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Archive for the ‘Marlbane’ Category

Awaken

She became aware of herself in bits, in pieces.

Recollection fluttered like a moth in a jar, beating itself against a barrier it could not comprehend. She had only the vaguest impression, a shape of what had once been her self; the smell of lavendar and rot, silk so so tattered that it was no more than stained cobwebs. The feel of her tongue touching the back of her teeth. A hand, warm, brushing hair from her forehead. Stone. A dog barking. A trigger against her finger. She felt power and powerlessness; she felt regret. Anger.

But it was the places in which she felt nothing that were the worst of all. There should have been — but there wasn’t.

It was different from forgetting. It was as if it had never been.

Awaken.

There was no resisting that command; there was no question of struggle. It simply was, and so she did.

Her eyes opened, and the world was grey. The things she saw she couldn’t understand, didn’t try to understand, it was too much work to make sense of it. She should have recognized these things, she knew she ought to know what they were, what they meant. But the connection couldn’t be made, was impossible to be made – if there was meaning to be seen, she could not see it.

Dimly, she felt herself close her eyes, felt her thoughts organize in such a way that she didn’t have to know what some part of her knew. She focused, instead, on the command she had been given; it felt good to obey. She knew that good was not something she felt often, though she didn’t know why.

It took a while before she realized that her tongue was moving, that her lips were cupped in such a way as to form words – one word, again and again. How strange a thing, yet once she noticed, she had no power to stop it. Some part of her knew that there should be a sound coming from her as she did so, but there was nothing, no vibration in her chest to indicate noise…

The silence was deafening.

Shouldn’t there be

It had felt good to obey. She focused on what she had been told to do. Awaken, she’d been told. Was she sleeping?

Her eyes were closed. She opened them so as to be sure. Her lips kept doing the same thing, again and again, like a metronome, like the tick-tick-ticking of a watch’s gears, like a heartbe

Something moved beside her. It took effort to shift her eyes, which seemed strange; hadn’t they always moved of their own accord before? Hadn’t they always tracked motion without conscious thought?

There was a length of dessicated green, and hands were trying to stitch something on to it – it looked like a spider, grey and sickly. With some effort, she moved the – arm, it was her arm, yes that was right, her arm

It was important. There shouldn’t be a hand on it, and she resisted the efforts to stitch one there. It didn’t belong. Why didn’t it belong?

No

No – the word! That was what she kept mouthing, but it was silent, it wouldn’t ‘say’. Why wouldn’t it say?

Focusing, she tried again, then again. The needle-wielding hands seized her arm, attempting to stitch the foreign fingers to her wrist

Oh!

She had forgotten to breathe, of course.

…. wait.

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Relapse

She could feel the chill of decaying stone corridors through the thin cloth of her slippers. It was solid, if slightly damp; the smell of mildew and desiccated flesh filled her nose, tightened her throat and made her eyes water.

Her jaws hurt from clenching.

Her feet moved at a whisper, steps hushed from long practice, though the many things Lorcain O’Cellachain had taught her were distant and hazy in her mind. But this, she kept- more from habit than will, really. A tiny voice behind her left ear whispered to her that it would keep her alive.

Light only knew what horrors waited in the dark.

There were- empty places, now. There always had been, since they’d banished the demons. But of late, it seemed the blackness encompassed greater spans of time. Before, there had only been that raw and empty hunger- the ache of missing fingers, of missing something inside herself, where the voices used to be. This loss was more tangible.

She couldn’t recall how she’d come to this place.

Now the magic was never far from her. She could feel it in the air, the oppressive thrum of shadows and fel energies twisting, calling to her- the scent of lilacs with the fetid overtones of sickly sweet rot, alluring and repulsive all at once.

Her head ached and her skin felt confining and hot, unbearable. Hazel eyes turned to study the pale suspension of a femur, dry scraps of flesh still clinging to the curve of it. Briefly, she could envision herself as nothing but bone and shriveled sinew, riddled with squirming maggots.

It should not have been appealing.

She paced the corridor- nineteen steps one way, nineteen steps the other. The ragged hem of once-fine silk whispered secrets as she walked, and her lips pulled in a frown, eyes half lidded in the perpetual gloom.

They were talking about her. She could hear them laughing in the emptiness of her thoughts, could hear every vile word they said, though who ‘they’ were was beyond her. She knew they were there, though. She could hear them. Her heart was shale behind her breast, cold and brittle; she could feel it flaking to pieces, could feel herself coming apart. They mocked her in strange, sibilant tongues, in high, unearthly voices and low, guttural growls. She was determined to learn their secrets.

Her phantom fingers itched and her left palm tingled as she paused to briefly peer at the thick white knot of scar tissue. There something- important. Something she ought to remember. Some part of her insisted it was important, but her thoughts were restless, fickle things.

The emptiness in her spine was unbearable.

Cold metal met her palm as she pulled the dagger from a sheath at her hip, idly trailing the wicked steel across her skirts. She barely noticed a layer of ragged silk parting from the soiled mass of fabric that was once a many tiered skirt. The scrap formed a puddle of grey at her ankles.

She lifted her atrophied right arm, staring at it without recognition. It didn’t seem possible that something so withered belonged to her, yet there it was. A frown bent her features, narrowed her eyes, as she let the gathered sleeve fall away to reveal pale, yellowed skin. The dagger’s point traced a careful line up the contours of her elbow, to her shoulder- pulled across her throat in a mimic of something she’d once been taught, though she couldn’t remember who it was that taught it to her. Someone important, she was sure. Could almost remember a face, a pair of wire-framed glasses balancing on his nose- but it was too hard to think through the blistering heat and constant aching.

Everywhere felt hollow. She struggled to remember a face- quiet grey eyes, this time. Couldn’t recall his name. Couldn’t recall why it was he was important, too.

Her phantom fingers itched and her tongue was blistered, throat raw from magic. Her very bones felt hollow.

Something was missing and she couldn’t get it back, no matter how hard she tried.

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Different Voices

((An experiment.))

Part One

She focused in silence on the placement of her feet, the careful splay of her toes in the soft-soled sandles as unaccustomed muscles worked uncertainly, gauging the stability of the slab of shale she balanced on. Her lips were thin with concentration, a robed arm lifting to counterbalance before shifting her weight to her foot, drawing a shallow breath-

I am a shadow, the barest ripple beneath the still waters. I am small. I am unnoticed in the dark.

Her foot planted, balancing precariously; the stone felt wobbly, and, moving as precisely as she could, her second foot joined the first in a wide stance, good arm moving to one side. Her other arm rested limply at her side, as if unuseable- she couldn’t bring herself to touch it, to shift it. Couldn’t bear to acknowledge it was a part of her, the tainted limb that ended with a crude, terrible hook.

Still, she was unpracticed. The stone shifted, beginning to slide with a cacaphony of sound as it teetered from its precariously position. A cadre of pebbles and small rocks beneath her began to shift, the dry smell of dust rising even as shale shrieked in the darkness. The small woman clenched her teeth and scrambled with little dignity to try to find stable ground, but her uncertain balance had set off a rockslide that was already encompassing far more than her simple stone.

As long-wrought balances and precarious barriers crashed and fell, she struggled to maintain her upright positioning, no longer careful in her footing- simply scrambling to evade the rockslide. Her sharp hazel eyes caught glance of an ancient tree’s exposed roots and she made a desperate lunge, half running the hill as it shifted sickeningly beneath her.

Her soft fingers, blistered in places from new training, wrapped about the gritty, dirty root and she clung to it, body contorting and twisting as she tried to find a way out of the mess she’d created. The roots of the tree seemed strong enough, deep enough to sustain her weight…

As quickly as it had begun, the shifting rock slowed and settled, rising dust thick in the air. Her heart thundered in her chest, fear making her throat tight. Panic rose in her gullet but she choked it back savagely, jaw gritting and eyes squeezing shut. The shale beneath her was uncertain, the earth above half crumbling rock and eroded, hard packed earth. Below was the newly rearranged shoreline.

It would be easy, you know.

The whisper was quiet, sinuous- a memory of a toneless voice that put cold fear in her belly and sent shudders down her spine.

You are nothing. You wouldn’t be missed.

The night air seemed colder against her cheek, now, the stars more ominous as she lifted her gaze in silent pleading. The taste of thick, choking dust and bitter ocean was heavy on her tongue. Far below, the tide greedily swayed and murmured, creeping and receding in turns.

It hurt, to hold the root so tightly with her blistered, soft fingers. She could feel the tree’s strength digging into her skin.

Weak and soft. You could have been strong.

But she was stronger now than she had been yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that.

She closed her eyes a moment more, shuddering as she uncertainly began to climb astride a new rock. Her limbs felt as if all the strength in them had drained, as if her bones had melted and all that was left were brittle pillars of charcoal, threatening to snap at any moment and lead her to her death.

Slowly, haltingly, she let go of the root, only to shift her grip to a new one. It was painstaking, but, with tiny, careful steps, she began to climb the cliff’s face. Cold sweat beaded her brow.

I don’t listen to whispers and lies. I will be a shadow, invisible- but I will not vanish at the light’s first touch. I am here. I am something. And memories of monsters in the dark cannot take that away from me.

The progress was slow. Pain-staking.

But by the end of the night, Marlbane emerged, filthy and shaken, from the cliff’s edge.

In the moonless night, she turned to stare over the edge, hand gripping the bark of the tree whose roots had saved her. A very faint, but definite, smile curved over her lips. Then pulled a bit wider. Her breathing grew staggered and she began to laugh- a strange sound, a rough and wild and unfamiliar thing. Sinking to her knees, legs suddenly unable or unwilling to hold her upright any longer, she threw back her head and let loose a cacaphony of sound into the cold night air, arm looping about her middle, tears making the world dance and quake in her view.

I am something. I am someone. I live.

Part 2

It was a small, withered looking garden, with scraggly, stubby plants sprouting from thin, gravelly earth, yet the woman looked on it with with a proudly lifted chin and a sense of deep accomplishment.

She swaggered with a long stride, large hands planted on leathered hips as she strutted her meager plot. Eyes sparrow-bright, she paused at a likely looking patch of leaves and abruptly dropped to a squat, studying the plant intently.

Unflinching, her fingertips moved to stroke the thick stalk, a faint green glow encompassing her digit as she muttered beneath her breath, voice low and rumbling. Her words were barely audible, crooned gently and unintelligible- her curious golden brown eyes slowly shutting as she savored the nearness of green life. The leaves shivered, as if stirred by a breeze, but it was a quiet morning in the small, protected grove; the stocky growth around her remained still.

The woman’s eyes opened after a moment, a silly, pleased smile on her lips.

“At’ll do ye, m’thinkin’…”

With a sudden, savage yank, the plant was ripped from the earth, still twisting with growth and life- and a yield of small, pebbly potatoes was jerked from the loosely packed soil.

The druid crowed aloud, shaking her spoils with a victorious whoop, and rose to caper from her garden into the shabby, derelict cabin she’d called home for some months. Her voice was a loud, braying sing-song, tuneless and unenjoyable, but she didn’t seem to mind her own growling disharmony as she did a mad little jig through the door.

“M’gonnae eat some ‘taters an’ m’gonnae cook ’em good! I grewed m’some po-tate-ers an’ m’gonnae smash ’em intae foods!”

There was no reason or cadence to the spontaneous tune. She threw back her head and cackled delightedly, sounding for all the world like the harvest witch she purported to be, shaking her potatoes wildly and scattering dirt about the cabin- not that she noticed. The little ramshackle home was far from clean or orderly to begin with. The dirt just added to the layers and layers already present.

She set about rinsing them, enthusiastically pumping the hand pump to spill yellowing water into a slightly rusted washbasin. More water was poured into a pot, the hand pump groaning in feeble protest against her continued sing-songing and jigging.

“… an’ m’gonnae make m’taters tha’ I grew m’very self! ‘Cos I’mma best o’ witches an’ witches dinnae get stitches, ah grew ’em m’self an’ m’gonnae eat ’em oop! Baawwwww yis! Taters taters, tasty tubers an’ I’mma boil EM oop!!”

Impatiently, she watched the pot, staring intently into the water as tiny bubbles streamed from the bottom, the water heating slowly, painstakingly slowly…

Her staring didn’t last as she abruptly whooped with laughter and leapt backwards, shuffle-jigging in the small makeshift living room she occupied.

Bits of broken armor and rusty weaponry adorned her walls, brightly colored and whimsical to look at. The furniture was dusty, some of it broken, but it was piled up to one side, as if an attempt to rearrange it all had been abandonned midway through. Her leather boots scuffled and shuffled against the gritty, worn wood boards as she wiggled and twirled over to a chair with a pair of antlers dangling from its spine.

The antlers, cunningly attached to a band of stiff leather, were summarily dropped on her head as she continued to flail and dance about her living space, apparently over the moon over her gardening prowess.

Then again, growing a garden in the dead of winter was, perhaps, something worth crowing about.

It hadn’t taken much poking. Her granmere ha dwarned her against trifling with the Balance overmuch. The winter was unseasonably warm, the frosts barely nipping anything, and she’d only leant the plants a bit of encouragement, egging them on to grow faster, to be fortified against the cold and produce heartily. A green thumb, as it were. It wasn’t as if she was sprouting an orange tree and demanding fruit the next day while snow fell, after all- nothing that Granmere would get shouty about!

As she attempting- and failed magnificently- at a cheerful somersault, the antlers clattered to the floor and she twisted back straight to place them with great dignity on the spine of the chair once more. Her weathered fingertips traced the silky horn, a more reserved smile curving her lips.

That gobbo had it comin’.

The thought was simultaneously her own- and yet, not her own. Something wild shifted within her, and the obnoxiously loud, cheerful woman fell silent for a moment.

“… ye didnae ‘ave ter kill ‘im though.” She grumbled lightly, moving toward the window to peer out the dusty panes.

Tish tosh. He was a threat and you enjoyed it just as much as I did. It’s not as if we ate him… though I could go for something rich and bloody right now.

The woman’s cheerful smile vanished entirely, leathered foot stomping on the floor. “OH NO YE DINNAE, Y’MANGY CUR! I grew them potaters fair an’ square an’ I ain’ wastin’ ’em jes cos ye get all peckish and blood-thirsty inna mornin’, y’jest shut yer trap an’ dinnae say another word!”

Images of running deer flickered over her mind’s eye. She could feel her mouth growing moist, stomach growling.

Potatoes smell like dirt. Deer, on the other hand…

“Fock ye an’ yer deer, s’wasteful ter hunt th’region dry an’ we’re eatin’ taters fer brekkist or m’name’s not Maggie!”

You introduce yourself as Ashtivar, do you not…?

“S’cos I am Ashtivar ye– HOY! Dinnae try tha’ bloody feral trickery on me, y’lousy good fer nothin’ layabout! We’re eatin’ taters fer brekky an’ tha’s th’last of it, y’hear me?!”

Her voice was loud in the morning quiet. Not that there was anyone there to hear it but herself, and she didn’t seem to mind how very loud she was.

Deeeeeer…

“That’s bloody IT! I’mma take a fockin’ fork an’ scrape it onna pan and we’re both gonnae listen ter the sound it makes until y’shut yer damn face y’blood thirsty mongrel!”

She marched to the cupboard and rummaged a bit before finding a tin pan and a slightly bend fork. With a wince, she turned her head away and began to trail the tines down the surface of the pan, eliciting a terrible squeal as she applied unnecessary force to the task.

It didn’t take long for the quiet, persistant visions of deer- frolicking, meat-rich, edible deer!- to stop cavorting through her head. The wilderness in her mind receded; her more feral thoughts fell silent, for the time.

Shaking her head and grumbling, the thick-waisted woman turned her attention to the task of draining the water from her potatoes.

“… fock’n bloody Curse, blood-thirsty mongrel… wot kind’o person argues wi’ herself alla damn time? Folk’d think m’crazy if they knew…”

Part 3

He could feel his breath growing short and labored, sense the sudden inability of his lungs to take in sufficient air, could hear his pulse echoing erratically and his legs giving way. It should have concerned him, but all he felt was resignation as he crumpled to the ground, robes too-heavy on his skin as the world danced and faded into darkness.

It was the rain that woke him. Big, heavy drops, falling warm against his cheek, slowly rolling down the hollows of his face to navigate the tidily kept beard at his chin. The earth beneath his ear was cold and damp, the smell rich and heady. It made him smile, just a bit, though the muscles of his face felt stiff and unsure. Time. Do I have enough time…?

He was lucky, and he knew it.

Beyond the obvious dangers of collapsing on the weaving paths through the jungles of Stranglethorn, he’d lived years past what the surgeons had said. Sameth had no intention of dying just yet. There was still too much to be done.

He could still feel his arms, his legs- his body responded, if sluggishly, if unwilling. But unwilling was better than unable. He still had time left.

It took too long, for his limbs to reawaken, for the pins and needles to recede enough to allow motion. The stale scent of weakness, of something sick and dying, had attracted attention, as he had known it would. It took too long, for him to find strength in his spindly fingertips, for his fists to close about the staff.

He didn’t have time to rise and fight. Didn’t have time to drive away the attacker before the fight could begin, was simply too infirm to rise to a stand and prove his strength.

The small, stealthfully stalking beast flung herself on him from a cluster of leaves, her lithe form rippling as she pounced, yellow toothed maw opening to seize the priest by the neck, to overcome him by force and strangle the breath from his body, spill his soft blood into the earth–

His body lacked strength, still recovering – slowly, too slowly – from the long-battled curse that was systematically destroying him. He knew he didn’t have enough time left.

But what he lacked in strength he made up for in cleverness and mental reflex. A golden bright burst of Holy light shuddered from his form at a hoarse shout, the Light blinding him and startling his attacker. Heavy paws struck him down from where he had risen to almost a crouch; his frail form fell forward again, chin striking dirt, but the sudden emergence of loud noises and too-bright light had sufficiently startled the cat.

Tigers, even in Stranglethorn, preferred to hunt that which could not fight back. He wouldn’t have long to rest here, in the dirt. But it would be enough.

It would have to be enough. He didn’t have time to die.

Not yet.

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Such a little thing.

Such a small, trivial thing.

She knelt in her corner, fingertips brushing past the pages of worn, faded scripture, eyes unseeing. A violent tremor crept across her spine. She could feel it now, the closeness of the shadows, the bitter taste of Fel magic on her tongue, but it was only a little thing, a sigil etched in blood, a ward of protection-

Her knees pressed against the hard wood of the floor, feeling the cold past the layers of skirt.

“I only wanted to show him…” The words were a breathy whisper edged in fear- they seemed to twist in the ringing of her ears, a soft purr of laughter blossoming from the base of her neck. Show him what, pet? I can only imagine…

Her hand snapped up to swat at her neck, book toppling from her nerveless fingers. “You’re dead now, you’re gone, I paid in blood and sacrifice, I’m free, damn you!”

She could feel the knot of her spine beneath her fingertips, could hear her pulse jumping and taste cinders on her tongue, and the laughter, it was louder, now, familiar voices swirling and coalescing into sibilant whispers- Little bitch, thought you could get rid of me did you…? Her blood began to grow hotter, sweat beading her upper lip as she wrenched and bit back a scream. The smell of burnt flesh and the sudden sharp pain of claws digging furrows across her ribs-

Stop. Don’t damage it. The third voice was quiet, scarcely audible amidst the laughter and murmurs. It knew it couldn’t run forever.

It knew it would never be free.

Marlbane’s head jerked up sharply, breathing ragged and unsteady as she clutched the tome of scripture closer to herself, panic twisting in her belly. She could feel the pressure, still, at the base of her neck- that aching, empty place where they once dwelt. Cold sweat beaded her brow, and she didn’t dare let go of her book. The stump of her right hand lifted to swipe away the perspiration, then quickly dropped, inert at her side.

“… Hell.”

The word was whispered hoarsely in the darkness, her throat tight and dry. The slender, steady flame of the oil lamp at her side illuminated her pale features, making her look ghostly. There was something hollow about her eyes, as if overwhelmed by defeat- but her lips abruptly tightened, chin jutting and lifting to a stubborn angle.

Only a dream. They’re gone, well and truly gone. Stop jumping at shadows. The order was sharp and she could feel her head clearing as she set her features flat, jaw clenching and unclenching. With slow, deliberate motions, she set the holy book down and lifted her hand to examine her finger, gaze settling on the small cut at the end of it.

It had been her first casting in months, more blood than shadow, no Fel whatsoever. She felt the draw, but it had only been for protection-

And because I wanted him to see. To have some idea of -what- I am.

She forced a bark of laughter- it sounded more like a sob- and drew herself to her feet, lifting the lamp to set it on the table carefully.

Her arm moved to fold about her chest restlessly, feet shuffling- leather slippers muffled her steps, careful practice minimizing the sound of her light footfalls further. One, two, three, four, five- one, two, three, four, five- she paced a square with precise, deliberate footsteps, trying to still the rapid palpitations of her unsteady heartbeat.

They’re gone, they aren’t coming back. It was only a dream. The words sounded hollow, even in her head. The pressure lingered in her neck, remembered voices echoing in the strange emptinessshe felt bile rise in her throat and swallowed it back, focusing on her numbers, on the counting that so frequently proved a refuge.

It was always only a dream, these day. She’d payed the price. She was free.

So why did the whispers keep haunting her?

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Resisting the itch

It was a heavy thing, dense and compact- smaller than average.

Such a small thing, the mahogany handle polished to a warm rich gleam, the barrel dark and cool against her hand as she brushed a reverent finger down its length. It was finely crafted, but not ostentatious. The grip seemed to invite her small hand to envelope it, the trigger was smooth and worn.

It was empty, of course. She hadn’t yet purchased bullets.

Here was death, in the cradle of her hand- and she felt nothing.

Only relief, and a cool, collected sense of calm. She had never been helpless, but for the price of damnation should she dare to defend herself.

But she feared the shadows more than she feared death. They never stopped calling to her. The empty places inside herself felt dark with desolation and fear, but better to be afraid than to face them again. She could feel it, taste it in the air- that faint, acrid scent when she passed too near to the Lamb, when a stranger brushed by her. She ached in ways she dare not reveal, not to anyone- and the frustration of helplessness had only added insult to injury.

Old, bitter hurt twisted inside her. Warlock.

“Never again. I’ve forsworn it.” The stubborn hiss of her own voice mocked her in the darkness, and she set the pistol down with great care, moving to cross the span of her room restlessly.

Her phantom hand itched. It was maddening. The amputated limb couldn’t be scratched, had crumbled to ashes when Mahlar had removed it- an evil thing, a wretched, unclean thing. She was tainted by it, but- no. I am tainted by my own foolishness and pride. I will repent until I am whole again- however long that might be.

And even still, she could feel the pressure at the base of her neck, the nagging need to sate the darkness, the contamination that coiled in the pit of her belly, just waiting for her to lose control. She hadn’t, though. And she wouldn’t. Never again.

It seemed worse, tonight. It troubled her, kept her restless- like an old scar before the rain. The thought made her smile, but only briefly, as her bare feet padded back and forth across the length of the room.

She had told Nessun of her thought- the possible reclamation of her House. It had hurt to even think it, let alone plan it- now it seemed an impossibly lofty sight. The last thing she wanted was to be involved in any sort of legal system. They might find out. She would be watched, or worse- jailed. Her job would be jeopardized. Her mere association with Nessun would put him in a bad light.

It had been a stupid thought anyhow, a stupid idea, a lofty, noble goal that she had no business pursuing.

A pale figure caught her eye in the mirror; it took a moment for her to recognize herself.

A year ago, she’d been starving to death, wasted by fever and hunger. Those ravages lingered in the brittle edges to her lips, the slight depletion of her breasts. They weren’t so high as they’d been, nor so full. She was still slight, waifish by nature- but her ribs didn’t jut so alarmingly as they had, her arms and legs were healthfully muscular. Hell, her thighs were downright plump- she frowned at them unhappily, shifting from one foot to the next.

But it was still hard to look on the pale, jagged scars that cut filthy words into her skin, was hard to examine the mottled burns about her throat, the gouge-marks…

Maharani had said it was possible to remove scars, but that it was painful, agonizing business…

Marlbane’s lips pursed as she looked herself in the eye, searching for something that wasn’t there. Her hair had grown long, long enough to pull back in a thick horsetail. She moved to brush it, still eying herself.

Not yet. I am not ready.

Bad enough that they were there. She hadn’t earned the right to remove them, hadn’t redeemed herself to the  Light’s grace. They must remain until she stopped feeling the temptation. A lesson and a reminder. Even now, she felt their draw, their pull- her will was clearly weak, her desire for redemption not strong enough to stifle her filthy longings. She was unclean, and it was right that her body should say so, was right that she bear the markings of her own stupidity and avarice.

She must try harder. Life had purpose again, now that Nessun had returned. She’d made two new friends, too. That put the number of people she could such at ‘three’, and she felt that perhaps it was a good thing, though there was an uneasiness to it. Lorcain was interesting to her. He knew things that she wanted to know, too. It seemed unlikely that he ever lie awake in the dark of the night, feeling helpless and afraid of what was inside himself.

And Maharani… was not the sort of person she would typically have given second thought to. She was talkative, friendly, intelligent, beautiful- skilled. Experienced. She almost felt- jealousy, for all the woman and could do. It was not for a daughter of House Brightmoore to take up sailing, to be a pirate or a privateer or the Captain of a ship, after all, but Maharani had done and been all these things, seeming no worse for the wear other than her uncouth language and sometimes unladylike behavior.

If Nessun hadn’t asked her to consider befriending Maharani, she could easily have hated the woman, despised her, imagined doing terrible things to her, simply for being as vivacious as she was. But then, she had to admit it to herself- she wasn’t a very good or nice person. Sometimes she wished she was nicer, but it was difficult and exhausting to even contemplate the sort of mentality Maharani bore as easily as she breathed.

There were many things Marlbane wanted, and all of them felt out of reach, just past her ability to touch them- like an itch on a limb long severed.

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Sleepwalking

The corridor was empty, the bare stone cold to her feet. I’ve been here before…

She was dressed in fine silks again, her hair clean and long, done up in a tidy bun with two slender hairsticks to hold it in place. A cursory glance revealed two hands, unscarred and whole. Something’s not right; the thought was an uneasy feeling in the base of her neck, a prickling sense of danger that marked trembling patterns down her back. I am being watched.

Her gaze lifted, searching the shadows, but there was nothing in the strange semi-dusk. There was no source for the light to come through, only grey stone walls and cold, stark floor. Ahead her, the corridor loomed, fading into darkness. She took a step, and then another. The heavy brocade of her finery whispered across the the flagstone, and her uneasiness intensified. I come here every night, she recalled from a distance, feeling a pressure behind her eyes and lifting her left hand- instinct stilled her right- to press to her temples. I hear them whisper and laugh…

Her feet shifted and she began to walk, more quickly now. Her features turned smooth as stone in the perpetual twilight, lips pressed to a stubborn line, the hazel of her eyes flinty and guarded. She could feel them, now- the shadows loomed closer, closing in behind her. She could hear the whispers and laughter as her heart beat just a little faster, could feel the tiny hairs on her spine stiffening. Her feet slowly drew to a halt. Her breath was controlled, intentionally calm, even as her pulse shuddered and leapt by turns. A sick, dread sensation turned her insides molten. Her stomach clenched and her throat tightened.

“Who are you. What do you want.” Her voice broke the oppressive silence, snapping like an imperious whipcrack in the gloom. It echoed strangely into the corridor, warped and shrill before fading into stifling noiselessness. She bristled and turned, surrounded by encroaching shadows, the walls of the corridor a memory. They swirled like dark fog about her and she lifted a hand in a familiar motion of benediction, willing herself strength.

“I don’t belong here any more. They’re dead. All of them dead, I payed in blood and pain and sacrifice- leave me be.”

She murmured the words now, through clenched teeth- the dread feeling gripped her innards and tightened her spine. Familiar tendrils of fear gripped at her, urged her to run, but stubbornness kept her feet firmly planted on the flagstone. Breathy whispering seemed to swirl about her, brief snatches of words, just beyond the reach of comprehension- a flush rose to her cheeks. She could feel the malevolance, the mocking laughter, just out of sight. She held her ground, a sinking realization of despair snatching at the worn, haggard lines of her willpower.

“I payed. Begone and trouble me no more. I payed the price…”

The iron and fire had left her voice, the words a scarce whisper. Her eyes fell tightly closed, her hand pinching hard at herself. Wake up, wake up, this isn’t real–

She came to wakefulness with a start and a strangled yelp, clawing at the blankets as they strangled and restrained her. Morning sunshine streamed in through the window, gilding the dustmotes as she panted and ripped the blankets aside, features grey and damp. Her gaze snapped to the other side of the large bed, but Nessun was long gone, off doing whatever it was that Nessun did. She scanned the rest of the room with a sharp eye, gaze lingering in the corners, neck still tingling with the sense of alarm. Terror coiled a knot in her belly and she shakily rose, bare feet pacing the floorboards, back and forth and back and forth. She stretched her awareness, senses humming uneasiness.

Nothing.

Just a dream, Marlbane. Get a hold of yourself.

She closed her eyes briefly, lifting her left hand to press the heel of it- cool and smooth- against her eyelid. A deep shudder crept over her and she sagged back down onto the bed.

“We beat them. I payed the price. We fought and we won.”

The words were quiet, spoken with more strength of conviction than she felt.

Light, but she was tired…

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After the break, a relatively short log, work safe even! Nessun is credited to Nessun’s player, of course. Marlbane is naturally mine. (more…)

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