E12 2015 – Prompts

New Flavours

You’re all laughing at me, I know, but I couldn’t care less. I’m enjoying this, as I bite into the offered chocolate. It’s wonderfully gooey, and I’m trying to see how long I can make the oozing caramelly strand stretch over my face, away from my lips, and I think that’s why you’re laughing. It has hints of smokey coffee, and my giggles sound like a child kicking through falling leaves on the ground in autumn. I’m a hundred miles away in Regario at a small coffee house that did all its business in imported espresso, and we could never get a table on Saturdays–

this is what you meant, isn’t it? That tastes have memories, sounds have colours? This is what you meant, all those years you tried to explain to me, in tears, because others laughed at how you saw the world and it hurt you to not be understood. Why you wanted me to see with my fingertips and feel with my ears–

I stop and smile, a little sheepish, a little smug, and delicately lick my lips. But when I look at Sylvia’s eyes and catch her scales glinting across her amused brow, I realize just what you’ve given me, and I don’t know how to explain it to you. So I thank you for the chocolate, and comment on its coffee flavour, and know in my heart that –for a moment, just a moment– that I heard a different naga laughing with me.

Vocal 

She’s bundled up tightly in the wool cloak Adelina loaned her, sulking in the middle of the tent listening to the voices all around her. Laughter and ribaldry, teasing and torment, and the unique blend of Barossa familiarity that means she’s home amongst her leash.

And she’s miserable.

Arms are hugging her, drinks passed to her, and the sound and noise around her is bright, orange in the night. Card tricks and delight, gin and cheese (but not cursing, for that was last night) and Anguila being delightfully horrid to Simargl.

And she fidgets, runs her fingers between the rough wool and the scales on her skin.

“Vitória, are you–“

“NO I AM NOT OKAY WHY DID NO ONE EVER TELL ME THAT WOOL IS SO UNBEARABLY ITCHY??”

Carrying her

She smiles, grinning with Rodric so as not to frown, for her hopes at enjoying the season as a Naga are already dashed.

She jokes about over-preparing, so as to trivialise the weight of Vigilance, that only feels like a burden to her battered soul.

She lowers her mask, to hide from others just how a loyal ghost’s tears have devastated her, have humbled her, have left her praying that despite no longer being on the path of Loyalty, she would do the same –become a ghost for any family member left behind.

And as they emerge, joyously, from the Sentinel gate, Vladimir carrying her like a child on his back and her laughing loudly, it’s easier to hide how she feels from those worried about her, as they crowd around the gate and are relieved to see her.

Cold Comfort 

There is a hole in her heart that she’s been ignoring for months, trying to fill it with duty, with vigilance, with courage. It was easier to ignore a virtue lost to her, so she remained busy, perhaps the busiest priest in the Pits, the priest with something to hide and something to prove.

It’s fitting that this tale ends with sharing the work of others, with sharing pride in their efforts to put virtuous souls to rest. It’s not hard to put this last spirit to rest once he knows. He would have gone willingly, and she doesn’t need to be here. She’s only a placeholder; it should be Ozren in her stead.

It’s cold comfort, that the last ghost she has to face in Ennerlund, is the kind of person she wants to be, and also the kind of person she used to be.

E11 2015 – Prompts

First family member dying. It was a good event. Prompts from E11 Summer Solstice, 2015.

Curses

Tonight, the Spurned Lover has been invoked, and the Spurned Lover holds sway.

Her whole being was humming, her heart racing, contained inside a mask of calm indifference as she listens to the political discussions around her. Her lips smile, she nods at the appropriate times, and her gaze drifts –naturally– across the tent.

There he is. Unknowing. Unsuspecting. How easy would it be, to curl a finger at him, smile seductively, arrange a meeting in the shadows, promise to teach him the pleasures a true cicisbeo could provide…

She listens to the whispers, turns back to the conversation and makes some vague approving comment about the best way to merge religion and politics.

Just think of the warmth you could provide, entice him with, ensnare him within. When flesh is intertwined, when the sweat beads, when he thinks he is in control, when he loses control. The heat of the moment, when passion reaches its heights…

She takes a deep breath, and listens to the three conversations around her.

Think of his eyes, when the pleasure turns to surprise, when he gasps, fights for air, when the hot gush of his blood flows over your hands, down your entwined bodies. How in control you would finally feel, then, with the knife in your hands…

She flinches back, the spell broken; a hand has touched her face, and the blood dripping down it. She can’t remember when the injury happened. The hand –surprisingly tender, unnervingly gentle– cups her cheek, checks the wound, and offers to heal her. The eyes are kind, and she cannot remember when the last time was that she was looked at kindly.

For a moment, the voice halts, the seductive whispering gone, and the persona reverts to its lighter side, the Witch. She is entirely thrown, by the face before her, the kindness of one who has only ever been nice to her, hidden agendas aside; the Witch reminds her of the romance and politics and alliances they had discussed, which were healthier, better than the darker trappings that held sway tonight if she would only fight its influence a little more—

You cannot earn your Reckoning this way… But with me, little one, oh! I have much to teach you…

It takes a moment, a glance across the tent, and the Spurned Lover reverts, assumes control and reminds her of the plans to be formed. She smiles pleasantly, declines the healing magic offered (for her ally reminds her just how it would encourage the taint to spread). She changes the topic, and listens; listens to all the wonderful ideas her co-conspirator whispers to her. She takes a sip of her drink, and continues to let the poison be poured into her ears, drop by drop.

Tonight, she embraces the curse.

Tonight, the Spurned Lover holds sway.

Passed Notes and Final Messages

The paper is slipped into my hand before I really know what’s going on, as I stare up at Zanterr in confusion. In my confusion I cannot fathom why he’d be passing this to me, why he looks chagrined at the duty.

The words, so few? They don’t sink in right away, and I force myself to read it twice, before it dawns on me fully, why there are so few. This isn’t a message, this is a final message. Perhaps more than anyone else got, more than I would have thought possible if…

I’m humbled. I’m touched. I don’t want to understand. I want to cry. I am so close to screaming, my hands shake. There’s noise in my ears, a question that Livia directs at me that I don’t hear. I had forgot everyone else there, Gabriel, Virtue; Zanterr is gone, when did he leave?

Except Tess, whom I can’t forget. Whose eyes are surprised, but calm, understanding. Tonight, I can mimic her — wintertouched, draughir, someone to rely on. There will be a time to scream later.

Beloved Fox

She leans heavily against the arms holding her up, her eyes so tiredly looking into mine as she asks, in pain, “Can you make it easier?”

There’s fear in her eyes, and I want to kiss it better, but there’s fear in mine, too–fear at being unable to do anything against this. My beloved cousin, my confidante, my closest friend is dying before me and I can do nothing. My mind searches anointings, discards them as useless, temporary things and what comfort can they be when faced with the Gates of the Labyrinth?

“I c-could…. would you like a testimony?” She makes a little nod with a whimper, and my hand shakes as I fumble for my liao.

What words
WHAT WORDS
COULD EVER SUM UP
what would comfort her
what would stay with her forever
what would guide her back to us

I lean forward, cup her cheeks in my palms, and lean my forehead to her scales. With the purple fire in my veins, I press the words into her soul and feel them bind. I am fervent as I affirm, my voice raising, just how loved she is, and how she will always be ours, and how we will find her, until—

The fear disappears from her eyes, and she looks comforted, and I can only pray it’s enough for her. My ‘Beloved Fox.’

Moral Support

My voice is caught in my throat, cracking, and this must be the worst performance I’ve ever given. This is the most important performance I’ve ever given. I made a promise to sing Felice into the Labyrinth when she died and I am going to keep it if it kills me.

But I can feel the marrowort starting to wear off,
and it’s getting harder to breathe,
and my heart is racing furiously in my chest,
and I don’t know how I can handle—

–and your hand touches mine, so lightly, and I can’t turn and face you because if I do, I won’t be facing the audience and they won’t be able to hear the music that I promised them. But you’re here beside me, and I can at least squeeze out one more refrain before the blackness in my vision erases the rest of the song from my memory.

I didn’t have to ask
but you’re here
and you understand
and you stay by my side
as the blood starts to drip faster.

Pilgrims

She wasn’t superstitious. But she couldn’t ignore the pattern that was developing.

Welcome your pilgrim into the fold, and death follows.

The first; could have been just chance, wrong place and wrong time; it was Anvil, sometimes people didn’t make it back. She didn’t know how, she needed to find out why.

Welcome your pilgrim into the fold, and death follows.

Her second; her oldest, closest friend and cousin, poisoned and tortured; when all you can do is bring them home, and surround them with love and music for their passing, then that is what you do. You take their soul to the Labyrinth, and you ignore just how dangerous it is, to try and go the whole road with them.

Welcome your pilgrim into the fold, death would follow.

Her third, the only one she has left, and the one that she feels singularly unable to help, whom she knows she’s way over her head with. She wonders if being dedicated to Loyalty is a death sentence, or it’s just being dedicated by her, but it’s very hard for her to feel her feet on the path anymore.

A Lullaby pt. 2 – Felice

A story in two parts, taking place between E10 Spring Equinox and E11 Summer Solstice. Co-written by roisie.

A Lullaby: Felice

–Sermersuaq, Early Summer–

Most of the surrounding quarters were dark by now, but Felice knew where to find light. She could have gone to Gabriel and let the ever present meeting wash over her – provided he was kept focused, it was the best place for him to be. She was going to be late there, and she wanted something else from the evening.

Vitória found her not long after she left the loudest fire, and pounced. “Felice! I’ve been looking for you everyw…” she stopped, trying to make Felice look her in the eye. The little naga had flinched at her name. “Felice? C’mere. What’s wrong?”

Felice allowed herself to be guided indoors, hissing a little at what light remained. Sermersuaq had not made a good impression on her. The hand tucked into the crook of her elbow remained gentle, holding her close, till they could put the closest thing for walls they had between them and the darkness.

“I saw…you know. And she was drowning out the singing except she wasn’t and it all went wrong but I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t… wasn’t…” She was running her hands through her hair now, tugging the feathers harder and harder until Vitória caught her, took her hands and gently eased them away. The cousins leant on each other, where it was light enough to see tears below scaled brow, and understanding in beautiful eyes. Reassurance was silent and steady, as it had been whenever Felice slipped and the Beast had a chance. Eventually she calmed and stood with her hands in Vitória’s.

“Do you want to go out again? Find another bar, or a different place? What do you need?” The priest was shifting now, her hands twitching, anxious to make things right. There was a pattern to this, for them. It wasn’t always the same one, and it was rarely the same place, or people, but most of the time it was together. She stepped towards the outdoors, offering the darkness again.

“No! I mean…can we stay here? It’s all wrong out there, tonight.” Vitória caught the half smile, sweet and bitter, on Felice’s face as she turned back. “I don’t know the voices and sometimes seeing them is hurting.”

Vitória gave a moment’s pause, as she always did; it sometimes took a few seconds to work out how her cousin saw the world, in song and colour and sensation. But she slowly nodded, moving to sit, making a face as she moved a buckler out of the way. “She’s strong tonight.” It wasn’t a question.

Felice threw herself down on the cushions next to her, barely bothering to move the buckler or rearrange anything in her haste to be in contact. She was a tight ball of feathers and what sounded like sniffling. Propped on her elbow with her head next to Vitória’s knee, she nodded.

“The voices hurt?” It was a soft prompt, but made Felice flinch even so. Vitória’s hand found her hair, soothing and unruffling until the head drooped to rest on her lap. “You’re  seeing the colours still?”

“Yes, but….” Felice waved her free hand helplessly and turned her face down. A muffled “They’re all wrong!” was swiftly followed by a lot of flailing. Once she’d rearranged herself to look up at her cousin, there was something desperate on her face. “But you’re not. You’ve never been. Help?”

“Help how?” The response was immediate and the understanding dawned only a little further behind. “Oh! Would you like to sing?” She smiled down, only to be met with a pout.

“I can’t. Mine’s gone like mud and blood and looks like it’s sinking where I can’t go…” Her eyes closed again, Felice resumed the ball shape, tensed alongside her.

“It’s okay, we can… Well,” A little time to muse, and Felice would have seen the nervous smile alight on her cousin if she had looked up. One hand held hers, the other realigned a disreputable feather, then wrapped her cloak across Felice’s form in her lap. “Promise you won’t laugh? It’s not quite done… And I was going to surprise you with it, write it up proper and have Duarte print you a copy.” She cleared her throat softly, before she snuggled down into Felice’s warm body.

Lay down your head and I’ll sing you a lullaby
Back to the years of loo-li lai-lay
And I’ll sing you to sleep and I’ll sing you tomorrow
Bless you with Virtue for the road that you go.

The naga made a hopeful sound, wriggling upright. “That’s beautiful.” She kept the held hand and came as close as she could, laying her head on Vitória’s shoulder. “It’s sapphire and floaty and it’s there and I can see it properly….” She relaxed onto her cousin. “Why’d you stop?”

Vitória made a slight squeaking protest, but the naga had already closed her eyes, both of her hands on one of her cousin’s, cuddled close. She sighed, nudged her head with her nose, and continued.

May you sail fair to the far fields of fortune
With diamonds and pearls at your head and your feet
And may you need never to banish misfortune
May you find kindness in all that you meet.

Vitória took a deep breath to keep herself calm; there were missed notes, she hadn’t warmed up her voice, and as always she was prone to forgetting words when she had been drinking. But Felice was noticeably calmer, relaxing with the music, and that surely was most important? Vitória didn’t have the heart to explain to Felice that she could hear her too, just out of reach, baying for blood.

May there always be Virtue to watch over you
To guide you each step of the Way
To guard you and keep you safe from all harm
Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay

The naga sank lower with each line of the song, from shoulder to arm to lap, wriggling just enough to jog her cousin as her natural petulance reasserted itself. The blankets and furs had to be just so, as she settled into them, kicking and nudging things around to her satisfaction, accidentally catching Vitória with a headbutt with one last effort to lounge properly.

“Oof! Felice, you have the grace of a Mestran. What are you doing.”

Felice didn’t bother lifting her head to reply, now cushioned nicely on Vitória’s lap, the seat coverings scrunched up around her in the kind of nest she would always burrow into, given a suitable place and enough time to blink. “M’comfy. You can go on now.”

“As my Patron commands me.” The teasing tone was evident, but there was no response from the curled up Fox, and Vitória could see the only movement in her nest that of the occasional wriggle and her steadying, quiet breathing. She was waiting, eyelids almost closed, fighting to hear more.

May you bring love and may you bring happiness
Be loved in return to the end of your days  
Now fall off to sleep, I’m not meaning to keep you  
I’ll just sit for a while and sing loo-li, lai-lay.

There wasn’t even a wriggle now. The dark eyes were closed, the scaled brow no longer lined with fear and worry, just a young face pillowed on someone she completely trusted to hold off the darkness. Felice obeyed her singer, and Vitória held her cousin as she finished the unfinished song, whispering it against anything that might come between them.

May there always be Virtue to watch over you
To guide you each step of the Way
To guard you and keep you safe from all harm
Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay
Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay…

 


‘Sleepsong’ is by Secret Garden.

A Lullaby pt.1 – Vitória

A story in two parts, taking place between E10 Spring Equinox and E11 Summer Solstice. Co-written by roisie.


A Lullaby: Vitória
–Sermersuaq, Early Summer–

The embers were glowing low in the fireplace grate when the last bravo left their company to head to bed, no longer able to stay up into the darkest hours of the night. There was a brief, honest glance between the two women, before hands reached up to untie the masks they wore.

“Which did you like best?” Vitória asked softly as she folded away her mask into her bag carefully.

“I thought you’d like them, don’t you want to choose?”  Vitória only shrugged her shoulder a little, then shuffled closer to Felice.

“Elsbet from the Hammerfalls was very beautiful. But we’re leaving with Gabriel soon, and she’s going back to the front tomorrow.” Her voice was quiet, hoarse from the evening’s singing, and she reached for the bottle of mead they had been sharing between them both. “It’s cold out there, it’s warm here, and hand on heart… I’d rather stay close to my leash tonight.”

Felice reached out, tugged the bottle away before Vitória could refill her cup. “Tori, that’s not going to help and you know it.” Vitória’s eyes widened, flickering with sudden, vibrant anger, a vexed comment poised at the tip of her tongue before it fled and she sagged a little, nodding.

“Do you want to go to bed?”

Vitória’s eyes shut for a moment as fatigue washed over her, before she shook her head vigorously. “No. Not just yet.”

Felice set her mask down, and put the bottle beside it. She leaned back in order to reach a cushion, pulling pillows, furs, blankets, everything around her closer to her cousin. “Then let’s just stay here together. Want to sing for a bit? I’ve got my book…”

At that, Vitória’s eyes momentarily brightened, and she smiled easily. “Yes. Oh yes, please? I love singing with you, more than anything. You said you’d teach me more melodies, new songs.” She shuffled closer to Felice’s side across the fur rugs, as close to the dying fire as she dared lest she get smuts on her hose. “I want to copy out so many of your songs. And Adelina’s. And Civetta’s… but I never get the chance.” Her voice dropped to a whisper again as fatigue started to creep into her voice, and in response Felice’s arms pulled her down into the little nest she had formed. “But no songs of fighting, or bravos. Something to drown her out.”

The naga let Vitória rearrange herself into a comfortable warm ball before she curled over her protectively. Vitória smiled up at her cousin as both their hands reached for the others’.

Felice laid her songbook out atop her knees, flipping slowly through the pages, and Vitória’s eyes followed each turn. One finger suddenly reached out to stop the turning,  “What’s this one?”

Felice smiled at the book, eyes looking through the page. “This is from Sarvos, from before…” She stopped, a flicker of a frown across her face, hesitating. Vitória’s hand rested alongside hers, the words clear on the page, and Felice looked down at her cousin and nudged their hands together again. “Someone sang it to me, to keep me still for a portrait.”

“Would you? Sing it, I mean…”

Lay me down gently, lay me down low,
I fear I am broken and won’t mend, I know.
One thing I ask when the stars light the skies,
Who now will sing me lullabies,
Oh who now will sing me lullabies?

“Is this one of those songs in the colour of Night?” Vitória’s weary voice whispered up to her. Felice made a little hiss of affirmation, fangs apart in a grin that her cousin had remembered, and ran her fingers through Vitória’s short hair, soothing until she closed her eyes again to listen.

In this big world I’m lonely, for I am but small,
These people and places, don’t they care for me at all?
You heard my heart breaking for it rang through the skies,
So why don’t you sing me lullabies,
Oh why don’t you sing me lullabies?

Vitória’s eyes flashed open, the twitching in her fingers resuming, trying to wake herself up again, like so many nights before when Felice would watch her cousin fight sleep despite exhaustion.

“Will we still have our tea party in the Hall of Worlds like you promised?”

“We will! It’s a while to the Summit. But we’ll take a picnic, whatever you want to to take, and we’ll sit and sing between the Realms.” She said with a nod.

“I want to see it. I want to understand what it’s like. But then, you’ll probably be busy with the Dawnish Puppy, so, only if you’ve got time.”

“Do you want me to finish the song or not, Vitória ?” Her voice came out on the sharper side and she felt Vitória wince, but she–thankfully– only curled closer into Felice’s body with a soft whispered apology.

She began from the beginning.

I lay here; I’m weeping for the stars they have come,
I lay here not sleeping; now the long night has begun.
The man in the moon, oh he can’t help but cry,
For there’s no one to sing me lullabies,
Oh there’s no one to sing me lullabies.

Felice continued to stroke Vitória’s hair, one hand tousling the sleepy briar and the other tracing along the verses and occasionally leaving the page to trace notes in the air in front of them as her cousin’s voice softly joined hers on some lines, slowly learning the verses. Her voice was tired, though, and fatigue was slowly sending her drifting, the restless movements of briar energy finally overcome by exhaustion.

So lay me down gently, oh lay me down low,
I fear I am broken and won’t mend, I know.
One thing I ask when the stars light the skies,
Who now will sing me lullabies,
Oh who now will sing me lullabies?

“I could write you a lullaby… will sing you lullabies.” Felice could barely hear her cousin’s soft mumbling of the incorrect line.

Who will sing me to sleep,
Who will sing me to sleep?

Vitória’s head was heavy on her lap, finally still, breathing softly.

Felice began again, from the beginning.


‘Who will sing me lullabies’ by Kate Rusby.

E10 2015 – Prompts pt.2

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.

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.

Mirror

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Taken by Tom Garnett, Empire 10 Spring Equinox. http://tomgarnett.tumblr.com/

 

I watch, in the mirror, as Rodrigo writes as quickly as he can. I cannot read the exact words, but I know what he’s writing, and it has the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I step forward to his shoulder, and though he keeps writing, he lets me read the pertinent section, before he is folding the document and passing it to Felice, who is next to sit before the mirror, as she begins the ritual to send it away.

I know this ritual. I know that my family usually cast it by a mirror. And I remember how many times I, too, sat by a mirror, and told it who I was, and prayed that my family would send me a letter of hope. Maybe they had. I wish I had received them.

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.”

After the Ball

After the Pledge Ball, the first player event in which Vitória made her debut.

Just. Ask.

My dress lies across my lap, surprisingly clean and fuss free, save for a bit of blood trimming the skirt. I can’t remember whose.

Every one has retreated to the College for medical ministrations. Compared to the others I must look relatively unharmed, save for a graze on my knuckle which stings a little, and I know there is a scratch across my cheek. Just dodged the punch, but the ring on the Mestran’s hand was another thing entirely.

Gabrielle tends to the others one at a time; she is diligent, and very good at what she does, and the injuries I sustained — the real injuries– aren’t ones to be mended here. Don’t look at me, don’t look at me, I beg, hoping she’ll pass me over. When it becomes my turn, the mask is up instantly, though it hurts to wear.

“Check over the others, I’m in no rush.” I force my face into an amused smile, hoping it looks cheeky. “I think Bo might fall asleep on you at any moment.” Gabrielle acquiesces and moves on; I cannot tell how good the performance is.

I force my hands into action, dabbing and dotting out the blood on my dress. It buys me time to think, though I can’t keep my fingers, cold as ice, from shaking. The adrenaline of the fight isn’t fading, and I wish I could just make excuses and run.

It takes an age before Rodrigo’s friends, bandaged and bruised, head off to their residences. I offer to escort Felice home; I can’t tell whether she leans on me, or I on her. If I am going to do it, I’d best do it now.

“Gabrielle, won’t you come round to lunch tomorrow?” My voice rings quiet in the nearly empty room. “It would be nice to have a chat.” I need someone to keep my thoughts and secrets inside my head. I hope its you.

After-Dance

Felice seemed to have forgotten how to resume her civil mask, leaving the college. The terracotta was torn open over the shoulder, her shirt bloodstained, and the velvet under-dress had been swung over one shoulder and held there by the hand gripping her rapier. Silly butterfly hadn’t thought to bring a sword belt with her Ball clothes, nor her acting ones, and there was no telling how much of the blood had ended up wiped onto the velvet.

She had slipped an arm around Vitória’s waist, clinging and sleepy, synchronising her step so that the noticeable limp would not impede them. A hummed strain of “If the bravo were brave…” slips from her, right by her cousin’s ear.

“It’s stuck in your head, too?”

A flashed grin – the fangs are starting to extend a little again. “Sooo much. I think Virtue did that more for us than for the audience. We’re never going to be able to forget it or her!”

“I reserve my judgement, still. Gabriel certainly didn’t let her get very far from his side.” She chuckles softly, pausing to tighten her arm around Felice’s waist. The naga gratefully leaned a little more weight on her.

“She certainly seemed to approve.” A smug little laugh from lips with no trace of their evenings paint but at least a half decent puffiness from catching a punch. “I wonder, does he intend to do anything about that? Maybe Serena can get him to talk about it…”

“I imagine he’ll remain tight-lipped about it. Unless he gets a head wound.” She pauses, and grins, “I am not in ANY way suggesting we give him a head wound in order to talk about his love life.”

The cousins grins match briefly. “Spoilsport.” She sighs. “Gabrielle’s told me not to pry into it too much. Mother never stops going on about it, and I’m to invite Virtue over for tea sometime…”

“Speaking of, come over to mine one night. There’s too much–” She pauses, stumbles, then straightens her back. “There’s much I need to be brought up to speed on. I’ll open up the GOOD alcohol, and we can gossip and preen and you can tell me about who you want to… duel, with.”

Felice lends more of her own strength as she straightens, then leans her own head against her cousins golden one. “I’d love that. It’s…been interesting, being back here. Let’s catch up soon, please.” The last word has the weight to it, no more flitting with childlike joy or irritation or any of her pretences, just an honest feeling of family.

Vitória turns her head against Felice’s, her eyes meeting and mirroring the sentiments. “Have we been away too long?”

A hitch of a smile shows the truth of her question. “You know, I think we might have.” An adult gaze from under a youngster’s fringe, a bravo’s blood on the actor’s face as a real smile steals onto it. “Tassato is going to get quite a shock, dontcha think?”

A quirk of a smile graces Vitória’s lips. “I won’t be happy unless we end up with a full page news article in the Pledge… or giving Uncle Gabriel a few more grey hairs.” She pulled her cheek away from Felice’s, feeling the sticky pull of blood now smeared into her hair. She giggles as she wipes her cheek. “I shall also settle for falling madly in love.”

“Oh nooo. Not you too,” Felice groans, doing a fair approximation of Uncle Mondragone. “Why is it always MADLY? Why never slowly, quietly, not-going-to-throw-furniture-in-the-river in love?” She huffs, sending her fringe up – where half of it catches on the blood on her forehead, sticking in a way she was going to be mortified to see. “Although that is probably a good way to have Gabriel grey – and get your full page! Hmm, maybe we should set something artistic up…see anyone you might like to play with last night?”

Her face tries to remain steady, secretive, but a moment later it breaks out into loud laughter, her eyes glittering. “If I tell you now, what will we have to gossip over later? No, I didn’t meet very many from the League cities, but there are some thoughts I’ll be glad to tell you of, later on, about some other citizens of the Empire. TALL citizens, too, which is always a bonus.”

An appreciate hum from her cousin, with a smile for the laughter. “I’ll be very glad to hear of them! I met a few interesting types in Sarvos myself. The ones Uncle Gabriel definitely wouldn’t approve of. Oh, we’re going to have to talk ourselves hoarse. Tomorrow night, maybe?”

“I’ll make sure we can get comfortable and pamper ourselves.” She nods, turning a corner to more familiar streets. “You’d best get changed and hurry off to Adelina’s. Won’t do to let her see you in such a state. She’ll deny you dress-up privileges and access to her closet. Even I’d best hurry off.” Her tone was distinctly disappointed, and her arm around Felice’s waist tightened, hugging her, lingering in the proximity.

The hug was returned with equal strength and Felice kissed her cousin’s cheek, reluctantly moving into the lane to Espelho’s place. “One time she tells me off with that, and I’m never going to be allowed to forget it!” she said with a laugh, but her eyes held something of the same disappointment. As though the mask for the day, for the streets and shops and the business of living back in Tassato wasn’t wanted, not quite yet. Only her cousin could see that though, before she breathed in to assume it again, turned with a cheery wave and strolled down to the first of her morning’s stops, carefully calculating her pace to avoid admitting to the limp.

She did turn back after a step or two, to stick her tongue out. “See you later, cousin.”

Before her own mask shifted back into place, Vitória whispered with a graceful curtsey, “Thank you for the dance.”