Month: August 2016

Bittersweet: Burned Away

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Eruviel stared at the roof of her hut. Was it her hut? Minutes were hours, and every one she spent convincing herself not to crawl out into the cold of the storm and curl up in the snow. The heat of the burns radiated through her aching, languid limbs, and every movement only a measure more agonizing than laying still.

She could not remember how she had gotten from the Ferry to the hut. She could not remember how she’d gotten into her bed of furs, or changed into fresh clothes with salve spread over her burns, but the pain… That was all too clear. Her flesh bubbling and curling as she’d stepped into the liquid fire. Heat turning her lungs to parchment and smoke filling her chest for her to choke on. And she had gone back in. The Elf remembered the pain being a little less… or it was, quite possibly, her body growing numb to compensate for the pain, and she remembered feeling the cold bite of magic that had clung to her shoulder since Durrow burn away.

More than anything, she remembered waking from the Henki-maa, in the raw reality of Forochel to writhe in the snow, unable to keep back the tormented cries that clawed up her throat. What a pitiful sight she must have been. Somewhere in the back of her mind she tried to convince herself that it would pass, and tried to push past the unbearable sting and heat that radiated from her singed flesh, but the present was too much. Hot tears streamed across the dried skin of her face to wet the loose hair that pillowed her head. What she wouldn’t give for a taste of cold snow on her tongue, or the feel of frigid water coursing down her throat.

Having woken in a haze she’d found Hano curled around her head. She had cried more than she’d meant to, finding that she was not alone, his concerned wimpers pulling her from her sleep. Had she dreamed or voiced her discomfort in her sleep? Either way, she did not have the heart nor the will to ask him to stop when the wolf occasionally licked the tears from her cheeks. Kemp drifted in and out of the dwelling, but Hano remained, ever vigilant as she passed in and out of sleep.

She thought often about the others. An ache twisted in her chest, a bitterly familiar pain of shame and failure as she recalled Oendir’s cries, and the horrifying silence as Kemendin had begun to float away in the river of fire. She was to blame. Leaving the elk calves to their fate had not been an option, but she had been weak, stepping into the lava, and because of that her friends had gotten hurt. They all knew that there would be a cost. They had been warned of it two years ago, but in their urgency she had not cared to think on it.

Hano sniffed, his cold nose nudging at her ear as the elf’s wallowing began to get the better of her. Pulled from her thoughts, she attempted what she hoped was a weak smile, and exhaled a ragged sigh that felt only somewhat less painful than than the ones before. The wolf scooted a little closer and Eruviel tucked her head against his neck, praying for sleep to take her, and for her two friends that she hoped had somehow been spared.

Bittersweet: Haunting Hours

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The bonfire in the yard of Ravenhold crackled and sparked, embers dancing up towards the stary sky to beat of the music. It was midnight, but the only magic there came from contagious smiles and contented laughter as the happy din drifted out over the homestead.  There was no special occasion, but in truth did they really need one?

Near the totem Oendir played his fiddle, laughing at Nelia and Solstan. Cwendlwyn sat at his feet, smiling as she accompanied him on her lute. The woman exchanged a meaningful look with her husband as the melody danced and mixed just as well as the half-dozen couples that swung together in the firelight. Everyone was there. Taja danced with a woman in blue, Ansithe, Feygil and Beth huddled close as the latter coerced Fey into a prank, and Abbi sat leaning against Atanamir as he embellished a tale of grand adventure for Dorsett and Sage.

Then there was Anders with his arms around Anya, the two whispering happily. Pheadra and Varidia stood with Cedoric, teasing the young man about something as Cedoric’s friend beside him watched on in amusement. There was Gaelyn and Halvel, Hallem and Lichen, and Mor standing in the midst of the romping Torsten, Eboric, and Atrian. Pharazanu and Zabathôr sat to one side, soaking up the firelight and merriment. Near them stood Kemendin who was shaking his head at some absurd comment that had sprung from a happily drunken Raenarcam, and on the far side Godric sat, Wraith’s head resting on his lap as he oversaw the festivities with what might have been a smile beneath his mighty beard.

Applauding with the rest as the song ended, Eruviel excused herself from a conversation with Rosie as she noticed a form lingering in the shadows beyond the reach of the firelight. She had thought everyone to be there, and on such a merry evening no one should be left out. Eruviel glanced over her shoulder to the happy gathering to mentally check off who might not be in attendance, but stopped in her tracks as she looked back to the shadows and found them empty. How strange.

Shrugging, she turned back to return to the party when cold fingers curled over her shoulder. The shadow loomed up behind her, causing her heart to leap up and catch in her throat.

“Looks like fun,” breathed the voice as a hooded face dipped low to hover by her ear. “There are more of them than I had anticipated.”

Every muscle in her body tensed. Unable to bring herself to turn, she fixed a horrified gaze down on the festive gathering. “You’re dead.”

A chuckle sent dreadful shivers up her spine, the breath in her ear cold. “Am I? Yes… yes, I was? I was! You had to choose to stay, didn’t you? Oh, you could have stayed beyond the sea or gone with him, but you never learn. You had to find new people to fill the void of what you lost.”

“How dare you think they are merely –”

“Merely what?” the voice calmly interrupted, the grip on her shoulder tightening. “Don’t get snippy with me. It won’t be as easy as last time. You sssee, I learn my lessons.”

A light rain began to fall. The fire hissed in protest, and the droplets soaked into her skin, but no one else appeared to notice. Eirikr emerged from Ravenhold, Drewett on his heels and laughing. Clapping the farmer on the back the Dalish man wove around the crowd, lifting one of the goblets in his hands as he made his way over to the Elf.

“What are you doing over there?” Eirikr called with a smile. “Come on! Everyone’s waiting.”

Did he not see him? Eruviel forced a smile and accepted the glass with a grateful nod. “I apologize. It’s — It’s a nice vantage from here.”

Giving her a curious look, the man then chuckled and took her hand to rest it on his forearm. “It is, I suppose, but no sneaking off. Come on back.”

The cold hand slowly released her, and the hooded face retreated back into the shadows beyond the yard as she stepped forward to return with Eirikr. “It is you or them…. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Eruviel’s eyes fluttered open. A noon breeze gently rocked her as she lay in her hammock, and Fletch sat on the grass beneath her, whining loudly with concern as he stared up at his Elf.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Eruviel lifted a hand to wipe at her face and was startled to find it wet with rain. Indeed, her dress and hair were soaked with rain water. Sitting up she shivered bodily, glancing about the yard with a frown as her dream quickly faded to a dull memory.

The stress knotted in her gut, making her feel ill. It had been such a good dream, too. Hopping down from the hammock she took a moment to comfort Fletch, assuring him that she was all right before turning to rescue the dripping linens from the line.

Lotus: To He Who Trusts

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“None of them will thank you,” Inaris murmured sulkily.

“I don’t do it for thanks, silly. Now lie back,” Narys responded quietly, smiling sweetly as she gathered Inaris’ long, platinum locks to one side.

Making sure her grumbles of protest were heard, Inaris slowly lowered herself down, every muscle in her body screaming with fire and poison and a half dozen other sorcerous tricks as her head was cradled in Narys’ lap. “Then why do it? You’re only delaying the inevitable.”

Humming softly, Narys measured out drops of one of her herbal oils onto her hands and began to rub Inaris’ temples. “Do you want to be kept up by their screams? They deserve a better quality of life than reliving their days in their dreams.”

Mmmh… They will just die in a week… two weeks…. a month.” Inaris drew a deep breath, wincing a little as she exhaled. “They are all cowards and traitors, anyways.”

Narys’ hands slowed, and she frowned down at Inaris. “They are afraid. And you think they trust you any more than you do them? Everyone hates the favorite, my dear.”

“He who trusts first, dies first.” Unable to look back at the lipid brown eyes that peered down at her, Inaris turned her head to look over her friend’s knee. “Do you hate me? Even a little?”

“Of course I don’t. And I know you trust me.”

A wry smirk curled up her painted lips as a soft hand cupped her cheek. “You think I do.”

Narys chuckled, turning Inaris’ head to make her look at her as she massaged the healing oils under the young woman’s jaw and along her neck. “I know you do.” Hesitating for a moment, she then asked, “Will you let me? At least once? Just a little hypnotism… after the feast in a few days, perhaps –”

No,” Inaris interrupted firmly. Then with an apologetic smile she shook her head. “No, but thank you. Remembering is how I know how they move and react, and remembering fuels my hate.”

“Just… just don’t hate too much, hmm?” Narys responded, concern in her soft, ethereal voice. “Hate too much and it will do more damage to you than they ever could.”

For a long minute Inaris stared up past the dark waves of brunette hair. “Don’t let them know,” she whispered quietly. “I think you’re my only sanity in this forsaken place.”

“And you mine,” Narys responded, bending to kiss her cheek. “I know what you do when they summon you for their… lessons. Only you could get away with it.”

Inaris sighed, closing her eyes as her arms coiled around Narys’ waist in a small embrace. “When the war is over I need two years. We just have to make it till then, and they will all pay.”

Narys smiled, combing her scented fingers through Inaris’ hair. “I would like that, seeing you in the great chair before the Masters… Mistress of the Blue Door,” she added with a grin.

A wicked smile rippled across Inaris’ features as her eyes opened, bright and welling with purpose in spite of her weakened, used form. “Mistress… and I will paint it red.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jade’s eyes snapped open. The fire in the hearth had died down to coals, and instead of a cushioned nest she was on the carpet of the cottage. A pang of disappointment and loss tugged in her chest, but it quickly faded in the warmth of the body snuggled against her. Smiling softly, she took care to not wake Yusraa as she peeled herself away from the sleeping woman. There was no telling what hour of night or morning it was from beneath the canopy of the trees, but she knew a chill would creep up through the floor long before the others would wake.

First she fixed the quilt over Sadie, careful not to startle little Izzy as the pup peeked open a sleepy eye to see what Jade was up to. Retrieving the throw from the back of the couch she paused near the curtained window. Hidden in the darkness she peered through a crack in the drapes, careful to not disturb them. The yard, and road were empty, but she lingered, daring the darkness to reveal to her it’s secrets.

Satisfied, she quietly took a moment to ensure the lock on the door was fixed before returning to the thick carpet. Yusraa stirred a little as Jade lowered herself back down to spread the heavy throw over them. Curling back up with her friend and slipping a protective arm over the woman’s waist, her thoughts drifted to Dorsett, then to Sadie and Soron and the rest of her new wealth in friends. Mind finally settling on Yusraa, then Drew, the waves of sleep slowly tumbled over her.

Tuesdays Mean Trouble

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Sir!

Ildric shot upright, hand gripping the crossbow that rested ready beside him. “Pit, Reed,” he spat, slumping back as he saw who it was who had burst into his tent. “One of these days you’re gonna accidentally get shot!”

Reed did not appear to care, a frown accentuating the wrinkles around his tired eyes as he tossed a shirt and tunic to his commander. “You’re needed outside.”

Wiping beads of sweat from his brow, Ildric caught the rough clothing and grunted in protest as he rose from the stiff bed covered in furs. “It’s not even sunrise. Why does it sound like half the camp’s awake?”

Brushing his nose with the back of his knuckles, Reed took up Ildric’s sword and moved back to the entrance to the tent. “Byron’s back,” he responded gravely, peering out through the space between the canvas flaps.

“One of these days I’ll be too old for this,” he grumbled.

“Don’t jinx yourself, sir.”

Ildric did not bother responding as he finished dressing. After a moment’s thought he pulled on his thick cloak. The chill of early morning was enough to justify it, and the shroud added to his presence. “I hate Tuesdays,” he muttered bitterly, roughly cinching his belt. “Can’t it be Monday again?”

Reed cast the man a sympathetic smirk. “You got a week to wait for that.”

“I need more lucky days.”

“Or just luck.”

Ildric chuffed a harsh breath.”Is everyone back with him this time?”

Reed held the tent flap open as Ildric strode out, expression grave as his brisk steps defied the early morning. “No,” the shorter man responded quietly. “He is missing three men this time.”

Ildric paced down the roughly cobbled lane towards the gate, the men he passed either offering muttered greetings or ducking their heads as he passed. No one ever dared wake Vrax early in the morning. “Did he bring them back?”

Reed remained silent as he followed close behind.

“Has news come in from Bree?” Ildric asked as he walked.

“Koss should have been released day before yesterday. Frank will ride down as soon as the Elf has something to report.”

Ildric sucked in through his teeth. “Frank should stay home with his wife.”

Reed pursed his lips into a thin line as sharp eyes surveyed the mass of shouting men by the gates to the camp. “Maybe. Let the lad do what he will. He wants to see Koss dead more than you.”

Grunting, Ildric did not slow his pace as he reached the angry gathering. It was an impressive mob for that time of the morning. Even as he approached the gates were pulled shut, the bound logs and ring of men keeping any of the newly arrived scouting party from escaping. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked, his firm voice carrying over the others as the mass of men parted before him.

Several voices answered at once, some in relief at Ildric’s appearance. Others tugged their peers out of the way as their commander made straight for a rough, dirty young man atop a steed that wasn’t the same one he’d left on.

“Byron’s killed Peake and Tom, sir!” exclaimed an angry man to Ildric’s right.

“And Harrick!” shouted another voice, summoning a chorus of others that rose in accusation.

“All of ya better shut your traps!” Byron barked back, stepping down from his horse as he turned his attention to Ildric. “I killed ’em Vrax, sure, but they were disrespecin’ you behind your back. Everything you’ve done for ’em, and all… well, I won’t abide that! ”

“You have no right to cast judgment in my place. They should have been brought back to me.”

“But sir! They were sayin’ –”

“Do I look like I give a shit about what you thought you heard?!”

The shouts of the men around them rose louder, but just as quickly were quieted, each one of them feeling the weight of Ildric’s furious glare. “You cur. Tom was harmless,” he responded, voice quiet and tone cold. “And Peake? He has been nothing but loyal to me for years.” And a better man than you will ever hope to be. Ildric felt his whole body tense with rage. Some of the best men in his entire outfit, gone. He had trusted them implicitly. Men like them could not be replaced. It could take but a few seconds and Byron’s head would be embedded in the road at his feet. A long moment of silence passed before Ildric looked to the nine men still mounted behind Byron. “Off of those horses… NOW!” he bellowed when the men hesitated. Fear showed in their eyes. All except for Byron who frowned at Ildric like a confused dog to it’s master.

Ildric cursed under his breath. “Where are the bodies?”

“We — We dumped the trai — them in a ravine, sir,” replied a younger lad no older than seventeen who gripped the reigns of his horse to keep himself steady.

Ildric’s expression changed to one of disappointment as he fixed a brief look on the boy. Averting his gaze, the lad shrunk back some in shame. “Were all of you a part of this?”

Before any of the men with him could spout excuses, Byron motioned to his other side, indicating a man in his thirties that looked like he’d recently taken a beating. “All ‘cept for Orric, sir. He was agin’ it from the start,” he answered honestly, showing no remorse for his actions aside from having disappointed Vrax.

Holding Orric’s gaze for several seconds, Ildric held his hand out to Reed as he stared down the (mostly) cowed company of men. Reed stepped forward to hand Ildric his sword before stepping back. “Mister Marrick?”

“Yessir?” came a reply from the back of the crowd of onlookers.

“See that the Hall is lit, and heat up the brand.”

“Right away, sir!” came the response before a short, thickly built man in a smithy apron turned to hurry up the road.

“Reed, escort Byron and his men to the Hall. Orric, you can step aside. You few go with them,” he commanded, motioning to a handful of men off to one side before fastening his sword to the belt at his waist.

“Even the lad, sir?” he asked under his breath, stepping in so as not to be heard.

Ildric’s harsh gaze flicked to the lad, then to Byron who watched expectantly and with out protest. “All of them.”

Reed nodded, and with the escort falling in, began leading the way up the long walk to the Hall.

“Orric?”

Orric squared his shoulders, and nodded. “Yes, sir?”

“Choose yourself eleven from those here to serve as witnesses to the judgment. And the rest of you,” he added, turning to look over the gathering,” I suggest you go about your business before another day begins.”