Tiffany Outway

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    Tiffany’s early childhood was uneventful. While she was occasionally bullied, she was a girl of privilege and had a comfortable life with her mother and father. However, at eight years old, her parents died in a car crash while she was away at summer camp. Upon hearing the tragic news, Tiffany ran away into the woods in the middle of the night. Confused and unable to cope with her feelings, she simply wandered amongst the plants and animals. While it couldn’t stop her from feeling despair, something about the nature around her helped ground her. She walked until she passed out from exhaustion. She was luckily found by the camp staff and was sent home as soon as they could get in contact with her uncle, Erston Lee. It was he who became her new guardian.

    After her parents’ passing, Tiffany withdrew into herself. Many of her friends stopped hanging out with her, claiming she wasn’t fun anymore. She slowly became more and more alone, and the occasional bullying became a daily thing. Seeing Tiffany spiraling into despair, her uncle pulled her out of public school and began homeschooling her. However, he knew secluding her away from other children completely could have horrible repercussions in the future, so he arranged for her to be homeschooled with a few other children. In a new environment curated by her loving uncle, Tiffany was able to function much better. While she was still quiet and gloomy, the other children seemed more understanding of her circumstances.

    Unfortunately, Erston couldn’t protect his niece forever. Tiffany needed to learn to socialize with others, and so she was placed into a public high school when she reached the age of fourteen. To say the experience was troubling would be an understatement. With no friends to rely on going into the new school, Tiffany was as reclusive as ever. She was quickly labeled the weird quiet girl and was either ignored or bullied by her classmates. In turn, she ignored her fellow classmates and continued to keep to herself. However, it was at this point that puberty arrived. It awoke in her desires she hadn’t experienced before, and she found herself crushing on the boys in her school. In her own little corner of the classroom, she would daydream about her crush of the month giving her the attention she suddenly yearned for. However, her reputation kept them away, and so she resorted to media to make her feel desired. Her room quickly filled with romance novels, dating sims, and notebooks of fanfiction she began writing. This new obsession was troubling, however, as it soon took up more time than her studies. Tiffany’s uncle, who valued his niece’s happiness over all else, let this new behavior slide. While she wasn’t outright failing her classes, her grades weren’t necessarily good either.

    Tiffany lost herself in her obsession until senior year of high school. It was at this point that the school counselor finally sat her down and asked the teen what she planned to do with her life. Until now, Tiffany hadn’t given it any thought. While her uncle had brought up the question on occasion, she had blown it off as something she didn’t need to think about until later. But later was now, and she knew it wouldn’t be right for her to mooch off her uncle forever. The counselor told Tiffany to think about what she was passionate about and sent her away. The push to find her passion unfortunately forced Tiffany to confront her fear as well. Despite her secluded nature, the teen wanted those around her to live. Following that logic, a job that saved lives would suit that passion. However, due to the trauma of losing her parents at such young age, she feared the death of those around her. She pushed those thoughts aside and decided to pursue a medical career. All she had to do was be good at her job and she wouldn’t have to confront her fear. It was a childish notion, but it was what she had to tell herself if she wanted to see this through. With her path set, Tiffany was able to focus a bit more on her studies, especially her science classes. This shift in motivation was able to raise her grades enough to get accepted into Concordia University, though unbeknownst to her she had gotten a little help from her uncle who was a former professor there.

    Tiffany’s university years were far better than high school. While she was just as withdrawn as the day her parents died, there were far fewer cases of bullying. Only the occasional snarky student who was there for parties over their studies would throw insults at Tiffany, usually commenting on her off-putting presence. She never had to worry about bad roommates thanks to her uncle paying rent for a studio apartment. Tiffany spent the next two years studying by day, and closing herself off by night. While she had a few acquaintances that shared her path towards medical school, she never spent time with anyone outside of class or group projects. However, secretly she wished that some of her male acquaintances would pursue her, pulling her out of her shell and eventually falling in love. But those wishes remained mere fiction.

    In her third year of schooling, Tiffany was required to intern at an affiliated hospital. While it filled her with anxiety to put her knowledge into practice, she pushed through her reservations and worked diligently. Her heart ached for each unfortunate person who came for treatment no matter the severity of their condition. She could tolerate the pain if it meant she could help them recover…until she was faced with her fear. One night two stretchers burst into the hospital, the bodies on them battered and bloody. Tiffany froze in fear as doctors and nurses rushed to the patients. Then she heard it. Car crash. Was this what her parents were like before they died? She trembled as a wave of nausea washed over her. She couldn’t think straight, it took all her willpower not to lose her lunch on the floor. Then another trigger was pulled. “He’s dead. Get the other one to a room.”

    She ran. She ran from her thoughts, her feelings, from the nurses that reached out to her in concern. Death had shown its face again, and she could do nothing to stop him.

    She left the hospital behind. She didn’t dare stop moving for fear that one of the staff members would bring her back. Whether through fate or instinct, Tiffany eventually entered a public park she frequented when she needed an escape from her urban life. Her feet slowed, and soon she stopped in a small grassy field. She fell to her knees and gasped for air. While not out of shape thanks to the self-defense classes her uncle insisted she attend, she was certainly not an athlete. But as she knelt still in the grass, all the things she’d been running from caught up with her. Her heart raced; her body trembled. “Don’t think. Don’t think.” But reciting those words could not stop the thoughts. She projected her parents onto those unfortunate victims, she imagined her uncle’s body twisted and broken. She closed her eyes and screamed, trying to scare away the images that forced their way into her mind.

    When Tiffany opened her eyes, she was no longer in an urban park, but a vast jungle. The sight of the skyscaper-esque trees and thick canopy that blotted out the sky caused her breathing to quicken, both from awe and fear. The sounds of traffic and shuffling people were replaced with the screeching of insects and birds. Leaves rustled as creatures she couldn’t identify used the tangle of branches above as a natural highway. She eventually stood up, silently absorbing the atmosphere with all her senses. Yes, even taste, as the air had a thickness to it that caused her taste buds to tingle. The sensations were enough for her to lose herself, and she simply basked in feeling everything, and thinking nothing.

    A sound of heavy footsteps jolted Tiffany out of her trance and she reflexively readied herself for whatever creature she was about to encounter. A large white and brown creature waddled out of the brush and stopped when it noticed the human. Its teeth began to chatter and its body trembled as the large hairs on its back stood on end. A porcupine? But it’s the size of a bear! Tiffany held her breath as the overly large quilled creature locked eyes with her. She tried to convey her feeling through her eyes; she didn’t want to fight. After a minute, the beast’s chattering died down and the quills laid flat against its body. It approached Tiffany and took in her scent. The lavender perfume she wore to calm her anxiety seemed to work on the porcupine as well. It walked around her once and proceeded to waddle away. It paused in its departure and looked back at the flabbergasted girl. She watched it for a few seconds, but it didn’t move. Tiffany tilted her head questioningly. “You…want me to follow you?” She stepped forward, and once she was properly behind the creature, it finally pressed onwards.

    The two beings walked together for a time in silence. Tiffany admired the creature before her, smiling faintly as she watched the quills lightly swish back and forth with each step. She felt a strong connection with it, like it was a kindred spirit. Looking at a porcupine, so many people focus on the sharp quills that surround it and assume it’s best to leave it be. But underneath that prickly shell is a gentle rodent that just wants love. Tiffany blushed and looked away from the backside of her escort. I’m…probably projecting.

    Eventually they came upon a large cliffside where vicious waves crashed against the stone below. The violent wind tore the hair tie from Tiffany’s head, causing her long brown locks to whip in the wind. Resting on the tip of the cliff was a large structure made of some kind of black stone. Upon analyzing the edifice further, it appeared to take the shape of a stone tree. Barely out of sight, high at the top of said construct, were large topaz gems, like yellow autumn leaves. Feeling overwhelmed from its magnificence, Tiffany turned her attention to the ground. There was a doorway into the structure, but it was protected by a thick carpet of thorns.

    The porcupine stopped before the barbs spread out in front of it and patiently stood there. Tiffany took a spot beside it and looked over the grand sight. Her chest tightened, and a feeling of desire swept over her. The stone tree seemed to call out to her, encouraging her to come inside. Her foot lifted to take a step forward, but hovered over the thorns. She withdrew her foot and looked to her traveling companion. “Is this what you wanted to show me? It’s a shame we can’t go in.” The creature met Tiffany’s gaze, but its glossy eyes shift back to the tower. The young woman’s brows furrowed. “I don’t think my shoes will protect me from the thorns. Let’s go somewhere else.” The porcupine seemed to grow agitated from Tiffany’s reluctance. It rustled its quills, as if it were denying her request. The girl bit her lip in response.

    The pair’s one-sided debate was interrupted by a ferocious roar from behind. Tiffany whipped around to see a large quadrupedal beast charging towards them. It reminded her of the hellhound described in shows and movies. If the porcupine beside her was the size of a bear, the monster coming towards them had to be the size of an elephant, maybe larger. Fear engulfed her as the predator closed in. The porcupine, however, showed surprising resolve as it placed itself between Tiffany and the monster. Its quills splayed up and out as it turned to the side and shifted its back to face the oncoming threat. Air caught in the human’s throat as the two creatures clashed before her. The hound snapped at the porcupine, attempted to push past the spines to taste the soft flesh underneath. The quills held strong, and the feral beast roared in pain as it pulled back. The porcupine scuttled closer to the predator, pushing the beast away from Tiffany. The monster lashed out with its teeth again, aiming for the vulnerable face of its prey. When that failed, it adopted a new strategy. It used its long limbs to reach around and claw at its victim. It succeeded, creating a large gash over the porcupine’s right eye. As blood trickled from the wound, Tiffany was overcome with rage. “LEAVE IT ALONE!” The words left her mouth before she could think better of it. She clapped her hand over her mouth as the feral creature turned its attention to her. She did the only thing she could do; she ran to the stone tree.

    The tears were quick to form in her eyes as the first batch of thorns tore through her scrubs. But if she stopped for anything, she would be shredded by that monster anyway. She heard the hellhound roar again from behind her. She didn’t dare turn around, but she assumed her comrade had attempted to stop the beast from getting to her. The barbs soon pierced her white tennis shoes, dying them a bright red. She heard the crunching of thorns behind her. The beast was not deterred by the spiked ground as it pursued its future meal. A voice rang out in her head, but whether it was her own or another’s she couldn’t say. Live!

    Tiffany leapt for the opening to her sanctuary. Her shoulder scrapped against the stone as she landed, and skidded to a halt a mere foot away from the entrance. Her eyes shot to the monster rushing towards her and watched as its open maw drew closer and closer. The doorway was too big, as soon as it reached her, she was dead. As she felt the breath of the beast envelop her, she screamed.

    A loud crunch drowned out her shriek, and the smell of blood flooded the entrance. The foul fluid followed, oozing through the opening and pooling around Tiffany. Her fear intensified, more from not knowing the sudden cause of this beast’s death than the gory event itself. Her eyes darted around her environment, seeking a means of escape. They rested on a distant staircase, and she scrambled towards it. She began climbing, pushing her body past its limits through adrenaline and force of will. Tiffany couldn’t begin to guess how long she traveled up the trunk of the tree, it seemed endless. But finally, she reached the last step. She collapsed from exhaustion.

    After a short eternity of rest, Tiffany opened her eyes and searched the top of the tree. Nonsensically, she was in a massive cavern, spreading out farther than she could see, and even fathom. The walls were coated with paintings of creatures. Some she recognized; others were alien to her. With what little strength she had left, she pulled herself further into the cave, but collapsed without covering much distance. She heard the distance rustling of flora, the calls of animals, the murmuring voices of beings capable of speech. They all sounded familiar, yet foreign. As she lay bloody on the stone ground, Tiffany’s body trembled. It was like the cavern itself was thick with emotion, and it made it hard to breath. As her body absorbed it all, one thought held firm in her mind. Death…f*ck you. Tears poured from her eyes yet again. They held all her fears, her hopes, her dreams. As the droplets trickled to the ground, they were consumed by the stone terrain. The salty liquid spread out, forming into letters. The name Tiffany Outway glowed topaz before disappearing from sight. The newly awakened mage lost consciousness shortly after.

    When she next awoke, Tiffany was in her childhood room, the one she left behind to attend university. Almost on cue, her uncle opened the door, a gentle smile on his face. He sat on the edge of her bed and proceeded to explain what she’d just went through. She had awoken to the truth of the world, and her life would never be the same. He offered her a job as his personal assistant to support him with his magical business and she readily accepted. There were plenty of people who could be medical professionals, but it was a special person indeed that could protect the people from magic. She would help everyone…to live.

    -Tiffany’s parents died in a car crash when she was eight.
    -She withdrew into herself, driving away her friends.
    -Due to daily bullying, she was removed from the public school system and homeschooled. She returned to the public school system in high school
    -She was dubbed the weird quiet girl. Puberty got her hormones pumping.
    -She gained a new obsession with romance novels, dating sims, and fanfics.
    -Senior year of high school she decides to become a medical professional.
    -She attends university, studying for 2 years.
    -In her 3rd year she was required to intern at a hospital. When two car crash victims are brought in one day, she loses it and runs away.
    -She enters the Primal Wild. She befriends a bear-sized porcupine and is led to the tower.
    -Her and her animal companion are attacked by a hellhound. The porcupine defends her but is wounded. Tiffany cries out and is chased.
    -She wades through thorns to the Watchtower of Singing Stone. Once within, the feral beast is killed through unknown means.
    -She climbs the tower and signs with her tears.
    -Tiffany awakes in her childhood room. Her uncle enters and explains her situation. He offers her a job as his personal assistant, which she accepts.

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