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Archive for June, 2011

It wasn’t the first time she’d found herself spending a quality evening alone with her barrel of burn cream.

She really hoped it would be her last, but doubted it.

The skin of her abused face sloughed between her fingers loosely as she smoothed the pungent ointment over her cheek. She knew that soon the dead flesh would dry, flake and peel, revealing pink, new skin beneath. She could recall all too distinctly the days and nights of discomfort that lay before her, the dull throbbing heat and ache of it- the way the burn cream would feel as though she was rubbing nettles into herself.

Still. It wasn’t the first time she’d tended her burns in the darkness, alone but for her barrel of burn cream.

The smell of it was strong, overpoweringly so; her teeth were clenched against the pain, but she scarcely noticed it, her head full of fire and fever. It didn’t seem terribly important. The fever would pass, was just the body’s reaction to the shock to her system. Her pulse remained steady, she could feel her heartbeat in the inflamed tissues of where she’d already spread the ointment, could feel the throbbing of it beneath plant and linen. Tomorrow would be worse.

But the marks would be neglible, if present at all; she’d been careful. She’d taken to wearing the armor that the crafter had sworn up and down was imbued with resistance to fire, and it had helped. She’d learned how to protect herself with prayer from the worst of the ravages, and it had helped. Audran’s formula for the ointment was imbued, and it would speed the mending considerably; this helped, too, even if it hurt worse in the interim.

She had been prepared, had forgotten nothing- yet it didn’t seem to matter. It had happened anyway, hadn’t it?

At least there would be no scars from her folly, Light and luck sustaining. She hadn’t asked for this to happen, she hadn’t thrown herself in harm’s way over something foolish, there was no lesson to be learned here… other than that compassion had a price, which she now paid for with her ruined face.

It wouldn’t be the first time this happened, and she doubted it would be the last.

More than the pain of the ointment, than the fever and the burns that ravaged her senses, it was her heart that felt sore and tired- rebuked and hurting. Yet again, someone she loved had been turned against her. It kept happening, over and over she felt the rawness of it as she worried at the memory, prodding and poking like a loose tooth. Diane had been as a sister to her, a small woman with a scared heart. She’d reached out, she’d gotten close, felt herself driven to protect and help guide the girl. In turn, Diane had been there, had tried to understand why things were as they were- had been a friend, had lifted her up when she was down…

Now she was a tool and a weapon, and the mage didn’t know it- couldn’t know it. There would be no trusting her. She was a puppet.

Just as Strahm had been. Maybe was again. She didn’t know, she couldn’t find him.

It was almost unbearable. Almost. Yet somehow, she was bearing it. What else could she do but bear it? It was hers alone to bear, the nature of a paladin to stand against adversity- hadn’t that always been what she was taught? What else could she do, but keep breathing, keep squaring her shoulders and pressing forward? There was no alternative. She didn’t have time to mourn for her losses, she didn’t even have time to let her face mend by itself; later, she promised herself, later there will be time to rest, to mourn, to hug your sister, to make love to your husband; later.

But it was a hollow lie and she knew it. There could be no later if she was forced to kill Diane Marviere. There would be no later if Strahm was true to the Apophan and his cult. All she had was now, and of course, the memories. The thin sliver of hope that maybe she was wrong about everything, that maybe he was only captured and she could get him back. Maybe Diane’s demon could be purged with the girl still intact, maybe her memories of the snowman they’d made would be restored…

Her throat tightened and she clenched her teeth, baring them to the darkness. Later, I will mourn this loss. Right now, I have to fight.

The ointment seemed to sear, her face throbbed. She listened to the steady, determined thunder of her own heartbeat in silence, smelled the reek of preserved herbs and magic. She could bear this pain, could stand it even when she ought to be brewing willowbark tea and sleeping. It was familiar to her, a bittersweet comfort- a welcome distraction.

It wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

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Come what may

It was a simple rhythm, a pattern dance she’d practiced diligently for as long as she could recall. She could remember the sticky heat of the sun beating down on her coppery head, the gravel voice of their instructor as he’d walked them through the simplest incarnation of the motions.

Of course, experience and further training had complicated it; subtle twists sent the training staff bearing down in intricate turns, the slight shifting of footwork and she was off and away into a spin, here an improvised elbow striking an imagined opponent’s left floating rib, there a kick could be placed and suddenly the dance was shifted into combat against three-

Phantom enemies coalesced in her mind’s eye, imagined shadows bearing down. The one to the left bore a mace and shield, the right held a bow; in the middle was a claymore. Here she shifted, circles and lines, the mace must tangle himself with the claymore or veer to the left- the butt of her spear lashed out to strike at the wrist of the claymore as he lifted the weapon to bring it bearing down, and here the archer must be taking aim- she fell into a roll, finding the cover of the training pell, and now her enemies were angled poorly, the must move and shift to adapt to her own motions, they must avoid each other-

The dance was the same, but the reasons were varied. The trio faded from her mind’s eye, becoming a wielder of shadow, a flinger of flame. To the left was his demon and she must adjust, must compensate for his whispered curses, the incantations sapping her strength. Even as she moved, she drew her own strength, inhaling sharply and concentrating. Resisting the shadows, resisting the fire that would soon heat the plate of her armor, planning, thinking, moving.

Of course it wouldn’t be enough. Now he was laughing, speaking with a hiss and she was left alone to face his as his demon crept closer. The butt of her staff lashed, striking the ground and lending power to her motions as she thrust herself away as an imagined gout of flame spewed from his hand; of course he would adjust, such a small point to move compared to her heavily armored self, but now she was closer and the fire was in her face. The reek of burned hair filled her nostrils, the searing agony of skin crackling beneath the onslaught- I’ve got to get myself a helm, full face– but here at last she was up close, her armored elbow following the flow of the dance and she could hear the crunch of bone in his face, the cessation of flame from his hand as he stumbled backward screaming, but now was no time to stop, no time to think of mercy- her staff drove down after him, three heavy blows raining down on his head in rapid succession, enough to take him down and keep him down and her face was melting she couldn’t see she couldn’t think-

Dyna stopped mid-thrust of her glaive, heavily armored form frozen for a moment as she blinked back to reality. The grass beneath her boots was utterly ruined, churned up mud like a gaping wound; she barely saw it. Her hands clutched tight about the haft of her glaive, the muscles of her arm leaden with tension.

It’s all in your head, dove. You’re imagining things again.

A tremor broke her stillness as she slowly drew herself straight. Sweat prickled down her back, dampened her tangled copper hair as she exhaled a deep breath. She glanced about herself, reassured by the familiar lake, the rolling foothills just beyond the quiet shoreline.

There’s no one here. No cults. No claymore wielding thugs, no snipers. Peaceful, isn’t it?

The air tasted like early summer, the night breeze heavy with the smell of water, of grass, of trees and buds unfurling, stone cooling. Crickets harped and gentle waves lapped at the shoreline. Her own ragged breath felt loud, her racing heartbeat unsteady.

It was enough training, for now. She was as ready as she’d ever been for what was to come; her body felt rigid and tense, the exhaustion of it a sour thing. The usual afterglow of a good night’s work was sullied; something was wrong, something was off. She couldn’t put a finger on it.

She shook herself, and looked out over the lake, a small smile slowly curving her lips. Here was where they’d spent so many long hours sparring and talking… Light, but she missed him, missed the languid smile and the sing-song of his voice…

It hadn’t been that way in a while, though. Not since the Apophan.

The memories soured on the surface of her mind, and she shook herself, moving to pace the shoreline. Of course he’s not a cultist! She’d nearly screamed at the com earlier. There was no way Sir Locke could have known what he was asking, but it had struck a cord of dissonance in her…

She hadn’t found him, when she’d gone to Arathi. The campfires that they’d shared on their long delayed honeymoon were long cold. She hadn’t found Silvers, either. They were both just… gone.

And while she’d told herself over and over that it was Strahm, that he was likely simply hiding from a threat trying to track him down- she’d looked for him. He’d never intentionally hidden from her before. She made light of it to Faeir, but until Locke had mentioned cult activity…

No. She had no reason to believe he’d gotten himself captured again. Strahm was capable and ruthless when he needed to be; the Apophan had been a fluke, there was no way-

She continued to pace. He’d kept secrets from her before, what if he’d been on their side all along…? She was stupid. She’d been lied to before. He had lied to her before, about things that weren’t simple, that weren’t easy. Hell, even as they’d fought up and down the shores of this very lake, he’d been a spy for Jadagar’s machinations-

What if that was a lie, too? A simple un-truth to cover up a darker story still? Hadn’t they retrieved him from the Apophan, despite all the odds against it…? What if he’d been working with Ulra. What if-

What if.

She forced herself to a halt, struggled to breathe, to recall his smile, to recall the solidity of his weathered torso as he’d held her in his arms. Unbidden, she recalled the black of his eyes, the horrible ripping sound as Marius tore him apart, she recalled the hiss of his breath and the utter cold of his features-

No, no no. It was all wrong. He was fine, just-

Just-

Missing, was all.

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June 14

I told her to go off and die, that I wouldn’t help her. Oh Light help me, why did I do that? What’s wrong with me?

Why is it that everyone I love despises him? Why is it that no one understands that he’s my only way of beating it? Without him, I’m directionless, a windmill with no grindstone- I need him to show me how to get the jump on it, because what it is is beyond the capabilities of any warrior to fight. Light help me, why is everyone WRONG about him?

Or is it that I am wrong? Salarous… Strahm… Mayru, Light knows Mayru would gladly slit his throat and laugh about it… Diane, Faeir- I’m pretty sure Orgo would kill him if given a chance.

He sent me the heads of my friends in boxes. But he didn’t have a choice, it wasn’t his fault

Am I just making excuses? Have I been deceived, again??

I can’t. Light, if he hadn’t told me about– they’d all be dead

They’re all dead anyway

I don’t even

I didn’t mean what I said to Faeir. I didn’t. I have to find her, I have to apologize, I have to show her that Ereleth is not the enemy- that why need him. Why can no one else see that -we need him- to fight It? Am I wrong? Should I throw my life away as if it were nothing, running North to hope that all I can do is more than scratch the surface before I am vivisected and made to relive my worst nightmares again and again, watch my mistakes? Is it a mistake not to try?

I miss Strahm. Of course, he’d tell me not to walk straight into an obvious trap. He’d probably have some counter-ploy, some clever way of figuring things out. All I have is the knowledge that if I go up there, it’s certain death. Worse, I might become Its puppet, used against everyone and everything I love.

This must be how Strahm felt, watching me stumble from one trouble to the next, plunging facefirst into whatever looked most dangerous. Warning me that it was a bad idea, only to watch me think I know better and do it anyway. Picking up the pieces afterwards. How is it that he manages to love me, with all the folly I’ve committed? Now I know his anguish, as I watch what few friends remain to me make choices that will kill them, and I can do nothing aside from physically detain and force them to stillness. No words I say seem to scrape the surface of the determination and courage. They are going to die for their pride, for their well-deserved wrath, and I have no choice but to urge otherwise. Maybe Ereleth can help me stop what is to come.

Last night I found Olivia in the square with some others; one ‘Angie Ballamore’, that horrible Mathero fellow, an enormous worgen named James, and a death knight whose name I didn’t catch. All members of the Bastion. For a time, it felt like those first few days of The White Sigil; back when I scared of my own shadow for fear of the myriad dangers that stalked my shadow, as all of my allies insisted on playing the game of who could make me turn red until I fled the comm and the premises, danger be damned.

But… Liv said something that made me stop and think. Talked about the need to give my husband what he wanted… myself aside. Lest he find it elsewhere when we don’t see each other. Now, I know Strahm wouldn’t do that; he’s a good man. He’s not a bad fruit, like Galeen was. But Light knows other women find him as attractive as I do; the ways he wanders around bare-chested, that smile- those eyes. His skill at fighting, at- other things. Light help me, he has a lot to offer. It wouldn’t hurt me to try to- make myself more pleasing to him.

Thing is, I can honestly say I’ve no idea how to go about it.

So I’m going to ask Liv for help.

It’s a diversion, something to do between doing things that are more important-

… I don’t know. I don’t know quite what to do anymore.

‘Like a windmill without a grindstone’. That’s me. I’m pulled in a hundred different directions, but I can dedicate myself fully to none of them.

And frankly, I just can’t see myself in lacy underthings. It’d be like a watching a walrus try to dance, I reckon. I’ve never thought much about my feminine appeal, but that’s really more Mayru’s forte than mine.

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Gchat RP between Diane and I.

(more…)

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June 3

They’re dead. Or undead. It’s hard to say, from the visions I saw.

Avisen Barclay offered me a place, once. When I was low and in need, he offered me a job and I gladly would have accepted, had I not been so tied to the Sigil in my heartbreak.

I never intended to be his enemy, and for a time, I was his friend. I never meant for this to happen. So much of what I’ve done was to prevent exactly this, and now they’re all dead and I have failed again at protecting my friends. At protecting my brother.

Eddrick was with them. Where else would he have gone? He was nothing if not duty-bound. I was a horrible sister. He searched for me, and I never even knew he was there. I encouraged him to join the Argentum Legion and now he’s dead and it’s -my- fault because I should have prevented this, should have seen it coming, and where was I?

Where was I?

I was in Arathi. On vacation, on long-delayed honeymoon, we called it- one that had no warning, that had no planning, we just went. Light knows we never had a chance after we were married, with the cult and his

Duty doesn’t take vacations. Duty doesn’t wait patiently for your return. The shadows don’t pause, corruption lingers still even when one is elsewhere.

They are all dead and I might as well have killed them with my own hand for all the good I did. I have failed and I have been the death of the man I called brother, I failed Barclay with his hunger for authority. I have failed and there is no recanting it.

I held a vigil for those that have fallen. My body aches. My heart aches. I don’t know how to tell Diane, I don’t know how to tell Faeir. I feel like a coward, for sequestering myself away- but I cannot even administer last rites, this was the least I could do.

It is time to face the future, now. I can’t pray forever.

I miss my husband. I miss Mayru.

I am so sorry, Edd…

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