felt much better today. Still a bit stiff muscles, but far better than yesterday. Her head felt clear and sharp. Her body still felt weird, but at least it seemed to obey her. Moving a bit helped her feel warmer, too.
She picked up the cloak she'd been lying on for several days and put it around the sleeping Rob. He was lacking color on his nose and ears, and looked like he was freezing as well. She immediately went to work getting the fire running again. The embers had gone cold, so she'd have to start a new using flint and steel. Fortunately, Rob had stacked up a lot of firewood yesterday.
After some attempts, she managed to get the thinnest bark burning. She slowly fed the fire with increasingly bitter twigs until she dared to put on a more solid stick.
All the while working the fire, she couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching her. She glanced around several times, even into the cave. However, she couldn't see anyone. The cave was fairly swallow, and with the morning light she was fairly certain nothing could be hiding from her sight.
Once the fire was burning good, she looked for some food. Her search quickly yielded success. In a pouch on the ground next to the fire she found the rest of the rabbit Rob had caught yesterday. It looked like he had saved about half for her. Rob obviously had more talent as a trapper than as a cook. It was unevenly cooked and burnt in several places, but tasted absolutely wonderful. It felt like it was the best rabbit she had ever eaten, but she knew that her hunger might be tampering with her perception.
She considered saving something for Rob as well, but her stomach protested so loudly she decided against it. The water tasted good as well. She noticed that the waterskin was almost empty now, they had to find more water soon.
After the meal, she felt the need to go again. She went into the same place as yesterday, walking slowly to make sure there really weren't anything in there. 'My mind is playing tricks on me,' she told herself, trying to dismiss the feeling of the presence. Not quite successful, though.
It was easier than yesterday. For a start, she wasn't so stiff. She also knew what to do, and was more prepared for the strange feelings when she wiped herself. It was a lot colder than yesterday, making her finish as fast as possible so she could pull on her clothes again. At some point, she knew she needed to find out more about how it looked and felt down there, but this really wasn't a good time.
It occurred to Din that she never had had the chance to experience sex before she got turned into a girl. The thought of sex from a female point of view caused all manner of strange thoughts to fight for her attention, and she felt her face quickly growing hot with embarrassment. The opinion that it was a disgusting thought won, and she tried to think of something else.
It took a good while for Rob to wake up. Din risked exploring the immediate area around the cave while gathering a bit more firewood. Most animals left humans alone, but there was always the risk that there was an essence-beast around here. She tried to look for Rob's traps, but had no clue where to look. Rob's father was a trapper. Din's was a farmer. In the end, she returned with just the wood.
Rob looked quite disoriented when he awoke. He wasn't very happy about falling asleep during the night without intending it. Din brought up the point that he had been awake for more than a day and a night already, which helped his pride somewhat.
They left about an hour later, after some food and Rob checking his traps. He had successfully caught another rabbit, which they brought for the next meal. They had quite some ground to cover. The trip from the town to the crypt had taken almost a full day, and now they had to take it much slower due to Rob's leg. Besides, last time they had waded right through the wilderness like they owned it, or at least were not afraid of the real owner. This time, they were cautious, as they certainly didn't want to catch the attention of any animals around there.
Din had wondered at first why they adventurers didn't have horses. He had later understood Will was really scared of horses for some reasons, and he'd been the closest thing they'd had to a leader. Besides, he'd argued, if they spent money on horses, they'd most likely find them dead by predators by the time they returned from the crypts. Right now, Din would've given a lot to have a horse, for Rob's sake.
While traveling, they spoke together about almost everything. Din told Rob what little he recalled from his dreams, which mostly summed up to "a strange blue woman" from the night's sleep and lots of fighting from the dreams before that. Rob agreed that the dreams were strange, but could offer no other insight.
They also talked about a lot other stuff. Stuff they used to talk about before they'd left home. Din felt a bit strange discussing girls, and Rob looked downright uncomfortable, so they stayed away from that topic.
They talked about essence-beasts instead. After all, they could run into one at any point during the travel. Once when Rob had joined his father hunting, he had seen the Yellow Stag. It was commonly known in the area. It had first showed up when Din and Rob were only children. The name had come from its antlers. When it showed itself to humans, it displayed supernaturally big antlers which glowed yellow. It had also been spotted with more normal antlers, which made it reasonable to believe it had an yellow essence. It also seemed reasonably intelligent. If it showed up to humans, it was meant as a warning. It did not attack as long as the humans left the area, but had killed those that chose to ignore the warning. Everything considered, it was not one of the worst essence-beasts to meet, as long as you were prepared to turn around.
There were also the Red Bison. It was always seen with the rest of its kin, but were easy to spot. It was significantly larger than others of his kind. It was said that it once demolished an entire caravan because they insisted on moving towards the bisons. Fortunately, they weren't going to run into it on their way back to town, it belonged with the other bisons farther west.
The Red Bison and Yellow Stag were among the most powerful known essence-beasts in the area. Since essence-beasts were one of the biggest dangers to settlers, the local authorities quickly put out rewards to the dangerous ones. The Red Bison in particular had a huge reward on its head, but had already bested dozens of bounty hunters. Most others were put down fairly quickly.
There were also a lot of harmless essence-beasts. They talked about the Blue Squirrel which lived close to Din's home farm. It was quite fascinating to watch it gather nuts. It moved almost faster than the eyes could follow, leaving a blue streak in its wake, while moving from tree to tree. However, it was just as bad at remembering where it had hid its nuts as your average squirrel, so you could often find piles of nuts dug in the ground or stoved in trees in the nearby forest.
They moved as fast as Rob's leg allowed, which weren't very fast. In addition, he needed breaks now and then, adding to the duration of the trip. While they saw a lot of wildlife, fortunately none of them seemed to bother them. They found some berries, but they proved be very sour since it was so late in the year. Fortunately, some of the mushrooms were still edible, and Din knew which ones were safe to eat. They also got their waterskins filled.
When they found a place to camp for the night, Din was very tired. She felt less enduring than she was used to as a boy, but that might also be because her muscles still were a bit stiff. After Rob set up some traps and Din built a fire, they talked about what they'd do when they got back. Rob told Din he had decided to return to his father. He was quite satisfied to escape with his life. If he saved up some money for a healer, he might be able to walk again without limping.
Din didn't know what to do, except find some more fitting clothes and have a bath. She wasn't sure she'd be able to convince her parents that it was still Din inside the native girl, and even if she did, she wasn't sure that returning to the farm was what she wanted. Despite having been much closer to death than Rob was, she felt she ought to do something more than just settle down on a farm.
"I don't know if you've thought about it, but you might run into some prejudices now," Rob told her. "I mean, now that you're a native girl. Native, that is. Well, there might be someone who has something against girls too, but ..." he continued, stumbling in his own words and blushing more by the moment. "Relax, Rob," Din broke off her friend, "It'll be okay, somehow." They talked no more about it.
That night, Din had another strange dream. Possibly more than one, but she could only recall one afterwards. She found herself in the same blue "room" as last time. It gave her the same sense of safety like last time. Perhaps because she expected it, she spotted the blue woman immediately. She held something up, offering it to Din. It looked like a dagger, identical to the one the priestess had wielded in Din's first dream.
Din hesitated. The blue woman offered the knife again. "It belongs to you now," said words spoken in her mind. Din took the knife from the blue woman's hand. It felt a bit cold to touch, but was somehow very comfortable in her hand.
The blue woman seemed pleased. She turned around and pointed. "Behold. Our enemies," she heard. A little spot in the distance turned red, which quickly grew bigger. Soon everything around them were red. The feeling of safety was all gone, replaced by a sense of danger which sent shivers down Din's spine. It felt somehow burning hot, like it tried to sear Din from all directions at once. Like the blue earlier, the red had different shades, but the shades were much more frequently switching colors, like waves.
Some distance away, a man appeared. Like the blue woman, it felt like he had been standing there all the time, but that it took time to discern him from the background, somehow. He was different colors of red, fairly tall and with very wide shoulders. Like the blue woman, he looked immensely powerful, but also far more dangerous. Perhaps because the blue woman seemed to consider Din an ally or something. It seemed like he hadn't noticed them, and Din hoped he kept that up.
The blue woman turned to a different direction and pointed. A yellow spot expanded to engulf the entire room. It felt dangerous here as well, but in a different way. Din lacked the words to describe it, but the room felt "sharp", like it threatened to cut or puncture her at any moment. Unlike the other two "rooms", Din could easily spot the borders between the different yellow colors.
She spotted a yellow man, though it was harder to know for sure it was a man. He was very tall and also quite thin. His features looked sharp and perfect, like a statue. Only his lack of any obvious breasts gave Din the impression it was a male, otherwise it could just as well have been a female. His face, in particular, could just as well belong to a woman. Like the red man, he didn't notice them.
The blue woman took the two of them back to the blue room. The safety here was very welcome after feeling all that danger. The woman seemed to understand that Din had been afraid. "You are not yet prepared. But soon..." the words in her head formed. With that, the woman and the blue room faded away.