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.”

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.