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  #21  
Old 10-04-2013
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The smell of loam penetrated Julia's senses, raising a heady little feeling deep within her skull. The bark of the tree scraped against her back as she leaned against it, taking in the little slice of wilderness as a hopeful balm against the turmoil deep within her psyche. She had yet to receive a return message from her father for the decision she ultimately settled on after what seemed like months of agony, and thinking of him once again made her stomach clench a little. What would he think of the reason his daughter put forth for throwing away her future? Would he be angry, sad, understanding...

Was he there when your brother had one of those spells? A little snide voice wound its way through from the corner of her mind. Was he there when Julius was screaming for the pain to stop? Was he there when you had to do odd jobs to help pay for treatment on top of living expenses? Even prisoners ate better than you did the last several tendays.

Julia shook her head to clear out her thoughts and shifted in her seated position to press herself more tightly against the scarred bark of Cutter's Bane. What happened, happened; she would have to press forward as best as she can, though she couldn't help feel a slight pang of regret. She would have to work on her hobby of climbing if she couldn't read--

Approaching footsteps snapped her attention to her current position and situation, and she placed a hand against the loam to spring to her feet, ready to flee at the slightest sign of danger. But wariness dissipated at a familiar voice.

"Florence?" Arthur called, shortly before the brush parted to reveal his lean figure. Figures, Julia thought, and let out an exasperated sigh.

Arthur seemed to notice her irritation and remained there, where he had just emerged. "Florence," he began, hesitated, and continued. "I know you had a long day, and I just wanted to get some fresh air, and maybe visit. The guards told me you left the gates a while ago, and I could guess where you went." He shrugged a little. "If you want to be left alone, I understand. I'll be going, and...well, take care."

Julia frowned, and harsh words of dismissal hung at the tip of her tongue for a moment, ready to loose--but she hesitated as a sudden keen feeling of loneliness seemed to press down, almost choking the breath from her. Returning all those textbooks as she placed her note to drop out felt like a sucker-punch to the gut. Julius no longer made jokes, instead preferring to barricade himself in his room, leaving her to place his meals at his door, and her arms were still sore from the effort it took turning over all the dirt to make Meebles' little grave.

She took a deep, shuddering breath, and shook her head. "It's okay," she said, her voice a little thick. "You can stay."

She had turned her gaze to her lap, but she could swear she felt his smile, and she heard his approaching footsteps, followed by the crackle of undergrowth crunching as he sat down. For a moment, they sat side by side, taking in the heady smell of loam, the faint sussuration of the foliage all around, and the calls of wildlife just out of eyeshot.

Finally, Arthur spoke. "I heard what happened," he said, those grey eyes looking towards her.

She nodded with a little bitter smile. "It's no secret," she replies, picking up a little brown leaf that crackled in her fingers. "It was either school, or the military, and school wasn't going to pay my bills."

Arthur tilted his head curiously. "Couldn't your father send more?"

"Maybe," she replied with a shrug before clenching her hand into a fist, crushing the leaf. She opened her palm, letting the bits trickle down. "Or maybe he doesn't care. Some days, I think I know some strangers better than him." She then turns her head to regard the young man. The pimples are gone, but he still has that unkempt and thin look that precluded handsomeness; other than those grey eyes, he was just...ordinary. "And what of you?"

Arthur smiled. "I'm taking my final year. Soon, they'll let us go on expeditions. I, for one, have my eye on Ulcaster."

"Ulcaster?"

"Ulcaster," he confirmed, his eyes lighting up, and his words come out with more enthusiasm. "It was formerly a school of magic that was founded by the man of the same name over three hundred years ago. Just southeast of Beregost."

"Three hundred?" Julia raised her eyebrows. "That doesn't sound old enough to draw an archaeologist's attention."

"No," Arthur replied, "but it's been untouched, and it's also a fount of lost history, especially the bits that they shared with no one else. You know wizards."

"Oh, yes. Wizards."

"Wizards," he agreed cheerfully. "Apparently it was too good at its purpose, drawing in every wizard up and down the Sword Coast, until Calimshan's own wizards took offense and destroyed the school in a storm of magic. Ulcaster himself was never found in the aftermath to this day." He shrugged. "The school's now in ruins, but records said it had a complex basement where they would likely keep their records and literature. Unfortunately, more recent rumours also said it's now inhabited by local wildlife and worse things, so it's not quite safe to look at."

Julia tilted her head thoughtfully. "It sounds like something more suited for an adventuring party," she remarked, smiling mischievously. "Were you planning on a career change?"

Arthur laughed. "Oghma willing, never!" He flicked a stray bit of dark hair from his face. "No, but I think I could hire an escort to accompany my group and help us do our work without issue."

"You know what they say about adventurers, though. Just as likely they'll loot everything and break the rest."

"It's possible..." he sighed a little. "As you can see, I haven't really thought this through."

"Arthur? Never thinking something through?" Julia placed a hand over her heart and affected mock surprise as best she could. "Perish the thought."

"Florence, I didn't think this trip of mine through either. But I think if you give me a few more years, I'll have something down." He paused to rub his chin. "In the meantime, I have some textbooks I'm not reading as much as I thought I would. If you don't mind, I can send some over." He smiled. "There's no reason for you to stop learning just because you're no longer paying tuition."

"Really?"

The two fell into an easy banter, friendly words and laughter breaking the murmur of the forest around them, and for the first time, a weight seemed to lift from Julia's body to disperse quietly into the clouds hanging overhead.

Last edited by Lugwy; 10-04-2013 at 08:53 PM. Reason: Lugwy mixes words too!
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  #22  
Old 10-28-2013
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Over the night, it took a few hours for Julia to stop giving second glances towards the girl in the same room with her. Her quarters had, for the most part, been such a bastion of solitude that the additional presence, however unobtrusive, gave a crawling feeling not unlike that of a hand hovering just over her shoulder. Eventually, though, she grew accustomed to the face peering amongst the room's contents, and she willed herself to relax again.

Peace came and went all too briefly as her thoughts turned to worse and more recent matters, and bitter rage filled her heart instead. She had spent the better part of the afternoon smashing her blade against the caricature of a Banite knight until her whole body ached and her right hand spasmed with shooting pains, and the dummy itself severely disfigured, its head lolling to the side on a few strips of wood, and the other accessories either destroyed or flung aside. It was not enough to quell her fury, stemming from so many sources: the fury of knowing good lives were thrown away without cause, likely to be raised to fight for the enemy they once fought against; the fury of helplessness, watching and knowing that there was nothing left to be done no matter if she was there or not; more recently, the fury of the girl's current situation, and the sheer horror of it all; and finally, the fury towards the people behind all the misfortune, welling so thickly that she gritted her teeth in an attempt to fight back angry tears.

And yet...

She swiped her eyes with the back of her hand and stepped over towards her desk to unfurl a rolled parchment, revealing lines upon lines of an indecipherable script. Her eyes roved over the glyphs even as she reached deep into her being, willing herself to believe, reaching out towards the flame craving to burn. The latter was always the hardest; to willingly reach for something that came so naturally in the heat of battle was not unlike trying to breathe consciously. It was an unfamiliar and unnatural motion to willingly extend towards the icy heat of the void beyond when her life was not at stake.

Nothing had happened in the many, many times she had tried this same thing, but maybe, just maybe...

She stiffened, feeling something, and without hesitation, she plunged into the flame--


--Searching mental fingers grasped the void and fought for control--

--Perverse delight beating at the edges of sudden cold consciousness--

--Laughing, so much laughing, yet not in the waking world, nor from her own mouth--

--The spectre's eyes glow, and the pale mouth smiles as it plunges the blade towards her chest--

--"Maybe you weren't a failure, after all," Julius' voice remarks dryly--

--Amidst the storm of chaos, she looked upon the paper once more and understood--


--and it was gone, and she was staring at a piece of paper, its contents returned to the enigma she started out with. She rubs her forehead, blinking, and looks towards the girl once more before taking a seat and reaching for a stack of papers with a little smile.

Maybe there is hope, after all.

Last edited by Lugwy; 10-29-2013 at 01:12 AM.
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  #23  
Old 04-15-2014
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For Julia, it had seemed a good idea at the time. The stress of everything that had happened had begun to weigh heavily on her, and more than once she had woken up in a cold sweat, gasping and shivering as the dreams she struggled with mercifully released their hold on her sleeping mind. Some of those particular nights, she swore she could still smell blood, and feel the pain of a blade in her ribs.

Thus, an invitation to a wedding seemed like an invitation for fresh air, metaphorically speaking. She looked at the paper, comparing the address written on it with the one on the house, and confident that her conclusion was correct, she headed towards the residence.


--


Julia stopped short before the doorman, and she took the moment to gauge the various guests, as well as the general atmosphere of the interior. As she continued to gaze around, she felt a crawling sensation in the back of her neck as the hairs stood on end. She could only recall a handful of times where she had felt so uncomfortable, and neither of them went well.

A movement at the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she headed towards the doorman beckoning her forward quickly. "Invitation, my Lady?" He asked.

Julia felt her cheeks grow warm as embarrassment blunted her unease. "Should be here," she grumbled as she began patting down her pockets, mentally cursing herself for forgetting where she stored her invitation, finally finding it a little worse for wear in her left hip pocket. She handed it over, and felt her cheeks turn redder as the man turned to announce her arrival as "the enigmatic Lady Julia Ulsteris!"

How in the bloody nine Hells could anyone put up with this kind of grandstanding? she thought as she mechanically headed to the chair at the back corner, thanking the gods for small blessings, of which included were the fact that she was sitting in the same row with Dryn and James. Despite the support from their presence, she continued to fidget, neck hairs bristling, as she looked upon the wedding that felt more grand than the small and humble one she had, and yet somehow...less so. The murmurs, the insincere smiles that even she caught on, and the haste of the priest to get the clearly incompatible couple hooked gave the impression of an elaborate play rather than a momentous ceremony, and never had she been more acutely aware that there was no layer of steel separating her flesh from the outside world, especially when her gaze, going here and there in her nervousness, caught a glint of light, and she focused quickly enough to notice one of the guests tucking something into his sleeve.

A chill that had nothing to do with any unexpected drafts passed through and settled in her gut, and she turned her gaze to Dryn sitting beside her, trying to catch his attention.


--


Julia had spent more than one sleepless night wondering if it had been a good idea, and when she saw James sprawling to the floor, blood streaming from the deep wound in his neck, it was all she could do to muzzle the all-too-familiar voice in the back of her mind, screaming anguish and self-loathing for getting the idea to have the elf attend as her guest, and get himself killed saving the woman who had been the assassin's target.

As her inner voice continued to belabour itself, she could feel her body leaping to her feet and closing the distance, not towards James, but to the man responsible. Her mind blocked out the buzzing of guilt, and focused on one thing. Why? Was "Eris" indeed a patriot, and her mind was too keyed with paranoia to miss the obvious when it was shown? Was her gut feeling was right to look for answers, even if she must work to spare the would-be killer's life? These thoughts, and many others, rattled on, but they quickly became moot as she hesitated, and could only watch as Illyver's blade plunged into the man's neck.

She stepped back, her gaze looking over the corpse bleeding out on the floor and carpeting, a twinge of frustration settling in her chest under the knowledge that whatever answers he had were gone with him.


--


After the thwarted assassination attempt, Julia watched with some disbelief as the nobles tried to resume their state of prior normalcy with an effort that was admirable if it didn't seem so ludicrous to her. The body may have been gone, and the bloody areas cleaned, but James was sitting in a chair, recuperating, Osric Val'Tess was personally thanking them for saving his sister's life, and though controlled breathing had unwound the knots in her shoulders, the hairs at the back of her neck remained erect in the face of the pall that hung over the ceremony, despite the music and dancing trying their best to dissipate it. Her unease now shared room with anger and disgust over how staunchly the nobles around her wanted to bury their heads, label desperate people as "animals", and ignore the all-too-real problems going on, problems far more dire than whatever came about as a result of their "Game", and sometimes it was only James' presence that kept whatever words she said from cutting too close to the bone. Miro Zenten, especially, caused her to grind her teeth whenever she heard him speaking, and never had she nursed such an urge to punch the bald man in the mouth. Repeatedly.

Julia's choice to sit as far from Miro as possible was not entirely accidental, though it did not save her from the enmity radiating between the man and Emil Ashby, redoubling her discomfiture. The food that arrived was scant solace, as she quickly found her stomach far too knotted, and whatever little she managed to eat seemed to turn to ashes in her mouth. Though the occasion seemed relaxed, she could not help but notice how quickly she, and some of the other guests, noted Edmir's sudden bout of discomfort over stuffed peppers, and she was very glad she didn't have the appetite to try one.

Finally, she could not take it anymore, and raised a hand towards an attendant to get his attention.


--


Bodies pressed unwillingly against Julia's large bulk as she sat in the wagon, feeling the wheels rumble beneath her feet as the caravan made its way down the road. Though uncomfortable, it was a discomfort she could manage, and was more familiar and genuine in its own way.

She rubbed at the sleeve of her right arm as she became aware of a familiar ache from her right hand, nestled deep in her bones. She sucked in a deep breath, wishing that the caravan would move a little more quickly. After that fracas, a bath rested ahead in her mind like the proverbial treasure room after a long and grueling dungeon crawl, and she was fairly sure her husband--or Byrun, or Evelyn--would be interested in hearing what went on, and perhaps even offer advice in the event of such future instances.

Julia shifted, accidentally bumping against a poor sod sitting beside her. She murmured apologies and held the warm box of food close to her as the caravan rolled on. The monotony of the journey, and the fresh air groundside, slowly began to set her at ease, and she leaned back, savouring the moment of illusory safety the travel brought.

Suddenly, she heard words coalesce in her mind, far clearer than her own inner voice could muster, followed by the feeling of the speaker, bringing recognition. Arvison, James' voice echoed, please do not imbibe the pork, though it is tasty, as it has been poisoned. The meal is otherwise most enjoyable. Sincerely, Frazer.

Julia blinked, and looked down at the box in her hands as if it contained live snakes. Her neck hairs rose, and her muscles tensed in the first instinct to hurl the food out of the wagon as powerfully as she could manage. Another thought quickly knifed in, sharp and cold, and her hands tightened, holding the box closer.

Thank you, she replied, piggybacking her message along the Sending's weave before shutting it off, and shifted into a more comfortable position as the caravan obliviously rumbled on.
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  #24  
Old 08-19-2014
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1

"Stay quiet," Bear barked over his shoulder as he weaved through lightly forested brush with grace Julia could only envy. Despite the armour he wore, he moved with only a token amount of clatter and rustle, a stark contrast to his student stumbling and crashing enough for a battalion of left-footed recruits. The few farmlands they passed brought their owners to look, a few grinning at the sight of the two heading along with much percussive fanfare.

"I don't even know how you do it," was her belated and breathless rebuttal once they stopped some time later, near a well sitting at the border of the woods framing the Chiontar river, and Bear looked at Julia's dirt-covered boots.

"Show me how you walk. There," he interrupted after she marched around for a handful of steps. "You put your entire foot down when you walk. A side effect of being tall, I assume."

"I'm not that tall," she grumbled, though his observation made her keenly aware that at full height she stood almost a head over the Calishite, and nearly as muscled, too. It took her a while to tune herself out of the quips the fellow recruits would make, amused at a woman wrestling into armour clearly proportioned for men.

Bear grunted. "Roll your feet forward as you walk, instead of stomping," he continued, demonstrating the gait, and gave a nod to Julia before heading towards the woods bordering the river. While Julia had to admit their subsequent progress was less noisy, she could only manage what she estimated was about twenty steps before her ankles were protesting the new and unnatural method of locomotion at length.

"I feel like a mincing dancer."

"Get used to it."


Some time later, Julia was bent over, rubbing her aching legs as Bear scanned the overlook they were on. Below crouched a rickety, dilapidated hut, which a casual observer could dismiss as abandoned if it were not for the little fire a-cooking the pot perched above.

"Unusual," Bear mused, gazing at the dwelling. "This is not the safest of places to live alone."

Julia looked up. "Perhaps those rumours about a crazy witch are true?"

Bear grunted. "Your guess is as good as any. Not enough to visit for no purpose."

"If it's her, she might know about what's killing the livestock around Ulgoth's Beard."

"Perhaps," he replied dubiously, and his nostrils flared as he exhaled a sigh."Very well. I will attempt to question this inhabitant. You keep watch."

Julia blinked, briefly thrown off guard. "Me?"

"Yes, you, Arvison." Bear fixed her with his weary gaze. "In the event the inhabitant means me harm, I expect you to run and alert the rest of the Flaming Fist, hopefully before I am dead or worse. I assume your long legs are not just for show." He glanced down at the body parts in question.

Warmth surged into Julia's cheeks with mingled embarrassment and indignation. "Of course!" She sputters.

Was it just her, or was there a smirk on Bear's otherwise grumpy face? But he had already turned around, and was carefully making his way down the steep hill, and Julia watched as the Calishite prowled up to the closed door and knocked. The door opened, but the interior was too dark to make out, and she was too far away to hear the words being exchanged, but after a while Bear nodded and walked inside, the door shutting behind him with finality.

He'll be fine, Julia reassured herself, her eyes on the door and its one visible window, though the latter was too smudged with dirt to see what was going on inside. As the time wore on and the sun crawled across the sky, that reassurance began to sound more hollow, and she stole quick glances back, wondering if it would be a good idea to cut and run, hollering for backup--

--And that was the only thing that saved her from taking the short spear in the worst possible place: the spine and back of her head, where it would have undoubtedly either incapacitated or, Beshaba willing, killed her. With her half-turned body, the spear instead lodged between the chinks in her armour and dug past the padding to score her left shoulder, a less lethal part of impact. Nonetheless, she uttered a yell of both surprise and pain, barely avoiding falling down the hill as she stumbled away from her assailant, her right hand fumbling for the hilt of her blade.

Last edited by Lugwy; 08-19-2014 at 11:27 PM. Reason: Writing on a tablet sucks.
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  #25  
Old 08-19-2014
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And what an assailant it was! No book on it or rumours of its existence did the truth justice. She could only stare at the bipedal monster grinning at her with fangs gracing a dog-like face, with a dirty ruff cresting its furred back. A few belts and bandoliers, loaded with pouches and various trophies, are strapped to its muscular body, and despite being hunched due to its awkward leg joints, the creature easily stood as tall as Julia.

Gnoll, said the part of her mind that remembered the contents of the books she read, but the rest refused to connect the name and sanitised diagrams with this hulking, slavering, and--as she was catching on--smelly monstrosity.

Julia flexed her left shoulder and sucked in a hiss as the motion tweaked the wound. Planting her feet to the ground, she worked her muscles to lift and swing. Never before had she wished for a smaller and more maneuverable weapon, especially when the gnoll lifted its spear, deflecting her blade. She watched helplessly as her steel skittered up the weapon's length, and the creature taking that opening to jab its own weapon. Pain bloomed in Julia's left shoulder, this time at the front, as the speartip sought a chink and found it, and the agony redoubled as the gnoll twisted its weapon and pulled it out, dark with blood. Her blood.

Her vision was blurred from tears, but she could still make out the gnoll approaching, fangs bared, a little hacking bark emitting from its throat. Was it laughing? She didn't know, and the pain consuming her left shoulder, as well as a warm stickiness, told her the folly of swinging again. She backed off, goaded by taunting jabs from the gnoll's bloody spear.

A stone broke loose and tumbled beneath Julia's heel, and she glanced quickly back to realize she could retreat no farther: she was at the very edge of the overlook, and another step would send her careening down the hill. Despair built in her gut as she glanced back to the gnoll, just in time to catch it jabbing that damnable spear again, and she twisted her body to the right, hoping that the weapon would catch her already-wounded left on anywhere but another gap in her armour.

Her prayers were answered in that regard--the spear skittered off her pauldron. Unfortunately, the creature jabbed with such strength the sheer kinetic force caused her to stagger...and she felt her footing give, and she was falling down the hill. Reflex took over quickly enough for her to curl and shield the back of her neck with her good arm, protecting her head and spine from potentially crippling damage, but she could feel all the breath whooshing out of her as she crashed down to the ground below. Stunned and breathless, her vision swam with stars, her head felt fuzzy with what she suspected was a concussion, and her left shoulder felt as if someone had cauterised the wounds with fire. Despite her dazed state, she remained aware of a solid mass in her right hand that told her that she was still gripping her blade.

Catch your breath, quickly, a little mental voice urged. Regain your strength. You don't have much going for you, right now. In fact, surprise is all you really have, because I'll bet you that gnoll now thinks you're an easy kill.

Julia's vision was still muddled with stars and afterimages, but she still heard the gnoll's laughing bark, and the rustle of movement. Mustering up the last of her strength, she shifted to grip her blade with both hands, biting down a gasp of pain as her wounded shoulder protested the action. Her muscles bulged, she squeezed her eyes shut, and she gritted her teeth as she swung.

Along the length of her sword, Julia felt resistance parting around the blade quickly broken into a grinding stop, a puzzling feeling clarified by the agonised yelp that followed. Too stunned to let go, she could only remain still as a pair of teeth gnashed inches from her face, spraying its foul breath and spit all over, and she was glad she had closed her eyes. The rank smell of wet dog, iron, and blood permeated the air, and she couldn't help but scream herself as she felt the rough tip of the gnoll's spear dig into the already open wound in her shoulder, twisting and gouging.

Nearly delirious with the agony, she missed the approaching clatter of bootsteps, but not the sudden brief stab of pressure, nor the gnoll's anguished howl right in her face. She felt it thrashing...then going still, its throat releasing one last gasp of air, blasting her with its helping of gnoll breath.

Julia opened her eyes, her vision nearly useless from all the tears of pain, but she caught Bear's blurry form shoving the gnoll's lifeless body off to the side with one hand, the other holding a bloodied curved blade. Her own had cleaved the creature through its muscular chest and stopped midway, the blade so far in it stuck a bit out through its victim's back. She stared at the macabre sight for a moment before moving to sit up--and surrender the attempt with a groan as she was painfully reminded that the creature's short spear was still lodged in her shoulder.

"Now, now, pretty," a new voice cackled, just out of sight, "don't be makin' yerself an old cripple nigh ye be takin' a wrinkle! 'Tis not right, no, no, no!"

"Impressive, Arvison," came Bear's deadpan voice. "Your first kill, I suppose."

Julia blinked. It was getting hard to focus. "You killed it," she said. For some reason, her voice sounded tinny in her head, and for some reason, she didn't feel...what was she supposed to feel? No matter how hard she thought of it, to dredge some form of emotion, nothing came forth. She may as well have done yet another training exercise.

"Your blow was the fatal one," Bear replied as he drew a rough cotton cloth to scrub the blood and fur from his sword. "I simply speeded up the process. For all intents and purposes, that was yours, though in the future I would suggest aiming for a blow that kills more quickly. Perhaps your blade is good for something, after all."

"Now, now, let's not be lettin' this poor mite bleed out like a sticky little crawler meat, eh, little bear man?" A woman's face, little more than a prune with a nose, stuck in front of Julia's, and it was only her state of half-consciousness that kept her from yelling in shock. "Not good for a sword like you, oh no, indeed! What would your boss say, hmm? Hmm?"

Indistinct grumbling followed that remark, along with the Calishite's bootsteps. The prune face grinned as she held up a cloth. "It be hurtin' you to be carried, and we can't be lettin' you bringin' in the crawlers and glowies, oh no! Very bad and my work be so, so delicate!"

The prune-faced woman pressed the cloth against Julia's face. She caught dampness, a sweet smell, the brief flare of pain as Bear's arms hooked under hers...and nothing more.

Last edited by Lugwy; 08-19-2014 at 11:36 PM. Reason: Writing on a tablet is ew.
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Old 08-27-2014
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Within the blurry haze, she felt the pain, and yet not. The twinges, the spasms, and her screams of pain were real, but her comprehension lurked at a distant corner; aware of what was happening but far beyond any capacity to truly understand. She felt as if she were in another person's body, experiencing it with a sort of detached immersion, but not quite.

A wrinkled face hovered over her own, and a needle glittered in her hand. "Nothin' to be done about the scar," she sighed, and began to work.


shift


A hooded figure pinned the little girl to the table, heedless of her struggles and screams. The girl's little arms flailed about, clawing at the woman's own--how did she know that?--in a futile bid for mercy, for reprieve; anything to get away from the fate glittering at the tip of the needle hovering over her body. Off in the distance and out of eyeshot, her brother's anguished howling echoed her own, and the sheer terror of knowing she was next lent energy to her frenzied, but ultimately vain, struggles.

"Be still," the figure hissed in her ear, and the hood lit up for a moment, revealing a face so like and unlike her own, severe features furrowed in concentration, lips pressed taut, eyes stark yellow with slitted pupils. And before the girl's eyes, she saw the black-and-red scales crawl over the woman's pale flesh until it completely covered her face, a face flickering with flames from the gaps between the scales. The creature smiled, parting lips covering row after row of razor sharp teeth.

There was a sharp pain as the needle sank into her right shoulder, and it was quickly eclipsed by the burning, so much burning make it stop stop stop stop STOP and her subsequent screams were as much from terror as the agony.


shift


"Help me," her brother whimpered in her arms as he rocked back and forth, clutching his head from the pain.

She looked around, desperately, vainly, seeking salvation and finding none. The whimpering turned to moaning, then screaming as he regained breath to scream, and there was nothing left to be done. She could only hold him, stricken with helplessness, as he screamed and screamed.

Then the hands that had held his head snapped up to close around her throat. As she wrestled with the suddenly deadly grip he had on her, gasping for breath thwarted, she looked into his eyes, once brown, and now yellow and slitted.

"She always told us you were the failure," he hissed in her ear as she gripped his wrists as if the act would help, somehow. "She lied!"

Her lungs were burning from lack of air; she could neither think nor resist anymore. Her vision grew dark.


shift


She ran as fast as she could, veering through streets that seemed to constrict around her. The buildings loomed, silent judgment in their hulking frames as they bore mute witness to the woman fleeing down the alleyways and roads laid out between them.

The smell of brimstone reached her nostrils as she approached, and she turned a corner to nearly run into the flaming construct. Only an assortment of black plates and scales gave shape to an otherwise formless mass of pure elemental fury. The flames that licked from all around and between the plates seemed to change from colour to colour; once yellow, then red, then blue, then pure white, and everything in between and beyond.

People walked around them as if the very sight before them was the most normal thing, and though she screamed, begged, and pleaded, they may as well be constructs themselves, trotting off to do their meaningless day-to-day duties. Then the armoured elemental was upon her, and the two were quickly locked together body to body, exerting every bit of effort towards wresting ground and control from the other.

Her arms were locked with the elemental's, and to her horror, she saw that they were merging as much as they were wrestling. The plates that had once corralled flame were gradually attaching to the appropriate location on her flesh, and as they struggled on, she could faintly, oh so faintly feel the flames seep into her skin, a sensation cool yet hot, leaving behind traces of its glow within her.

She looked at her hands, black-plated and luminous with the flame's inner glow, and she screamed.

Or tried to.

Out of her mouth came laughter. It was in her own voice, but it was not her own.


shif


"Wake up!" Bear roared in Julia's ear. Years of his method of training have made her response a reflex; she quickly sat up and rubbed sleep from her eyes as she looked blearily up at the Calishite and the prune-faced woman hovering not far away.

"Wh--" her mouth felt chalky and dry, and thinking was like wading through a bog after a heavy bout of rainfall. She worked her jaw a few times, trying to spread a bit of her meager saliva around. "What happened?"

Bear seemed to relax; at least, as far as slowly lowering raised shoulders could construe the term. "A nightmare," he replies. "A bad one, too. No amount of drugs the witch shoved down your throat would calm you down. Give thanks to whatever god you serve that your wound managed to heal at all."

"My wound--" her eyes drew to her left shoulder, unbidden, and on the neatly puckered scar resting on once unblemished skin. On the cot she was sitting on, where her left shoulder would be were she still lying down, a torn swath of bloodied cotton and linen that was presumably the bandaging lay splayed open.

She blinked and shook her head a little in a vain attempt to clear the last of her disorientation and dizziness. "She did it?" She looked towards the prune-faced woman, who cackled a little.

"Oh, yes, very yes, you poor mite," the little woman chortles. "So much blood! A mosquito would go hungry tryin' to be eatin' you, oh, yes, it will! Nothin' to be done with the scar, 'twill be a fine partner for the one already on your right, now, hm? Hmm?"

"I guess..." she reeled backwards and against the cot as dizziness overtook her.

"How long until she fully recovers?" Bear demanded towards the woman, so tiny before him.

"Oh, it be not very long; normally, that is. So many medicines, so many things, yet she not be sleepin' soundly! 'Tis not right, no, not at all!" The woman squinted at Julia, who stared blankly back. "A tenday, two tendays, three..."

"Make it one-and-a-half. The Fist wanted a report, and I my compensation, and neither will happen while we twidde our thumbs here waiting for Arvison to recover." He scowled at Julia's supine form, who flushed and looked away.

"Look at me, Arvison. We'll be moving in one-and-a-half tendays from now. We will do as much as possible to make sure you're in shape by the time we go.

"And what better time to start than now?" A grim smile parted the Calishite's face as his rough hand clasped her arm, pulling her to her feet, staggering and disoriented. "Get dressed as well as you can, and meet me outside. We'll see if getting a stick stuck in your shoulder has changed your way of fighting any."

Last edited by Lugwy; 08-27-2014 at 02:20 PM.
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Old 09-19-2014
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Julia winced as the sunlight knifed from the open window and into her eyes with the ruthlessness of a trained assassin, and she squeezed her gaze shut and turned away--or tried to. Her splinted arm was a stiff and heavy obstruction to a more ideal sleeping position, and after a few half-hearted attempts, she permitted herself an exasperated sigh and a more spirited motion of getting up, which brought better results.

I need to stop climbing trees, she thought, amused, as she slid off the infirmary bed and shuffled towards the window, her immobilized arm cradled to her chest. She tugged at the rough curtains, pulling them shut and plunging her into darkness.

"It's nearly noon and you're going back to sleep?" Came an amused voice from behind her. She whirled around to look at Arthur and his lanky frame leaning against the doorway, a grin on his face.

"The sun was too bright," Julia grumbled as she shuffled around the bed to sit on the side closer to the man.

Arthur laughed as he pushed himself off the doorway. "I can tell," he replied, grey eyes alight with amusement. "Still, it's not good to sleep so much."

"What else could I do?" Julia scowled. "I don't have the money to get my arm fixed, and even if I did, the priests are all about letting nature take its course for me, because I went over their bone-breaking fixes for the month, or something."

"You could take a walk, for starters," Arthur offered with a shrug. "There's a little garden hidden in the farmlands, east from here." He took a few steps forward and reached for Julia's good hand, which he tugged at playfully. "Seeing you just sleep your days away is just as bad for me as it is for you. So cheer up, and let's go see that garden."

"You're so sunny, it hurts," Julia complained, though her smile belied any irritation in her voice. With Arthur's help, she got to her feet and the two headed for the room's open doorway, arm in arm.


--


A butterfly puttered through the air and bobbed around the two humans sitting side by side among the flowers before weaving away, having spotted a flower to its liking. Julia watched the insect's progress before turning back to Arthur. "I didn't realize you'd be back so soon."

The young man made a rather pained face. "There was a bit of a dispute between my team and the adventurers we hired. They felt they weren't getting their fair share of the earnings. We told them that a number of the artifacts were valuable and could be used to shed some insight on how the school worked, but things didn't work out. The project's being put off until we can negotiate a compromise."

Julia wrinkled her nose. "That sounds bad."

"It is." The man is silent for a moment as he looks out, eyes distant, and Julia waited, content, taking in a deep breath of air flavoured with the mingled fragrances of the many, many flowers around them. It was a heady, pleasant scent, and she welcomed its uplifting feeling.

Finally, Arthur breathed deeply and looked towards the woman. "Florence?" He began, tentatively.

Julia lifted her eyebrows. "Yes?"

Arthur hesitated, and he seemed to be carefully picking his next words. "I know that it's been hard for you to manage your time, as of late. Your father's very busy, you have a sick brother, and your job isn't very kind to your available time."

"That's...a way of putting it."

"I'm just wondering...well, if you want me to help. It'll likely be a few months until the dispute gets resolved, and in the meantime, I could help make your life a little easier. Take care of your brother, bring over some meals, clean the house..."

Julia blinked. "What are you--? I mean, do you even want to--?"

That gets a laugh from the grey-eyed man. "Of course I want to. Look. You got a broken arm, and I know firsthand how difficult it is to get some of the simplest tasks done with only one hand. Please, don't worry too much about it." He lifts a hand and pats her shoulder, a comforting gesture. "Just focus on getting better, and I'll make sure your brother gets the care he needs."

Julia blinked again, her vision blurred from tears. "Thank you," she choked.

Arthur chuckled and patted her shoulder again as she rubbed the offending water from her eyes, and they sat side by side, close but not touching, to savour their little idyllic corner for the rest of the day.


--


By the time the two returned to the infirmary room, the sun was the merest hint of a blinding sliver retreating from the encroaching carpet of star-spangled sky. Julia broke off from Arthur's supporting hand and moved to the closed curtains to pull them open, one at a time.

"Not worried of the sun blinding you again?" The man quipped, getting him a wry look in response.

"I need something to wake up by," was Julia's retort as she headed for the bed, keeping her splinted arm close.

"Fair enough." With a smile, Arthur walked over to the bedside and carefully teased out the stubborn folds of blanket that refused to go over the woman trying to make herself comfortable in it. "Get better, and I'll see you in a few tendays. Let me know when you're heading home, though." Arthur's smile broadened to a grin. "I may have a surprise for you."

Julia lifted her eyebrows and gave Arthur a suspicious look, a look wholly ineffective against that grin. "Really."

"Really," he echoed cheerfully. "But for now, do get better. And sleep well." He patted her shoulder before straightening and turning to trot out of the room. He smiled over at her before closing the door, and his footsteps turned a corner and soon faded off into the distance, leaving Julia alone.

Yet, she didn't feel alone, not anymore. For the first time in years, Julia savoured the feeling of sleeping soundly again.

Last edited by Lugwy; 09-19-2014 at 05:49 PM.
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