Aloy was used to silence.
Perhaps not exactly silence, but the calm stillness of the night. The serenity of the late evening let her mind feel safe enough to wander. It was a sentiment she could only find under the light of the stars and in the dancing shadows of a flickering flame. Her inner voice was much too loud already, her mind always racing with thoughts and questions, so the silence was like a warm embrace.
No such peace was felt tonight. The snores and sleepy mumblings of her fellow younglings woke her at every turn. The beds creaked as they shifted in their dreams, and the rest of the tribe outside their lodging could be heard in the distance, reveling in anticipation of the Proving.
Aloy stepped out of bed with a huntress’s grace and slowly vaulted the hut’s window, her feet soaking in the familiar dampness of dirt and dew.
It was a clear evening and the moon was full. The first full moon of the harvest season, as tradition stated, was when the Proving occurred and all the young Nora took their first steps into adulthood.
Aloy turned her head sharply, ready to let the intruder know she wasn’t to be messed with, but it was only Vala, giving her a tentative smile. “It’s uh…” Aloy stuttered. “It’s too loud.”
Vala chuckled and sat down beside her. “You’ll get used to it.”
A million responses raced in Aloy’s mind, yet she settled with a sarcastic huff. After a few beats, Aloy broke under Vala’s steady and expectant gaze. “What about you? Why can’t you sleep?”
“I’m nervous,” Vala answered.
“My mom is a War-Chief and my brother won his Proving when he was my age.” She sighed. “I have a lot to live up to.”
“I see...” Aloy smiled bitterly. “In a way, I guess that makes me lucky. I have no one to impress.”
“I’m sure you’ll impress plenty of people, fire-hair,” Vala smirked. “You definitely made an impression on me.”
Aloy felt as if her hand had slipped a handhold on a steep climb, her stomach fluttering and her heart thumping like a war drum. “A good impression I hope?”
“You nearly made Bast wet himself. That was definitely the highlight of my day.”
They shared a snickering laugh at the thought. Soon, they fell into silence again, but this time it felt different, comfortable, and serene. Aloy peered curiously at the girl while Vala held her eyes closed to better welcome in the chilly breeze against her skin.
“Thank you.” Aloy’s voice was barely a whisper.
“For what?” Vala opened her eyes to look at her.
“For treating me like a person.”
“You are a person, Aloy, no matter how I treat you.” Vala took her hand and squeezed it. Aloy felt like she was falling again, her chest aching.
“Sometimes I have my doubts.” Aloy scoffed.
“Do you feel?” Vala asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Sadness, anger, joy, love…”
“Do you think?” Vala continued.
“Too much for my own good, probably” Aloy chuckled.
“Then you are human.” Vala poked the tip of Aloy’s freckled nose. “I suppose, at least. Unless you’re really part machine like some fools say.”
Aloy felt her face growing warm with embarrassment. She tried to conceal it by rolling her eyes and crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Who knows? Maybe they’re right.”
“You look pretty human to me. You even blush.”
“I-” Aloy’s face grew warmer still.
“Look! You’re almost as red as your hair.” Vala teased as if they were old friends.
“Shut up.” Aloy couldn’t help but grin as she gave Vala a shove on the shoulder. The girl kept laughing though, unbothered.
Aloy was not naive enough to believe that she would be welcomed in the tribe with open arms even if did manage to pass the Proving. Rost had made it clear that the path she had chosen would not be an easy one. She was here to find out about her past, about her mother, answer questions that had been left unanswered since before she could remember, not chase after acceptance.
When she lay back down on the bed and sleep began to finally overtake her, Aloy couldn’t help but steal one last glance at the only person besides Rost who had ever been kind to her for nothing in return. Her chest ached like it was opening up space for something new, pushing through her bones, expanding her muscles, the heaviness lodging itself right in her center.
It had been so much easier to not search for hope when it did not exist.