My fears I leave behind

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

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

***

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

“TAKE MY HAND–”

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Everything is just so beautiful.

***

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

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

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

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

***

I am not afraid.

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

“And nothing we have wrought shall be lost.”

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

All I feel is peace.

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

“I have died, and been born again.”

“I have lived a good and Virtuous life.”

“My fears I leave behind…”



Springborne Curses, Pt 2

Part 2 of the downtime triptych. These events take place between King’s Stoke Wassail IV and Mindforged Manacles I Hear player events.


Springborne Curses, Pt 2
King’s Stoke / Tassato / Necropolis, Autumn-Winter 380YE

“So what does it feel like?”

Her hands flailed while she stuttered, trying to find the words to explain. “It’s like…. Endless frustration? No, worse, more… It’s….”

Fingers ran through her hair, trying to calm her, yet the flustered feeling in her stomach continued to grow, until Vitória felt ill, rushing up to open the window, the cold biting air stinging  her cheeks.

“It’s…”

***

Everything came on suddenly–that was how it was with briars. There was no stealth, no subterfuge; it was direct and blunt and that was how she liked it. It was odd to remember back –it felt like a lifetime ago, when she wasn’t one– what was she like then, can she even recall? Vitória remembered it being different. She remembered that the perpetual confusion only came on after the ritual, after her wounds grew bark.

Suddenly, Briars! Suddenly there was this support network that drew her in, cared for her, wanted to help her. She could rely on that, she could count on it.

But there, like a missing stair — sometimes, suddenly, there WEREN’T briars anymore. And then what?

Suddenly, Vitória had very few people to count on, to be direct with, to be herself with, unreservedly. With anyone not of the lineage, there was always that attempt to hold back, to be ‘normal’, to be what they wanted to be. All the briars who had her back, kept her grounded, sane… they were all gone now.

Suddenly, she had no one to admit to, that she was struggling.

***

They hitched a ride along the road back to Tassato, curled up in the back of a cart in a mound of blankets and cloaks. It sheltered them from the biting wind that’s coming down from the north.

“Are you okay?” He asked, searching out through the blankets for her hand. Her fingers were cold, and he tucked them tightly into his warmer palm.

She thought about the question a moment, her eyes tearing themselves away from the forest around them, the forest to the southwest specifically. “Um… no…” She mumbled distractedly, her eyes peeling back to the woods.

“You’ve been eyeing the south since we’ve left.”

“Yeah. I just, am getting a weird feeling about the forest. It might be from Felicity.”

“A remnant?”

“M-maybe? No, probably,” she acquiesced. ” I don’t think I really realised, before… how young she was. And,” her head tucked down into the blankets. “I just want to keep her away from the forest.”

“Maybe it’ll pass once we’re outside the Mourn.”

“Maybe.”

***

Vitória normally knocked on the door; this time she shouldered it open. She untied the heavy cloak around her neck that still smelled of wood smoke and Stoke, and tossed it on the workbench that smelled of iron shavings and oil and charcoal.

She didn’t say anything, and her brother said even less, just looked up from his work, then back to it, continuing the obscure project he worked on– Vitória was too distracted to try and figure it out, and any guess she’d make would probably be wrong. But he made no comment, let her pace in the far corner, hop up onto the drafting table and kick her legs out, climb and swing from the overhead rafters. She watched him work, then lost interest; she meddled in the projects that she knew he wouldn’t yell at her for disturbing; she swung around a couple of his new-fashioned weapons, and packed up a set of armour that’s to be shipped off to its purchaser.

It’s only much later, when he wiped sweat from his brow, took off his apron and changed his shirt, and sat down for a moment that she moved across his workshop to hug him.

“Want to tell me what’s wrong, Sister?” He mumbled over her head, hugging her with one arm, messing up her hair with the other hand.

“Only everything except what’s right.”

He was the only one who knew that the only time she actively wanted to talk, is if the answer to “Are you okay?” was “No.”

***

“Marcella!”

The housekeeper ignored the call for the moment needed to place the last bag down by the door, then turned her head at the sound of rushed bare feet above her. Vitória barrelled into the banister on the upper floor, peering out over the stairwell.

“Here, Signora.”

“Did you send that letter I asked you to earlier?”

Marcella picked up her skirt as she climbed the stairs, as the briar rushed to meet her at the top, taking her hands in her own. Her fingers trembled, her eyes pleaded, as if clinging to a shred of Courage. “Did you send the letter?” her voice warbled out, stressing each word.

“Yes, of course I did–” Vitória’s fingers, so cold, recoiled from her, her eyes fearful, immediately filling with tears. “Signora, what’s wrong?”

The briar just shook her head, hiding her face before she turned and ran off back to her rooms, fleeing.

***

It was over a dozen hours before anyone could find Vitória. Marcella knew the usual places to look when Vitória disappeared — the theatre, her brother’s workshop, her office at the Chantry, her usual haunts for drinking or bar fights. It was only as the list dwindled that Marcella admitted to a shred of worry forming in her heart. Vitória ran when she was upset, but she ran to very specific places.

Eventually she returned to the Signora’s bedroom, following a trail of disorganization to the window, which was left open. Anyone else would have read the room and thought the occupant had fled via the window, and the trellis that climbed down to the gardens from there. Marcella knew better.

She walked into the adjoining closet, tucking down underneath the shelves of boxes neatly stacked and dresses hung amid sachets of vanilla. She very nearly missed the stock-still woman, curled in a tangle of skirts and a pile of folded winter-weight blankets.

“Vitória… Signora…” The glassy eyes stared back at her, unseeing.

“Why’d I say yes?” The voice was mechanical.

She edged closer, gently picking up a dagger tucked under a box within easy reach, and tossing it out of the way. “I don’t know Signora. Why did you say yes?”

Marcella approached cautiously, as one would to a wounded animal frightened in the corner, which might not have been that far from accurate. She tucked her frame into the space beside the briar, still too still to be anything other than worrying. Her fingers reached out to Vitória’s hands, clenched too tight for too long against the woman’s side. Her fingers were ice, and a touch to the cheek showed it too lacked warmth. Arms held still for hours were stiff, and there was no way to cradle Vitória in Marcella’s arms, too paralyzed was her form, unable to move.

“Why did I say yes?” Again, the hoarse croak from her lips.

Marcella couldn’t tell. She just sat by her lady, trying to warm Vitória’s form, frigid from either shock or fear or some combination of both, staring at the door like ghosts from the Labyrinth were going to burst through.

She would call for a physick later on.

***

“You should not go.”

“I have to. Help me with these sleeves.”

Vitória clumsily slipped the warm travelling dress over her head, while Marcella picked up the sleeve from the dresser.

“You’re not well. Please, Vitória, do not go. Frederick will understand. The Militia will understand.”

“I already said yes, things are already packed.”

Realizing her mistake, Marcella’s hand grabbed Vitória’s, holding it firm. She turned the briar towards her, made her meet her eyes. “Squ–erm, whatever you do, do NOT squeeze my hand.” The conflict in Vitória’s eyes burned dimly as Marcella waited for the return pressure on her palm that never came. “You can’t, can you? Your fingers are numb again.”

“Of course I can!” She waited, defiantly, yet still no pressure was returned. The briar’s face crumpled, a shaky breath the signal that she was distraught. “Why does this keep happening?!”

Marcella sat her down, perched beside her on the bed to slip the sleeve strings through their loops. Vitória stared down at her hands, loose and limp in her lap, as if her eyes could will them to react. “I do not know, Signora. Shall I go fetch Lord Frederick?”

“No. You shall NOT,” though her shoulders fell a little more, “Though I could not stop you.”

“Shall I discuss this with Duarte? He would be kind, understanding…”

“No… he’ll want to run some experiment.” She hiccuped, drew her knees up at the thought, and whimpered.  “Why did I say yes?”

“Vitória. As your friend,” Marcella took her weakened hands in hers. “Please, I really….” She paused to think of her wording, but Vitória shook her head, hearing nothing.

“I have to go. I gave my word.” But her fingers remained cold and still in Marcella’s hand.

***

As quickly as she could amid driving rains, she picked her way through the monuments to the Virtuous, passing the few pilgrims and dedicants brave enough to weather the storm to marvel at the statuesque and grand tombs of the Necropolis. The weather made everything drearier than usual, and difficult to see. The way was only half remembered, and more than once she doubled back when the path became unfamiliar.

She wished Civetta was with her again, brawling and bashing her way through every tavern along the way. Problems were simpler, then. Not that Frederick was not welcome company, but Vitória had been lucky that the tavern keeper at the inn didn’t recognize her from her last visit.

Her feet finally found the path that she wanted, ducking around a plinth and into the Tomb in question. The door opened silently on well-oiled hinges when she unlocked it. Only the sound of rain outside echoed in the space, and the stone chilled her, sapping the warmth from the air around her. Vitória’s hand reached into the dim space, feeling for the wooden chest that should be by the door, which contained candles and torches. It was not quick work to light a candle with her weakened, numbed, frozen fingers, but eventually she could spread light around the tiny chapel, then shut the door to the outside world, so she could finally pray in peace.

‘This is where I end.’ The thought should not have been comforting. Yet — Here, there would be space for all their names, all their remains. Two new spaces had already been made. Some day a space would be made for her own ashes. Maybe she would be remembered, as each of the names already carved were. Knowing where the story ended, if not how, she could handle that.

Her sleeves served to dust off the mosaic mirrors around each candle holder, and she took painstaking care as her hands picked up each of the jars of ashes and cleaned them carefully.

She knelt on the floor, surrounded by the engraved names of her family, and continued her devotions, that she would find semblance of grace and Courage.

Though all before me is shadow,
Yet shall Virtue be my guide,
I shall not be left to wander the drifting twists of the Labyrinth
For my brothers and sisters shall find me
For there is no darkness in the Path of Virtue
And nothing that we have wrought shall be lost.”

***

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.

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

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.

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.”

Following

You forget, brother, that this is not the first fight I’ve followed you to.

Your friends are a motley group of people, following you through the back end of Mestra; their reasons for being here as varied as their dress. Excitement, exploration, new experiences. The challenge, the Pride, the Loyalty.

My own reasons are too many, too erratic to pin down. I wish I could. It meant I had someone to talk to. But I follow. Always following.

The brawl commences. I take on who I need to, and I make them regret underestimating me. Then I pull back a moment to watch, I assist where a moment’s distraction means the difference between a bone-breaking blow and a stinging one. Whether it’s the dress, or that I’m not seen as a challenge, it would be difficult to say. You gave me my first lessons in brawling, dear brother, but I’ve had to learn much, much more since then. I’ve had to learn patience. I’ve had to learn all the things even you refused to teach me. I know where to aim, and I know when to fight, and I know how important it is to win.

And now, with the taste of liao still in the back of my throat, I know where to look. The others fight for the thrill of a brawl. I fight to never be captured again. You fight… In you, I can see the raw edge of savagery. Brutality. I see, and know, that when you aim a punch you’re not doing it to win the fight, you’re inflicting the maximum damage you possibly can. You want this to hurt. I look hard, and see beyond the mask, beyond you. In that moment I think I fully understand why you are fighting. Why you don’t want me here. In that moment, my decision is made, though it frightens me.

You forget, brother, that this is not the first fight I’ve followed you to.

Rules of Engagement

If she was to put words in the mouths of her elders, she was certain that they would define this place as ‘one of the most foul dives of filth in the city’. This was not even ‘her’ city, but ‘THAT’ city: Mestra.

It was different here, a bit louder, a bit more brusque, and much more crowded and cramped. She was twelve, but she knew she had been ripped off on the boat fare to cross to the west bank. She knew this journey would probably get her into far more trouble than a very empty coin purse.

She gritted her teeth and raised her chin as she walked in. This tavern smelled, like old alcohol, spilled blood, sweat and shipping crates. Her shoes stuck to the floor with each step, and her steps skirted around a dark red puddle not quite hidden by a pile of sawdust. As she approached the bar, the ledge so high her chin just cleared it, she coughed slightly to grab the attention of the bartender.

“I’d like to speak to the owner of this establishment, please.”

Five people in the bar; four sets of eyes turned to her, none of which on a sunny day she would call friendly. She looked at each in turn, with eyes that lingered on the one set that still was pouring over a set of papers in the furthest alcove from the door.

“We don’t serve children, Little Dona. And we don’t do the kind of business in this place that you’re after.” The bartender had to lean across the bar in order to see her properly.

“But I’ve not yet had chance to explain my purpose, Sir. Surely you would indulge me?” There was sniggering behind her that seriously threatened to shake her resolve in coming.

“Alright little cat, I’ll let you sharpen your claws. What business do you have with the owner?”

“I understand your establishment was graced by some disturbances the night passed. On behalf of my brother I would like to pay for the damages sustained.”

“On behalf of your brother.” The bartender chuckled under his breath. “There are many fights, and I’m to know your brother from all the others how?”

“He’s the tall Fox from Regario.”

There was a palpable pause in the room, which was quiet enough to begin with.

“The ‘Tall Fox.’” Two men from the other side of the room stood up from the shipping crate table they were leaning against, their footsteps a light rustle against the reeds and dirt of the floor. She didn’t need to turn her head to look to know they now stood behind her.

“Then you know the one I speak of.” She forced a smile, rubbing her sweaty palms against the folds of her dress in what she hoped was a concealed action. “I have come to settle his debts.”

“I’ve got some ideas for how to clear the air.” A rough hand yanked at her arm to spin her around, and her eyes caught focus of the badly mangled face of a changeling bravo behind her. “Eye for an eye, bruise for a bruise.” She saw the fist coming at her face and she flinched, closed her eyes, expecting this to hurt far more than mere sibling fisticuffs.

“Diego.” The sharp retort cut through the air like a knife; a split second later she felt a fist touch her face but with far less force than a true punch. The second bravo with the prettier face had grabbed and restrained the punch, not quite in time to stop her cheek from throbbing though. Holding her face, her eyes looked from the men to the large man sat in the corner. “That’s enough. Go find a brothel if you want to touch a woman. This one’s got a few years to go before she counts for one.”

She watched the exchange with wide eyes, and when the hand that had grabbed her dress let her go her knees nearly buckled under her.

“But, Boss Felipe,” she looked at Diego as he protested, from the crushed bridge of his nose and blood matted into the changeling’s mane, to the cuts and bruises that marred his rough tanned skin. She had expected him to be a bravo; he seemed more thug, a common dockworker with pretences of grandeur.

“No. If this little Captain wants to pay the debts of her bravo brother, we let her. Turn around.” She looked at the Boss, backing away from Diego nervously. He hesitated, looked as if he wanted to defy him, then turned. He stared at the doorway, confused, while 7 pairs of childlike eyes watched the exchange with nervous, frightened eyes.

“Boss Felipe, the Little Mother’s orphans are merely here, that I might teach them the rules of the city when it comes to Bravo’s and their squabbles. I surely would not like them to leave with the knowledge that one man’s braggadocio would lead to the rules being broken.” Her chin again raised defiantly, the last of her courage rising in the face of the brawler’s sputtering.

The boss eyed her a moment longer, before he smirked and nodded. “Nor I. Come, and sit, and we’ll settle accounts.”

 

With the assault committed against her, she managed to talk the Boss down from thrice the damages’ amount, to merely double. And the Church of the Little Mother received a rather large donation that day. A few children with free time were cheaper to hire than bodyguards.