The longer prompts from E10 Spring Equinox.

Admiration

She held it delicately, the tiny silk flower in her fingers, as she remembered what the Knight from Dawn had said. “The purest sentiments are given in the smallest of flowers.”

But it had been given anonymously, ‘WHO DOES THAT?’ It was surely the best way to drive her insane, give her yet another unsolvable puzzle.

The Knight had said it was the colour of admiration. She eyed it curiously. She didn’t feel very admirable, and though the flower was lovely, what she really wanted, more than anything, was someone to tell her that directly, to her face. It’d sound more believable that way.

An Evening Out 

She turns the mask over in her hand, runs her finger over the high crest of one side, then dismisses it; this one should go to the Troupe set because it is no longer her face. It used to be her favourite mask, but to own the truth, it didn’t fit her anymore, it wasn’t the right face for this evening. She puts it away. Tonight, much as she wishes to be as she used to, to pretend nothing had happened, she did need a little extra assistance, a more calming mask. She reaches into her pouch and choses the new one, the Roses, instead. She couldn’t fault that it was the latest in fashions, but more important it was woven specifically, especially for her by Nadezhda, and contained magic all its own.

Next there was her jewellery box to open, to sort through which gems to wear, which gifts to display, and which messages to send through them. Then clothing, straightening and tightening her laces, gathering her belongings, a dab of perfume, and her duelling cape and hat. It’s been so long since she has last done this that she’s relieved that her internal rituals still held, the order in which she gets ready just as important as the end result.

She steps out, adjusts her hat, and dons her mask. It was almost time to go. And this was her game.

Surgery 

There’s a very small part of my mind, through all the pain and emotion flooding me, that knows I have to stay still. There is a physick somewhere inside, screaming at me how important it is to stay still, but I can hardly hear that voice anymore.

I am moments away from exploding, pushing away, fighting off Leonora who holds me upright, fighting away the Navarri from the Brackensong steading who is cutting into my head. I know Rodrigo is on the next bench, growling, the occasional groan much better stifled than my own pitiful whimpers. Is he going through an identical surgery? Through the ringing in my ears I can still hear him and hear the family’s calming voices around him. I want to go to him, to them, anything to escape this bench where I am alone and in pain. I want to run away, flee back to my tent, anything to remove myself from sitting here with the pain of cold steel digging into my flesh, into my cracked skull.

The voice inside tells me to stay still. But there’s a much louder one that is telling me to scream. My vision is blurring, turning red, and there are bees amongst the sea of crimson and dust and the trickle of blood and tears running down my face, the salt burning like fire over abraded, lacerated flesh.

I ask to scream. The arms tighten around me, keeping me still as possible while I do so with permission; I scream until I’m dizzy and hoarse and sobbing and close to fainting. It’s the only release, the only relief I’m going to get, before the surgery continues and I have to be still. Surgery continues, and the only comfort I have, the only thing to cling to, are Leonora’s arms holding me upright.

Gold 

There’s a white box pressed into her hands, a vibrant red ribbon tied around it. Vitória starts, caught off guard by the gift and by the giver, and watching as they swiftly depart with their blue eyes and knowing smile. ‘Is that what you want? To be gone before I can reply with any socially appropriate form of thanks or gratitude, before I have time to think?’

She returns back to the Camorra’s tent before she looks at the box, turns it over in her hands slowly. Eventually, Vitória resolves to untie the ribbon, unfurl the delicate tissue and send scattering the rose petals and seed crystals inside. Nestled in the box are a set of chocolates and truffles, delicately painted and decorated.

The one she takes is one dusted in bright gold powder, and her teeth crack it’s outer shell, taking a small bite. ‘It’s not bad, I suppose, for chocolate.’ She eyes the rest of the delicacies in the box, then is sure to pass the box around to the rest of the family until they are gone, and she makes sure to tell them where the chocolates came from. She cannot tell with certainty, that such is what the giver intends. ‘But what else can it be? I’m not the sort to receive gifts for myself.’

She eyes the gift box, and reminds herself, ‘I don’t like chocolate anyways.’

A Nighttime conversation, in Day 

I’m trying to tidy my belongings away because anything is better than watching you watch me while you choose your words so very carefully, so very thoroughly. You’ve kept me in a frenzy about this conversation all weekend, I don’t even know what I have done to prompt it– I assume it’s about Mirislav, or my conduct, or about how I’ve done something wrong, or how I was injured in the battle and you want another shouting match. When you insist on having ‘a Talk’ during the daylight and not once the sun is down, I know it’s bad.

I’m not prepared for the words that come out when you do speak in your barely contained, low growl; when you ask me, I feel that familiar cold hand close around my heart, feel my muscles freeze, then tremble, then tense. There’s only two metres between me and the flap of this tent and the temptation to simply dive out of it–tuck and roll and be off running– is mitigated by one simple fact: that you’ve placed yourself between me and the exit. I am pretty sure you’ve done that intentionally. There is no exit from this tent and from this conversation.

I don’t know where to look. My hands fumble with the items I was trying to clear away. The angry–or is it disappointed?– look in your eyes affirms that I barely need to speak to confirm what you already know. And I don’t know how you figured it out, whether I’m that bad of a liar or my masks are breaking or you’ve become a little wiser, a little more vigilant. I don’t want to say it. Please. Don’t make me say it.

I’m not prepared for your moving closer, sitting beside me, and gathering me into such a gentle hug. I’m not prepared to put most of my thoughts to words; there is no language you speak in which I can truly explain, not yet, perhaps not ever. Even though I can hear you–no, the Beast— growling, I am grateful that you don’t pry into what I’m not ready to say yet.

And slowly, with what few words I can find, I can finally let the last secret between us disappear.

Backing Away 

Felice’s face is pouting, masked, as she beckons me closer to her while I back away. I can hear the seductive purr in her voice, the lilting fluidity in her hand gestures that is more pronounced at night. I can see how she would operate, what I must be wary of. I know she would toy with me, cause doubt and mayhem, turn friends into enemies before she struck. It would be a move I would not see coming, from behind, or an accident that would never come back to her. It would be a set-piece in a grand play, of masks behind masks, and smoke and mirrors.

I love her, but I back away.

Insight 

I am in the midst of the storm before I realize it.

With the last dose of liao, the last Insight, it crashes into me fully. I have realized too late that I’ve poisoned myself and my soul, surrounded myself spiritually in a storm I have to escape, I do not want to escape, I cannot escape.

Mondragone’s knife is in my hand and I grip it so tight it hurts. I don’t want this, don’t want to be the person who raises a blade to family. But my soul is flooded with fear, with the knowledge that I am in danger. I am backed into a corner and have to defend myself. I don’t have the strength to resist the instinctive threats around me.

‘Those who stand with me are my brothers and sisters. My leash. Whom I shall defend with my life.’ I repeat it over and over, whisper it like a prayer, like it can remind me who I am, like it can make me forget the shadowed form who whispers.

This is how the storm blows around me: a cacophony of emotions and feelings and thoughts too powerful to control. This is my family, they would not ever hurt me… but this is my family, and I know what they are capable of. The Bonds anointing on my soul prevents me running as fast as I can from those I love. It actually drives me closer to the danger, the storm. But the fear, the terror that builds into a crescendo around me, tightens my grip on the knife, as I warn them in no uncertain terms to back off.

Then the family are distracted, pulled away, and while I am alone I reach with trembling fingers for my war face. It’s a face of Courage, the face of this Leash of Foxes, and it’s the only mask I have powerful enough to grant me the courage to face this, and protect my fevered soul from the Sight that has not faded, that should have faded.

I wish to run, to gather myself, but now I am surrounded by family who want to take me away, who are too close, too close and too threatening and too dangerous and I cannot save their souls, or my own. I scream at them to get me a priest of Courage before I break.

This is the eye of the storm.  It crashes over me that the mask is not enough, the dagger is not enough, that I am not enough. There is still terror, but there is no more fight in me. I know that when I follow them, as Gabriel tries –ever so gently– to lure me inside, that I will go. I know the only way I can prove my Loyalty to the family — when Adelina questions it– is to let go of the knife. And I know when I have to, that it will be Rodrigo –the Beast to my Apprentice–  who will take off my war face, and I’ll have to face my fears with no armour and no protection, and no way of telling them just what this is costing me to surrender to them.

With no steel, and no virtue, I am in the midst of the storm.

Seven Mirrors 

The night is cold but the tent is warm, and filled with friends and family. It is exactly where I want to be after a too-strong cider that is decidedly playing with my vision and grace. It is where I belong, with a wellspring of Courage that is filling me with the need to make up for the fear I felt earlier. Felice is wonderful to snuggle up against and Duarte’s cassock is warm. Civetta’s songs still hum off my lips and Gabrielle is making sure I’m drinking water at my own insistence. I know I’m drunk, or at least a fair distance from sober.

And blue eyes meet mine, and I pause.

Time passes and I can barely remember what is spoken of, as the Knife of No Effect is passed around and the Cup of Niccolo is full of gin; everyone is outspoken, laughing, while we wait out the dawn. I am revelling with drink and with Courage and I cannot stop the laughter, don’t want to stop laughing even though my sides hurt. The anointing wraps around my soul like a warm blanket against the shadows that I am no longer afraid of.

And blue eyes are watching, and I remind myself to move more gracefully.

It is in the earliest hours that we finally depart into the cool air of the morn, to return to our beds and catch a couple hours rest before it is back to business. And even I manage to sleep for a while. But when I wake I cannot remember any conversations, only that we were happy, and loved, and laughed until our sides hurt.

And I remember those inscrutable blue eyes, and wonder.

Courage 

I am just heading to bed when the first rays of the sun crest over the horizon. With the dawn, I know that the curse is lifting from the others, and it is like a veil is falling away from their souls. I know that the anointings are weaker now, that in a few moments the liao will burn away and I will be as I was before the terror took hold. Still Loyal; still Courageous, I think, but in my own way. And I take a deep breath before–

NOPE, I’M STILL DRUNK. OH WELL.

There is, however, something niggling at the back of my mind, something I had said that seems uncharacteristic. Did I say something I shouldn’t have? I don’t think I revealed any secrets. But thinking back, I really don’t remember what I said in the house of Seven Mirrors. I have a memory of family around me, outside the tent, after we donned our hearth magic, after the Courage anointing…

IT’S PROBABLY NOTHING, I tell myself with a nervous laugh. It’s not as if I —
……
uh oh.

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