My fears I leave behind

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My knees hit the ground at the same time as the blade does. It bites deep, down my neck, into my shoulder. It burns, like nothing I have ever felt before. Like there is too much pain to be trapped into one spot, so it radiates everywhere. Into my chest, into my shoulder, down my arms. It spreads warmth, washing, gushing over me, down my shirt, like I am drowning in it.

I think of Ysabel. When she died, the knife struck upwards, straight into her skull. Clean and quick and painless. And this blow, downwards and uneven — not as clean, I must have shifted to the side. I don’t want to go. I’m not ready.

***

I can hear Lupo screaming. I know the sound of his voice, when he laughs, when angry, when he barks orders and expects to be followed instantly. He’s an arm’s reach behind me, forcing the line back over where I lay, where the blood spills over the grass and I am trapped and trampled between two opposing sides. His command is so simple, yet amidst the shouting and screaming and dying, I can barely hear it, and it’s not a command for troops, but one for me, only for me–

“TAKE MY HAND–”

My shoulder doesn’t want to work, and my hands are red with blood, slippery. I slip my hand back towards him, as if to simply touch his hands in a blessing, as if reaching out one last time. I don’t know what I expect–so to be yanked so forcefully, dragged through legs and blades and spears, it hurts. And the wound at my neck deepens, and there’s no breath left in my body to scream. It comes out as a meek whisper. A sigh.

***

It doesn’t feel like a battle anymore. It feels like a warm spring day in the middle of Winter’s bite. The fighting is far away, and my brother is at my side, along with this Navarri who is trying to assess the damage to my neck. He’s gentle, and kind, and I am not afraid of him as I normally would be. Even the pain has left, far away where I cannot reach it and it cannot reach me. My thoughts wander, as he presses marrowort in, to slow the bleeding, as he bids me eat some vervain, though I can barely swallow it down.

“It might be close,” he says, “and she may yet live, but she needs surgery NOW.”

I want to know his name. I want to know what striding or steading he is from, and I want to add it to my Reckoning book, as he works so hard to save me. “It might be close,” he says, more for the benefit of those around me than for myself. His eyes are gentle, and I can only smile at him. I know I’m on the threshold.

***

There is a camp, not 100 yards away. A staging post for the Jotun, perhaps, I don’t know. But they argue, discuss amidst the fighting. Can they take it and hold it long enough to save me, to stitch the wound that runs so deep. I have no voice, no say in the discussion; I am a commodity, incapable of self-determination, something to be moved about and fought over. It vexes, but the emotion is halfhearted at best, as I struggle to simply survive. No one asks what I wish, what I would do. I do still have a voice, but no one has the ears to listen to me.

I wish they would listen. I wish Gabriel would honour our banner oath, and I wish Rodrigo would remember that I am a priest of Loyalty still — and that sometimes, sacrifices need be made. Though I want to live, how could I knowing that to save me, others might be injured, hurt, killed? I love them, so truly, so terribly. I wish, just once, they would trust me as a Priest to choose the Virtuous action. Enough of the arguing.

“Someone take me to the standing stones. I will sit, and wait, and survive. I can hold on that long.”

***

The day is beautiful, and I am awestruck by the sight of everything around me. The grass here is so green, I feel like I have never seen the colour before in my life. I am like a child, marvelling at the enormity of the sky, of the shapes of the clouds, of the sun warming my skin, which feels so cold. It is a burst of spring in the middle of winter, warm enough to forget about the chill in the air.

I could so easily lay down, content in this little pocket of Spring, and just let nature wash over me. It seems a monumental task, to hold on, to keep my hand pressed against my throat to stem the bleeding that refuses to stop.

Everything is just so beautiful.

***

I see them coming before any of the others do. The massive column of Jotun reinforcements, that will swarm and overwhelm where the gateway will open, will wash over us all. The first Dawn line is folding already. There are seconds to choose. I don’t even have to think.

“Drop me and go. Fall back to the League troops.” I can see it in people’s eyes, the refusal, the betrayal they think they are performing by even considering doing so. Please let this be the one time someone listens to me.

Frederick is loathe to go; did Rodrigo make him promise to not leave my side? I might have dreamed it. It takes just the slightest raising of my eyebrow before he nods and passes me to Maria. He is a priest of my Virtue, he understands the hard choice. And I am so, so proud of him for it.

Maria leaves me by a tree, as I scream at her to go protect Flora. “Courage is making a hard choice! RUN.” I smile to Flora, who looks alarmed, until she is bundled off by the Order of the Golden Heart. It’s not hard to do, to smile for her. I swore to her, on my Fox ring, that she was family, and always will be family to me. A cousin Barossa. And I remember my banner oath. “With my life,” I whisper contentedly, “I shall keep them safe.”

***

I am not afraid.

The Jotun don’t see me, or if they do, they assume I am for the grave already, instead of one foot in it. More fool them, though I could not lift my weapon to defend myself if they did come.

My options are simple enough, to sit and wait… only, I can see, crushed before the standing stones, a Dawnish Lance. Purple, purple…. Frederick had tried to teach me all the heraldry. Vandale? The rest of Dawn has been pushed back, and if I do not go, no one else will be able to. But I am unlikely to survive the attempt.

A new set of options is before me. And I think, to all the promises I have made to those I love. I will be safe. I will survive. I will come home. My feet are moving towards them before I even realize that I am breaking those oaths. Will they forgive me?

***

“Though all before me is darkness, yet shall Virtue be my guide.” My bloodstained fingers tend them best as I can. I have the herbs, I have one last potion; it is only the trembling of my fingers that slows me down. My neck is bleeding again, with my fingers no longer applying pressure to it.

“I shall not be left to wander the twisting drifts of the Labyrinth.” And there are moments where my vision and my head spins, and an all encompassing blackness starts settling into my vision. I staunch the wounds as quick as I can, breathing shakily, trying to reach over a body to tend to one who is a physick, and can then work in tandem.

“For my brothers and sisters shall find me,” I don’t even know where my family are at the moment. Where is Frederick, is he safe? A heavy weight hits my heart, that so focused on the task to hand, I have forgotten those most important to me, and made a choice that takes me away from them. I whisper to one, stay down until the time is right, protect me if you can for I cannot fight.

“For there is no darkness in the path of Virtue.” My fingers are fumbling through sacks of herbs, until they pass over the potion bottle Gabrielle slipped into my pocket, in case of emergencies. I had forgot it entirely. I douse the contents into the last Knight’s mouth — was I dancing with him only last night?– as fire stems through my arm, cutting deep, down to bone, and a stab into my back follows soon after, before I can think, before I can process. The Jotun came back.

“And nothing we have wrought shall be lost.”

***

The knights are up, fighting fit again, and everything is a flurry around me, and my blood drips down into the ground. I lose track of time, of the movements around me. I don’t know how long I am alone, and how long I have been bleeding for. I don’t know my surroundings, I don’t know the arms that pick me up or the faces around me, and I think I slip into the blackness a couple times, amidst trying to work out whether I am carried by friend or foe, and did I succeed in healing the knights? I don’t remember now.

The air shifts and forms around me anew, as each time before, and I know I have either fallen, or been pulled through the portal back to Anvil. I don’t know who carries me, I don’t know anything anymore, except for the feeling of being slowly, inexorably drained of life and warmth.

***

I am gathered, or poured, into Gabrielle’s arms, and I cling to her sleeves, relieved, as if life is a little clearer when she is near me. They have brought me home. I feel the childish glee of familiar faces and being where I belong again, as I try and cling on to life. Gabrielle’s face is so determined, as she lays me down, supports my neck and immediately starts stitching deep into my throat and shoulder.

My sister is so beautiful. I cannot speak, lest I disturb her working so diligently to save me… though I don’t think I can be saved anymore. And she tries, with her face inches away from mine, she tries so hard, and I let her, patiently, for I think I know.

She feels my pulse, tries to find it, weak and fluttery as my heart beats. I can see the exact moment that she knows, as I think I know. I can see the ground fall from underneath her, can see the panic in her eyes.

All I feel is peace.

***

It is a long walk back to our tent, and I can barely make it. But there are suddenly so many people that I need to talk to, so much to do, and I have so little time to do it — every breath is an effort, and I know if I stop, then I will not start again. Adelina supports me, holds me up, though I am fighting her, trying to do all that needs doing.

She snaps at me. Of course she would, I am fighting her, fighting for …. And suddenly it hits me.

And now I feel it, the terrible drawing away, the finality, the deep, inescapable knowledge that I am leaving, and I will not be back to see them in this life, and that I will break these people if I die. All my calm, my Courage, deserts me.

I whimper, then weep, then cry, as they take me back home; I am hurting others, and I cannot mend it. I am dying, and I cannot stop it. And this is all the mourning I will get, for all that I wanted in life, and all I am leaving undone.

***

Frederick is so silent. There is so much I want to say, but he is silent, still, waiting, as he always did — waiting for me to be ready. I want to hear his voice, I need to hear he forgives me, that he loves me…

There is so much I want to say, and I cannot; now that I am home, I feel cold, I feel distant, I feel drawn away, like water through the fingers. I wish someone would prompt me, anchor me, keep me here longer. I want my family closer, touching me, hugging me, toasting me and the life I lived. I wish someone would sing. I want to die with a song in my heart, not this terrible silence. I want to die in my bed, with the man I love kissing my cheeks and holding me tight, as I drift off to sleep.

My brother holds me. I want to curl up into him like a child, held against bad dreams in the night. I want to tell my Prince that I love her, that she is loved. I want to tell Gabriel that I longed for his praise. I want someone to tell me that I lived a good life. I need to know I was loved.

***

They start reciting the banner oath. The words we lived and died by, in all our lives, and for all our lives to be.

“I have died, and been born again.”

“I have lived a good and Virtuous life.”

“My fears I leave behind…”



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E13 2016 – Prompts

Prompts from E13 Winter Solstice event.


Of Prosperity: The Opera of the Virtuous Beggar

She blinks. When she opens her eyes the stage lies before her, she can hear the rapturous applause from a packed house. She steps onto the stage, not knowing the lines, but it’s okay because she does know them, knows them by heart, the role she’s always dreamed of playing, always told herself, next season, we’ll perform that opera.

She feels a brief moment of ire when she looks at Benedict, being held back and distracted by Anguila. At what point do you call in the militia to report art being murdered? No, Benedict is not right for the role. Now Gabriel would be, would take to it shiningly and together, they could bring down the house, bouncing off each other as only two actors who genuinely had a rapport could when on the stage. Wherever is he? We should discuss…

The others are distracted by Benedict, and Mendicante slips past them all, continuing the play as the audience deserves. She moves to the next scene, slipping behind the set pieces and off stage for a brief pause. Andrea is waiting in the wings, and so is Tess.

Backstage, Vitória breathes, and then speaks. Her voice is pensive, curious, her own– “Help.” — and then is ultimately lost as the opera resumes. The stolen key must be passed on, the audience must know how important it was to the story, how important it is to her! They must be made to be Prosperous!

Now, it is her cue, she’s due back on stage, and they’re holding her back. Why don’t they see? This is the role I’ve wanted, push me forward, let me go!

Gabrielle is here now, watching, directing, the stage manager observing from the wings, disapproving. Voices raise, new stage directions given.

She blinks, struggling to remember the role she was playing — Who am I? Is the play over? Where is Gabriel?– and follows the director’s new commands. The play is changing. Gabrielle has stepped onto the stage now, and Julia grinds her teeth and follows her directions.

Gifts

At her side is a silk beaded pouch, laden with the words she wants to say but cannot. As Vitória’s fingers take one out, she decides whether she is likely to find the recipient in the immediate area, and then replaces it. There are so many, each one a word she cannot find the time to say; each word felt deeply, truly.

She has a long way to go before her gifts reach their recipients. She is tired of ‘cannot’. She will say these words before the end of the night.

Similarities

The words never stop, idea to idea so quickly that for anyone else it might be difficult to follow the trail of erratic thoughts.

I can relate to this, but there’s not a pause in which I can speak of it. And for a change, I don’t need to.

I’ve seen this in clients before, seen when a bishop or merchant comes to me, distraught and vexed by the day, and they simply need to rant or ramble away the day’s events. Like slowly pouring out the contents of a water jug, I encourage her to ramble, until her vessel is lighter for the unburdening. I am merely there to listen, to stroke the skin gently, and ask questions to encourage the mind to continue processing its own problems.

Nora’s hands were cold and her brow creased, when I arrived. When she leaves the tent, she seems warmer and lighter for the talking.

This, I will not charge for. It is nice to provide for another, gratis, what one desperately needs oneself.

Marriage Proposal

Small ticks. Nervousness in stance. Tension in the shoulders and neck. The striving to remain polite and courteous when one has nothing to say, but still the edge of vigilance in all he does. The wariness that does not go, because now there is something unfamiliar between them, and he is still deciding how to react to her.

‘I am an unknown, more now than before. This is a battleground he is not familiar with.’

If she had any more tears tonight, she would weep for it. Instead, she smiles, and tries to laugh as a fellow soldier would, like how it used to be. But still, in the rear of her mind, she feels like an enemy to him, and not a prospective match.

Knife of No Effect

She loves the different reactions everyone seems to have when the knife slips into their hands. The difference it makes, the conversations that happen that otherwise wouldn’t.  

She makes note of those who resist its effects; there’s something she inherently dislikes, distrusts, about those who cannot be direct to her. It at least tells her who to hide herself from.

But the rest? They provide endless entertainment. She’ll be sad when the magic fades– it will mean going back to subterfuge and cunning wordplay and her head and heart simply aren’t in it anymore.

RODRIGO!

The cry is desperate, manic; a voice she’s heard say the name in so many different ways — playful, exasperated, laughingly, solemn– but never with such an edge to it. Vitória’s eyes just manage to see Lupo rushing forward, but the body he drags back, struggling, fighting him off, is not her brother, but his wife. Gabrielle kicks at him, tries to push him away but Lupo’s arms are stronger.

The sight tells her all the information she needs to know about the danger her brother is in, and Vitória is acting before thinking. She is infinitely grateful to Lupo for pulling Gabrielle back from danger, for doing the right thing. It makes it so much easier for her to do the wrong thing.

She tells Gabriel what has happened, passes the banner into Sarietti’s hands, and dashes off to get her brother back.

Pain

She knows they came with five.
She knows that she has to follow Gabriel, because if she doesn’t then how will anyone know where he is–
Only she doesn’t have the banner anymore. So how will they find him?

Her ears ring, and her vision is spinning, and one hand is empty so that means she’s lost the banner.
Gabrielle’s voice is loud, too loud, angry with her. And Sarietti and Cicero’s hands won’t let her go.

They came with five, but four are running off.
They’re leaving her behind because she failed.
She can taste blood in her mouth.
She knows how fast a fox runs, but with hands holding her back how will she ever catch up to them?

Cicero looks at her with pitying eyes.
Sarietti tells her they will return–
She remembers a time when she believed the same.
Her mind can’t handle being left behind. They might never come back to look for her.
Something snaps.

The marrowort is making her confused, and she adds a dose of Liao to fight the fear that she will never see them again.

She knows they came with five.
They must leave with five.

If she can catch up to them.

Beloved Mountebank

She knows the moment they emerge from the hospital, and her heart skips a beat.

She just knows.

Her feet bring her to Felix’s Watch, where she sees she’s too late, where no words can offer comfort to those surrounding Faustino. Her feet step forward.

Her voice is more hesitant than she wants it to sound, when she offers words of comfort for his soul to take with him; she wants to do this for him, she’s afraid of being turned down. But her voice speaks nonetheless.

Her words explain how it is done, as she tries to comfort Virtue. It is not like trying to comfort Serena, and feeling like she’s not wanted there. Virtue lets her in, they choose the words together.

Her hand brings Virtue close, and Virtue’s hand is warm. She says the words without thought, with no memory, just straight from soul to soul. Faustino’s cheek is growing cold.

She smiles, remembers the card tricks he was showing a Highborn child, just outside this tent, how the cards danced in the air, and the child laughed. “He’s very good,” Gideon had said. She had agreed. His smile was the brightest thing she knew.

They take him away, and she is left alone. She runs.

Blood

Her thoughts drip slowly like blood from a wound. Words die in her throat because her broken jaw is too sore to move. What words she can scrape out serve only to briefly reassure those who bug her, perfunctory speech and platitudes, hiding the true thoughts she can’t express.

It is easier to hide from people; she doesn’t have any more energy to waste on them. It is too painful to think beyond ‘Sit. Stand. Smile. Nod.’ All she wants to do is hide in the Fox tent, and scream, but she did enough screaming at the hospital. It would probably upset Serena — Serena, who sits across from her, and is silent and still.

‘Serena doesn’t want your comfort.’ Her head shouts at her, because the Jotun have cracked it so thoroughly that her thoughts can only scream, running thickly like blood from a wound. ‘She has others for that.’ But her cousin’s stillness is just so– so still, so opposite from Vitória’s constant movement. It’s nothing, and something, and it’s wrong.

Vitória stands, towel in her hand, knowing she has to do something– so she wets it to wipe the blood from Serena’s cheek, her neck, her nose. She’s not got words, because she’s given up on them. Knows how futile they are, has lost faith with trying because to be rejected again would be more than she could bear. She doesn’t want to talk. Blood still drips.

Gently she wipes the blood away, trying to restore something that is lost. Words would bounce off Serena’s walls. Blood lasts longer than words.

She wets the towel again and continues, and she’s not sure exactly why. Soon there’s hardly any blood left, but even a Physick can’t tell if this wound will heal. But she did something about the blood in the wound.

A Banner Lost

“It’s just a banner, we can always get another.” The words are quick to try and console but she can’t shake the sensation that those that are trying to comfort her just don’t understand what it means to her, that it was now gone.

The ring on her finger seems duller now. It used to shine with the colours of Catia’s woven silks. But the flashes of orange and green are not the same now. She can’t tell whether it’s psychosomatic or not, but her finger feels cold, naked, like she cannot tell whether the ring is there or not. A flick of her wrist and the ring could fall away from her. That’s what the Jotun will do, isn’t it? Send curses through the banner to strike everyone sworn to it. Is she truly worthy to wear a ring to the banner, knowing how she’s failed everyone who had ever recited the words, Steel and Virtue?

She can’t help but feel judged for her failure, like eyes which were once warm and friendly are colder, unwelcoming, unfriendly. ‘It’s just an item,’ she repeats like a mantra, but cannot help but feel that once an item becomes a symbol, an idea made manifest with magic and oaths and blood, it can’t ever go back to just being ‘a stick with a flag’.

Inside the Storm

“I dreamt I was sailing on a ship all the night.”

“Oh, did you?” Vitoria’s hands become sweaty, so she pulls the bedding closer around her body. “Must have been the sound of the canvas in the wind.”

“It does sound like sails, doesn’t it?” Yes, it does. There’s nothing else she could try and equate the sound to, to trick or distract her mind from the sound the wind still makes as it batters against the canvas.

“You were not storm tossed in your dream?” Vitoria is glad that she’s hidden from sight, still aching from curling too tightly into a ball to hide from the choppy seas and the gales of her nightmares.

“No, not at all, it was a pleasant voyage and the sun was shining.”

“How wonderful for you.” Her hand fishes under the pillow for a mirror, but even her eyes aren’t ready for the mess that remains of the right side of her face. She gingerly prods the new bark and angry veins, the black eye and the deep purples, blues and reds that snake down her jawline, still puffy and swollen. Nobody needs to see this.

“Are you coming to breakfast?” Adelina asks.

“No, I think I’ll try and sleep some more.”

Vision Scrolls

Vitoria is silent, as though lost in thought, yet her fingers continually rub at her worry chain. She can hear Adelina’s voice occasionally, a distant hum in her ears that distracts her from the document on her lap and the building headache between her eyes.

“You’re being very quiet, my dear.”

She loses her place in the account again, the eighth time now. The crease in her brow deepens, and she starts again, smoothing the curled paper in her hands.

“Yes.”

She continues reading, or appearing to do so. Caught in the midst of thoughts that are flitting through her head too quickly for her to break them down, Vitoria is annoyed to be reading the same paragraph over and over again without comprehension; the words are in front of her but may as well be Asavean. No, not that, I would understand that better.

“Has anyone else seen these?”

“Oh yes, I had great fun in showing them to Asher, once he promised me that he was to return them to me and not take them away. He did regret that decision once he had finished reading them, I’m sure.”

“And he said?”

“Oh, well he didn’t say much, but he did put his head in his hands, poor boy.”

Instead of being able to focus on the words, she pushes the document away, chewing the inside of her cheek while she thinks, and Adelina embroiders the garment in her lap, cool and calm and occasionally peering up at the young briar with calculating eyes, as if able to follow her thought processes innately.

“So…..” She pauses, tongue thick in her mouth. She swallows, and tries again. “This is clearly…” She stares at the offensive thing, then picks it up and turns to the next page of it, continuing her futile studies. “I just don’t…”

“You don’t what, my lovely?“ Adelina’s syrupy voice calls to her when she is unable to continue the sentence.

Vitoria looks up at her Prince, feeling the inadequacies of her role weighing more and more heavily. Adelina looks up from her work expectantly, and Vitoria has to close her eyes so as not to see the expectancy in her gaze. She feels innately stupid, in this moment, unable to grasp and pull on the obvious thread hanging in front of her.

“Okay. So this vision, we know where it takes place. We know, mostly, who. But… “ her frustration is mounting exponentially, unable to work out the puzzle the way a Cambion would. It used to be so much easier, before she was a briar. She used to love these theological puzzles.

“And with the proper diplomatic channels, we could ask that Family when this had taken place, which would give us set dates.”

“Oh curse the dates! That’s not what this….” Vitoria stands suddenly, and it’s only Adelina’s quick reflexes that catch the scrolls before they tumble from her lap into the fountain. She paces frantically, smoothing her hair, rubbing her cheek, fidgeting a million different ways.

How Adelina can sit so calmly is beyond her.

She can see the important dots in her mind’s eye, if only she could draw the correct lines between them! She pauses, her body stilling it’s anxious pacing.

“I think I understand.”

“Understand what?” Adelina probes.

“I can’t… if I understand what I think I do, then as a Priest I am forbidden to speak of it amongst laypeople. I am just…” She sighs and sits down in a huff.

“What has you so agitated, lovely?”

She shakes her head, giving up. The cambion Prince before her might be as a mother cat trying to teach her young kitten to hunt, but she is incapable of thinking of this. “The subject matter is upsetting. May I have some more iced tea, please?”

She ignores the soft tut and the look of disapproval in Adelina’s eyes.

E10 2015 – Prompts

Prompts and Impression drabbles from Event 10- Spring Equinox

Sister 

Every time she calls me ‘sister’, I pause. It cuts through everything in my head, and is a moment of calm where the world stops, but it is always gone too soon, there is too much chaos in my head and my soul. I know it means something but the fear is making me forget.

I am trying to reach out, so she will call me ‘sister’ again. It is important to me. If only I could remember why.

Brother  

When she thought back, there were very few times that Vitoria remembered fear. Oh, there were times when as a child, the jitters and demons would come in the night; but when the monsters came, she would go to her own monster. She would pad quietly, barefoot, to her brother’s room. Rodrigo would roll his eyes and tease her, as brothers do, but he’d never turn her away. He’d simply tuck her in beside him, and ignore that she was trembling, and she’d not mention the latest black eye or bruise from fighting.

It simply made sense to her. If you’re afraid of monsters, you find a bigger, more dangerous one who’s on your side.

But she was grown now, supposedly beyond those things. She had been through the crucible, tempered by experience and adulthood. Yet, these were Varushkan monsters and mora, horror stories made real by magic, and like that she is a child again, running away from her fears to find her brother; only how can she ask?

In the end she does not have to. Her monster is still watching out for her, as he lays a hand on her back, picks up her hand and squeezes, and stays with her until the fear is less real. He is still the most dangerous person that she knows, and he is still her big brother, and she doesn’t have to ask him to scare away the monsters.

Frustration – Civetta 

Please don’t walk away. It cuts deeper than you could possibly know.

I am surrounded by problems I do not understand, and cannot solve. I knew the world would be different when I came home, but I couldn’t prepare for just how much it hurts me.

I keep trying to explain, to those who ask how I am doing, that I am struggling with this. When I am asked if I am okay and I say, very clearly, “No,” I think you fail to see my frustration, at no longer feeling in control of myself, and lacking understanding of the world around me. I cannot admit it, and I cannot discuss it in a way that anyone would understand; the language is leaving me.

The only thing I have to cling to, is my certainty and loyalty in my family. Silly as it is, I need to know I can come home and my family will be there, that I’ve not been left behind.

Please don’t walk away from me. It cuts deeper than I could possibly say.

Nora 

She is an observant priest, when she tries to be, when something comes along to pique her interests. She watches, and she judges, she searches out more information even though she knows she’ll never be asked for her opinions, and she’d not give them without an offer of payment.

The latest thing to pique her interest was in studying a personality: the small tics, the tiny habits that give oneself away. The more she watched, the greater the desire to grab shoulders and shake, to try and drill in a bit of confidence where it was sorely lacking. There were small flashes where she could see the beginnings of assuredness, the makings of a Prince, gone all too soon back into familiar territory.

She listens quietly, her mouth occasionally opening but clamping shut, because she’s not been asked her opinion and this is not her story. She listens, and there are small seeds of hope that perhaps this pilgrim is starting to realize their own inner strength. Perhaps.

But Vitoria is never asked her opinion.

Duels – Magdalena

I’m mentioning it, suggesting it, and then there’s borrowed steel –Lupo’s?– pressed into my hand and another blade into yours.  We seem to be actually doing this, honouring this promise we made and settling this debt in the way we, as from the League, know how. We lost our chance before, there will be no missed second opportunity.

It does occur to me that this could be a very stupid idea. I don’t have to look around to know the family elders, the ‘responsible adults’ must be busy or have not noticed, for I believe none of them would let me duel a Grim Legionnaire, the reanimated by Winter, dead, soul-less corpse of Magdalena. But Gabriel asked me to handle this, and handle it I will, and if he’s not around to stop me…

“If there’s no soul there, then why are we not putting it down?”
“It’s not her, it’s something else.”
“Kill it quickly. It’s not a person, it’s a thing.”

Shut up, all of you. I need to focus. I need to learn whether this is a remnant, a spiritual danger, and I need to win a duel.

I don’t actually think I can win, and I prepare myself that though we duel, to three hits, as is traditional, you might strike with the strength of Winter, for I have no idea whether you are capable of control. I give you my all, and I think you do the same, and we are both surprised, when I land the last hit with the flat of the blade. The duel was very close.

You reach across, take my hand with your own, cold as ice, as a cadaver; we shake, drawing the line under the events of the past. We part not as friends–it is too late for that– but two people who might, under different circumstances, not have been enemies.

No, you’re not a Thing, Magdalena-as-was. I can show you that courtesy, before you’re ripped away again.

Balthazar

Come in, please! Sit down, help yourself to drink and food, get comfortable. You’re clearly a friend of Felice, and so, a friend of mine. You’re quiet, and you watch and listen, and I think there’s quite a lot that you see of the world around you that I should ask you about. Two sets of eyes are better than one. And when an actor prepares so thoroughly for a play as to bring a hand puppet, then the play is going to be a spectacular one and I want to be in the audience, if not the stage.

Welcome

I really wanted to do this right, and I wanted to do this at your Spring Welcoming — a new beginning. I didn’t want there to be the tricks of before, in Holberg; no more misunderstanding on both of our parts, over a small token and what it would mean in a culture that wasn’t either of our own. I wanted you to know it was from me to you, and not have it tainted by the thought that you might give it to Nora because that is STILL eating away at me.

And then we were mustering for battle and I couldn’t know whether I would come back in order to do this properly, so this brief moment is all I might have. But whenever I’m around you my words fail, and I get flustered, and I don’t know, once the present is in your hands and we’ve had to part ways, whether you understood what I meant by it.

I have the sneaking suspicion that you don’t.

Dramacrawl II

There’s just something so earnest about the little Dawnish Puppy that I find adorable. I find myself helping her instinctively, giving advice that most people would have to actively solicit with favours, or at the very least pay me to provide.

But she wants advice about that, and then I’m halting, wondering, trying to think quickly. No, little Puppy, that would be a bad idea, though I see why you think it would be a good idea, by Dawnish standards; it’s not how the League works, it’s not how this Camorra works, and oh dear I’ve turned my back to get advice and she’s started a dramatic scene. SUCH A DRAMATIC SCENE.

Well, it is out of my hands now, isn’t it? Best to sit down, and finish my drink, and enjoy the show. Because this is a fantastic way to start a Dramacrawl, with Gabriel taken aback and Serena with one eyebrow askew and Felice in the corner keeping her distance but watching with a sly, tripping smile.

I wonder if anyone will love me like this, one day.

Feliiiiiice

“Feliiiiiice….Felice, I know it hurts, but I need you to get off that fine naga ass right NOW.” My arms are gathering her up, getting her back up on her feet while she works through dulling the pain of injuries and we pull her back from the front line. Her fangs are bared as she hisses, plaintively moans and whimpers until she recalls where she is. I know she’ll be okay, as I pass her to Serena who supports her as we move. It’s my feet that step forward even as we fall back. It’s my sword that fills the gap in the line, my eyes that take on a darker expression while I look for anyone to make pay for the injury to my leash-mate. It helps me cope, and it helps me to forget the fear I thought I saw in her eyes, while the blood was soaking into her doublet and she thought she was alone.

A moment later and she’s truly fine, with fire in her eyes, and I laughingly let her lead back into the fray. Because it’s easier to laugh.

Masks – Tilly 

This mask is the only calming one I have. I asked for it to be made thus, to help me contain the Spring energy, when I couldn’t anymore; this mask is to show others and to remind myself that beautiful things bloom from the same stems that grow thorns and bark.

When you needed a mask, this was the one I gave you — I don’t think I would have given it to anyone else. But you understood, YOU GOT IT LIKE NONE OF THE OTHER BRIARS I HAVE MET DID, and you were so PROUD, in a way I am still learning how to be. In one short, frank, honest conversation of everything that I was struggling and worried about… you and those from King’s Stoke listened and you were, all of you, wonderful and beautiful and I wanted to be you, to be strong like you.

I am acutely aware, as I stop running away long enough to put this mask on, my fingers pressing the roses against my forehead, that you were the last to wear it, and now you’re gone, and now this mask is the only thing hiding the tears I’m crying for you and yours.

E9 2015 – Prompts pt.2

The second half of the prompts from the first event as Vitoria.

Magdalena 

There are some times, when I look at the decisions that I have made, and the situation that I am in now, and think ‘Somewhere… somewhere I went wrong.’

So, I’ve called her every name I can think of, trying to redirect her aggression from others (because what is more dangerous than a winter-cursed bravo, looking for a fight?). That might have been my mistake.

And as my jaw smarts from the last punch, as my lip swells, as blood runs from the corner of my mouth, and Magda’s fingers close around my throat, too strong for me to pry off… and as drawing breath is getting harder to do…. I wonder why I’m still trying to help this effin’ cursed bitch, and where I can get a sword before this gets out of hand.

Masquerade of the Reaper

I’m apologizing to Beomund again, whose gentle, patient smile reminds me so much of Antonio that I know he’s the best actor for this role, even if I struggle to not cry when I look at him putting on Antonio’s clothing. The Masquerade is ongoing, and yet it hasn’t started, and the stress of trying to divine the correct time to have the right people in the right place — it’s not going well and oh, look, there goes Gabriel and Cive off on a skirmish, well! I need to have a drink, because fuck everyone.

I’m offering refreshments, though our death guisers have already had some, and checking up on our guests like a mother hen, which is odd because this really should be Adelina’s job, she does it better and with more grace.

When you’re waiting for the Reaper, one should never comment on his punctuality. I’ll think it to myself, instead.

Antonio

I know I have missed so much, within our family; I think I missed you most of all. During all the times when I struggled, when I was afraid, when I felt so cut off from the Way, from the Labyrinth, there was the memory of your shining example, of how things should be done. Surrounded by such unvir– I remembered you teaching me when I was little, and I remember sneaking down to your church, to hear your sermons, to listen to the advice you gave everyone who came to you.

Now I feel like I’ve taken on an insurmountable task, one I have to get done, but don’t know how to do it. And I wish I could ask for your guidance. But the words are stuck in my throat, and I’m apologizing instead, choking over how far away I was, and like that I’m a child again; I’m a small pilgrim and you’re my Priest.

All I can promise is to watch over your congregation, and lead them how you did. You were my Exemplar, and now you’re gone. And I have to prove to the world just how much you helped shape it.

Gifts 

A gift always means more, when one has nothing.

Magnificent folding fans for everyone, and there was much laughter and delight as everyone talked about the language of fans; how to snap them shut in annoyance, flutter them flirtatiously, whack errant cousins over the head with them, etc. It was something to hold in hand, yet it was also a memory of the family all being together.

A birdcage necklace, one she delighted in turning around in her fingers. A highly polished black stone caught in a cage, that glowed with a rainbow sheen as she turned it in her fingers, and found herself clutching when she was getting anxious. Bracelets, two, each one taking pride of place on bare wrists, before all the gems were gently tucked away in a nearly empty jewellery box at the end of the night.

A beautiful diamond hair comb that made her wistful, fingers reaching up to tug hair that was shorn short, only slowly growing back to the lengths that she used to have it. But at least it was not white anymore. Hair would regrow.

A beautiful handmade orange flower, one made to resemble those that she remembered from so long ago. One of their mothers — was it her own?– had had a trailing vine of vibrant orange blooms that came out each midsummer, that overhung the patio and made everything smell light and floral.

Homemade preserves, that carried with their flavour the effort taken to make it. It was the taste of home, and yet not home, at the same time; both new and old.

An intricately carved stone box, that showed the dedication, effort, time and skill that went into each groove, each hollow. The perfect size to hold her rings, only recently replaced at great cost, the first thing she had done upon her return to Tassato.

A gift always means more, when one has nothing.

Banner 

Everyone is asking me if I’m okay, and with each time they ask, I want to scream a little more, a little louder, and my hands grip this banner a little more tightly. Right now, it is my anchor, my unspoken metaphor for the thin grasp on reality I am clinging to. If I was to let go…

Yes, each time I say, ‘I’m fine’ what I am actually saying is ‘No, I am not okay’, and ‘No, my sense of self that I was rebuilding, my life and my profession are slipping away and I’m panicking.’ When I say the words, I am saying ‘I am not okay but I need you to pretend that I am, for 5 minutes, while I put my mask back on…’

I have had many things taken away from me in this life. This banner, I will let go of, when I am ready to let go of it. When I stop lying to you, and when I really am ‘fine.’

Felice 

Normally I’m the one following you, watching with glee as you get into trouble and mining the ensuing drama for plot ideas. This reversal, does it feel as odd to you, as it does to me?

I don’t know whether I need to redouble my efforts to hold myself in. If you’re following me then I can only imagine you’re worried about what I’ll do. I don’t think I’ll do anything. Just, walk, and burn off this energy. Though Lilith did ask for a fight… but why would I go to one without you there?

No. You’re right. You’re right about needing a new mask to hold this persona inside. I can feel the magic in my usual masks, they are family masks, they are loyalty masks. They are masks of action, fuelling the desire to move, to act, to do. That’s not the right face for this play.

Until I can find such a mask, I can rely on you.

Dedication – Adelina 

This is the first time I have ever hesitated before performing a Rite of Dedication, and this makes me feel like an awful Priest.

There is something unspoken here, a subtle shift of the balance of power, that makes me uncomfortable, makes me doubt myself, makes my hand tremble as I reach for my flask.

It’s not a question of Loyalty here. I know this is the right path for you. It is the reversal of roles that makes me question whether I am a strong enough Priest to lead you. I have always followed you, emulated you as a child, looked up to you, wanted to be as smart, as elegant as you. I don’t know how to guide someone as strong-willed and determined as you.

I think you believe it is just a rite; a drink of liao, a few words spoken, and a mark on one’s soul. I don’t know how to tell you, that the obligation is so much larger for me.

“Adelina. Take my hand, and be my sister.”