E16 2016 – Prompts

Prompts from Empire 16 – Autumn Equinox.


Rose 

I am holding the rose, twisting its stem delicately between my fingers, as the sudden weight of the night curse weighs down my shoulders, presses me to my knees and my body into the ground with the weight of every emotion, ALL EMOTIONS. My rings burn on my fingers, my mask falls from my face– is there any clearer omen?– and the rose in my fingers blooms from its tight bud to the largest rose I’ve ever seen.

And then suddenly I am laughing, for the weight of the world is gone, and I am suddenly freed from everything, anything. A million and one paths extend forward, and I am truly free to choose where my feet shall go from this moment onwards. And I know where I am going. Perhaps I’ve always known. Perhaps this is a new path. All I know is that I must make a start down it now, before anyone tries to stop me or make me doubt. Without a mask to hide behind, without my rings to remind me, I am free — I remember them, and their loyalties, but I am not constrained by them. I laugh, I then want to cry, I grin and know exactly where I am headed, what I am going to do and no person can stop me, derail me or deny me.

I hold the rose between my fingers. I giggle as a thorn on its stem cuts deep into my finger. I smile as the hallow in my ears gently whispers all the tenets of Loyalty.

The path is before me, and I am free to choose, and I am set upon it.

What happened to my heart 

It had begun when she left Lord Frederick in the Barrens, to rush back to Tassato and to service and to armies that needed her. The longing, the missing a part of her heart, the sensation that she was being pulled in two directions by two Loyalties. She had started to wonder, ‘is this Love, that so many speak about? Is this causing my heart to flutter when I think of him?’

It started to become more pronounced when they set off for Anvil, the racing pulse, the skipped heartbeats whenever she thought of him, of that Loyalty, of all the things she could do, should do, must do, to make it right, to decide, to take action. ‘I’m going to see him soon. Soon.’

It continues, happening again and again; the breathlessness, the halted pause, the missed heartbeat that holds just a moment longer, the chill in her heart before it beats again. But she had spoken to so many, and they’d always assured her that ‘well, yes, if it is love that you are feeling, your heart can feel as though it skips a beat.’

It’s getting dark now, as she braves the party her family is shunning to try and find Lord Frederick. She can’t find her family –or any physick she trusts– to help, to reassure her but to do it quietly because she’s starting to get worried, as every missed beat is now taking longer and longer to resume, because it’s making her dizzy and it’s starting to hurt.

It’s a difficult thing to say, to go up to Lord Frederick and ask for help. It’s even more regrettable, once it’s done and others are just assuming that when he takes her off to one side, sits her down, it’s for amorous purposes and there are shouts for a chaperone that are just riling her up and making her regret her plea for help. But when she tries to stand she’s dizzy, her heart slows to a standstill, and despite her anger and frustration at being vulnerable giving her bursts of fuel for the fires, it hurts.

But her heart stops, when a razor thin spike is pulled from a surgeon’s kit and they’re trying to hold her down, pin her in place, and stab her in the chest as if it were the most normal thing to do in Anvil on a Friday night, and all she can do is try to fight them off and flee, and not even Frederick on one side and Robbie on the other can calm her down.

“THERE’S A WHAT IN MY HEART???”

I would go with you

Just when I think I can catch my breath, I lose it.

It happened the same when Felice died. We had broken our curse, we were happy Foxes in the rain, heading off to battle with the surety that we could do anything, that we could survive anything. So when she died the next day, I was broken. I was broken for a year.

I’m losing myself, in this curse. There is no time to catch my breath.

It happened when you died, Robbie. I had been cursed, with the most extreme form of emotions and chaos and energy there is in the Empire. But I was happy, driven to chase after the one thing I wanted with all my heart –you taught me to go for it– and I got it. I was so happy; I don’t think I got to tell you how happy I was. Am. But… but I should have been by your side, and you would be smiling and laughing still, and there wouldn’t be this heartbreak. You are so, so still.

I haven’t caught my breath since.

I try to carry on. I try to direct the driving force of this curse with the knowledge that if I don’t chase my own happiness now, I will die before I know what it feels like. So I carry on, best I can, losing myself to the flurry of emotions I feel. Because if I race after a moment of joy and love, maybe sorrow won’t catch me. So here I sit, beside the man I love, listening to conversation and joy and music.

But it only last until the first reminder of you, and your smile, and your energy, and your joy. They sing, ‘I could never go with you, no matter how I wanted to,’ and the wind is knocked from me, and sorrow catches up to me again, and I’m fleeing from the sudden turn of emotion.

Who will teach me to breathe now that you’re gone?

Chimes of the Chorus

The gentle chimes surround me with their chorus, singing out of the folds of my dress. They sing for my friends now gone, they sing out the invisible chains that will lead my soul to the right path, to future lives with beloved family. I hear their ringing in my ears wherever I go, but in this space, in our space, that I keep pure as a shrine to the Loyalty of my family? It is the most beautiful music of the soul.

So when I stand, suddenly, when I hear the melodious music shift and change to another key, a discordant key, Frederick halts the conversation. “Vitória, is something–”

“It’s all… It’s wrong. Don’t you feel it, in your soul? This is NOT Loyalty.” Everything else is forgotten; The Chorus screams a warning in my soul, at the invasion, at the severed link. “Frederick, they’ve changed it somehow, CHANGED IT–this is a space for Loyalty, not…”

He closes his eyes, feeling and listening, and he bristles with outrage. “Not chance… Not Luck.” He spits the word as a curse, his eyes hardening, his fists clenched ready to lash out.

We pull back the tent door to fix this and I am stopped dead by Gabrielle who stands at the doorway with thunder in her expression. In her hands, the joke that will never be funny; in her eyes a Reckoning debt is being tallied. From the tent, a dead fox carcass hangs.

I cannot hear the Chorus of Loyalty any more.

Embrace

I haven’t even truly spoken to my family, let alone his, for plans are beyond me, everything beyond me but the emotions and the feelings, all amplified. I am living in the minute, the moment, the now. What use in making plans when in a moment I might laugh, or cry, or fight, and then be swept away in the storm?

I’m in pain, and I hurt, and I’m on the knife edge when she approaches. There are no plans to guide me, and I don’t know what to do, to say, I don’t know what Eleanor knows, and suddenly everything hinges on this moment, this minute: I’m in too much pain to–

And then she wraps her arms around me, and a new minute begins. A fresh minute.

I will talk to her soon. When plans can be formed. Maybe… Maybe she’ll even help me. But in this moment, this minute, this hug is all I didn’t know I needed.

The gentle nudge of Courage

You are the one person who knows my secret, who knows my truest desire. You held the mirror as I looked deep inside, you could see reflected in my eyes just what my life is lacking, what I crave above all things. How odd, that you are the only person I could trust with that knowledge.

You gave advice you knew I would not follow. That, in a rebellious state, I would disregard your instructions, and be happier for it, would prove my Loyalty stronger than the effects of a mere curse, and my Courage stronger for taking the harder path.

You set me a challenge, a dare: you knew I would take you up on it, didn’t you? And in doing so, I would once again earn the one thing I desire above all, but this time you could provide it. And that when I fulfilled your task, it would be with the eyes of those I need to impress in future upon me.

You are the best priest I know; fools, all those who dismiss you, who cannot see you as you are, and who don’t realise that sometimes you just have to show someone the window and with the right words, they’ll throw themselves out of it.

 

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Preferences, not Desires

I can taste butterscotch, as danger approaches.

I turn half a step, look over my shoulder back to where friends should be, and am faced with the hulking mass of an ogre separating me from the spread out Foxes. Jotun handlers on each side urge it forward, flanking it in a three-versus-one.

I do not like my odds. I would prefer better odds.

Robbie should be at my back; I cannot hear his footsteps or his eager war-cries. We had pressed forward together, but now I have lost him and cannot turn my eyes from danger to search, or to warn him. Are there allies around I can shout to? I cannot tell. The ogre lets out a great bellow, as the warriors that flank it press forward. It is impossible for me to do anything but stand here and fight.

I feel the lack of emotions more acutely now.

Slowly, despite the best guard I can maintain, I am pushed back, first a few feet. Then more. I do not like this. Somewhere inside me, or behind me, there is an emotive briar screaming, trying to push emotions forward as if I could gain strength from them to fight back. She would rather die feeling–feeling pride, and love, and fear. The Jotun to the right manages to catch my knee, steel biting into muscle. They know they have hobbled me; I could not escape now.

This is where I die. I would prefer to not die.

I do not know at which point it happens. Whether the caged briar escaped, whether the desire to live broke free of the taste of butterscotch and the deadening of emotions. But like a flash it is over; one of the handlers I cut down, an ogre stands confused as his weapon is hewn from his hands by my spear. And I am screaming my loudest at the figure suddenly in my eye line behind the danger.

GABRIEL! HELP ME.

I would prefer to live.

***

E9 2015 – Prompts

First mainline event as Vitória Barossa.

Building Blocks

I know that something’s wrong just by the sheer amount of people in the tent. I don’t know most of them, and no one is telling me what’s going on and I’m not able to push past people to find out.

“Is something wrong, Rodrigo? Is there any more bad news?” Someone asks, I cannot tell who. I remain silent as I fight my way through, slipping through people the minute a gap appears.

“No… news…. For you.” My brother’s rasping voice makes me start; the growl to my left makes me turn to where he sits, glowering, snarling and inwardly fighting with something.

A flash of red behind and I look up to see Nora looking concerned. “Vitória…” She looks as lost as I feel, as I try to approach; I don’t know whether it’s bodies in the way, or how distant his eyes seem with internal struggles, but I can sense the gulf between my brother and I, and feel it hurt my soul.

I turn, looking around for the Reaper present that I had given him an hour or so before. My hands pick up the tray of building blocks that are nearly as old as I am, and my hands hover, turning, trying to pick the right block for the moment. The ring? The rune? His initial? The fox?

I hear a snarl behind and pick one quickly, turning and pushing it into his hand, closing his fist around it with a squeeze. I can only hope he remembers. I can only hope it helps. I watch as he clings to it, then I pull him closer to the light, set the tray in his lap.

“I’m sorry I don’t remember the order you like them in. You’ll have to set it right.” His eyes focus in on it, his hands moving in practised motions, familiar rhythms, moving the pieces around.

I leave him to it, with people I don’t know and some woman doing something with a glowstone lantern, but his hands continue to build and rebuild, and that is something to hold on to. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I think all I’ve done is buy some time. Fighting panic, I look around. I need someone to find Gabrielle, and I need to get more liao.

Brother 

I have done this before, I have done this a hundred times, but this time it is different. This time it is not me drawing the picture with the liao in my soul, I am drawn into the picture. And where one face should be, there are three.

The first. A tall lanky man in robes and red armour, dark and short hair, though his back is turned and he is walking away, a greatsword in hand that looks taller than I would be, drawn to light that casts a shadow on the form he leaves. But in the darkness behind, there is a sense of danger about the Shade, the Beast, that seems to superimpose itself over my brother.

Two where one should be, I cannot separate them. I see my brother; Rodrigo at his forge: focused and determined, creating, building, shaping. I can see the Beast’s frustration, and I know this to be my brother’s curse. It has no interest in this, in these blocks; it rails at them. It is something the Beast cannot understand. It wants only to lash out, to destroy.

The only other thing here is me, and I realize that I have made a terrible mistake. And as it lashes out at me I hear its whispers in my head and its claws digging into my soul. I hear all the things it wants to do if let free, what it would do to family, do to me. I hear it’s name for me, the role I am to perform in this play.

The next thing I know is that I am outside, and I could only be outside if I had fled. Gabrielle is there, holding my shoulders as I cover my eyes, cover my ears, and tell myself that I am not afraid of my brother.

But I am a horrible liar, and the damage is done, and I cannot look upon him for fear that it will not be his face looking back at me.

Mine

I cannot face this yet.

Your hands are so assured; mine tremble. Your fingers are steady as they tie the mask over my arm, securing it better than I could myself. You don’t ask questions which usually means you’ve already worked things out and I don’t know how that is possible because I HAVEN’T WORKED THIS OUT YET AND–

Breathe.

The masks we wear hide who we are, they are the faces we present to the world. I think there’s more symbolism in this act, this fox mask tied to cover the bandage underneath, than I am ready to confront yet.

And I think that I need to take my banner, and my fox mask, and my problem, and I need to run. Because if I stay any longer, this will not be a problem that is mine to confront. I need it to be mine just a little while longer.

Just until I gather my thoughts.

You’ve been there 

For FUCKS sake, Roberto, I don’t think I am asking for a theological debate or anything. I am asking for HELP. You’ve been there, been through this, you’ve had more than 4 HOURS to cope with, come to terms with, whatever the fuck one has to do with… THIS!

My voice is raising because yours is; I take a quick look out the door and there’s Nora and I wish I knew her better to be able to couch this in anything more polite than a hand gesture and a look that says ‘NOT. NOW.’

“WELL IS IT A PROBLEM OR ISN’T IT??” Your voice snaps me back and cuts through everything else. Is it a problem or isn’t it.

“I DON’T KNOW!” Because I don’t think it’s a problem for those I love. But, others?

“THEN FIND OUT!”

“FINE! I WILL!” And I storm out, because if I’m in that tent any longer I’ll probably swing at you, Robbie.

But I feel better. Thanks for helping.

Drama 

I cannot stop smiling at the dramacrawl, at my family, at the scenes and songs and laughter that has surrounded us tonight; For a moment I cannot believe that I am finally home, that we all came back from Reikos alive, and that this bar has good drinks and I have a full purse.

I turn to laugh at Tino’s conversation on masks and mud and there’s the flashing steel of a blade an inch from his throat. “You calling me a briar?” The Marcher asks.

And I can’t move. Frozen like the depths of winter, I can’t tear my eyes away from the steel edge of the blade that is nearly caressing Tino’s neck. There’s only about 6 inches that blade would have to move, and it would be pointed at the right target—my neck.

All I can see is the blade, but I know Cive’s the first on her feet from Tino’s other side and that hers is the next blade drawn. The Marcher turns to his side, to Serena, on the opposite side of the table that was full of laughter a few seconds ago, an age ago. His voice sounds clearer; I can only suppose it’s the settling of this tense silence over the family. “This is where you draw your sword and point it at her.”

“That’s not how it works.” Her voice matches the ice in my blood, and carries with it the promise of something darker. It carries with it the fact that this man has just underestimated what this family will do to protect their own. Then the blade is moved, the challenge thrown down, the family taking leave of the Nissed Pewt to finish this outside.

And I am still frozen, still sitting and staring at a now empty table. I don’t know where to look, until my eyes meet Serena’s. Like floodgates in spring, my face is falling and my eyes are wet and I can’t stop it, my mask can’t stop it, and she’s there to hold me and hug me, until we both must go stand with family and see this comedy-turned-drama to its conclusion.

End scene.

Leash (or What you are in the dark) 

It’s dark and clear and cold. I pull my shawl up and cover my head in the futile attempt to further hide my face from those around me until I can find a new mask to hide these conflicting emotions.

I know we are headed back to the League camp, and I lead in an anxious bid to return to safe ground, but a familiar tune catches my ear, echoes and remnants of lyrics from the morning stopping me in my tracks. I turn, and cannot breathe while the sight and sound overwhelms and my heart skips a beat.

It has been so long since I have seen a leash of Foxes. My leash of Foxes. And though this isn’t a battlefield, we have just come from a fight.

It is Civetta that takes my breath away, as she burns with restrained fury, resplendent in her mask, blood dripping from her nose. It is her voice that binds us together, her anger held in that drives us onwards. And the Camorra joins their voices to hers as we walk. Foxes don’t usually walk alone.

She looks at me, and without forethought I’m asking for her hand with mine, outstretched, and as she takes it and squeezes it tight, the leash is around me, encircling me as we walk. For tonight, for the first time in years, I am not alone. Thought you, my lord, that I had no kin?

Espelho

I’m stumbling over my words and it’s frustrating me to no end.  I look at your calmer, questioning, unflustered gaze and it’s making it worse. Heart beat is rising. My knees are shaking. Time to run.

You don’t need me to explain Loyalty to you. I know you can look around this family and see it in every single Fox. Or is this a test? Is this to force me to put into words what is going through my head, when ALL I want to do is put what is in my head and heart into ACTION.

I’m sorry, Cousin. Today, I don’t have words for Loyalty. I have to go.

Pride

I am learning more about you each minute I spend in your company. You are making me question everything I knew about Pride, as you search out your own answers with, let’s be honest, not as much help on my part as you think I’m giving.

I was intrigued by you, before. Then afraid. Nothing can convince me that I was not justified in my fears, but there you went, destroying them under the most… well, it takes something special to surprise a cicisbeo. I think you handled the situation with more dignity, understanding and grace than I could have ever hoped, and it left me…

Proud.

You can’t shake my Loyalty dedication, but damn if you have not made me consider things I never would have before, and in doing so, solved problems I wasn’t yet ready to face, was still deciding whether they were problems.

There’s another debt to be repaid.